UPDATE: Where Has All the Loud Angry Rock Music Gone?

Last week, a post called “A Serious Question: Where Are All the Angry Rock Songs?” created quite a passionate discussion on this site as well as where it appeared on Facebook and LinkedIn. With the world getting incrementally weirder (cf. yesterday’s bombings in Brussels), history says we should see an uptick in loud, angry loud music. Yet the prevailing mainstream vibe for rock and alt-rock is very poppy, mid-to-low tempo and filled with introspective and often woe-is-me lyrics. Think Lorde, Twenty One Pilots and Alessia Cara’s “Here.”

Want another example? This hit from Lukas Graham.

Maybe “Where’s all the rock music?” is the wrong question. Perhaps we should be asking “Why are kids so miserable today?” This is the topic of an article at Quartz.

“Something in modern life is undermining mental health,” Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, wrote in a recent paper.

Specifically, something is undermining young people’s mental health, especially girls.

In her paper, Twenge looks at four studies covering 7 million people, ranging from teens to adults in the US. Among her findings: high school students in the 2010s were twice as likely to see a professional for mental health issues than those in the 1980s; more teens struggled to remember things in 2010-2012 compared to the earlier period; and 73% more reported trouble sleeping compared to their peers in the 1980s.

These so-called “somatic” or “of-the-body” symptoms strongly predict depression.

“It indicates a lot of suffering,” Twenge told Quartz.

It’s not just high school students. College students also feel more overwhelmed; student health centers are in higher demand for bad breakups or mediocre grades, issues that previously did not drive college kids to seek professional help. While the number of kids who reported feeling depressed spiked in the 1980s and 1990s, it started to fall after 2008. It has started rising again.

Read the rest of the article here.

Meanwhile, I’m still very interested in your theories about the current subdued state of rock muisc. Rather than add to the original post which is plenty long already, I’m starting anew with a fresh set of comments. After you read the original post, you’re more than welcome to offer your thoughts. Email me at [email protected] or leave something in the comments section below.

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Hi Alan,
Ever since you came to visit my class and even more so after you wrote the post on Wednesday, I have done a lot of thinking about your question: Where are all the angry rock songs?

I think it’s still there, but buried deep in the underground. One big reason I think there’s a noticeable lack of angry rock songs, especially in the mainstream, is because we’re in a cycle where pop-based music has taken over the mainstream. I’m certain it was on an old episode of OHNM where I heard that mainstream music goes in cycles every few years and switches between rock-based and pop-based music. Most of the mainstream music being pumped out right now is definitely pop-based.

You asked if the rise of social media and how it gives everyone a personal platform to share their anger has anything to do with the lack of angry rock. I think maybe a little bit, but I also think that some bands use Facebook and Twitter in addition to their music to spread their anger at all the weird and terrible things going on in the world right now.

Furthermore, perhaps the general population is weary of hearing, seeing, and reading about all the weird and terrible things going on in the world right now and want a break from it. We’re constantly bombarded with what’s going on in the world on the radio, on TV, in newspapers, and online. Maybe the music industry is trying to give people a break from the anger that people already express on social media.

Will angry rock and alternative ever make a comeback? I think it will. It might take a few years, but I really do believe it will come back. And what’s up with all those banjos? Ok, so the first time I heard a banjo played in a rock song, I did think it was kind of cool. Now, however, it’s overdone and I’m so over it. It’s not something neat and interesting anymore when everyone is using it.

I don’t really think we’re apathetic or cynical from hearing and reading about all the weird and terrible news, but just trying to get a mental break from it all. Our apparent obsession with celebrity culture is quite possibly one way that we’re trying to use to escape from reality.

When it comes to the fact that it’s impossible to make a living as a musician, I don’t really think that’s stopping the angry music. Kids are still joining bands, but it is harder and harder to get noticed. Many musicians are also working “regular” jobs to pay the bills and make ends meet as well. Plus, with angry rock and alternative not being “in” right now, any band who makes that type of music will have an even more difficult time getting noticed by labels and the media. There are, however, plenty of places for bands to play. They might not be the most ideal places, but venues do exist. The Smiling Buddha on College Street will let just about any band play. There’s also church basements and Lions Club halls that will rent out their spaces for local shows across the GTA.

What’s with all the introspective and “woe-is-me” songs lately? I have no idea. Obviously, there’s always been emotional, introspective songs since people began writing songs. In recent history we had emo and emo-pop that emerged in the late 80s and became really popular in the early-to-mid-2000s (yes, I unashamedly admit that it is some of my favourite music!) but there really has been an overabundance of slow, introspective songs across all genres lately. At least emo-pop drew from a punk and pop-punk influence and was relatively upbeat, catchy, and fun-sounding! All these slow, introspective, “woe-is-me” songs are really starting to get on my nerves.

While rock currently is not a driving cultural force anymore, I really do think it will be again. It might take a few years and I can’t even begin to guess at what might have to happen to push it back into the mainstream, but I am hopeful that it will happen.

Finally, I don’t know if I really buy into Tony Visconti and the others who are predicting doom and gloom and that “rock is dead”. One thing I learned from my undergrad in music is that every time there’s a major stylistic shift and evolution of musical styles, people complain. People complained about Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms…name a major composer and they’ve definitely had critics up in arms about the major stylistic changes they were making. Since the advent of rock and roll, we really haven’t really had another major musical stylistic evolution. If we look at music history and see where the major changes happened and factor in technology’s rapid evolution helping to speed up everything, I’m not overly surprised that we’re in a time of musical uncertainty and it being even more difficult than ever before to predict how music is going to evolve. Or maybe I’m really optimistic and hoping for the best.

Hope you had a good weekend,
Nerhys

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “UPDATE: Where Has All the Loud Angry Rock Music Gone?

  • March 23, 2016 at 9:12 am
    Permalink

    Rock is dead. Right now anyway. Even realms like alternative seem to have a softer core right now than expected. I don’t know if the distractions of our world have made us numb to the pain but I think it contributes. Right now so many are content to sit on our devices and watch the world go by. It makes for dangerous times when a “reality” star might run a country with an arsenal of nuclear weapons.

    Where is Green Day? U2’s back-in-the-day anger has been replaced by melancholy. Pearl Jam? We need a new generation of angry music and we need it now. Anarchy is lurking nearby and I have no idea what it’ll take to get the sound out and the volume up again.

    This is a time when a punk-esque flare up is needed. When was the last time you heard about a song being banned? I guess it would be difficult to burn a music stream like they used to burn records. Where’s the outrage at our outrage? Where’s our outrage?

    I am angry most days at ignorance. People thinking it’s funny that Trump is such an asshole. I’m sick of religion in politics. I’m sick of women being treated like their bodies belong to stupid men in office. I’m sick of war and violence. And if I could play a fucking guitar I’d be screaming at the world. If I could smash a drum set I’d be wailing at the madness.

    Fuck me people. Make some fucking noise!

    Reply
  • March 24, 2016 at 11:24 pm
    Permalink

    I was at the death of angry rock. It was the Staind/Nonpoint tour in 2002. Staind was the rising tide of melancholy rock, Nonpoint was angry rock’s last gasp. Ever since then I’ve been waiting for that new group to come along and smash everything. Remember the first time you heard “Welcome to the Jungle” or “Teen Spirit” or “Killing in the Name of”? I’m reduced to trolling YouTube for my anger fix as the local stations here are playing the melancholy stuff.

    I’m going to lay the blame for the death of angry rock at the feet of the vertical integration of radio stations with music publishers. A handful of corporations control what gets aired and marketed. They want safe, nonconfrontational product to push. The last 15 years of relatively passive music is the result.

    The only thing I can say is if you find an artist that meets your anger quotient it is now your duty to support them as much as you can. Buy their music, their shirts, and their concert tickets. The tribe of the angry must live on.

    Reply

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