Is the Filth and Fury Gone in Today’s Music?

“An artist’s job is to be a witness to his time in history.” – Robert Rauschenberg

As I read the above quote and relate it the current music industry, I feel frustrated and confused. I feel as if too many artists are telling monotonous and one-dimensional monologues in a world full of very vivid and complicated dialogues. I think what happened to challenging the establishment? What happened to standing up to the man and pointing your middle finger at him? What happened to all the filth and the fury?

For the past three or four years, music listeners and musicians alike have been engaging in this happy go-lucky courtship of nice, apologetic pop tunes, glamorous lifestyles rid of malcontent, and generally good vibes. Looking at some of the most current and even dying trends (glo-fi, shoegaze revival, hipster rap), music has been in a very cozy and comfortable state for a while now.

At one point in time, we were fortunate enough to rely on the indie and underground scenes to voice alternative opinions and bear the brands of the counterculture. Now many indie acts have gone pop and are exploiting the pop trends. I can name a million groups that want to imitate the glittery pop sounds of  MGMT, Waaves, Vampire Weekend, Neon Indian or Beach House. And none of them have a unique message that speaks to any particular demographic. It’s as if they want to make music that is as friendly and unassuming as possible – the new motto is don’t create conflict, enjoy what already exists.

I suppose the real question is, are artists morally obligated to produce material that questions the status quo? Is it our duty to have an ulterior motive and stand for something greater than music?

One of the last records that  really moved me was Fleet Foxes‘ record. It’s such a lush and beautifully written record with all kinds of ambient sounds and nuances woven into the tapestry of the album. But there’s nothing threatening about it, it’s just magnificent songwriting, but does not challenge any kind of system. I think about artists/activists like Rage Against the Machine and wonder what happened? Do musicians no longer feel as if we are entitled to voice our opinion on politics, social injustice, and crimes against humanity?

I think about John Coltrane composing “Alabama” or Bob Dylan writing “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” Or I reminesce about The Clash and Bad Brains’ social and anti-political messages. Even Metallica and Slayer personified symbols of brutality and rebellion back in the day. I don’t see too many people mimicking those gestures and I wonder…have we left an “era of cool” and moved into an era of complacency?

I don’t even recognize resentment or defiance in many of the youth these days. I see teenagers who enjoy going to coffee shops on the weekend and downloading the latest Drake or Lady Gaga song onto their ipods while sipping white cafe mochas. Kids wearing plaid shirts, horn-rimmed glasses, and Vans. Teenagers who check Pitchfork Media religiously – they remind me of yet another clique-ish and “hip” social group whose lifestyle has filtered into the mainstream. I almost miss the weird goth kids with the huge Jnco jeans and black eye liner who hated the world.

Nonetheless, as this article comes to a close, I cannot find clarity or truth. And the only way I can find inspiration is from you, the readers. I encourage you to leave comments and debate the questions within this post. Tell me I’m wrong, tell me I’m right, tell me I spelled something wrong.  Either way, voice your opinion – is it still the artist’s obligation to be a witness of his or her time in history? Or are we moving in the opposite direction?

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12 responses to “Is the Filth and Fury Gone in Today’s Music?

  1. An interesting take and one I agree with to a certain degree. If I may, I suggest that you set aside your Fleet Foxes and try the latest efforts from Japandroids or Titus Andronicus.

  2. Chris Attn Systm

    Yes, things are stale. It’s because the media machine prefers eunuchs. They have the same reaction to fire as Frankenstein’s monster.

    I’m not even sure the younger generation has a taste for rebellion anymore. We tried on some promise-rings in an attempt to relate. Every time I put it on I turned invisible and some burning eye kept telling me to fuck people up!

  3. Dude, it is a sad fucking state of affairs. You think “the age of cool” is gone? No. That’s where we are; that’s all anyone cares about. Their fancy sunglasses indoors, bullshit rap, pop, and hip-hop. I think I’m gonna start a band that plays punk rock classical music and say FUCK as loud as I want, the government can lick my balls, and if you wear sunglasses anytime other than when you’re outside when the sun is bright as hell you can have a bowl of brown for breakfast. It’s too damn bad the social outcasts who normally would have settled into a more angered position in society have even left the emo scene for some wayfarers and digital shit. I think the problem is money and the media. Too fucking bad nobody knows who The Clash is.

  4. Well, you said to speak your mind, so.

    The whole editorial reads like another one of the “monotonous and one-dimensional monologues in a world full of very vivid and complicated dialogues. ”

    I’m guessin you are just out of school and it rememinds me of something Dennis Miller said

    ” But people in their twenties have always been whiners. People in their twenties should be whiners. They are to whining what Pavarotti is to … uh … uh … Tommy. Okay, I don’t know opera. The reason you whine is that you’ve just popped out of the cozy, beer-filled amniotic sac of academia. You haven’t developed the prerequisite thick hide of the cynical, callused bastard yet, and your future seems bleaker than Ingmar Bergman listening to an acoustic set performed by Leonard Cohen. ”


    “are artists morally obligated to produce material that questions the status quo? Is it our duty to have an ulterior motive and stand for something greater than music?”

    Fuck NO! if it’s obligatory it’s just another establishment and PART of the status quo.
    If it’s a duty then it’s a political function and if we put that as greater-than-music then we’ve got arts that are just political tools and the artist is really a politician (by “duty”)

    Of course you don’t see things in “youth these days” – you are exiting your youth.
    Welcome to the other side of the fence!

  5. Is it complacency? Probably. A transitional phase? Feels kinda like it. We could be moving on to some really really great music. Dunno, just a feeling. And anyway, moral obligations always bog down good anything. It’s probably a much better idea to not think of anything and go with the moment, and the moment now! is cool fashion iconic thingie that’s so mainstream but really weird at the same time. Weirdly mainstream…and that’s a pretty individualistic expression of creativity too. I kinda like it!

  6. yeah, that’s the hipster way- “expression should be all raw and abrasive and challenging”, then run away from things that don’t fit their views.

    you are just another hipster profile (buts on swami turbin

    you’re like 23-27
    just out of college where you were some sort of humanities liberal arts guy, anthropology, poli-sci, sociology or something
    you had a band in college that you were convinced was “the next generation of rock” — something probably harder rock, but you thought of it as “rock, but for the guy who thinks..intense and intelligent”
    but you washed out…oh I’m sure it was the “other guys’ fault” — they didn’t respect the vision or you were doing all the work or something else that puts you as the good guy, maybe even the victim.

    So now you have an entry-level job you hate and you feel your brilliance isn’t appreciated.
    yeah, just like the band, your supervisor is ‘incompetent’ (it’s always the other guy’s fault)

    So now you blog about some ‘scene’ (so you can control context and interview guys you know and be self-congratulatory, but that’s “the scene”) and share your razor insight.
    Musically, you still want to play, but now you are evolving into being yet more sophisticated and maybe blend all the styles your super-wide ranging tastes. Oh, you know this won’t appeal to “the common man”, it’s going to be too sophisticated for that. You don’t expect to rule the rock world like you used to when yu were a “kid in college”, now you are going to be a” music lover’s musician”, a semi-obscure genius that doesn’t sell out big shows but has a rep.

    that’s just
    hipster model #25-174
    I think there’s a sale on them right now because there’s an overstock.

  7. @ Kenny Price

    LMAO!!!!

  8. I think it’s fantastic that artists don’t feel compelled to constantly express a concern they have politically or socially. Making good music should be the highest priority for the artist. To attempt to make the Listener believe a certain thing or feel a certain way about society or politics is childish in my opinion. If one wants to develop their view about the forementioned topics I think the last thing they should do is look to musicians, who are often the most ego-driven fucks there are, to figure it out.

    Don’t get me wrong, artists/songwriters/musicians have every right to express their views about society and politics and give commentary, but the strength of that voice does not determine whether or not the music is good.

  9. Well, it looks like I owe you an apology – I said you were probably in a rock band that was ‘the next generation of rock’

    after looking at some posts by a ‘sabriel9v’ it turns out that “Beatrix Kiddo” were the “heirs to rock royalty”

    tons different 😉

    so I guess I only get half credit on that one

    Why did you leave that one again?

    so with the LMAO –
    you aren’t 23-27?
    your degree?
    like your job much?

    I notice you still haven’t told your readers that you cherry pick comment posts.
    wouldn’t want them to know the whole story?
    a little too much truth for ya there?

  10. One reason you might feel frustrated and confused is that the Rauschenberg talks about being a witness to one’s time but the “What happened to standing up to the man and pointing your middle finger at him?” sentiment is activism.
    Witnessing and acting can often be at odds – activists tend to make TERRIBLE witnesses b/c they have strong and interested bias.

    Likewise “bear the brands of the counterculture.” can also be a hazard to the artist as witness. By branding, we have pointed a commodifier at it, we have simply painted or removed a star from the sneetch’s belly…rebellion as a sales tool (MTN Dew, the Jackass franchise, Avril Lavigne, even the marketing of the SexPistols as per the “Filth and Fury” sub- title of this article)
    Furthermore, when we put it as “THE counterculture” we’ve defined things singularly and made views not “alternative” but more of a monolithic “minority party”.

    [which brings us back to activism vs witness and that also begs the question – if the artist is embracing or obliged to embrace a specific and even minority (counter-) phenomenon, are they accurately and honestly witnessing?]

    I think others have covered the point of obligation in sufficient detail and I agree with much of what has been written.

    I don’t think the stereotyping, both by the author and the commenting readers is particularly useful.
    The superficialities may very well exist “white mocha drinkers” vs”disenchanted liberal arts baccalaureate” and so on.
    These may be the circumstances and they may be accurate up to that point, but I don’t believe they accurately reflect the internal world or thoughtfulness of someone within those conditions . weather “those damn kids” are large trousered teenagers or an underemployed 20-something or something else – “those damn kids” is merely a dismissal because they “aren’t what it used to be” and that makes for poor witnessing.

    In closing, with regard to the terminal question
    “is it still the artist’s obligation to be a witness of his or her time in history?”

    I don’t feel it ever necessarilly was. It’s A job, or maybe an approach an artist can choose to pursue, but I don’t believe it is THE job.

  11. I wouldn’t worry abt it to the point where you feel “feel frustrated and confused”. Especially as it most has to do with the actions of others, not your own. think about how it feels when someone else puts their “SHOULD” on your back – not so groovy.
    I wouldn’t give the ‘youth’ too much flak (to me, I’m 41, you are PART of ‘todays youth’). Think about how you thought and felt just a couple of years ago – think about how your views have changed.
    Now take a minute to keep in mind that you at 30 and 40 and 50 is going to look back at the 24-25 year old you.

    We do what we can with the information and experience we have.

    Well, seems like the blog is making its rounds which is good.

  12. Some bands are afraid to offend someone who might hear their music, someone who might know somebody who can do something for them. It’s all about networking these days, and nobody wants to screw up any possible chance to be plucked from the quagmire of okay college bands.
    They’ve forgotten that rock and roll is all about heart, and you must offend the mind to re veal the heart.
    Then there are the other bands who are just underwhelmingly shitty.

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