It’s sad to say it but I think I’m going off dance music. Perhaps it’s just because I’m getting older but I also have been thinking today about music and the way it is created just now and I’m thinking that it’s time to totally reassess this situation.
The current dance music trend started in the 80’s and it has also been from about that time that we have seen a ossification in the way music is produced for the mass market. I’m going to be blunt here. Music has not really been about music for about the last 40 years. If you want to “succeed” in music the primary requisite is that you have a pretty face and a fit body, and that applies whether you are male or female. That you have any aptitude for music is secondary. The music itself is actually incidental. And this is why it all really is so formulaic. The music strives to be instantly recognizable as X, whatever that genre may be. The power of music is that despite its exploitation it still has the ability to grip the emotions and get people to feel and form important memories of times and places.
I think it is time now for us to wake up to this. Apple, Spotify and all the major streaming platforms all perpetuate the model of the image over music, of the fan following wanting to be close to their objects of desire. There is a way to get out of this and it is to totally reassess what the fundamental purpose of music is. Music is an expression not a product. If we look at nature, birds sing, wolves howl and whales and dolphins create sonic beauty but it comes from wanting to express their aliveness.
I have been more interested in the social environment of the folk session in the past couple of years mainly because it seems to be more about the expression of music and collective belonging. I know it is not possible to participate in this just now because of the situation but it will be again soon.
I also think that many of the other arts have been infected by the attitudes of the music “industry”. Spoken word poetry for instance has shifted into a space that again favours the image, the pretty face and it has meant that the medium which has helped to propel it forward recently is YouTube. The artists who perform defer to the standard spoken word style which is very recognisable with its emphasis on the…………hiatus. But this makes the performer legitimate. And again the roots of the current spoken word movement are deep in the music of hop-hop which was a development of the 80’s music machine. I do not want to completely denigrate any of these artforms because they are also forms of expression and involve skill but we need to see them for what they are. Otherwise we are going to keep falling into the trap that the “business” sets for us, which is to think of it as a business in the first place.
Now I do want to say that performers and the considerable talents they have should be recognised and valued. I feel that my life would have been lacking considerably in an important way if it didn’t have music in it and that has often been through the conventional routes. However I must pose the question: surely there is a way that we can liberate music from the overarching influence of the corporate machine? How can it and other artforms be freed from the vaulting ambitions of the business executives who will opt every time for the obvious choices of a safe investment in sheer looks? I think we have to go back to basics and the grass-roots to find the answers.