Strokesism and the Rise of Uniformity
by Ben Corry of The Madding Crowd
In the past decade or so an epidemic has hit music as we know it, and has turned it, for the most part, into something absolutely clogged with passionless people, regurgitating music, sneering at anything that shows any form of imagination, genuine enthusiasm and conceptual creativity and generally coming across themselves as dull, repetitive carbon copied pastiches of what has gone before, who think they're better than they are and mock those who are truly talented. I don't know if there's an official name for the disease at the heart of this epidemic, and I imagine the NHS don't give much credence to any forms of artistic brain damage as a genuine disease, so I think I'll name it myself. I think I will call it.... Strokesism.
Please bear in mind that Strokesism is in no way related to an actual stroke, although people who suffer from it do often look as though they have no feeling down the left side of their body. On either side actually, I don't think they have any feelings at all. The main symptoms of Strokesism are -
* Standing absolutely still on stage and looking at the floor, with an expression of indifference on your face. This symptom can be particularly humiliating for the victim, as, rather than conveying a sense of cool, moody and trendiness, it makes them look like a self-conscious, pretentious, boring, cynical prick. Except to music journalists, to whom is looks like an air of cool, moody trendiness.
* Writing songs that make no attempt to be anything other than grey, monotonous indie-music-by-numbers Talking Heads pastiches. Strokesism also gives its victims an uncanny ability to fool music journalists into thinking that they have created something really vital and new, when in fact they're just doing what everyone else has been doing for years, only they're doing it with an engineered sense of nonchalance. In this sense they are less victims, more unworthy benefactors.
* Standing on stage in your boring clothes that everybody else around you is wearing and trying to tell everyone that it's cool to be like everybody else, and it's cool to be apathetic and passionless, then sniggering at people when they try and make an effort to do something daring, different or original. I'm not asking people to be like Kiss or something - heaven forbid - but if you're not the kind of person who wants to dress in an eye catching manner, and that's fine, then it should come naturally anyway to make the effort to convey a sense of passion and genuine conviction when you play your songs live. Some of my favourite unsigned and signed bands do this and in my opinion they're a thousand times more captivating and magical than certain 'Generation-defining' New York City bands. Alas, people who suffer from Strokesism do neither, and their condition also means that they are horribly cynical towards the concepts of imagination, magic and audible passion in music. They think those things aren't very cool. It's not their fault, they can't help it.
* Deliberately saying nothing of worth in interviews, and giving answers that either constitute one mumbled word, a snarkey giggle, or one line of such absolutely heinous banality that it is impossible to get one's head around the concept of these people actually having an artistic bone in their body. Strokesism sufferers either do this because they are genuinely uninteresting people, and really do have nothing at all to say, or because they are misguidedly trying to cultivate a sense of enigma about themselves.
* Research is ongoing into determining whether Strokesism sufferers are blessed with a sixth sense that means that they are aware that a lot of people like their idols dumbed-down, and whether they deliberately use that sixth sense to their advantage, or whether they are just genuinely stupid and tedious. That aforementioned sixth sense seems to work because, if I can reiterate, people with Strokesism are beloved by music journalists.
* And finally, possibly the most disappointing and tragic symptom of Strokesism, is the lack of support for those around you who aren't doing exactly what you're doing. This is most damaging amongst unsigned Strokesism sufferers, and has the unfortunate effect of making them look like horrible, braindead, obnoxious bastards. The amount of times I've heard Strokesism sufferers sniping behind my back or struggling to stifle their infantile laughter when I've decided to splash a bit of eyeliner on or wear something sparkly, numbers well into the teens, which may not seem like a lot, but it's more than enough to make one become jaded. I'm hardly doing anything revolutionary, and I'm only really doing it because I like to dress that way, but at least I'm attempting to do something different. Do what you want, but don't then mock me for doing what I want, cos what I'm doing, and what so many under-praised unsigned and signed bands are doing, is 10-times more exciting than your fucking bilge.
Yes, it is disappointing, given the prominence in popular music history of luminaries such as David Bowie and Morrissey, that people in bands, as a majority, seem to suffer so much from the narrow-mindedness that comes with Strokesism, but it is at the same time unsurprising, due to the continued, inexplicable influence of dullard philistines such as Oasis and The Strokes. There are a few shining lights, whom I will address later on, but it seems to me that for years now an overwhelmingly large majority of guitar bands coming through, both signed and unsigned, have been far too content to simply try and rehash the so-called glories of what has gone by before, from 'their' music right down to the way they act on stage and in interviews, and what comes with bands taking the same kind of mentality, in an overwhelming majority, as bands like Oasis and The Strokes is thus - everyone becomes boring and the same, and everyone is content to stay that way because they think it is that dispassionate tedium that makes them interesting. It also gives them an undeserved sense of their own worth, and gives them the impression that they are more important, talented, exciting and interesting than they actually are.
The amount of times I've seen bands on stage playing the same landfill Indie dross, stood there with their heads down, showing no hint that they actually want to be there at all, coming across as horrendously earnest and tepid when they think they're coming across as mysterious and interesting and then leaving without saying a single word to any of the other bands or watching anyone else's set numbers about 90% of the gigs I've played with my band, The Madding Crowd. The amount of times bands have done all of the above but stayed and been obnoxious instead of leaving also numbers, as I said before quite a few. Designer Magazine gigs are special because they promote an ethos of supporting each other, which is a wonderful thing, and something that few other promoters do, however it even happens at their gigs. Just last week when we played Dry Bar two of the bands upped and left immediately after their set, and made it clear that they were taking every single member of their audience with them. Thanks guys! That definitely helps everyone.
But it's not just that mentality that's my problem, it's the fact that bands like this seem to be the Status Quo, and as a result of that guitar music has become absolutely stagnant, clogged up with bands that show no hint of even trying to do something exciting, everyone is just content to rehash, rehash, rehash. It's like everyone has become so lazy and unartistic that they can't even be bothered to look within themselves for inspiration, and instead of running on their own instincts they run off of everything that everybody else is doing, their instincts become pastiches of other people's instincts, they don't have an original idea in their head and yet they think they're entitled to so much more than they are - and then they multiply like cancer cells, eating away at people's willingness to try new things until people's resolve just dies, and they get what they expect, and they like it, and they don't even know how bored they are, to a point where they wake up, look for an alternative, and realise that all they've got is the rotting banquet of vacuous, hateful, bigoted pop music that we see before us in the charts in 2012. People turn away from Guitar bands, because too many Guitar Bands are being lazy and apathetic, so why shouldn't their audience in turn treat them with lazy apathy? There are, however, ways to fix this....
If you're writing songs, throw absolutely every inch of yourself into them. If one puts oneself into ones work one creates something that is their's and their's alone, a stand-alone work - something original. Instead of relying primarily on the ideas of others to write your songs, look inside yourself, go with your own instincts, think of the wildest things you can imagine and put them into your songs and you will come up with something that is absolutely magical. I'm not saying that it is bad to be influenced by others, nothing is completely original, and it never has been, however that doesn't mean that it's impossible to create something unique. Influences should be the foundation of what you're creating, but they shouldn't be the whole thing, bands need to inject some of their own personality into their songs, that way it becomes interesting, it becomes something new, and that way it continues to be something new - people will evolve as songs evolve. If people take the philistine, derivative approach to songwriting and to being in a band that too many people are doing now then Guitar music will stay in the rut that it's in.
Another thing that not enough people do is play their songs and talk about their songs with fearless passion and conviction. As I said before, this really should come naturally to people in bands, one would assume that people get into bands because they love music, which in turn means they should have a lot to say about it. I could talk to death about my band, and songwriting and bands that I love, so when I see interviews where bands just give one-word answers or give the most absolutely sinfully boring answers imaginable that total about one line's worth of text and say nothing of depth about anything I get incredibly frustrated and start to think 'NO! Why on Earth don't you have more to say about this? Why on Earth are you so utterly uncommitted to pushing the one thing in your life you should absolutely love that you won't even say anything interesting about it?'. I really cannot understand why people don't good expand beyond either saying banal things like 'we're just four lads from the North with Guitars', or spouting idiotic Gallagher clichés like 'we're gonna be the biggest band in the world.'. Why can't people talk about what their music means to them? Why can't they say what it's about beyond simply saying it's really good? I find it so frustrating because there are so many things that people could say but don't. As music people, why isn't it in people's DNA to talk about it until the cows come home with an enthusiasm and vigour that makes it sound interesting? I just don't understand! Even worse is the former, wherein people go on stage, play their songs lifelessly, and make themselves look as generic as can be - The Vaccines write generic music, but I enjoy it because there's a real passionate energy about it, and it really comes across live as well. I've seen far too many bands just willing to stand there and play their instruments, looking down, mumbling between songs. It makes them look bored, and in turn boring, and it makes their songs sound like background noise. How can you be so blasé and dead about something you've created? Something that should, to you, be the most beautiful thing in the world? Again, I simply don't understand why bands are so content to be generic, to stick to the Status Quo, to appear - whether they're being disingenuous or not - so unspeakably bored, to be so lazy in creating music. There is nothing wrong with chaos, passion and theatrics. Those things are a release. Even when you watch Radiohead and you see them all stood there you can see in their faces and in their eyes that they are feeling every second of it, and wringing every last ounce of intensity out of every note. When you see The Strokes just stood there, you see absolutely nothing. It's like they are dead inside.
I don't know, I'm either the last of a dying breed or the first of a fucking wonderful new breed, but I just feel that there really is a lack of genuine creativity amongst bands at the moment, which stems from the fact that too many people are happy to stay within the established framework and just coast along, rather than trying something really, truly imaginative and different, and when the established framework is one of apathy and cynicism, then we really are all in trouble.
There are a good few bands who are an exception to this. Arcade Fire, Glasvegas and My Chemical Romance come to mind immediately as bands who are good because they put themselves into their music and created something that is instantly recognisable as their's and their's alone. Yes, one cannot deny their influences, but the finished article these bands produce could be pulled off by nobody else. I also believe with all my heart that there are so many unsigned bands out there not getting the credit they deserve that it really is unreal. Sam Smith and Company are absolutely incredible, a fireball of passion and energy, every word Sam spits out has a genuine weight behind it, and you can feel that he genuinely cares about the songs he is singing and the band he is playing with. It helps that the songs are magnificent, beautiful guitar-pop gems that feel as though they've been thrown out from the man's very soul. The Zero Symphony are a prime example of a spectacular, creative, original band who for some reason haven't been picked up and turned into the most celebrated Hard Rock band in the world, because they should be - that's how good they are. They are doing something that no one else is doing, they are playing Metal with a pop core. And I don't mean the clichéd Marina and the Diamonds 'Throw-some-synths-on-it-and-now-it's-a-pop-album' approach to pop music, the pop The Zero Symphony play is entrenched in the melodies, in the very songwriting itself, like it flows through their veins, and as such it does absolutely nothing to detract from the visceral metal backbone of their incredible music. There is nothing superficial about what they do.
There are so many other bands I could talk about but I don't want to go on, Sankofa, Suzie Does It and Stop Motion Silence deserve honourable mentions, as do The Holy Ghosts and Twinkle and the Sluts. All bands doing something original and exciting, and all bands that are being overlooked far too much. All of these names should be familiar by now, and they're not, but make no mistake, they will be.
There is a lot of hope to be held out for Guitar music, but a lot of bands are just coasting along on the glories of someone else's idea, to a point where those glories are no longer glorious at all. Too many bands have Strokesism. I said earlier in this stream-of-consciousness diatribe that it's not the fault of people with Strokesism that they are the way they are, they can't help it. Maybe you can. Instead of being lazy and derivative go with your instincts and look within yourself for inspiration, instead of being cynical and self-conscious, be fearless and passionate, and instead of being hateful and mocking, encourage people to be different, encourage people to do something that nobody else is doing. If everyone keeps on blindly doing the same thing, then no one is really doing anything.
Ben Corry is frontman is alternative Manchester band The Madding Crowd - listen here http://www.facebook.com/Vivalamaddingcrowd
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