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Rock and Roll Adapts to the Internet Age

Ryan Raffin | Wednesday, October 10, 2007

When the first Libertines album, “Up the Bracket,” came out on 2002 it was heralded as a very good album, but basically just “a British version of the Strokes.” Showing just how stupid music critics are, the Libertines have since become one of the most influential bands in Britain. You can’t swing a guitar in Manchester without hitting a bad Libertines rip-off. But this is typical of modern rock and roll bands. Since the beginning of the decade, how many bands have come into existence, gained some degree of popularity, and then broken up?

With the demise of radio, all it takes is a MySpace page for a band to become popular. Album sales may be down, but kids today (those rotten kids!) are listening to more music than ever, and in more genres. Ease of access has both accelerated and expanded consumption. The Internet has become the great equalizer, leveling the playing field and helping to destroy the major label stranglehold.

A good example of success in today’s rock music scene is Underoath’s last album, which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and went gold, all on an independent label and without any radio support. Despite Underoath’s abrasive sound, it still sold half a million records.

Doomsayers predict the death of music, but people listen to more music now than ever before (thanks Apple), and while they don’t buy the CDs, they go see the bands live and buy a shirt or two. That’s pretty much the way the business will continue to go, until rising gas costs cause the world to explode. Or something.

Related to Underoath is the rise of loud and aggressive music in all its myriad forms, with Underoath being arguably the most successful of these bands. Ten years ago, a band like Mastodon would never have received the coverage it does now. But its last album was on non-metal 2006 Best-of lists everywhere, from Pitchfork to Rolling Stone. And they are not alone: Lamb of God, Unearth, Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall, Norma Jean and Avenged Sevenfold (ew, by the way) all have huge fan bases.

What caused this increase in attention to bands that 10 years ago would have been called “extreme metal?” Well, there’s that Internet again, allowing anyone to hear anything. And it would be wrong to ignore the backlash against nu-metal as a contributing factor. People got sick of the frat-boy posturing of Limp Bizkit and Puddle of Mudd and decided to look for the real deal. All of a sudden, these loud, angry bands are seeing a lot more album sales, people at their concerts, more hits on their webpage and a whole bunch of mainstream music industry interest.

Aside from the loud stuff, what vaguely rock-and-roll-related music do people listen to? Well, there are really only two other choices. The poppy, watered-down genre incorrectly referred to as “emo” and the post-punk/new wave revival. Emo is an article unto itself – a very clichéd one at that. All that I’ll say about it is that slowed down pop-punk with 2.5 ballads per full length is nothing new, with apologies to the Plain White T’s.

The post-punk revival stuff is a lot better, mostly because they rip off of better bands. It all started in 2001, with The Strokes, who are undoubtedly the most influential band to emerge this decade. While nu-metal was still the dominant force in guitar-based music, the furor around the Strokes heralded a sea change in the industry and in what people listened to.

“Is This It” is one of the few albums that actually changed music. It opened the floodgate for Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, Interpol, Arctic Monkeys and the aforementioned Libertines, among countless others. Credit for this change can also be given to the concurrently emerging White Stripes, but without the success of The Strokes, we would have only aural trash like Hinder.

So how much has rock and roll changed since the ever-so-distant year of 1997? It’s nearly unrecognizable from what it was 10 years ago. No one listens to the radio, watches MTV or buys CDs. Music that would have been esoteric in past years can now be readily found on the iPod of all but the most radio-obsessed zombies.

Is music better today? Easily better than what was being produced circa 1997. Better than ’87? Possibly, depending on how much you like Guns’n’Roses. ’77? Not likely. And ’67? Don’t even joke. Music in general is changing, as it always does. It’s just a little more evident today than it sometimes is. But it won’t just roll over and die. Rock ‘n roll will continue to exist. How will it look in 10 years? I don’t know, but I’m sure looking forward to finding out.