Thursday, October 29, 2009

yeah the funny thing is that in a weird way, whatever you think of their music taste or bigotries, the surviving pockets of rockist values are in some ways also surviving pockets of recalcitrance in the face of market-oriented thinking. rockism is about loyalism, to a genre or whatever. so for instance the extreme form of rockism is blind loyalty to a single band as the Greatest Thing Ever -- which is directly opposed to consumerism, because once you've got the records, all you do is listen to them over and over. obviously the industry tries to exploit even this with double disc cd repackaging of beloved albums with a bonus disc of 'desirable' alternate versions etc, box sets, live dvds, etc but its real interest lies in encouraging a kind of genre-crossing, promiscuous consumerism that keeps moving on and on.

i was going to argue at one point on my blog that rockism had generated 1000s of bands etc but anti-rockism was utterly sterile. in fact that's not true and
the Pet Shop Boys are totally a product of that discourse that started with NME and Paul Morley. in fact neil tennant was a music journalist at Smash Hits!

it's difficult making this point of Neo-rockism though because people think you're talking about the Hold Steady. to me anyone from grime to Kanye West to Isolee is rockist in the sense of thinking there's something Art-like and therefore (however you define it) "improving" in their music -- improving might just mean a commitment to new sounds and new sensations

but then it's a mistake to think that rockism itself is only about rock. to me genres as various as hip hop, gabba, grime, freak-folk -- they're all rockist, in so far as they're about a certain set of values (undergroundism, notions of the 'real' and authenticity, ideas of rawness of sound etc).

At a more philosophical level, rockism encompasses a range of attitudes (it's not really an ideology but a field of discourse, with disagreements within it -- Greil marcu's rockism is different from Lester Bangs is different from... ) that include Auteurism, ideas of change-through-music and change-in-music (so that includes all celebrations of music in terms of progression, whether it's an artist like the Beatles changing from album to album, or prog rock, or drum'n'bass with all its talk of the future); ideas of danger and trangression, of subversion and rebellion, etc.

A lot of the anti-rockism advocates seem to regard any reference to concepts like these as rockist. So for instance to talk about the Neptunes or Timbaland as exceptional producers is rockist because it's treating them as privileged auteurs.

Certain judgement position are forbidden (like the fake/authentic distinction); indeed at the extreme judgement itself seems to be looked down on as something "we don't do".

One definition of Rockism as criticism i came up with is any approach that takes into account Context, Content, Intent, Integrity, and Form (meaning in this case, formal Innovation). as far as i'm concerned, if you take ALL these off the table there's not that much to discuss really. Integrity is an optional extra for me as obviously a lot of scoundrels make good music, but i mean more a kind of aesthetic integrity i think.

your analogy with anti-rockism and deconstruction is bang on the money -- there's certain parallels (derrida et al retreating from the disappointment of 1968 into this self-mutiliating philosophy that doesn't create anything new in terms of values but just picks apart the enlightenment) and the anti-rockists retreating from the failure of rock to change the world (first in 68/69, and then again in 1978 with the failure of punk) and coming up with a kind of anti-criticism that seeks to prove it was a mistake to ever consider that pop was art in the first place, or that rock had transformative power. For me while it's useful to correct some of the biases and bigotries of "rockist" thinking (e.g. that people have to write their own songs for the songs to be meaningful; that songs have to be meaningful to be powerful or interesting), it's ultimately a really sterile stance.

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