Babyshambles stalwart Drew McConnell is returning to action with his other band (well someone else in Babyshambles is doing a similar thing) Helsinki this month. Not only kicking off a UK tour at Bristol's Start The Bus on 19 April, but releases new single Keys on 18 May. He's written us a guest column arguing that Rock'n'Roll is due a comeback... we just need the right band with massive tunes. No not THAT one...
Over the last few years the amount of conversations I’ve had about the death of rock'n'roll has increased at an alarming rate. DJs are headlining festivals; televised talent shows are now ubiquitous and guitar bands on BBC1 daytime playlists are almost non-existent. A friend of mine makes the claim that the Rock'n'Roll Songbook has now been written, that there’s no way new bands could top the output of classic rock giants like Queen, Pink Floyd, The Who, Led Zepplin etc, not to mention The Beatles or The Stones.
Other genres seem to be doing fine – Hip-Hop, EDM & Pop are all thriving in the mainstream. You may question the quality, but it’s undeniable that they are powering forward. So what’s the matter with rock'n'roll? When The Sex Pistols lurched into the public consciousness, the impact they made was because rock had become bloated and disconnected from it’s audience. Mainstream rock'n'roll these days seems less bloated and more… anemic. As anyone my age will remember, Nirvana had a similarly devastating effect on Hair Metal at the beginning of the 90s: suddenly 10-14 year olds realized that Motley Crüe and Poison sucked. It was like a magic trick – Hey, you know all those bands you like? Well actually, you don’t like them at all. The paradigm span on a dime. And feeling my 11 year-old brain exploding when I first listened to Nevermind is a moment I’ll never forget. Someone had altered the lens, and I knew that the game had changed forever.
But Nirvana didn’t just hold a mirror up to rock'n'roll. They had a seismic effect on mainstream pop too. It was like a veil had been lifted. It wasn’t only Poison and Motley Crüe that seemed instantly passé; acts like Michael Bolton and Vanilla Ice seemed twice as ridiculous in the post-Nirvana world. I’m not saying they did this alone, many great bands paved their way. Perhaps there was something in the air, because a decade of great guitar music on both sides of the pond followed, and much of it owed little to Nirvana, musically at least. It had all been bubbling below the surface… but it does feel like Kurt punched a hole in the fabric of the mainstream that allowed everything else to pour through.
One point of view is that conditions are no longer right for this to happen again. People ain’t paying for music, and without label support it’s becoming harder for new guitar bands to develop. When was the last time a rock'n'roll band that emerged post-2005 headlined a UK festival? Increasingly, the festival circuit is being dominated by so-called Heritage Acts – supporting my friend’s theory that the Rock'n'Roll Songbook has been written. I prefer to think it’s just a period of re-adjustment, and soon that balance will be redressed. But for now it remains true that the vast majority of bands don’t have the backing they once did to nurture proper development.
While discussing the apparently fragile fate of rock'n'roll, another friend recently said “well, don’t be surprised, we had a good run of it. How long was Swing music at the top? Or Big Band music? Can’t last forever mate”. I guess I don’t need rock'n'roll to be “at the top”. I don’t hanker for a Bill & Ted-like utopia where loud guitars are the dominant cultural currency. Honestly, I don’t! But I just fucking love it when a band comes along and rattles the system that those holding the purse strings have spent so long putting in place (Arctic Monkeys circa 2005 for example). Looking back, the rock'n'roll bands that have managed to do this had two main things in common: 1) Brilliant songs, and 2) a public that are at the point where drab, boring, predictably homogenised culture is making their shit itch.
I’m optimistic. I really think the stage is set: people are pissed off, skint, and ready for something new to kick off. I’m not dismissing what’s out there already, quite the opposite. Like 1990, right now there are loads of exciting acts below the radar of mainstream culture. I genuinely think the likes of Peace, Joanna Gruesome, Slaves and Savages (to name a few) are doing very good and important work, and brand new acts like Tandem Felix and Ratboy are justifiably getting everybody excited. Then there’s Sleaford Mods, bless ‘em, actually saying out loud what everyone else is thinking. You can feel it right? There’s something in the air again – the time is right for the right band to come along and kick the door open. We’re all willing it to happen. But they’re gonna need massive tunes. Massive. Tunes. I hope they’re girls too. Drew McConnell @drewhelsinki
For more visit Drewhelsinki.com.