Enough is enough. Guitar-based alternative rock will no longer be locked out. EDM was king in 2012, but I am hereby declaring 2013, “The Year of the Guitar.” The cold, emotionless compilation of 1s and 0s that make up EDM will never withstand the assault of the unpredictable squeal of a Fender guitar through a Marshall amp.
EDM is short for electronic dance music, a phrase that could describe any music with a beat made by with a machine. But last year, it meant the rise of artists like Swedish House Mafia, Skrillex, Deadmau5. In the late ’80s, acts like The Chemical Brothers convinced us that electronic music was fashionable and hip. But then came Prodigy, whose misogyny and banality ruined a promising genre.
Electronic music became diluted and commercialized. What replaced it? Bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden unleashed the power of grunge guitar as a reaction to the lack of true human emotion symbolized by electronic music. And now it’s time for the cycle to repeat itself.
As 2012 progressed, the telltale signs of a rapidly imploding genre surfaced. Jersey Shore’s Pauly D became the seventh highest-paid DJ on the strength of playing EDM gigs. Deadmau5 wrote that virtually anyone could be an EDM DJ with a mere hour of instruction. And you knew the end was nigh when Radio Disney routinely played EDM mega-stars David Guetta and Calvin Harris. Critics and members of the EDM community themselves began to complain about the “dumbing down” of electronic music. A genre that was born from the underground has lost touch with its roots, a problem compounded by its inability to connect with people viscerally in the same way that guitar rock does.
By the end of 2012, the media began to clamor for the return of the guitar to replace a fading genre. The BBC was one of the first to weigh in, as Neil McCormick wrote in The Telegraph in December, “The number of guitar bands who made the BBC Sound of 2013 longlist shows the music industry wants to see the return of noisy, tribal rock.”
Always one to jump on the latest trend, NME put in their vote for change: “As 2012 wore on, the new acts we found ourselves getting most excited about weren’t bedroom DID-symphonists, but y’know… bands. Old-skool, honest-to-goodness bands with lead guitarists and fallible human rhythm sections who made the odd mistake and everything.”
Even industry giant Virgin Media published an article on its website, where it wrote, “With the charts dominated by the joyless splicing of Eurodance… there’s a hankering for something more organic. Could guitar music be on the way back for 2013?”
“Watching somebody wail on a guitar is much more emotionally stimulating than some guy nodding his head behind a Mac book,” says Nick Rattigan of the band Surf Curse, an awesome lo-fi guitar band from Nevada.
Sub-Pop Records was at the forefront of the last explosion of guitar-based rock, with bands like Nirvana and Mudhoney capturing the imagination of a generation and changing the way the industry viewed rock. With bands like METZ, whose sound is wonderfully reminiscent of early Nirvana, Sub-Pop appears poised to be a major player in “The Year of the Guitar.”
“The performances of a really good rock band tend to be a little less passive and more directly engaging than watching a DJ,” says Chris Jacobs, Sub-Pop GM/A&R. In addition to METZ, he cited Dum Dum Girls, Titus Andronicus and The Babies as prime examples of great guitar-based bands.
Psych Rock, whose popularity continues to grow thanks to buzz created by the Austin Psych Fest, is another example of a genre that makes great use of the guitar to pummel adoring fans with waves of feedback, distortion and bliss. This years APF features the likes of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and The Black Ryder.
In England, bands like the brilliantly named The History of Apple Pie champion a far more polished sound, with shimmering guitar sounds crafting perfect melodies. Palma Violets and Savages have been championed as “the next big thing” in the British music press, while The Vaccines posted a number-one album in England in December. All are primed to be the latest “British Invasion,” toting guitars and massive rock sounds.
We get waves of guitar music periodically, with movements seeming to coalesce every few years. At the beginning of the century it was The Strokes and The White Stripes. A few years later is was The Killers and Kings of Leon. Guitar heroes have always been poised to jump to the forefront and 2013 appears to be the beginning of the new cycle.
If the rumors are true and the Rolling Stones are pegged to headline Coachella, it will be a defining moment. Yes, Mick and the boys are decades past their most productive years, but it’s an indication that the folks at Coachella are turning their back on EDM and recognizing that it’s only rock and roll — but we like it.
Todd Cochran is the managing editor of the music blog The Dumbing of America.
Image courtesy of Flickr, Hell, Etc