A Rocknworld.com Special
by Keavin Wiggins
My interest in the “raw rock” revival
started with a simple conversation outside a Hollywood nightclub last year.
With all the hype and expectations for this new musical movement, which
has recently been tagged with the lame moniker “nu garage” by the insipid
British press, I thought it would be a good time to take a closer look
at the bands and the scene that has everyone raving. So let’s cut through
the hype and see what this is really all about. - Keavin
One night late last year, I was standing
outside the Cat Club in Hollywood smoking a cigarette and as often happens
when you’ve had a few beers and are in a festive mood, standing around
killing time waiting for the headlining band to come on, you strike up
a conversation with the closest total stranger. Turns out the person I
began speaking with was in town on holiday from Sweden. I can’t recall
his name, but I remember the conversation like it was yesterday.
I’m always interested in music scenes from
around the world, what’s hot at a local level in hopes of catching on early
to the “next big thing”. So I asked my new found drinking buddy what the
Swedish music scene was like and he said, “Oh, you are thinking ABBA, right!
We will never live that down!” I laughed and said, “No, it’s not like that.”
I explained that in fact the CD we just a few days earlier proclaimed album
of the year came from a band from Stockholm called Prime STH. He said he
had never heard of them, I told him not to feel bad, practically no one
in the US has either! Then his face lit up as he started to explain that
the best band in Sweden that he was into was called “The Hives”.
I remembered hearing the name before but had never heard their music. He
became even more animated and started to proclaim that The Hives were going
to be “HUGE!”
Intrigued, I asked them what kind of music
they play and he said, “dirty power-pop” sort of like the New York Dolls
or Iggy Pop. I automatically thought of The Strokes who were beginning
to get buzzed about at that time. I asked him if they were similar to the
Stokes and he replied, “Yeah, but a lot better and more raw!” At about
that moment the headlining band struck their first chord, so we ended our
conversation and went inside but I didn’t forget the conversation and made
a mental note to myself to be sure and checkout The Hives.
Here we are several months later and it
turns out my drunken friend may have been right. The Hives weren’t a new
band at all; they have been around for almost ten years and had already
released a few albums and EP’s. But it wasn’t until earlier this year that
they landed the opportunity to take things to the next level with a major
label deal. Maybe it was the buzz and initial success of the Strokes that
caused Warner Brothers to offer The Hives a deal? That’s not important,
what is important is the fact that with WB behind them they were able to
break into the mainstream consciousness. Unlike their fellow Swedish rockers
The International Noise Conspiracy and The Hellacopters, The Hives were
offered the chance to breakout from the underground. Critical praise is
great and all but selling lots of records is better!
This current “raw rock” revival started
with a buzz in 2001 surrounding bands like The Strokes and Black Rebel
Motorcycle Club whose approach to music had a distinct revivalist feel
to it that sounded inspired by groups like the Stooges not Pearl Jam. Maybe
it was the craving of music scribes, radio programmers and music fans for
something different that set the hype into overdrive. “The Strokes
are going to be the next Nirvana!”
It hasn’t quite happened that way, at least
not yet. There has been a lot of excitement and yes hype around bands like
The Strokes, The Hives and The White Stripes and they are all getting health
airplay both on radio and on MTV but that excitement has yet to translate
into the kind of record sales that would mark the coming of a dominant
new music scene. It’s not quite where grunge was after Nirvana’s “Smells
Like Teen Spirit” hit and started a musical revolution back in the early
90’s. For that to happen this new “raw rock” revival, would have to displace
the current dominant popular rock music trends and make them suddenly “un-cool”
in much the same way that Grunge made Pop-metal “un-cool” almost overnight.
It is true that history does have a way
of repeating itself, even in the music industry. But the dynamics of the
business are much different today than they were even ten years ago. Even
more so now than at anytime in the history of rock, the industry is driven
by money. If a band fails to catch on, they don’t often get a second chance.
The concept of artist development and taking a long-term career view of
grooming bands until they hit does not really apply to the current situation.
So this “raw rock” revival can take one of three paths. It can continue
on as it is now, with plenty of critical praise and average sales. If they
maintain enough sales, the major record companies will keep them on the
roster and this style of music will become not the dominant genre but a
mildly successful sub-genre like pop-punk is now. Another path would be
for the current excitement and hype to die down and these bands will return
to the underground where the diehard fans will keep the genre viable on
a small scale. Or what we have seen thus far might have just been laying
the groundwork for a “raw rock” revival take over of the music industry,
in much the same way that Alice In Chains early success gave us a small
glimpse of the Grunge Revolution to come.
We will have to wait and see if we are
indeed in the beginning days of musical revolution. At this point we are
at least getting some mainstream exposure for this form of rock, which
is much better than the bad old days of a couple years ago where boybands
and teen diva’s rules the airwaves.
The Leaders of the next Musical Revolution?
– These New Yorkers were the early leaders of the “raw rock” revival. They
hit the mainstream running earlier this year after receiving critical praise
for their debut album, “Is This It?”. A lot of hype was created by the
British press who were quick to proclaim that The Strokes were the next
big thing and the best new band in the world! Their popularity in the UK
soared. American critics were almost equally enthusiastic as the Strokes
landed on many best of lists for 2001, which help landed them on the mainstream
radar in early 2002.
They approach rock with a definitive retro
feel, blurring the lines between John Lennon and the Velvet Underground.
The vocal similarities to Lou Reed are uncanny at times. At other times
they skate on the edge of 80’s alternative especially with songs like “Soma”
and “Someday”. The music is guitar based but it is actually a lot more
pop oriented and not as raw as the other bands that have emerged from this
genre like The White Stripes and The Hives.
– We couldn’t mention the “raw rock” revival without including the Black
Rebel Motorcycle Club. B.R.M.C. are arguably one of the first new “retro”
bands to hit the scene backed by a major label and scored an early minor
hit with “Love Burns” but they appeared to be about six months early to
the prom as their album was released in March of 2001.
B.R.M.C. has a some similarities with the
other retro rockers mentioned here but also blend in a lot of influence
from the late sixties sound that dominated the music scene in their home
town of San Francisco, leaning heavily on psychedelic tinged melodies.
When they came out they garnished a lot of comparisons to The Verve and
Jesus and Mary Chain.
Like the other bands in this genre, fans
in the UK were quick to embrace them, which helped the group score a Gold
album in Britain in June of this year. The support of Oasis’ Noel Gallagher
couldn’t help but endure the band to British fans. Gallagher was quick
to call B.R.M.C. his favorite new band upon hearing their demos and even
tried to sign them to his vanity label. Even though B.R.M.C. opted to go
with Virgin instead of with Gallagher’s label, Oasis’ support has never
faltered as the Gallagher brothers have lent their support to the group
since day one even giving B.R.M.C. the opening slot for Oasis concerts.
Here for the conclusion featuring The Hives, The White Stripes, The Vines
plus bands to watch for in the future, links and your chance to post your
thoughts on the "raw rock" revival.