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Is rock music dead or alive?

Sarthak Kaushik | Updated on March 06, 2020 Published on March 05, 2020

Top it: Bono, lead singer of rock band U2 — officially the highest grossing live artistes in the world — at a concert in Mumbai last year   -  PTI

Is rock still riding on ageing greats? Or are there new stars on the firmament?

Bengaluru band Parvaaz’s latest album Kun, released last October, infused the indie scene with promising sounds of rock. It was perhaps a relief for those whose sonic meals were mostly made up of a heady mix of power chords and extended guitar solos. The beacons of aural hope had, over the years, grown rather feeble, and the burning question continued to haunt listeners — is rock well and truly dead? Parvaaz’s fearless effort was a welcome shot in the arm for the indie rock scene, where sweat-soaked solos and screaming vocal chords were becoming features on an endangered list.

So, are reports of the demise of noise exaggerated? Are “rock nights”, the rite of passage for a whole generation of college-goers, now doomed to the annals of nostalgia?

Globally, the numbers remain confusing. U2, the venerable Irishmen with the weight of the world on their very experienced shoulders, are officially the highest grossing live artistes in the world. The band has amassed $1.38 billion in revenue from crazed fans lining up at the turnstiles. Sir Mick and Old Keef come second. The Rolling Stones are still gathering the green stuff by the wheelbarrows, with the band raking in $929 million in ticket sales since the turn of the century. For a band that started in the ’60s, went through a disastrous disco phase and ended up being associated with rather unfortunate angels (you will have to read that story for yourself, as it deserves that kind of attention — if for nothing else than to underline the greys), and whose machine chugs on the miraculous engine of Keith Richards, the earnings are perhaps par for the very lucrative nostalgia course it offers.

So, a 60-year-old Irishman and a 77-year-old English knight (Mick Jagger was knighted, and, after a lot of hemming and hawing, he did wear the cape) are furiously waving the flag for rock music with more than a little support from the relatively sprightly 62-year-old Bruce Dickinson (a gentle reminder that he still creates an absolutely teeth-clenching experience on stage with his band Iron Maiden).

Is rock then riding on the shoulders of ageing giants?

The recently concluded Grammy Awards would have us believe so. This year saw American band Cage The Elephant walk away with the gramophone ahead of Rival Sons and Bring Me The Horizon. Gary Clark Jr had the year’s best rock song with This Land, beating out Tool’s much-awaited comeback effort Fear Inoculum. And while turning away from the golden gramophones for dubious choices might be easy, what might be more difficult, perhaps, would be to ignore that there seems to be a definite hyphenation of rock with other genres (yes, it did happen with Aerosmith and Run DMC imploring us to Walk This Way, but that was quite a while ago).

But cold numbers and frigid statuettes do not warm the beating hearts of rock lovers. Stories do. And, fortunately, there are still some very skilled storytellers inhabiting the scene. Perhaps the foremost of them is the man who beat the skins for the grungiest of them all. Dave Grohl, former drummer for Nirvana and current just-about-everything for Foo Fighters, is a rather robust spokesperson for the genre. He once supposedly said the lack of good rock albums was because young people had so little to rebel against. He also said that reality shows were not the way to get validation for music; the way to make music was to play hard, suck at it, and then keep playing till you were the biggest band in the world.

Sonic Highways saw him draw the sonic map of America, visiting some of the iconic musical milestones and recording with the greats who had made these venues their own. And this year he will celebrate that most rock-like of activities — the touring band travelling in vans — with a documentary,What Drives Us. It is supposed to be, at least according to the press release, a “deep dive into what possesses a particular tribe of human beings to leave behind jobs, families, relationships and any semblance of sanity to climb into a busted-ass Econoline and take their music to the people — or at least a dozen or so of them here and there. What Drives Us explores motivations, recounts personal anecdotes and explores the physical and psychological toll of touring in vans via interviews with members of van-tour veteran bands ranging from Black Flag and Dead Kennedys to Metallica and the Beatles, and many, many more.” The mouth, needless to say, waters at the prospect of the stories that this journey will produce.

So, is rock dead, dying or on its way to being obscured by the sands of time? Well, listen to Parvaaz sing Soye Ja, and if the chorus makes the sinews and nerves tingle with life, then the answer should be rather obvious, no?

(Mad About Music is a new monthly column on contemporary music)

Sarthak Kaushik   -  BUSINESS LINE

 

Sarthak Kaushik is an RJ at Ishq 104.8 FM, Delhi

Published on March 05, 2020
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