“I used to be with it, but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m with isn’t ‘it’, and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to me . . . and it’ll happen to you, too.” – Abe Simpson.
“It’s a shit business.” – Les McQueen.
How terrible it must be to be an aging rocker. How terrible it must be to have once been on the cutting age and to now be as dull as a stump.
Even worse, how terrible it must be to have been someone, not a fan in the mosh pit but a star on stage, strutting like a cockerel, the living embodiment of every rock ghost playing rhythm in heaven. There’s a sea of small faces in front of you, and every one knows your name; it’s the name you gave yourself, the one that made you sound dangerous, and they chant it as you play and spit song out over them. You are immortal. You are rock.
And how terrible it must be to get old, to lose your hair, your swagger, your everything.
Whatever happened to Johnny Rotten? He didn’t get an ice pick through the head: he became John Lydon, off-kilter king of the jungle, modern day spokesperson for Country Life butter, ousting animated wurzels who used to sing “You won’t put a better bit of butter on your knife.” The primo punk hell-raiser, re-imagined for an ITV audience.
Though he did call the ITV audience a bunch of cunts during a live link up with Ant and Dec. Good for him.
How terrible it must be to find your skinny jeans no longer fit. Holes carefully torn to reveal maximum skin are now exits through which sagging belly protrudes. Nappy pin ear piercings close up. You still think The Ramones sound better on vinyl but Currys don’t sell record players anymore; you’d find one on eBay but you never learned how to use the Internet.
Fuck the Internet! Do MP3s have soul? Do they hiss and crackle to life with a sound that change every time you listen to it? Digital bollocks, that’s all they are: ones and cold zeros stamped on i-branded butt-plugs. Fuck it: that isn’t music.
Rockers age gracelessly–except for the Thin White Duke of course. Bowie’s still as popular as ever he was but where’s Ziggy Stardust now? Retirement home, probably, with Johnny Rotten, eating liver and onions through their dentures. They got old. They gave up. Me? I’ll never die.
And you’re tuning your guitar like you’re Elvis Costello, giving it a strum–it takes you back.
Thump. Thump. Thump. A sound like the end of the world, coming from upstairs.
And up you go, and you knock, punching the door with the aggression of the ages. The sound’s so loud you struggle to be heard–and you never used to have a problem with that, not back in the day.
David opens the door. He looks peeved.
“It’s a bit loud,” you say.
“Could you turn it down?”
“Just a little, eh?”
He turns it down, just a little. You can’t tell the difference, but “Thanks,” you say, all the same.
Back in your music room. Thirty guitars on the wall, each with their own character, their own sound. You try playing again, but . . .
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.
. . . you can’t hear it over your son’s goddamned noise.
So you put the guitar back on its rack. “Going down the pub,” you say to nobody in particular.
Two pints down, you wonder where it all went wrong.
I worry. I’m a raver, not a rocker. By rights I should have addled my brain with chemicals, but I never made it to the rave, never made it to the club. Sat in my room like David, listening to the Thump. Thump. Thump of electronic dance music. Read the magazines. Followed the charts. Bought the CDs. Still buy them as a matter of fact. Never understood the fuss about records. Crackle only distracted from the song, made it sound tinny. Maybe if I’d had a decent turntable rather than some Matsui shit I’d have appreciated it.
I was brought up with tapes: warbling, chewable tapes. One side of the Matsui ate anything placed in it so I used the other deck exclusively. Recorded late night sessions off the radio. Took personal stereos to school. Did the pencil trick, winding loops back onto the reels. Sounded like shit, did tapes.
I’ll be thirty-three soon–that’s years, not revolutions per minute. I’m an old man now: an old, old man. Some people–older people–might disagree but I know how old I am, how many years have passed and how different everything is now. I should be an aging raver, telling kids to turn it down ‘cause dad’s trying to listen to his hardcore.
But there’s a problem.
See, hardcore–the kind of hardcore I like–is old music. Like old money it’s not compatible with today’s hectic youth unless it’s been ‘borrowed’ by some US rapper and reworked as cutting edge R&B, with hoovers and breakbeats and other old school shit. I should be pining for golden oldies and listening to Pete Tong on Radio 2. Here’s one for for all you junior seniors out there: Age of Love by Age of Love.
But dance is still new music. Its proud tradition dates back to the seventies; the DJs of my youth are wrinkled and pushing fifty but crucially, they’re still in demand. And they’re old, even older than me, so is this a Status Quo deal? Are their sell-out tours for cheesy quaver crumblies dancing the big fish, little fish. zim-mer-frame?
Not at all. They’re still playing nightclubs for hot young things–and in a non-ironic sense, might I add.
So are they musical dinosaurs appealing to all ages, like The Rolling Stones and The Who? Are they playing to kids who know their classics as well for old duffers like myself?
Dance music’s still cutting edge. Dubstep came from kids, not decrepit pill-poppers. Slow motion slam-dancing, all WOM-WOM-WOM. The best thing about Michael Bay’s Transformers movies is imagining a half-tempo loping beat under the grappling robots: dubstep cinema, booming in 7.1 surround. House still fills beach resorts. I saw Jersey Shore’s Snooki tweeting to Danny Howells, totally in awe. He’s forty, wears thift store shirts and eyeliner, looking like something glam rock scraped from its boots, but man, the records he plays!
Bigger now than ever, dance music marches on.
Where did it all go right? Every kid at school said house music would soon be dead. Sound scoundrels back in the day, the Aphex Twin’s respectable now and Orbital reunite on tour to crazy acclaim. Global Communication, Ninjatune–fly by night acts that stood the test of time.
Bedroom producers mix up a storm. Laptops are bigger than studios these days. Any kid can make dance music and some are damned good at it.
And it moves fast, you know? It always has. Genres don’t get left behind; they’re remixed, resculpted, remade into something ever-new. The DJ drops an old school beat and kids who’ve never heard the bassline before go nuts. It should be wrong but it feels so right,
I don’t know how it happened. America always hated dance music. New York electro-disco, Chicago house, Detroit techno, all ignored by straight, white, middle America it left to raise hell in Europe and found so many ears willing to listen. The Dutch trance explosion made headway with candy ravers, but now–even if it doesn’t want to admit it–dance is too big in the US to ignore.
Maybe it’s because it seems new to those young tiny dancers. In Blighty the bottom fell out of the club scene. Gatecrasher burned. Warp Records stock–and many other labels’–went up in flame, victims of the 2011 riots.
Still, WOM-WOM-WOM, goes the baseline, dubstep flying the Union Flag for dance once more. Ten years old, hardly new, still razor sharp in the midrange, murkier than murk bass beneath.
I’m an old, old man. I should hate it but I dig it.
The aging rocker’s done with new music. Dubstep’s a migraine–they call that music?
It’s noise, and I love it.