Thursday, December 14, 2006

"Rockism" And Electronic Music

I was leafing through a SPIN magazine the other week and I came across an article written by Douglas Wolk entitled "Thinking About Rockism" (you can read the article here). I found it to be a fascinating article mainly because it put a name on an bias that I have noticed in popular music criticism for many years.

The following definition is from wikipedia:

"The term "Rockism" is an ideology of popular music criticism, originating in the British music press in the late 1970s or early 1980s. The fundamental tenet of rockism is that some forms of popular music, and some musical artists, are more authentic than others. More specifically, authentic popular music fits the rock and roll paradigm; it is made using the basic rock instrumentation of guitars, bass guitars and drums, and fits the structures of a rock and roll song". You can read the rest of the article here.

The debate over rockism has been raging within music geek circles for quite some time now. It is a somewhat confusing discussion because the term has also been applied to broader social contexts outside of the music sphere. Many critics have framed the debate in terms of race: the heterosexual white male "rockists" on one side and minority and homosexual "anti-rockists" on the other. Some music historians cite the vicious disco backlash of the late 70's and early 80's as an example of the white male "establishment" trying to stamp out a scene and a style of music that they didn't agree with.

While I don't equate disliking certain types of music with being a racist, I do think there is validity in some of the arguments put forth by proponents of the rockism theory. The main part of the theory that I agree with is the assertion that many popular music critics tend to review albums based on the criteria they would use to review a rock album. This is obvious when you read reviews or opinions on electronic music.

Many American music critics and fans are quick to discredit modern electronic music, particularly genres that emerged out of the rave scene like drum and bass, techno, house, breaks, trance, etc. Electronic music, dance or experimental, has never been able to gain a solid foothold in America despite being widely accepted in other parts of the world. One of the reasons for this is because most American critics refuse to validate the electronic music on its own terms. It is always unfairly compared to rock or is considered to be a bastard child of hip-hop and turntablism. The experience of going to an electronic music show is very different than going to see a rock band perform. Judging a performance or an album by a DJ or a producer using the criteria you would use to rate a band is lazy and uninformed.

There are a lot of talented artists making some amazing electronic music these days. It is unfortunate that many of them are unable to gain acceptance and recognition in America. Once people are introduced to quality electronic music on a more consistent basis, I think the public's perception of the genre will change.

We need more fesitvals like these in our country:
Sonar Festival
Mutek
The Melt Festival
Norberg Festival

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