|Robin DeWan is a musician, writer and conceptual artist living on Suomenlinna. He holds a degree in literature from the University of California.
WHEN SOMETHING truly original happens in the arts it can have ramifications far and wide. This is especially the case with popular music. When a new sound is recognised, branded and widely embraced, it’s often the catalyst for an entire cultural shift. Unfortunately, music seems to be stuck in an extended period of stagnation.
While there certainly has been a ton of great music made in the last decade, not much of it can rightfully be called original with a capital “O.” No new “movements” have sprung-up lately on a scale to compare with the arrival of such pioneering forms as rock and roll, folk, reggae, punk, rap, world, techno, grunge and ambient. The youth of today are missing out. They are embracing musical and lifestyle content from bygone eras. Nothing wrong with carrying the torch, but it surely must be healthy for each successive generation to create something entirely new for itself, that it can proudly call it’s own – even if it’s largely a rehashed creation, like grunge was of early 70s rock. Mojo magazine ran an article on Nirvana a while back, rightly proclaiming the grunge icons to be the last group historically to affect music and culture on a massive scale. We are talking about 20 years ago here.
Music tends to run in hot and cold cycles but this current tepid cycle of creativity has got me concerned. The styles of the past, – in Finland, predominately hip hop and metal – have been in vogue among the youth for well over a dozen years now. While there has been some updating, there hasn’t been a whole lot of evolution. Sub-genres aside, could it be the case that young people, who are the driving force behind the kind of cultural freshness I am talking about, just can’t find anything else to latch onto? There’s a whole lot of wheels spinning but we seem to be still stuck in the mud.
When new ideas and impulses arise, an art form usually develops to express them. But occasionally new material mediums arise first and are just as important in the creation of the art itself. Such is the case with techno, for example, which was made possible through an advancement in technology. The possibilities afforded by the computer created the template for that music’s arrival, just as high amplification was available for the first time in the 60s for guitarists to exploit.
So are we in need of some technological breakthrough to inspire musicians to boldly go where no one has gone before? Or is it a case of discovering some long overlooked instrument, such as the didgeridoo, which while regarded as one of mankind’s oldest musical devices, was largely unheard of in the Western world until the 1990s? Whatever it takes, humanity must evolve and music is both a stimulus for that evolution as well as a product of it. Whatever the new sound is, like the truth, it’s out there somewhere.