Is rock still rebellious? And does it have to be?
Flea famously said that "rock is a dead form in a lot of ways". He recalled that when he expressed his desire to be a rock musician as a kid, he was told he was “crazy” and would “never get a decent job" and end up ruining his life. This, he said, has now changed completely, with rock music being seen as just another part of the establishment, just another capitalist money-making machine: “Nowadays, you decide you want to be in a rock band [and] it’s like, ‘Oh great, let’s get you an image consultant, and a lawyer, and a manager, and let’s see what we can do here. It’s a great money-making opportunity for you, junior.”
When we recently recorded "Jellyfish Moon", we worked with our friend Rune on backing vocals. They are a recent 6th form college graduate and did their A-Levels in rock music. This, to us, was a completely alien concept. Studying rock music at school?! Teachers assisting you in forming a band??!! Grown-ups creating an institutional structure for you to express yourself through rock music???!!! WTF???!!!
Like Flea, we remember very well the often hostile reactions of the grown-up establishment to our decision to be rock musicians. And the central role that rebellion played! Rock music was not only a way to express yourself artistically and to find a home among other misfits, it was also a way to rebel against your parents, teachers and the establishment in general. We were wondering if this aspect of rebellion was something a musician like Rune would feel was part of rock music. So we asked them.
Growing up in the late 80s/early 90s, rock music was very much not on the menu at school. Music lessons covered classical music, world music, Musical and maybe some Beatles or French chansons if “popular music” was planned in. You basically studied rock music at college - do you feel that this in any way took the opportunity of rebellion away from you which traditionally is/was such an essential part of rock culture? What’s it like to be in a band which was facilitated by an educational institution? Do you feel any kind of tension between subculture and “official” curriculum?
Yeah I definitely feel like being a part of the rock scene isn't the rebellion it once was! If anything, it's conformity in a (non-mainstream) sense. There are definitely facets of the rock scene which aren't quite as heavily encouraged, but they also aren't frowned upon.
And so being in a rock band feels quite natural and I haven't once thought about people having negative opinions about it - the only time someone had a remotely bad reaction to me deciding to pursue music was my optician!! He just seemed overall to look down on it, if anything it made me want to pursue it more.
But overall I've received support and people being excited about it, it is quite strange to be able to take a degree in the kind of music that I'm into, but I'm also incredibly grateful :))
Rune. Check out their wonderful backing vocals on Nightjar, Slow and Ink, Blood and Vaseline. They also feature in the music video for Rebels.
It was super interesting to hear this totally different point of view. And in a way it's of course great to be so supported in your artistic journey! Dealing with all the hostility and negative feedback wasn't fun and led us and many others down some dark roads as well, self-medicating mental health issues with all kinds of substances. Hopefully, someone as supported as Rune won't have to endure that kind of pain and won't have to deal with so much negative energy. And that in turn might lead to more energy being available for artistic development. So that's a good thing!
Still - for us, being heavily influenced by the music of the late 60s and 70s, when rock music was at the forefront of societal change, and coming from a punk rock background as well, the aspect of rebellion against a normative establishment was always the thing that made rock music especially relevant. We always had a loathing for the music industry and people who were "turning rebellion into money" to speak with Joe Strummer. I remember how shocked we were to learn that our heroes Aerosmith had agreed to work with Desmond Child (short for "Desmond Child of Satan" as we liked to say), who we saw as the epitome of commercialisation of rock music.
This opposition to having commercial considerations interfere with our artistic vision was also what led to us turning down an offer from Sony Records back in 1998. So, yeah, it's safe to say that for us rebellion and non-conformity are an integral part of rock music, then and now!