by Mike Vinti
We’re barely a month into 2016 yet it’s becoming plain to see the musical trend that’s going to dominate the next twelve months: comebacks.
For as a long as there’s been a history of popular music there have been comebacks, it’s a natural part of the scene. The bands and musicians you idolise as a child and throughout your teenage years hold a special place in your heart and that’s always going to translate into a desire for more music and more shows form those artists; nostalgia is a powerful force.
Of, course, where there’s nostalgia, there’s money. Artists that have been around for longer can charge more for tickets, command larger production budgets and utilise the demand from fans to open doors not available to their more contemporary peers. This is doubly true for those than have been away and come back again. From Blur to Black Sabbath, Take That to Jay-Z, the combination of die-hard fans and risk averse record label execs sets the stage perfectly for a comeback if you’ve been officially out the scene for more than five years. Money and nostalgia, it seems as simple as that, right?
Wrong. In 2016 so far the sheer amount of artists reuniting seems to defy the usual logic. LCD Soundsystem, Guns ‘N’ Roses, At The Drive In, and now perhaps even N.W.A, have all announced their return-proper in the last twenty or so days, even Bloc Party are in the process of coming back, all be-it with a new line-up. The cynics among you will rightly note that the members of Guns ‘N’ Roses and N.W.A have hardly been shy when it comes to cashing in on former glories (looking at you Axl/Ice Cube/Dre), and that their reunions, hypothetical or otherwise, are probably just another go at milking the capitalist cow. However, At The Drive In’s entire career was somewhat built on their resistant to such trends in the music industry, and LCD have made it abundantly clear that their return is not just another reunion tour followed by disappointing album, although rumours of a big budget deal with AEG Live cast some doubt on that.
So what’s going on then? Why now in this bleak, wet January have so many bands come out of the woodwork and reunited? Truthfully, it may just be coincidence. Perhaps December’s festive spirit healed all former wounds and reignited the creative spark in these former icons. Yeah, right.
Instead we must look at ourselves and how we’re interacting with music. It was announced recently that ‘old music’ is outselling new releases, suggesting that the average listener’s hunger for their old favourites is further reaching than just a desire to see them live one more time. This is almost certainly down to who’s buying music in 2016: younger generations prefer to stream or just illegally download their music while those a little older are more likely to pay for it. Someone has to be buying CDs.
As record companies continue to slowly but surely fade from relevance they’re becoming even less likely to take risks on newer artists and emerging scenes.
This trend may be more insidious that it first appears. As record companies continue to slowly but surely fade from relevance they’re becoming even less likely to take risks on newer artists and emerging scenes. This has led to an increasingly bland crop of artists breaking through from the major labels, your Ed Sheerans, James Bays, Sam Smiths etc, the kinds of artists who attract large, middle-class and increasingly middle-aged, audiences. They don’t want your money, they want your mum’s. In turn, this has lead to attitude in the charts and across the likes of Radio 1, Capital, Kiss and even Radio 1Xtra, that sidelines genuine youth culture in favour of a version of it that won’t piss off your parents.
The most recent example of this is the BRIT Award nominees. Short of a comeback album on which to laud their praise, unless you count Adele, have nominated none other than the late Amy Winehouse for British Female Solo Artist. She hasn’t released an album in almost ten years. Meanwhile, not a single grime MC has received even a look, despite Stormzy becoming the first MC to break the top 40 with a freestyle and the genres overall dominance last year. Hell, even the most exciting moment at the BRITs last year was when Kanye West brought half the scene on stage with him for the debut performance of ‘All Day’.
That explains N.W.A and G’N’R then, both edgy acts that once shocked the world who have since been pacified and sold back to their original audience at twice the cost. But what about LCD and At The Drive In, even Bloc Party? These bands once stood at the forefront of popular music, their fans priding themselves on open-mindedness and an appetite for experimentation; it’s up to them if they reunite but shouldn’t we have moved on? They’re undeniably great bands but they never had the reach of N.W.A or Guns ‘N’ Roses, aren’t comebacks supposed to be for the washed up and old? Bloc Party have only been away for a couple of years.
The truth is musical culture is moving faster than ever before, the lines between mainstream and underground have been blurred, and with the internet anyone can have access to any subculture they like. This means that while we have more access than ever to new music, we also have more access to the music we already like; when you can have every classic album on your iPod why would you care who’s next? We like feeling safe and our teenage favourites provide that comfort.
This is how the music industry will die.
If this trend continues it will push out emerging acts and the next generation of innovators will have even fewer opportunities available to them as the old guard roam freely, releasing rehashed versions of the music we fell in love with in the first place. This is how the music industry will die. What come after that death is a whole other story.
Featured image: Axl Rose © APA