Record Companies; Xeno's paradox and the big bang.

Name a big new rock band that cannot be described as the sum of its parts.


Record companies, Xeno's paradox and the big bang


First: think of rock as the big bang Think of it as an explosion of creative energy that expanded and encompassed the globe as musical forms were explored and exploded. Think of the geniuses, shaman and charlatans who toyed with and destroyed conventions; think of the sonic explorers who reached out and ripped apart the very idea of how music should sound and what it should say; think of the visionaries who altered our perception of the role of music in society. You know, think of those sorts of things.


But that explosion of energy originated somewhere, and at some particular time. There was a spark, something that set the whole thing off. It is one of music historians' favourite jobs to bore us with the question: What was the first rock song? Like we care; it is enough to know that such a thing existed, even if it was never recorded. What is indisputable is the power that rock music had when it hit the scene, giving us names such as Chuck Berry, Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. It engendered a huge cultural shift: one quiet afternoon rock music invented teenagers, just for the fun of it. This music was primal - it hit you in the gut and the nether regions and it got your ass to shake along with its irresistible beat. But it was clear that however powerful this rock music was, it was also very focussed.


Focussed in the sense that it had a narrow range of possibilities. It wasn't long though before bands such as The Beatles took rock music to the next level; they hugely expanded rock music's potential in terms of how it could sound and what it could mean. Brian Wilson et al opened up the true possibilities of rock - it could be and do anything. Hendrix, Beefheart, Can – all these bands and others were continually pushing and expanding the boundaries. Trout Mask Replica and Tago Mago, (for instance), sounded like nothing else that had ever been heard before. This was the period when the greatest expansion occurred; this was rocks most fertile period. Shall we say 67-72? Rock continued to expand after this, and continued to mutate into new forms, only with not quite the dynamism and strength that it once had. Punk and new wave were perhaps rock's final spasm of growth. That particular new beginning turned out to be the beginning of the end. Because that initial burst of energy, like the big bang, has to run out at some point. All the energy is spent – it reaches so far and then it has to contract. Let's jump to now, when the universe has long since stopped expanding and is instead hurtling towards its end.


Name a big new rock band that cannot be described as the sum of its parts. The Strokes? Just The Ramones crossed with Television. Franz Ferdinand? You could argue Josef K crossed with The Strokes. Listen to all that lot who are currently feted and you can hear The Jam, The Cure, New Order and The Strokes. Mongrel music abounds – Pop Will Eat Itself was the name of a rather loud band from the Black Country, many moons ago. And so it came to pass, pop truly will eat itself. Fast forward 10 years and we'll find that the new groups will sound like a cross between the two groups that sounded like a cross between the two groups that sounded like a cross between... What we'll end up with is one sound, and ultimately, one song.


And there we will be, back at the very beginning, back at that moment in time when rock was born. Only one thing can stop this from occurring – Xeno's paradox. Well, more specifically, the one that goes like this: picture a frog sitting on a lily on the middle of a pond. He wants to get ashore and so begins to jump on the lilies that lie between him and the edge of the pond. The first jump takes him half way, and this takes a lot of energy out of him, so that for his second jump he can only jump half as far as he did the first time. His next leap tires him out again, so that he only jump half as far again, and so on and so on. The frog will never, ultimately, leave the pond.


This, it seems to me, is what the record companies want – they don't want to reach the moment when rock is reduced to it's elemental origin, because who knows what the result will be? Maybe it will all start all over again (along will come a genius, created from the sheer bloody boredom the one song has brought out in him or her), but maybe it won't – maybe it will just come to an end. No, the record companies will continue to plump for bands that sound like combinations of others, and they will hope that just as the frog never reaches the shore, so the narrowing will never actually get to the point when only one song remains. For all our sakes, but most selfishly for mine, we have to hope that a new genius will come along that can turn this hurtling contraction around before only one song remains – someone who can bring so much energy to the world of rock that he or she can open up huge new areas of possibility. Because all of us would like to hear something and think: bloody hell, I've not heard anything like that before, and neither has anyone else.