Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Why I Hate Rock 'n' Roll

I have been writing the odd piece for the excellent Plan B Magazine. In the next issue I shoot a very bloated fish in a very small barrel by reviewing a hateful Smashing Pumpkins documentary. Here's a more focused piece from last year.

Why I Hate Rock ‘n’ Roll.

A few years ago my band played a gig at a venue in Nottingham. After loading in we were shown the ‘dressing room’. It was effectively a toilet cubicle without a toilet. It smelt like a crime scene. Suspicious yellow liquid dripped from a split pipe. The walls were richly spattered with the usual territorial pissings of long-gone or long-dead bands. Triumphant notches in bed posts or the chalk slashes of convicts marking their time, the real sentiments behind the symbols were unclear. But with the charm of a second-hand butt plug, the venue manager chuckled to himself that this was all “Rock ‘n’ Roll”.

And then everything clicked into place. I understood. Jaded promoters, parasitical booking agents, decaying P.A. systems, toxic dressing rooms, non-existent riders, imaginary contracts, indifferent sound engineers and the continuing existence of the flyer-deal: Rock ‘n’ Roll has nothing to do with music. Rock ‘n’ Roll is a masquerade that is used to justify and sustain a deep-rooted culture of complacency, cynicism and ineptitude.

In a classic example of the British habit of celebrating all the very worst things about our country, we call a certain network of small venues around the UK the ‘Toilet Circuit’. Touring it is akin to a homoerotic frat-boy hazing ritual, but instead of ending up with a tattoo of your mother's face on your balls, you accrue masses of debt and lose a couple of band members to madness and suicide.

Like the street cleaner who loathes but depends upon litter for his job, Toilet Venues need you but would really prefer it if you just didn’t exist. You will earn your stripes, you will pay for the privilege and you will promptly fuck off so they can put on a club night after your set.

Every node in the Rock ‘n’ Roll paradigm is self-perpetuating. Take the example of performance fees. Most bands assume they won’t be paid, so they don’t ask for anything. Promoters know this, so they don’t offer them anything. As a result, most bands don’t get paid. Booking agents are supposed to remedy this, but even ‘signed’ bands can have difficulty getting a booking agent. Agents can wheedle money out of people, but they can also neglect to tell you about a long-since cancelled show and leave you stranded and penniless in Saint Malo, lie till they are blue in the face and flatly refuse to remunerate you for their massive administrative error. This then becomes An Hilarious Rock ‘n’ Roll Anecdote, a well-worn propaganda tool that plays a crucial role in sustaining Rock ‘n’ Roll’s image of romance and roguish credibility. Agents can be useful in securing you support slots. Support fees are a standard £50, but no-one actually knows why. Ask anyone why it is standard, and in the fantastically circular logic of all ignoble traditions, they’ll tell you that it just is. But whose standard is it? Ah. I see. Of course. It is Rock ‘n’ Roll’s standard.

Rock ‘n’ Roll says that I am an indie bed-wetter spoilt by fancy jaunts to government-subsidised civic art spaces in poncey Benelux. Whatever. Superb commercial UK venues like The Luminaire in Kilburn are the exceptions that prove the rule: You Are Still Getting Fucked. Old toilets will survive as long as people continue to shit in them. Masochistic musicians will continue to get bogwashed into thinking they are stoics. The enemy hides in plain sight. It calls itself Rock ‘n’ Roll.