(This short piece is a precursor to the forthcoming article on UK rock band Press To Meco)
For such a little area, the British Isles have always been a hotbed for incredible musical talent. Up and down the countries you can find hoards of bands in all shapes and sizes, gigging the local pubs and enjoying what they love to do. Only a select few will reach the heights of a Muse or a Coldplay, but hundreds of bands a week will be humbly performing their art for anyone who is willing to listen. Fortunately the UK is very open-minded when it comes to the arts, particularly the heavier side of music where an often contained and reserved society can release their inner-self and open up unobtrusively to the frequencies of rock.
Having given birth to the term “Heavy Metal” and coining the label “Britpop” to describe the poppier side of 70’s rock and British edge on grunge, we are now in a time where a few bands are finding a powerful groove between what came before. Some were around in bands during the nineties, such as Derby’s Lost Alone and Surrey’s Reuben, who are both no longer around but were able to provide an aggressive, yet poppy melodic sound that resonated on a deep level to a core audience. With growing fan bases and borderline obsessive fans, something was clicking and either of these bands could have easily blown up and gone from overnight Kerrang! favourites to Rolling Stone favourites. Whether they were ahead of their time, or the general populous just wasn’t yet ready for the sound, may never be known but they did both disband fairly abruptly without proper explanation. Had they been eyeballed by the industry and decided to not play ball with the formula, it would be no surprise if they were black-listed from everywhere but the local open mic night.
Whereas these bands were already gigging during the late 20th century, the tail-end of that generation were still growing up and becoming accustomed to the fallout of nu-metal and insurgence of post-hardcore, resulting in a mainstream sound that was hardly melodic and somewhat depressing. The element of pop had seemingly been lost through the evolutionary cycle and although many bands were still playing happy harmonies, they weren’t the bands that the big dogs were looking to sign. At least under the “rock” banner.
Lost Prophets were a prime example of a band who’s humble beginnings and endless touring earned them international acclaim, probably the poppiest of the nu-metal era. Their great energy and hooks complimented a unique metal style, fostering DJ attributes and scratching that a few UK bands such as Pitchshifter were pioneering at the time, based on the influence of drum and bass. Pitchshifter too had a wild cult following but never did hit the big time. In fact the Lost Prophets sound became so much more slick and anthemic that the benefits of big production and monster recording budgets, together with monopolised marketing campaigns, saw them reach constant MTV rotation and headline arena shows across Europe. They even made an impact on America’s alt-radio alongside rock giants Nickelback, which is something not even Oasis could do during the heyday of their genre.
With fame though comes a price and to be at the mercy of the record industry means to always be indebted to it. Maybe this is why some of Britain’s best talent remains unknown, or decide to call it quits when threatened over their art. Just look at what happened to Lost Prophets and their frontman after the claws of the media took ahold. From an outsider’s perspective it is hard to know what really takes place in the upper echelons of fame and fortune in the music biz. But for sure there are way too many horror stories and you can’t blame people for not persuing that path. The sad result is that so many people who love what they do are unable to do it every day, in front of audiences that would happily pay for the pleasure of seeing them do it. Lack of exposure in the press means they may never even get to hear their favourite band; Just left to choose what they like from the selection they have been given.
As we move into the digital age, we are seeing the struggle and demise of lots of corporate music machines, from the fight against Napster during the early days of internet piracy 15 years ago, all the way through to legitimate streaming services like Spotify today. Not only are music lovers able to freely browse any style of music at their will, but such services allow us to listen to bands who may only have just played their first gig. If they make a record then they are eligible and instantly available to the world. The system will never be free from capitalism but things are sure brighter and more accessible for musicians to make a living from their craft. No longer is the rock scene owned by a certain sound; It’s structure is slowly opening up again, inviting back pop and ready to morph into an era where bands can get big and stay happy at the same time.
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Cheers, Tim Wilson RDM