Brexit and Trump were each reactions to world events, and now the world is changing in response. In this time of tumult, where will music head next? In this article, we examine the trends and make a few prophecies.
The world is angry. This year’s anger is different from last year’s anger. Last year, the bulk of the anger came from the right wing, while this year it is coming from the left (although a fair argument can be made that the right is no less angry than before). The divide can be seen in the protests, followed by the criticism of the protests, followed by a sense that the protests aren’t doing much at all, followed by depression, followed by more anger.
But while the world is divided, the music community is not. Sure, pockets of isolationist thinking do exist ~ but when the biggest act to perform at the White House inauguration is 3 Doors Down (a band most people hadn’t thought about for years), it’s safe to say that we’re pretty much on the same page. Over the past few months, I’ve read hundreds of emails from labels, artists, retailers and promoters that comment on the current political climate, but not a single one supporting Brexit or Trump. The unanimity is astonishing. In recent months, a few musical trends have become apparent. I first commented on these trends in The Year in Review; now they have solidified.
1. Let There Be Peace On Earth.
Calm music offers a temporary escape, a soothing balm, a comforting lull. When listening to such music, one feels, if only for the length of the music, that everything is going to be okay. Such music can soothe the savage breast (or “beast”, should one desire to misquote), operating as an antidote to both anxiety and anger. But while ambient music and modern composition each fit this profile, our prediction is that new music in these categories will be specifically written to address our individual and collective moods.
One of these is Kyle Preston‘s Geo, released on February 1. The artist writes, “the way I work through fear is to write about it (through music).” Geo is an instrumental concept album about climate change, “written from the perspective of the Earth.” This modern classical suite (which deserves an orchestra) starts wistful, turns sad, but ultimately bursts into hope with the re-introduction of drums in the final piece. In this case, the genesis of the project is even more important than its final form. In writing such a suite, the composer chooses hope over fear, art over inaction. Those who hear it may find themselves first calmed, then energized, much like the composer himself.
2. Fear Leads to Anger, Anger Leads to Art, Art Leads to Less Suffering.
With apologies to Yoda, there can be another path. By expressing anger, we often find catharsis. By translating negative feelings into art, we avoid taking our feelings out on others. In self-expression, we find inner peace, while our listeners find their own outlets, imagining empathy at the other end. In the vocal world, we predict a resurgence of punk rock and political hip-hop; in the instrumental world, we predict a continued movement toward harsher sounds in electronic music (Rabit, Shapednoise, Roly Porter) as well as an increase in the amount of politically-minded sample-based music.
Our best example is the Valentine’s Day release IN OGRE ATE, a half-hour sound collage from The League of Assholes, which includes an amusing disclaimer: “The League of Assholes does not exist, there is no league and the participants in this work are not assholes.” The collage was created as a way “to bottle and release the anxiety” over the American inauguration, and contains samples from 23 participants who scream, smash, play instruments and make a huge congenial racket that translates into one big therapy session. The kicker: it works. After the recording was completed, at least one participant remarked, “I feel a lot better.” The recording succeeds the artistic level as well; while it expresses anger, it does so in an elaborate and intelligent manner rather than a simple and reactive one. Shared horror creates a sense of community.
3. We Are the World.
On Friday, February 3, Bandcamp donated all of its proceeds to the ACLU. This was a very generous effort, considering the number of artists involved, yet it seemed that most were in favor of the drive. We’ve been seeing an increase in the number of benefit albums, whether specifically designed for the purpose or re-imagined. We’ve also seen artist albums whose primary purpose is to raise funds for a particular cause. The best way to teach is by example, so we predict an increase in collaborative and humanitarian projects, including festivals and concerts.
One such project was released prior to the U.S. election, but has seen increased attention in the wake of immigration edicts. Fabrica Records’ You Are Welcome Here is a response to the international refugee crisis, and its very title is a message of hope.
4. Don’t Know What You’ve Got Until It’s Gone.
Perhaps our most under-appreciated section is that of Field Recordings & Soundscape, but we expect this to change in the upcoming years as people begin to realize its vital contributions. Many artists are working with feverish abandon to capture sonic environments before they disappear, whether “pure” places unaffected by aircraft and other noise pollution or disappearing habitats and their inhabitants, from frogs and birds to indigenous human populations. One such ongoing project is that of Gustavo Valdivia and Tomás Tello, who capture the sounds of glaciers as they melt. Read all about their Andes project here and listen to it below.
5. From the ashes, a new form of music will arise.
We don’t know what this sort of music will be, but we’re due for the birth of a new musical form that will revolutionize the industry in the manner of rock in the 50s and rap in the 80s. While it’s likely that such music will be an offshoot of another genre, it will have its own distinct personality. Even if this new genre never pokes through the mainstream (see industrial music and post-rock), it will create a ripple effect through commercials, TV and film until it finally reaches acceptance, long after we’re ready for the next new thing. We can’t wait!
Where will music head next? It’s up to us: the artists, the press, the fans. But no matter what one’s individual taste, art is life. Whether explicit or implicit, the act of creation is an alternative to that of destruction, and makes a statement that we are people of hope rather than fear. As FDR said in his first inaugural address, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Artistic ventures, whether written or spoken, visual or aural, move us forward, underlining the goodness of the world.