The effects of Rebellion on Contemporary Music – Music Research Paper
Throughout history, music has perhaps been one of the most influential elements in different cultures and societies. Music has become a universal language in which individuals of all sexes, races and ethnic backgrounds are able to unite and relate with one another through for a common purpose. The ancestry of music is one of the earliest forms of communication that has served as a tool for entertainment as well as holding educational purposes (Pleasants 1955:7). Over time, thousands of different styles and genres have evolved to make up the diverse world of music that is available for different preferences and interests.
With this said, it is understandable that there are many different perceptions and interpretations that have a large impact on contemporary music. Each and every one of us has our own preferences for different beats, rhythms and lyrics that are valuable to ourselves however seem distasteful and possibly obnoxious to others. In these following paragraphs we will further examine the concept of rebellion within the musical institution and how it in fact plays a significant role on the evolution of contemporary music.
The definition of music is highly variable across different cultures, age groups and audiences. Different sounds and patterns are interpreted and understood in different ways depending on one’s preferences, interests and choice of individual expression (Brackett 1995:24). These opinions are what motivate composers to continue creating new and innovative rhythms, tempos, tones and styles. The expansion of musical movements has reached great heights in the 1900’s with the emergence of genres such as Techno in the late 60’s, Punk Rock in the 1970’s, and also Reggae (Borthwick& Moy 2004:42). Each of these movements has evolved with new ideas, technologies, artists, and audiences.
Rebellion is a commonality to all of these different movements and is responsible for the uniqueness of each genre. It is a concept that often is perceived with a negative connotation while in fact it is a form of expression that is used all the time to convey new ideas. The true definition of rebellion is “An act or a show of defiance toward authority or an established convention” (Salzman 1988:8). This description is perhaps why so many people often consider elements of rebellion as being destructive and vicious when in fact rebellion in music is a significant source for innovation. It is depicted through aspects such as fashion, hair styles, drugs, sex, art and politics. Each different period in musical history represents a plethora of new ideas, opinions and attitudes that are expressed through various forms of rebellion that has permitted the emergence and existence of so many brilliant advances in contemporary music.
The late 1960’s was a period in musical history that marks great shifts in political, technological and social norms. This period in history also known as the “Summer of Love” is responsible for the explosion of what is known as Psychedelia (Borthwick& Moy 2004:43). During this time, people started breaking free of the traditional attitudes and norms that had existed for so long. This genre is an amalgamation of various components including jazz, folk, R&B as well as classical tones (Borthwick& Moy 2004:44). The era was full of social reformation and alterations from the mainstream, traditional life. In cities across the world, particularly for the British population who was recovering from repercussions of The Second World War, this was a significant time in which individuals were able to experiment with new music, people and culture. With rising employment levels and the increase in wages, drugs were being integrated for the first time into the social scene at a rapid rate (Borthwick&Moy 2004:45). London earned its name “Swinging London” during this time because of society’s overall rebellion towards the mainstream moral (Borthwick &Moy 2004: 54). Adolescents became more outspoken, open- minded and eager to adopt different attitudes. The former fashion was now being replaced with different hair styles, costumes and general clothing that fit the psychedelic scene. Bright colors, fabrics and patterns that accentuated the unique aura of this period were prevalent among both the artists and the audience (Borthwick& Moy 2004:54).
The Psychedlic phase lasted only a few years, and yet the impact on contemporary music is apparent in many forms presently. The studio effects and instrumental achievements that resulted from this period are still used by composers today. Recording elements such as ADT, phasing and fuzztone are all products of this time and are still incorporated in the production of a variety of music (Borthwick& Moy 2004: 57). More than just the audible and physical elements of the psychedelic era are apparent in cultures across the world today. The attitudes regarding politics and alternative lifestyle are still very much prevalent in our society (Brackett 1995:26).
Punk Rock is another movement that is has had a great impact on contemporary music. Punk or ‘garage’ flourished in the 1970’s and grew tremendously within just a few months (Borthwick& Moy 2004:79). Punk is identified by its loud noise, rhythm, intensity and often times violent tones (Salzman1988: 201). It originated as a reaction to political issues of the time, and an overall frustration to the post war concerns especially in the UK (Borthwick& Moy 2004:78). Through the music, adolescents were able to overtly verbalize their discouragement and aggravations with the social and economic troubles that had transpired during this time.
The lyrics of Punk were often controversial and addressed contentious matters within society. Bands such as Sex Pistols’ and Buzzcocks’ were renowned for their radical lyrics and extreme undertones (Borthwick& Moy 2004: 81). The developing Punk community thrived on their freedom, autonomy and individuality. The fashion that was adopted by this community was everything but conventional and was another way for this culture to suggest their independence. Articles of clothing displaying swastikas and often offensive slogans were standard modes for voicing passionate opinions and attitudes. Fifties sunglasses, leather jackets, and an overall ‘grunge’ look was a universal way for the Punk community to support the tough reputation that they ascertained (Borthwick& Moy 2004: 83).
The degree of rebellion throughout the Punk society was a bit more profound than that of other music styles throughout history. The intensity and passion that is rooted in this movement has been recognized and admired for its impact on contemporary music (Brackett 1995:25) . The philosophy behind punk has been incorporated into other styles of music such as rap and techno (Borthwick& Moy 2004:92). The emphasis on limited resources and simplicity that is grounded in Punk Rock has also been incorporated in new developments such as New Wave, Goth, Oi!, and Anarcho-punk. Even though the concept of this genre originated years ago, its influence over punk bands and punk rock can be seen in many different aspects of the culture today.
The late 1960’s is also a benchmark for yet another great advancement in music. Reggae, also known as ‘Roots’ is a rhythmic form of Jamaican music which incorporates various elements from Africa and Europe (Borthwick& Moy 2004:99). The lyrics found in this style are greatly reflective of Rastafarianism and accentuates Jamaica’s political and cultural independence from the United States and Europe (Borthwick & Moy 2004:108). While the context of Reggae was extremely significant for the African community and exposed strong emotional reflections of monumental events such as slavery, the lyrics were more peaceful and largely focused on anti- violence. With the deterioration of the sugar and banana markets, Jamaica began falling into a period of economic disaster (Borthwick & Moy 2004:109). As a reaction to these harsh times, the society turned to music for emotional relief. Afro-centrism and communality became the focal point for the general morale of the Rastafarian community at this time. Over the years, the influence of Roots spread and encouraged the emergence of subunits such as Lover’s Rock, Dub, Rocker’s and The British Style (Borthwick& Moy 2004:110).
Style was another aspect of Reggae that was unique to the Rastafarian culture. The visual elements of this period were a large part of the communal atmosphere that played such a significant role in the industry. Images, colors and drawings are very popular forms of representation that are incorporated in almost all artifacts relating to this genre (Everything 2005). The outline of Africa is often times depicted on albums as with the red, green and gold colors of the African Flag. Dreadlocks, wigs, big jewelry, and flashy clothing are all part of the attire that represents the Reggae movement (Borthwick& Moy 2004:108). In contrast to some other genres, this unique style of this period never truly faded. The 1990’s sparked a revival in Reggae production after the death of Bob Marley in 1981 (Everything 2005). The influence of both the music as well as the aesthetic elements is still apparent across different cultures today. Popular artists still incorporate elements of Jamaican Rap and dancehall into influential contemporary music (Borthwick& Moy 2004:111).
The world of music has been changing, evolving and improving ever since the first note was played. It has become a second language for so many people in which social, cultural and political contexts are shared, interpreted and revolutionized through passing generations. With every new artist, song, lyric and beat that is created, we unknowingly open so many doors for further improvements. Accentuating differences and diversity is essential to the further development of influential music. Rebellion in a sense is another form of constructive criticism when it is applied and interpreted in the appropriate manner. It has played a significant role in the progression of ideas, concepts, styles, technologies and so many other elements critical to contemporary music. Rebellion is a freedom that has proven to have profound benefits on the progression of the musical industry. It is imperative for the advancement of music all together, that individuals take the initiative to raise questions against tradition, and challenge mainstream society.
Borthwick & Moy (2004). Popular Music Genres. Edinburgh, University Press. Pp. 42-60, 77-118
Brackett, David (1995). Interpreting Popular Music. Cambridge, NY, Cambridge University Press. Pp.19-27
Pleasants, Henry (1955). The Agony of Modern Music. New York, Simon and Schuster NY. Pp. 4-15
Salzman, Eric (1988). Twentieth Century Music. Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall. Pp. 5-9, 201-211
The History of Reggae Music. (Online) New Dancehall Magazine. Available from: http://www.everytingjamaican.com (Accessed 08/10/2005).