The Robot Swans are not rock and roll. Almost no band is rock and roll any more.
I was watching a mediocre live band tonight. You know the type: all male; nothing beyond guitar, bass and drums. They had clearly been influenced by rock and roll: they played Hendrix covers, their guitars were loud, their stances evoked the ghosts of rebellion. But they were not rock and roll, and in realising this something struck me: rock and roll was two things which now rarely coincide…
1) Rebellious (from a personal standpoint)
2) Socially conscious
Initially, these two ideals coincided. Young people wanted to be free from the conservatism of previous generations, free from racism and sexism and classism and uptight attitudes in general. In the sixties, this was great. In the seventies, this was still pretty much great. But as time moved on, rock and roll diverged. The idea of doing something provocative and angry from which only you will benefit is now seen as rock and roll, even if the socially conscious element has been forgotten. Getting a blowjob on a plane, throwing up in a pint glass and leaving it on the bar as you walk out, playing loud music late at night so your neighbour comes round to complain: all rock and roll, by some modern definitions.
Now, there definitely are some loud, swaggering bands who sing socially conscious (even annoyingly worthy) lyrics, and who therefore could theoretically fulfil both criteria (which I just arbitrarily made up) for proper rock and roll. But to bring it back to the band I saw tonight, my point is that we are now so conditioned to expect high volume from a rock band (because they need to appear rebellious) that we can no longer discern what they are singing (and therefore whether they are actually rebellious in a useful, socially conscious way). So a group of guys can now plough through shite songs with the amps turned up to eleven and somehow that counts; apparently that’s rock and roll.
So my argument is that, with the current status quo of all “rock” bands having their live mix pumped up to just-below-discomfort (and somewhere-above-hearing-damage) level, no-one can actually be “rock and roll”. We’re so neurotic about seeming loud and angry that no-one knows what we’re loud and angry about.
Our lyrics aren’t particularly rebellious. We haven’t found an eloquent and clear way to express our distaste for the patriarchy or its evil cohorts. But when we do have the odd line that captures the ennui of our generation, it would make sense for it to be heard. So at our next gig, I’m going to ask the person behind the mixing desk to drop our volume down below the norm for the sake of vocal clarity. And although the opposite may be perceived by the audience, the truth is that that’s a pretty rock and roll thing to do.