Can You Guys Play Acoustic?

By Bryce Lokken on june 25 2014



I’m a rock musician. I make real rock music, the kind with riffs and breakdowns and yelling and feelings, and words about all of the things in life that make me angry enough to write. I love heavy music, and I have since I first heard Tool’s Ænema at 13. It changed me forever, in the same way other rock records changed two generations before me. Rock has been around a long time - it was around before electronic music, it was around before hip-hop, and it was even around before Dr. Luke realized that a 4/4 kick drum at 130bpm makes white chicks dance and sells a shitload of records. (Full disclosure: I listened to Katy Perry and Kendrick Lamar all morning, I’m in no way an elitist).

So, given the illustrious history of rock music, why do I get the feeling that it’s become the bastard stepchild of the world’s music collection? Why do I hear Skrillex and Katy Perry and Luke Bryan whenever I’m in the mall, and not Linkin Park or Tool? Why do I see festivals that were previously full of rock bands slowly becoming EDM and indie-popfolk circlejerks? For the answer, or to see if it’s all in my head, I reached out to this city’s #1 authority on rock music: Matt Porteous of 94x. During our long discussion about music, Matt kept touching on marketing and money. I can see where he’s coming from. “The competition of digital music, streaming services, and satellite radio have forced all music outlets to turn into “Greatest Hits Stations”...tugging on people’s memories and nostalgia to keep their business model alive instead of actively searching out and breaking new tunes.” Safety turns into listeners, ticket sales, ad revenue, and profits. Pop is safe. EDM is safe. Hell, modern country is just pop with that 4/4 kick lower in the mix and a slide guitar slapped on. (For good measure, talk about trucks and booze).

Safety. Marketability. Easy placement in film and television. Money. Rock’s ‘problem’ is that it isn’t safe. “Is business scared of heavy music? Yep. It’s unpredictable and makes waves with a good portion of the population,” mused Mr. Porteous via email. “Business is shooting to be everything to everyone as much as possible. They know that someone that loves heavy music has a good chance of sitting through some lighter music. But someone that loves lighter music - (classical, acoustic, jazz) - they are much less likely to sit through a heavier performance.” This has been a point of amazement for me in regards to Coldsnap. It’s a festival that’s so proud of its diversity that it has days dedicated to world fusion and francophone - but it doesn’t bring in heavy music. Like Matt said - rock fans will sit through Skrillex and groove out, they’ll have fun at a Lady Gaga concert - but the inverse isn’t as likely.

So this brings me full circle to my opening quote. Last year, when my band released our debut record, we started to apply for festivals and events and gigs. And we got the same response again and again and again: “can you play acoustic”? No. We can, but we won’t. We won’t in the same way that you wouldn’t ask an author to pull the ‘naughty bits’ from her book before it hits the shelves of the PG Library. We won’t in the same way you wouldn’t ask a painter to censor their painting before it hangs at Two Rivers. I’ll take being gigless over watering down my art every time, not that I really have much of a choice. But I sure do hope that we see rock given more of a chance - maybe the masses can surprise the marketers.




I’m a rock musician. I
make real rock music, the kind
with riffs and breakdowns and
yelling and feelings, and words
about all of the things in life
that make me angry enough
to write.

Musicians, M2014Norm Coyne