Stevie G: Music revolutions just keep on coming

Much of the musical innovation of now (and probably tomorrow) is coming from areas that are not traditionally hotbeds of music, says Stevie G in his Downtown column
Stevie G: Music revolutions just keep on coming

Lee Scratch Perry was one of the many artists who paved the way for new genres and new music for decades.

The revolutions which changed the shape of musical history have often been born out of necessity, frustration, boredom, and poverty, but creativity and imagination are always the key. I often think of what is coming next, and it strikes me that much of the musical innovation of now (and probably tomorrow) is coming from areas that are not traditionally hotbeds of music. Even those in the big cities innovating, might be coming from rundown areas with little support. Thinking of the music of the future is interesting, but you can always hear hints of it in the past.

Lots of music goes in cycles and the nostalgia for previous decades is always very high. As a kid in the ’80s, I remember TV ads, movies, music, and even fashion, seemed obsessed with the decade 20 years gone, the ’60s. In the ’90s there was a huge disco revival, reinventing the music from 20 years prior to then, and now in 2022 you can feel this 20 year repeating again. Music and culture from the early noughties is being referenced everywhere right now, and it comes quickly after a ’90s revival dominated recent years. It’s always the way. But what about the next amazing thing?

In the realm of hip-hop culture, on which this column is mostly themed, the big changes in the modern era have been the development of trap and drill. In some ways both of these sub-genres of hip-hop have seemed new and revolutionary, but as usual they come from a rich lineage. Both developed mainly outside of New York and LA, in cities like Atlanta and Chicago, though New York and most specifically London have adopted them in a big way recently.

Drill is definitely blood related to grime, which rose out of sound system culture, pirate radio, UK garage, and jungle; scenes which grew in the ’90s but with origins that run right back to Jamaica. Indeed, Jamaica’s influence on music worldwide is incredible.

Music moves on and youngsters try new things, and they try and own “their” new thing, which often pushes the previous aside. This is understandable and natural and it’s always been the way.

Technology has always led to innovation and King Tubby, Lee Perry, Grandmaster Flash, Kraftwerk, Afrika Bambaataa, Prince, Carl Craig, and many others have paved the way for new genres and new music for decades.

Much of hip-hop was created in a socially deprived area of New York, when music lessons were stopped in schools, and when the inner city projects were left to burn and decay with drugs and crime.

Hip-hop came and created a new language out of necessity. If you couldn’t buy an instrument or indeed play one, you could beatbox or DJ or rap or spray on walls, or breakdance. Technology advanced and in the ’80s young kids in Detroit and Chicago and Sheffield and Manchester, and elsewhere took the spirit of disco and started making electronic music on cheap keyboards and computers. The music scene shifted once again and the individual became more empowered.

That young boy and girl in 2022 can create amazing music on a cheap midi-keyboard, laptop or even a phone, and the possibilities are endless. He or she might be living in Cork and might even be from a marginalised background, where studying music in school is not possible.

There’s always kids with big and new ideas, and while I always aim to educate youngsters about music history, it’s great that the youth aren’t always burdened by what came before too. Many of them are creating their own musical and artistic path and possibly the language of the future right now.

The vinyl revivals are great but I remember buying most of my vinyl in an era where people were giving it away for practically nothing. As a working DJ from when I was in college, I was always getting sent stuff free, and working in a record shop meant I could get cheaper records too. This is all a privileged path that many could not travel, and even though I always paid for everything myself by doing gigs, it’s a path not available to everyone.

As I reflect on this I’m still fascinated by the technological advances that mean many more people can now create or DJ without having to spend a fortune on records.

And as for the music of the future? Don’t ask me, ask the young generation.

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