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The "high-concept" musical act.


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  • The "high-concept" musical act.

    Seems to me,   when you put together a musical act,   there has to be something of a concept...   that unifies all your music together.

    Maybe Kraftwerk is a prime example of this.    Regardless of musical track,   the concept is there:

    * Let's do synthesis the likes of which no-one's heard before
    * Let's condemn or mock the machine...   while making the most machine-like music possible
    * Maybe much of it should be danceable
    *  Let's have a distinctive,  somewhat "cold"  German sensibility
    * Lets groom ourselves to look like kindly-but-insentient robots 

    Some concepts just arise from the nature of the people involved:   Let's have The Andrews Sisters,    three sisters who sing in perfect jazz harmonies,  and who sing somewhat ribald songs,  often with an eye towards military GI's.

    Let's have Britney Spears,   the image of a teenaged  American high-school cheerleader...   who sings sluttish songs often suggesting what used to be called miscegenation.    And let's have Miley Cyrus who thumbs her nose at her Country-Western roots  (White/Republican/Conservative/Christian/Right-Wing)  to do much the same thing.

    Let's have The Police,  three white guys who,  at height of the Brixton race riots,   are hip to the inner-city black man's music,  let's all bleach our hair blond;   all songs should be a blend of both Punk and Reggae/Ska sensibilities.

    Let's have Bob Dylan,   a middle-class Jewish guy who poses as Manhattan homeless street trash,  who appears to have beamed in from Woody Guthrie's poverty-stricken Depression Oklahoma or Appalachia,  whose new original songs partake of Appalachian (or even 19thc Scots-Irish) forms.

    You see where I'm going with this.    The point is,   the most important artists always figured out what their concept,  their shtik,  their gimmick was:   looks-wise,  culturally,   tonally,   musically,  even production-wise.   And groups who could not come up with a strong unifying concept were not good for longevity....   and would likely be one-  or two-hit wonders.

    What are your feelings about "concept",   and/or musical acts with higher and lower degrees of embedded "concept" ?    Why isn't it enough to simply throw together three twenty-something,   smiling guitarists and hope for the best?

    Every paint-stroke takes you farther and farther away from your initial concept. And you have to be thankful for that. Wayne Thiebaud

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  • #2

    My belief is that if you do what you are inside (regardless of your roots, ethnicity, economic class or whatever), then you make music that will resonate with people, Contrariwise, if you pose as something else, there is no way to hide the artificiality you create. Many of the examples you mention are people transcend their roots to be who they really feel inside, and create authenticity by following their particular 'path with heart'.  

    Others you mention (I'll let the reader decide who) are entirely artificial, and have no means of ever connecting with their muse no matter how successful their careers.


    • blue2blue
      blue2blue commented
      Editing a comment

      Actually, the concept of the Andrews Sisters is, Gee, now that the Boswells have broken up, that leaves a HUGE gap in the sibling harmony swing market.  wink.gif 

      With re Kraftwerk, I think the thing that separated them from all the other prog and synth-experimental bands is that they were intent on making POP MUSIC. They didn't sound like Faust or even Tangerine Dream (which was started in 1967,  by the way, 3 years before KW). They used simple, but attractive melodies and they weren't afraid fo driving them home with repetition, in traditional pop fashion.


      With regard to a certain 'high concept' pop act that has just grabbed a Grammy... I've been aware of them since their first album in '96 and they've been pretty much annoying me on every exposure to their simplistic, sequenced elevator pabulum since. 

      Their musical high concept is striking: extremely bland, formulaic synth pop with sacharine melodies sung by hard-tuned 'singers' -- to me, it seems like sort of a somewhat perverse partial inversion of the ABBA formula.


      PS... your take on the Police is about directly opposite to mine -- which is that US AID money was used to start their label and promote their career as a 'safe' band with what appears to the bland mainstream as 'outsider' status with their primary message embodied in their songs: there is no political solution. give up, give in, become a mindless polyester-wearing droid listening to fake reggae and doing your job like a good little drone. Certainly, those are the people who embraced the Police back in the day, as they embraced the Romantics, U2, and a few other 'safe' new wave bands. (Not that I necessarily think THOSE bands were getting US AID money, mind you. The Copeland Brothers, of course, had a quasi-direct connection to the US AID (an arm of the CIA) through their father who was a very high ranking official.


      PS... Dave's onto something, for sure -- but the terms of art have changed -- it's no longer the concept that drives the marketing, it's the brand narrative...  grin 

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