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xmag.com : December 2003: Rock is Dead

Rough black letters in sharpie on a bathroom wall read, "In 1997 the Technics turntable outsold the Fender guitar for the first time." Well, shit. I guess that about says it all. It was written on the wall in the most popular club in Chico, California, the home of Chico State University, voted number one party school in the country by Playboy magazine. The big fish club in an impressive pond. The same club that a few months before "changed format," switching over from live rock bands to DJs.

This symbolized the height of the new reign of the DJ, pumping electronic beats scientifically formulated to induce frantic consumption of Ecstasy, vacant staring and spasmodic dancing. The DJs' beats are rarely polluted by lyrics. Sure, every once in a while a little phrase creeps in for ravers to mouth to prospective mates, that clever "I'm gonna fuck you so good" look on their faces. The DJs' beats strip John and Jane Coed of their thoughts and reduce them to gyrating, coitus-hungry club monkeys. Quite a noble purpose for a computer-generated beat to have. America's party capital, in synch with the nation, fell on those beats like a pack of wild dogs.

As the perfect beats achieved their designated purpose, marching towards the new millennium at one hundred ten beats per minute, clubs across America started changing. Live music was dead, long live the beats. The entire industry scrambled to accommodate the sweeping need for a rave. Musicians, roadies, sound techs and fans of live music were left weeping in gutters wondering what had happened to their scene, their livelihood. Would they never experience live music again without having to go to an arena for a Dave Matthews Band concert? Would their entire music scene be reduced to swarms of teen-aged fanatics gathering to spawn in massive outdoor summer concerts at $200 a pop? We sat and watched club after club switch over like the undead. The beats bite you and you're one of them. Ooh, that smell. With savage speed rock and roll was exposed, infected and nearly killed.

But the millennium had a few surprises. Since 2000, America's been bombed, seen fifty years of environmental progress destroyed, alienated our allies, lost constitutional rights in the name of patriotism and started a brutal and vague war most of us don't believe in. The public's desire for live rock has arisen like Frankenstein, brought to life by violence and frustration with the New America. DJs still spin, but they spin a little differently, with a darker purpose. And they share the clubs and stages more and more with confused, anxious and driven bands. Art is growing back its claws.

That club in Chico has changed back again and is hosting MTV2's Headbanger's Ball, Nashville Pussy and a slew of incredible bands this month. In 2003, the Guitar Center, the corporate monolith responsible for crippling and closing many local independent music stores, once again sold more guitars than turntables by a wide margin. Conservatives are still drunk with power, but now there are kids out there who want to write something about the insanity they're drowning in. Soon they'll start screaming about it--Anarchy in the U.S.A.-- backed by guitars, drums, amplifiers. Then we can listen and cry with joy. Long Live Rock!





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