Redeeming Pop

This article was originally published in Bournbrook Magazine on 10th September 2020.

"Music and Morality" and "The Cultural Significance of Pop" are two essential essays by Sir Roger Scruton which effectively demolish the Western tradition of modern popular music first instituted by the early African-American rockers (as a degeneration of jazz), and thereafter further bastardised in the 60's by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, who linked it inextricably with the cultural revolution. Ever after pop music has acted as the spearhead of our cultural decay, arguably reaching its greatest artistic abyss in the 90's (another era of leftist ascendancy), in the unadulterated, unabashedly ugly nihilism of techno music and alternative rock - which provoked Scruton to publish "Cultural Significance" in that same decade.

I shan't repeat the arguments Scruton has already made so perfectly in these essays, linked above. My purpose here, believe it or not, is not to bash pop any more than is necessary. When I first publicly postulated the necessity of a right-wing counter-revolution in "The Need For Something New", I discussed the impossibility, even undesirability, of wiping this cultural Dark Age from history entirely. It has not been without merit - indeed, in order to triumph over it we must incorporate these rare virtues into our own conception of a superior future. "Having a disease is the only way to become immune to it", as I put it. Therefore, we must not only restore and innovate, but redeem that which we can, in the same way that High Mediaeval civilisation redeemed and built upon the savage Dark Ages that led up to it.

This will include redeeming pop, and I have an idea as to how it might be done. So much of the present corruption in music can be attributed to the invention of multitrack recording, which has divorced it from the magic, artistry and atmosphere of performance. Your average pop song is no longer a recording, a replication, of a superior live performance - that is, a spontaneous and collective expression of shared human emotion, of empathy - but instead an entity in itself: an immaculately processed and perfected artificial creation, wherein the instruments do not complement and merge with each other but ring out into separate voids. Contrast Duke Ellington's 1928 recording of "Diga Diga Doo", to that of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy in 2012. Both feature talented musicians no doubt, but the former is a performance, and the latter is not - it's clean and soulless in comparison. Sometimes multitrack recording is used to achieve particular artistic effects - such as the Wall of Sound, or the creativity displayed in the 1974 album Queen II - but in all other cases it should be seriously discouraged. You may complain this effectively abolishes the realm of electronic music. Electronic instruments are crude and lacking in beauty, nevertheless I'm no enemy of variety, and they will have their place come the counter-revolution. They can be used in a live recording without multitrack, which in fact creates a striking garage-y effect - I think the DFA version of "DARE" by Gorillaz, while not necessarily produced this way and an ugly song in itself, is a close approximation.

The end of multitrack, and the subsequent re-emphasis on performance, will help to make musicians musicians again, instead of totemic pop idols. Their recordings will cease to be entities of their own, and so-called "cover versions" will be encouraged rather than shunned. The very concept of "covers" being anything unimaginative or unusual is an abomination of the pop tradition. A song is not meant to be performed only once, by the musician who wrote it! This is an absurdity. In the pre-pop era of real music, a professional composer would write a song, as many musicians as fancied would make their own recordings, and the public would pick and choose their favourites. The cultish emphasis on the pop idol or rock star writing "their own material", recently reintroduced after years of dormancy in figures like Lorde, Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, and Billie Eilish, just makes for bland songwriting (though they are no doubt aided in their songwriting efforts by a hidden flock of professionals, which only adds to the miserable cynicism of the process).

Couple the end of multitrack with an abolition of music videos, and a renewed emphasis on beauty and morality in all the arts, and bit by bit popular music will become more authentic, artistic, and audiophilic - in other words, it will return to its roots, and become more truly a "folk" music, able to be enjoyed and performed by everyone. But how to achieve such changes? Much of the artistic and architectural ugliness of the modern world can be blamed on unrestrained capitalism which cares only for maximising profits and nothing for human welfare or refinement. Art is inherently elitist, so it is only by the restoration of an elite that the world can be purged of filth and ugliness. Without resorting to outright censorship (except in cases of obscenity) the counter-revolutionary State must guide all the arts in a civilising direction. This could be done through simple financial incentives, or even all-out state capitalism. I respect the Chinese state capitalist system because it has harnessed the creativity of the free market and totally subordinated it to the national interest. Something similar could be done here, with the counter-revolutionary State making sure certain elitist artistic and architectural standards are maintained.