04 May 2003

Linkin Park and Alternative Culture

One of the best-known stories in twenty-first century rock: After failing the N-Sync auditions, they tried out for another boy band. The cynical record label then pushed them into the ‘metal’, rather than the ‘pop’ market, fortunately allowing us to distinguish real from fake metaller with a single glance at the ‘L’ section of their record collection.

A more obscure story is that of the guitarist and MC who, after fiddling around with Pro-Tools together, collected singer, DJ and bass-player from those around them, before advertising for a drummer in a magazine. These people went on to record the album ‘Hybrid Theory’, featuring the single ‘In the End’, a slightly bizarre mixture of pretty singing and shouting, piano and distorted guitars. It was around this time that the former story arose.

Whether we believe Linkin Park or ‘Kerrang!’ on this is fairly arbitrary, but this generally depends on whether or not you like Linkin Park, and if not, whether you secretly own their album and even shamefully enjoy it.

Argument 1: Linkin Park are a boy-band – they don’t even swear on their album!
However, Boyzone famously said ‘fuck’ in praise of U2, and the Sex Pistols (manufactured by Malcolm McLaren) called their album ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’.
Argument 2: They’re a bunch of pretty-boys, they must be manufactured!
Something of a double standard – Jimmy Page and Kurt Cobain hardly meet the standards of ugliness set by the likes of Mötörhead.
Argument 3: They’ve sold so many records! And done ‘Top of the Pops’!
As did The Beatles. And what were you, a self-respecting metaller, doing watching Top of the Pops?

Guitarists are quick to level criticism; we happily bemoan the absence of solos and use of one-finger barre-chords, before laying our offerings at the feet of Johnny Marr and Keith Richards . Then, there is the matter of the remix album. A bold, artistic movement, a lazy way to make more material or a cynical (record label) cash-in? Probably all three, like live albums and acoustic versions and ‘Nirvana Unplugged in New York’. Bold it is, with a ‘target audience’ of (wannabe) metal-heads, releasing an album almost devoid of distorted guitar is far from prudent, and not as guaranteed to sell as a good boy-band should be.

What Linkin Park do show is the difficulties and dilemmas facing the followers of ‘Alternative Culture’. To join a group of non-conformists and together proclaim your individuality is a difficult concept. To join a counter-culture and find almost as many shops, clubs, records and fashion labels awaiting your purchase is a naturally confusing experience. How can you feel part of a disaffected youth when society is geared to your age group’s tastes and spending habits? And how do you rebel against ex-hippy parents who will understand you no matter what you do?

When Linkin Park came onto the recently imported (aided by that most underground of media, the blockbusting movie tie-in ) Nu-Metal scene, they were somewhat celebrated for the brief period of time before they hit the Top 40. Even then they were allowed the odd hit single because it ‘got real music into the charts’. Second and third hits proved problematic, especially when joined by the likes of Papa Roach and the Lost Prophets. Something was wrong – if this is Alternative Music, then why are people buying it? And if I am an Alternative Person, then why do I own the same record as a Trendy? Something had to be done, and the quiet ‘there’s only one thing you should know’ mid-section of ‘In the End’ proved perfect. Linkin Park were branded a boy-band, and Slipknot became the new band to adorn the true metal fan’s hoody.

But events were to take yet another worrying turn. The Mini-Moshers (those smaller Alternatives who continued to like Linkin Park after they had been discredited) soon fell for the joys of Slipknot, who are even now being mentioned on ‘CD:UK Hotshots’ and enjoying radio play. What will happen to ‘Alternative’ culture? If the metal fan goes more extreme, and finds a band that detune further, swear harder, shout louder, kick their double-bass pedal faster and still eat their own excrement onstage, what’s there to stop them going the same way? The Libertines put Retro-Garage-Punk into the charts, as did Hundred Reasons with Emo (although in true Emo tradition, denying being Emo), while Travis and Coldplay have long ruled out Indie.

For a possible answer, we must look to Kurt Cobain, who gave his life for the sake of musical credibility and allow the Rock fan true salvation. “Pop music is simple music.” Although ‘pop’ was something Cobain endorsed, we must somehow stop the Top 40 taking our Alternative bands and genres away from us completely. We need a complex group, not conforming to one genre that a Trendy or Mini-Mosher can wear on his or her hoody. A band creating polyrhythms with simultaneous electronic drums, real drums, guitar harmonics, rapping, singing and a Nine Inch Nails piano sample, that subvert and break the rules of the entire Heavy Metal genre, while continually (in true Nu-Metal style) denying being a part of it. But that’s Linkin Park doing ‘In the End’, so we’re pretty much screwed.

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