Why does music change? What makes it mutate within time?
It is not because of one single reason. Music changes because of a complex structural framework where different agents converge in different measures: sociocultural contexts, market economy, aesthetics trends and technology, to name just a few. Among these many reasons, there is also the audio format, be it physical or digital.
What we listen to is determined by where and how we listen to it.
In that sense, Youtube, as the main music consumption channel today, will have a huge influence on music evolution. Actually, it already has.
WHY THE 80s REVIVAL IS LASTING MORE THAN THE 80s THEMSELVES?
According to an existing unwritten law in pop culture, revivals are organized in twenty years cycles. We can easily verify this since the outset of rock’n’roll, back in the 50s: in the 70s, punk-rock reacquired the urgency and simplicity from two decades before. In the 80s, 60s’ pop euphoria and colorism revived with the new wave. In the 90s, with grunge at its peak, 70s’ hard rock returned. And in 2000, obviously, the 80s came back hand in hand with the post-punk revival and electroclash.
Why is it a twenty years cycle? There are several theories. I personally consider it as a combination of memory and statistical logic: the music you listen to during your childhood is, chiefly, the one your parents put on; basically music of the moment. When you reach the age of developing your own musical discourse, let’s say twenty years old, these influences emerge inevitably. Sometimes, in a more remarkable way than others.
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However, recently this cyclical continuum seems to be stuck in a particular decade: the 80s.
If the cycle was repeated today during the decade of 2010, the 90s should be the current revival. Nevertheless, the 80s’ aesthetics still rule: minimal wave, new-new age, hypnagogic pop, the omnipresent echoes of acid house, electro, italo, EBM, original techno and house… Not only in hipsterland, but also in spheres seemingly as far from trendy as heavy metal most sounds are inherited from the 80s, like black metal, power metal, or the unstoppable rise of (neo) thrash metal.
The fascination aroused by the 80s in a generation of artists who did not experience them —not even as children— can be explained to a large extent by the influence of YouTube as the main platform for music listeners all over the world: the lowering of home video and the birth of MTV in 1981 led to an exceptional audiovisual archive which nowadays, thanks to YouTube, we have at our disposal 24/7. Still, this argument could be refuted, since that situation happens in the following decades too, and has in fact reached its climax today along with the globalization of mobile technology.
What is it that we are so attracted, then, to the 80s videos and sounds? In essence, it’s definitely their total alienness in the eyes of the contemporary viewer/listener. Among the entire audiovisual legacy available on YouTube, the 80s are the farthest era, historically and aesthetically speaking, from our present. Although it was traditionally reviled as the decade of extreme shallowness and materialism, the fact is that the 80s were a revolutionary time. At least culturally. It seems like everything was allowed back then.
The democratization of technology was born in the 80s, as much in the musical front —drumboxes, sequencers and low cost synthesizers or cassette tapes— as in the visual one —home video, VHS cameras. A technology hardly ever before used, which would originate creative experiments that often culminated in huge delusions. Delusions which are now even more exotic than at those times, considering that after 30 years of use a canon has been finally established, a sort of manual of good practice, which only the bravest (or most outsiders) dare to transgress.
That spontaneous, crazy or even unconscious experimentation is what makes the 80s culture so attractive in the era of free access to information. So different from everything. As I was saying, for the first time we have it at our fingertips in YouTube. And there is a generation of artists who, in search of distinguishing themselves from their contemporaries, now has an apparently endless repository where they can get unique referents. In short: we still have 80s for a while. Blame YouTube.
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