Could rock ’n’ roll become mainstream again?

It’s a genre known for it’s high energy, fast tempos and gritty attitude but could rock ’n’ roll re-emerge as dominant genre in popular music?

I caught up with The Friendly Friends’ frontman Joey Watson to discuss our favourite topic – rock and roll. I met him halfway down The Goods Line in Haymarket. He was wearing a corduroy jacket that matched my own and sported the type of hairstyle you would gel, but he pulled it off without doing so. He ordered an iced chocolate and took a pew, crossing his legs in an ‘American figure four’. As you would, I asked him how he became a musician but was surprised when he suggested, “I don’t think I could qualify as a musician, I’m not technically proficient and, ah I don’t strive to be.” I could have wrapped up the interview there and perfectly pictured the culture of rock and roll.

For many San Francisco communities, rock and roll culture is still very much alive. Two years ago, Joey spent some time in San Francisco and for a short while he experienced firsthand, the 1960s frozen in time. It was this experience that induced Joey to start making music, but he holds one specific night accountable. He sat up until 3am with a guy he’d only just met, trying to think of bands on this side of the millennium who made rock and roll music with the specific 1961 – 1965 sound. “We really, really struggled,” he laughed, “the closest we could find was Youth and Young Manhood, the first album by Kings of Leon funnily enough.”

Friendly Friends’ frontman Joey J. Jetson

After a night of drinking with a friend, Joey J. Jetson decided to write his first track and found the writing process quite natural, “I liked the song; I thought ‘That was pretty easy’, so I thought I’d make a couple more… and then I decided, shit, it’d be fun to give this a go.” From there, The Friendly Friends were born, and within 2 minutes of releasing their debut single “Cocaine Jim”, owner of Oxford Art Factory, Mark Gerber called Joey, asking them to play at the venue’s 11th Birthday Party. Joey described the moment with animation, “(“Cocaine Jim”) did a lot better than we thought it would… and that was when it was like – okay well now we’re a real band, or as much of a real band as we can be. I don’t know if we are that yet, but we were like, let’s actually do this.”

There’s no denying that hip-hop is the rock and roll of this generation. It dominates the mainstream charts and reigns over the playlists in nightclubs and bars. I spoke to Johnathan Barons, a Society & Culture teacher who specialises in rock and roll music, to find out more about the psychological and cultural side of rock and roll. Jonathan holds the belief that popular music will always be determined by the young people feeling an urge to rebel. He pondered, “I think adolescence in particular is a time when you develop your own identity to be something apart from your parents.” Music is an integral part of an adolescent’s identity, so young people don’t want to listen to the same music as their parents and so a new genre enters the charts, often provocative in some form, whether musically or lyrically.

Although rap music is filling the charts, a report by IBISWorld has given the good news that there has been a consistent growth in people buying guitars and that’s expected to peak next year. There’s no certainty as to why this is the case, but with more people playing guitar music, rock and roll could possibly sneak back onto our radios.

Fingers have been pointed at technology for the shift in popular music this decade. Joey considers technology as a major factor behind the shift, “When people make music they want to make bigger sounds and they want to do more with it and more with their instruments,” he suggested while circling one of the buttons on his jacket with his finger. Effectively this means that musicians are going to use the available technology to produce music.

Rock and roll music could gain traction again, but unfortunately the reality is that it will be unlikely to re-emerge as a dominating popular genre. The culture and events at this current time don’t fit the lifestyle that rock and roll accompanied when it dominated the music industry fifty years ago. Based on past cycles of music, its unlikely rock and roll will ever be close to as popular as it once was but due to its significance and popularity, it could break the cycle.