WHEN DOES BEING DERIVATIVE BECOME TOO DERIVATIVE? By Danny Wright
When Foxygen released ‘We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic’, it was received by some as a glorious celebration of music from the 60s and 70s. Others tore it apart for being derivative crap that was a mere monochrome photocopy of the ragged technicolour it tried to ape.But how do we define what’s derivative and what’s inspired by others? And, more to the point, isn’t it impossible to make something without a starting point? People have again been boring on about the return of ‘guitar music’ in 2013. But guitar isn’t a genre, it’s an instrument. From metal to post-punk through to folk, from Prince to Pavement, ‘guitar music’ isn’t a thing. Of course, you can trace it all back to a common source and no music is ever without precedent – often what makes music so great is how it evolves and moulds influences into wonderful new shapes.
I don’t quite agree with Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub when he said, in Simon Reynolds’ excellent Retromania, ‘Any music that doesn’t sound like anything else in rock history always sounds terrible’. But you always have to start somewhere – unless you record the sound of a mongoose mating and put a trumpet backing track on it (no, Animal Collective, don’t even think about it, I’ve already trademarked it). The worry is though, if it is a copy and there’s nothing of the actual band in it, then, just like a photocopy, the sharpness and clarity gets lost. The point is to do something with passion and spark, taking those elements and making them your own, without diluting them.
I’ve been listening to Parquet Courts a lot and they take Television, The Modern Lovers and The Strokes and smash them together gloriously. Some could see it as derivative, but to me it’s these types of beautiful mutations that show where inspiration can go and mere retreading of the past can be forgotten.