Chvrches Icona Pop

Last Saturday I attended the inaugural Breakaway Music Festival, a one-day fest targeted at college students, held in a modest soccer stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Headliners included Bassnectar, Empire Of The Sun and Kendrick Lamar, with Juicy J, Porter Robinson and Schoolboy Q among those filling out the bill. Also in the lineup was the charming B-list Toronto indie band Tokyo Police Club, the lone act among Breakaway’s 26 performers that could qualify as a guitar-driven rock band — and even they’re defined just as much by their keyboard parts and their rhythm section. Empire Of The Sun and fellow Aussies Alpine could technically qualify as indie rock, but their airy, synth-driven pop concoctions aren’t exactly heavy on the six-string action. Kendrick Lamar brought a live band with him, but only to perform in that jazzy late-night-TV style rappers sometimes adopt as a status symbol. Twenty One Pilots, one of the main-stage acts, signed to the pop-punk label Fueled By Ramen on the strength of a huge grassroots teenage/collegiate fan base but seems to have made a concerted effort to exclude the guitar from its schizoid genre mash, instead gravitating toward synthetic pop sounds like labelmates Paramore and Fall Out Boy before them.

The guitar used to be the go-to instrument for sonic violence, rock-star excess, and wanton youthful exuberance, but Breakaway’s audience of scantily clad women and aggro bros didn’t seem to miss it much. Similar reports trickled in from the Made In America Festival, where, among other indignities, Queens Of The Stone Age performed for a fraction of the crowds that greeted the big-name rappers and DJs. Jared Leto wasn’t the only one who noticed guitar rock’s absence at this year’s VMAs, which even excluded acoustic-slingers Mumford & Sons. A New York Times story last fall reported Fender’s struggles to sell guitars and attract investors, noting, “It’s worth remembering that the accordion was once the most popular instrument in America.”

The guitar’s decline isn’t a new phenomenon, and reports of its death have often been exaggerated. Declaring the demise of guitar music was all the rage at the height of ’90s big beat, just like it was in synth-saturated ’80s. Rockist “real music” fans felt threatened by the rise of disco in the ’70s, and in a much-circulated, sometimes disputed quote from way back in 1962, Decca Records A&R man Dick Rowe supposedly rejected the Beatles on the grounds that “guitar groups are on their way out.” Guitar rock has waxed and waned in popularity enough times that it seems unlikely to ever die out completely. But spend any time at one of these youth-oriented festivals and you can’t help but notice a sea change, the payoff from decades of musical and technological evolution. Guitar rock remains a huge segment of the music industry, but its role in youth culture is disappearing. Even Guitar Hero’s time has passed, a demise that seems to have generated far more eulogies online than the dwindling deployment of actual guitars.

The audience for guitar rock music is graying, and the generation coming up behind seems to have less use for the instrument than ever before. Young folks haven’t dispensed with guitar rock entirely, but it seems more like a niche concern now. And bands in those niches, be they abrasive AmRep/Sub Pop revivalists like Cloud Nothings and Pissed Jeans or all those female-fronted emo-folk revivalists on Exploding In Sound and Don Giovanni, are revivalists nonetheless. When the guitar has reared its head in the mainstream this year, it’s been in the context of throwback soul and disco sounds a la Nile Rodgers’ work with Daft Punk or Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience; in contrast, the Miley Cyrus smash “We Can’t Stop”, touted by NYT critic Jon Caramanica as the anarchic antidote to the so-called “Summer Of Smooth,” is fully synthetic. Part of the way Rick Rubin rendered Eminem’s comeback single “Berzerk” as old-school was by lacing it with electric guitars. Plenty of retro bands have employed the guitar over the years, but now the guitar is becoming retro in and of itself, a signifier of all things stodgy and traditionalist.

Maybe that’s why Chvrches did away with their six-strings almost entirely. As Matthew Perpetua’s great Buzzfeed primer explains, all three members of the Scottish synth-pop trio used to play in guitar-oriented projects geared toward big-swell emotive catharsis: Lauren Mayberry with Blue Sky Archives, Iain Cook with Aerogramme, and Martin Doherty as a touring member of the Twilight Sad. Chvrches’ synth-powered aesthetic represents a major departure for all three musicians, and judging from the way their band seems to be riding the zeitgeist right now, it was a wise departure. Subjectively, Chvrches feels fresh and forward-thinking compared to the groups mining ’90s alt-rock; digital music feels like life in our digital age. Objectively, when Chvrches played my city last Friday, they headlined a concert hall more than twice the capacity of the venues that hosted guitar-powered underground luminaries Deerhunter and Mission Of Burma the same night.

The switch to synth-pop is paying dividends creatively too. Chvrches’ sublime debut album The Bones Of What You Believe, which drops next week via Glassnote, is one of the year’s most uniformly enjoyable collections of music. Our own Miles Bowe summed up the sound exceptionally as “a fierce combination of ’Heartbeats’-era Knife romanticism and M83′s neon majesty.” This is pleasure-center pop firing on all cylinders — Mayberry’s sparkling moonbeam vocals, low-end rhythmic heft, dense textures worth plumbing with expensive headphones, melodies to spare, songwriting that pierces the heart and pumps the lungs full of life. It’s effortlessly effervescent stuff, a step above anything the members concocted in their previous projects. Emotionally, they’re swinging for the same fences as ever, but it’s like they’ve traded wood bats for aluminum.

It’s not that synthesizers are inherently more powerful tools than guitars. The Chvrches songs would still rule if you subbed in effects-laden strumming and shredding, and some listeners might even deem that sound superior. But working in that de rigueur medium seems to have invigorated the group in a way that guitars didn’t. Maybe it’s just a matter of newfound poptimism unlocking ideas these three wouldn’t have dared indulge before. Maybe it’s the rut-busting creative renaissance that often accompanies the switch to a new instrument. Whatever is driving it, Chvrches has tapped into something lively and timely by pushing indie rock ever further away from the guitars that have always been its bread and butter.

Icona Pop, the Swedish duo whose stateside debut This Is… Icona Pop also arrives next week, represents the reverse: a traditionally electronic genre adopting elements from underground guitar music. The live show rages; when I caught Icona Pop at SXSW warehouse party, their performance upped my adrenaline to levels that Merchandise’s dreary, gnarled shoegaze couldn’t touch. In other words, they rocked far harder than the “rock” band with the guitars rocked.

It’s not a matter of sound so much as feeling. This Is… Icona Pop is unmistakably a big-budget pop album; as follows, six-strings are scarce throughout. The attitude, though, is plenty punk-rock. I’m not ready to go as far as Spin’s Brandon Soderberg, who described Icona Pop as “kind of just a hardcore band” on Twitter, but there’s latent aggression and youthful rebellion in this music that would no longer jibe with an antiquated guitar-rock aesthetic. There was a time when “Girlfriend” might have been a Bangles song or even a Bikini Kill song, but no self-respecting ’90s bitch is going to wild out like she’s from the ’70s.

The guitar’s decline isn’t entirely a function of fashion, though. Speaking of the ’90s: It’s the economy, stupid! Guitars, amps, and pedals ain’t cheap, and that’s before you factor in the cost of maintenance and repair. Such tools of the trade are very much a luxury in 21st century life — “a nonessential,” per the Times. You know what is essential to modern living, though? A computer. If everybody already has a laptop, and you can approximate the sound of a Gibson SG with some GarageBand plugin you jacked from some illicit offshore server, why bother dropping so much of your paycheck at Sam Ash? With the unemployment rate still hovering above 7 percent, the cost of higher education skyrocketing and health care costs outpacing economic growth, the tactile sensation of strumming a guitar might not justify the expenditure — especially when the infinite realm of sonic possibilities online surpasses the creative potential of a cruddy secondhand Squier. Furthermore, anyone who has struggled to transport stacks upon stacks of books and records knows the appeal of Kindles and USB hard drives; musicians have to lug their equipment around constantly, not just on the rare occasion of an address change.

Under those conditions? Of course a new generation has found new ways to be young, wild and free. Of course the sound of rupture has moved on from the sound of “Eruption“. Of course the Stratocaster is going the way of the squeezebox. When music is as spellbindingly alive as what Chvrches and Icona Pop are kicking out, so what if guitar rock gets the axe?

Comments (107)
  1. This article makes me think of the band pan sonic, who have in the past synthesized electronic sounds with the sensory oblivion of the greatest, heaviest rock music. Turn the volume up and blast this song–it’s an ANTHEM:

  2. Interesting thesis, but isn’t Chvrches and especially IconaPop more dance pop than anything else? Not sure if one equates to the other.

  3. So… Icona Pop is better than guitars. Alright then…

  4. Haim’s taking off right now and they’re all about 70′s-style guitar playing.

  5. Great article, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Guitar bands on pop radio have, as the article states, waxed and waned for a while. Great music is great music, and I have no bone to pick about the guitar not being the dominant instrument. But it’s incredibly versatile, and the thrill of great rock music will probably never disappear. And technology has done the electric guitar as much favor as it has the synthesizer.

    And, hell, while we’re at it, let’s not overlook the reaction against synthpop from bands like Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, etc. Not rock bands (nor bands I particularly like), but hey – a guitar’s a guitar. So we’ll see, but I predict that bands will reemerge in the next 4 years with a vengance.

    • In the ’90s after the grunge balloon began to burst, there emerged what they were touting as “electronica,” and I forgot who said it — maybe it was Kurt Loder or Billy Corgan or someone who isn’t as relevant today as they were yesterday — made the statement that in 10 years, there would be no guitars and everything would be played with electronic instruments. This is what this article reminds me of.

      • SPIN Magazine so desperately wanted Electronica to happen in a big way. And it did – everywhere in the Western world except the United States. Except for a few big singles from Prodigy and Chemical Brothers, that movement never materialized here, though EDM is clearly it’s bastard son. And I say that as someone who actually likes some EDM. But I’ve yet to hear a song that kicks ass like Firestarter.

    • And yes, everything in music trends is reactionary to what came before it, so a “The Return of Rock!” issue on the cover of Rolling Stone will likely happen (again) at some point in the next few years.

    • This is dead on. I don’t particularly care for those bands either, but these “folk” artists have humungous fan bases and dominate the radio. If that isn’t guitar based music being popular with the young, I don’t know what is.

  6. Just because the tastemakers of the day choose to focus their attentions on less guitar-based music, does not mean it is in decline.

  7. As someone who came of age in the 90s when alt rock was big, and who has always loved classic and indie rock, I find this sad. I realized something was up when I downloaded that torrent of Pitchfork’s best songs of 2012 and liked maybe five tunes, all of them guitar-based (Cloud Nothings, Ariel Pink, Japandroids, etc.).

    A lot of music today, even the kind pushed by blogs with good taste like this one, sounds so rinky-dink to me. Even Icona Pop just sounds like Bananarama for people with shorter attention spans. I know, I’m old, things move on, and blues-based guitar rock sounds like it was made a million years ago at this point. But it hasn’t been replaced by anything nearly as good.

    People are gazing at their mobile devices all the time, posting everything they do and like to social media, and never disconnecting from the Internet hive and as a result you get this kind of music, synthetic dreck that rewards instant gratification and cheap, flashy pleasures. Sure, you can make whatever on GarageBand in five minutes, but there’s a lot of soul missing, and the talent that comes from thousands of hours of practice and life experiences that happen when you are not staring at a screen is all but absent.

    Maybe y’all don’t hear it, but I do. And for the last time, keep those damn kids off my lawn!

    • So I also cut my teeth on 90′s alt rock, and I appreciate a lot of what you said. But I’d echo the point others have made here and say that music is reactionary. You say a lot of synthetic music is soulless, poorly produced, and lacks talent from experience–I agree; but I’d also point to Daft Punk’s album this year as a (phenomenal) reaction against that trend. And it’s worth pointing out that the current wave of intentionally poorly produced electronic music coming from inexperienced musicians is itself a reaction, in the same way that the wave of intentionally poorly produced grunge music from inexperienced 90s musicians was a reaction. The way I look at it: I was just a bit too young to really get what was happening the last time we saw a major sea change in music (I was 8 when Nirvana hit). Now, I think we’ve got another major sea change occurring–I don’t want to be too old for this one!

    • I came here to defend guitar rock, my love of loves, but man this post really reinforces the “old-guard” stereotype.

      “People are gazing at their mobile devices all the time, posting everything they do and like to social media, and never disconnecting from the Internet hive and as a result you get this kind of music, synthetic dreck that rewards instant gratification and cheap, flashy pleasures.” – what a stupid generalization. I hold the mighty guitar above all else, but I also love ALL types of music. To universally discard music with synths and no guitars is a ridiculous notion to any real fan of music. Also, with the “mobile devices and social webs and internet hive” thing… just stop. You sound like a corny old crank.

    • This comment might create waves, but I’d also submit that we are seeing a lot of computer-based electronic music for one simple reason: it is a completely different animal to mess with a music program than it is to plug in a guitar, or sit at a piano, or behind a drum set, and use your mind and body to create it.

      Unsugarcoated: it seems like a lot of these “electronic” bands would never have enough conventional musical talent in a million years to make anything even slightly noteworthy. There are a lot of untalented hacks out there with MacBook Pros.

      **This isn’t to say the bands mentioned in the article fit this bill. But they are out there.

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  9. Fads, phases, trends, and rages. Guitars aren’t going anywhere. And certainly a 15-minute fame band like Icona Pop is not going to change anything. C’mon.

  10. Obviously, as a “trend” guitar rock is virtually gone from the mainstream. That’s not surprising at all. But good songs are good songs no matter the instrument. You think another In Rainbows would go unnoticed? Doubt it.

    As a sound regardless of mainstream appeal, to me it’s more a matter of too many “guitar bands” that do nothing particularly intresting with the instrument. And when it’s been done for 60+ years, it’s just not that appealing. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t bands that still do some great things with it. My Bloody Valentine proved once again that not just anybody can toggle an effects pedal and make a classic shoegaze album. What Kevin Sheilds is doing with the guitar is nothing short of outstanding. Apart from that type of stuff, the most interesting guitar work is coming from the heavier side of things, bands that make it a point to show what a guitar can do.

    It’s like how painting trends shifted as photography was invented. Why paint in realistic portrait when you can just take a picture, right? So we got the Modern movement of Impressionish and Cubism, painters that thought “If I’m gonna paint, it’s gonna LOOK like it’s made from paint!” Same with guitars. The most interesting guitar music is going to be the stuff that makes you marvel at the sound of those vibrating strings. The stuff you don’t hear every day.

    • *Impressionism.

      “Impressionish” haha

      • Did I get downvoted for correcting myself? Maybe you think it really is “Impressionish”…

        • but but, if you go down the argument “nobody is doing anything interesting ( or new) with guitar rock”, the same could prob be said abt Churches or Icona Pop. Theres absolutely nothing new about them. i love my pop, but by God, Icona Pop was HORRIBLE.I wont comment on Churches because ive only heard their singles, not the new album as a whole.

          That said, I m enlightened that the recently at Reading, Portishead, still prominently featuring guitars aside from analog electronics, rock harder than anyone else on the bill. Atoms for Peace, despite the electronica glitch on the album, is very much guitar heavy live.

          but yeah, guitar music is getting a major resurgence in the heavier side of music. the mainstream can take their insipid pop acts with them.

          • Their approach may not be entirely new, but as Chris mentioned, the genre is still fresh and therefore “new” sounding. I agree there isn’t anything inherently unique about the mentioned artists approach (in fact I dislike Icona Pop as well), but with good songwriting and a fresh enough sound, that’s what the kids will reach for.

  11. I like A LOT of your writing, but this seems like an article someone will dig up in 10 years and laugh about.

  12. And yet, your very own “40 Best New Bands” list is like 50% guitar rock and you have people in the comments discussing the revival of 90s-style emo and metal is enjoying the most exposure and critical approval that it’s had in a long time.

  13. God damn, I’m going to miss it (the guitar, that is).

  14. Also, I’ve been reading Stereogum for about 6 years now, and more and more the content and the discussions here just make me feel old. I’m just having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that now there’s essentially an entire generation of tastemakers younger than me.

    • You and I both, on this one. I think we’re learning why the AARP is such a strong lobby.

      No one ever thinks the generation after theirs is doing it right. I have to include myself in that. I’ve already kind of said my piece on this particular artist (but I’m confident no one remembers that, so…), but Kitty Pride is an example of when I catch myself going to that mindset. With most of the new stuff I can at least pick out why people like it, even if I don’t care for it myself. But with Kitty Pride I am at an absolute loss. Words cannot describe how old I feel when I hear her music because I don’t understand it at all. Not one thing about it. Yet, she clearly has enough of an audience to keep her name out there. My knee-jerk reaction is to just assume those people don’t know what they’re talking about, but that assessment would be insulting, dismissive, and, in the grand scheme of it all, incorrect.

      Imagine what we’ll say about our grandkids’ music. Tearing around on those hoverskates. You’ll hurt yourself!

  15. I think Icona Pop gave all their guitars to Diarrhea Planet.

    But in all honesty, guitar driven music will rise to prominence again. Everything is cyclical. I remember when Give Up came out and being blown away from it being a purely electronic album (maybe I was more blown away from HOW GOOD it was while having no guitars), and Give Up kind of started paving the path for indie-electro-synth-computer-bleepity-bloopity-whateveryouwanttocallit music.

    So does that mean someone like Kurt Vile, who has put out (hands down) my favorite album this year, is among the last of a dying generation of guitar driven music appealing to young folks, or am I interpreting the conclusion incorrectly?

    On a related note, we also don’t have “guitar gods” anymore, at least not in the classic sense. I have some favorite virtuostic guitar players (Steve Gunn, Nathan Salsburg), but they are not really on the radar of most of the indie crowd.

    Now I’m not so sure what I’m trying to get at, but yea, I like guitars.

    • Meant to supplement the “guitar gods” thing with the observation that nowadays we have equally talented players, but are a bit more understated. Guys like KV and Daniel Rossen immediately come to mind. And if you like the alt-country/Americana stuff you have guys like Dave Rawlings and Chris Ethridge, who are a bit less understated.

    • Give up did have a decent amount of guitars on it (Chris Walla from Death Cab helped out), but I know what you’re saying. That’s hands down one of the best electronic albums of all time.

  16. Arctic Monkeys’ AM is definitely influenced by past sounds but they’re legitimately making waves with guitars. AM is number six (??) on the US Charts and Number 1 in the UK and Australia.

  17. Geez… Every year we hear this crap and then whatever trend is popular at the time disappears and everyone goes back to guitars. Part of the reason for the upswing in electropop is because it’s cheaper for the record labels to record and market(just like hip hop). You can put on a guitar oriented album like “Axis: Bold As Love” now and have your mind blown. There’s something about that kind of music that’s timeless. 20 years from now, no one is going to be looking forward to the Icona Pop reissue the way most of us are towards the “In Utero” remaster.

    • Nobody is gonna be looking for Icona Pop, so maybe the wasn’t the best example (even if based on this concert), but people are kind of missing the point. I would be looking for Disclosure or Robyn over a lot of rock music today and will do the same in the future, and I can see a lot of people from this generation following the same path. it’s very easy to generalize because people are sticking only to the artists in this article, but if you expand, there’s a lot on electronic music and hip-hop that is fantastic. Like decades and decades of mindblowing, great electronic and hip-hop (up to this day in fact, and bound to have more in the future). Hell, if it wasn’t for Bowie, I’d have no guitar music based album on my year top-10 so far.

      This is not just a trend by the way. I know people like to believe rock will make it’s way towards being the genre supreme again, but frankly, I see rock going the way of jazz. Rock fans get more and more conservative in terms of music preference and that lends to both stagnate in terms of who are the big artists and making a scattered indie scene with no clear standouts in a vastly segmented genre that is prone to alienate a younger audience that wants stuff to feel new and not just throwback or “alternative”. I can see in a near future kids complaining about “the old people who listen to rock”.

      It’s cool, rock fans will always find stuff to listen to, the genre won’t die. But it’s never coming back to its glory days in popularity and pop culture relevance. Hip-hop and EDM have replaced it in every way, from music habits to sense of style. I’m sorry, but it’s true. There’s no cycle here.


        …..least that’s what Brian Johnson told me!

    • I love In Utero and worship Hendrix but I dont think you can make a determination like that about Iconopop. Bon Iver’s For Emma will be looked back on 20 years from now, and Bon Iver Bon Iver the 2nd album most likely will be as well. For Emma is as minimal as it gets. You arent getting Fenders and amps turned to 11 on it, yet its a modern day classic. Or take more recent examples. Trilogy by The Weeknd. Intimate avantegarde and cutting edge R&B. Again, no amp or guitar used. or Sufjan’s Illinois. Expansive, wild, crazy, but it isnt a rock record at all. More folk than anything else. The XX’s first album. James Blakes first album. Every album I listed will be remembered 50 years from now.

      Minimalism is in. I think our generation realizes we can be creative and pour out our feelings just like Hendrix or Zep or whoever did, but we can do it in a variety of ways. Fender isnt the only gateway to honest, raw, and emotional musoc.

    • It’s easy to claim that something won’t be listened to 20 years from now because it’s not like any of us are going to check back here to see if you’re wrong. 20 years from now we’ll probably all have forgotten this thread. But in terms of guitar driven music as “timeless,” I can honestly say that I still listen to Massive Attack’s Blue Lines far more than any Nirvana album. Maxinquaye, Endtroducing, Homogenic, Kid A, Dead Cities, Silent Shout, Untrue–these are all albums that can pretty much be considered classics by now, and for me there are not many guitar driven albums that I listen to nearly as much as these. If I had to put money on which more recent album will still be blowing my mind 20 years from now, I would say Araabmuzik’s Electronic Dream.

      At this point I don’t think either guitar music or synth/sample-based music are going to go away any time soon. There’s no reason they shouldn’t coexist. The only thing that seems to fluctuate is which medium is more popular in a mainstream sense. Which I think is this article’s main point.

  18. The articles discussion about cost and the economy I think is a huge part of it. We all have ipod/ipads/laptops and smartphones. Makes sense we’d make music reflective of that.

    Another thing the article should have mentioned is the type of music thats become popular in the last half decade. From Bon iver, to the Indie R&B scene, to James Blake, to the XX,. Minimalism is in. Its easier than ever to record an album on your laptop. Expensive recording studios really arent needed. Im thinking specifically of Bon Iver and How to Dress Well. We as a generation have the power to record albums cheaply and by ourselves. Or the rise in mashup DJ’s like Girl Talk is another example.

    The article rightly points out, guitars and amps are expensive and a luxury item. We dont NEED them the way we do a smart phone or a laptop. We dont even need a record contract. We can just record stuff on Garage band or Protools, put it up on Youtube or post it to a torrent site. Or put it on our website for free.

    Guitar music will always be around. But I do think our generation is way more open to varying genres than our parents or grandparents were. As the article says, just look at any major festival. The array in musical genres at each festival is astounding.

    I think more so what happened is, with the rise of Napster, Itunes and filesharing, our generation got exposed to way more genres and styles of music and therefore isn’t tied into just one genre to express ourselves. We dont have to grab a strat and amp to get hyped. There are many other options.

    • The second Bon Iver album is FAR from minimal, and all of those electronic devices you mention can be used to EASILY record other types of music. The last song on the new Civil Wars record is just their vocals and an acoustic guitar recorded with an iPad in a hotel room. Also, once you start building up any kind of electronic music instrument collection past just having laptop I can assure you it becomes quite expensive. Lastly, cheap still sounds cheap. If you don’t do it right, if you don’t know what you’re doing, it still sounds bad.

  19. I personally think Robyn blows Icona Pop and Chvrches out of the musical water and she’s setting a new bar for what “guitarless” pop means. It means =great songs! Regardless if it has guitars sounding like synths or synths sounding like guitars. To me, Robyn is a leader in the synth pop movement.
    Her peers like The Knife are also showing that the exchange of guitars for synths can be done tastefully and just as compelling as guitar driven bands IF the melody and songwriting is there.
    With Robyn, it sure as hell is.

  20. What decline of guitar rock? There is no decline of guitar rock, there’s just more alternate choices more easily discovered than at any other time in the history of modern music. But there’s still plenty of guitar rock being made. It’s not like people stopped making classical or jazz music because it was no longer as popular.

  21. Also, I love ‘Recover’, but Chvrches haven’t done much else to really blow my mind. And Icona Pop had a hit single that was written by someone else. I can just as easily imagine both of them disappearing in a very short amount of time instead of becoming permanent crossover popular type artists.

  22. One more thing; I think you GREATLY underestimate the number of teenagers who are still sitting around their rooms plucking on acoustic guitars, as well as how many of the current electronic based bands/artists grew up the same way. The notes are the same, ya know? Guitar based music ain’t goin’ anywhere. In fact, I think it’s very likely that we’ll see them used much more in a Sleigh Bells type of way, over the top of the electronics.

  23. Here’s the cover of the current issue of Guitar World:

  24. I was gonna try to quibble with this article, but then I remembered that.

  25. actually, i think the title of this piece should have read:

    Deconstructing: Chvrches, Icona Pop, And The Decline Of Guitar Rock in Mainstream Indie Music.

    because outside of the mainstream, theres tons of great guitar based music.and even electronica being made

  26. I have enjoyed electronic music from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s ’til now. But to say it makes guitars irrelevant is to say that nutritious pills/goo makes gourmet meals irrelevant, or cybersex/masturbation with various synthetic substitutes is better than actual f***ing. It may be less risky, but it certainly isn’t more satisfying. No matter how elaborate their light shows and gimmicks, electronica performances are pretty much never as exciting as watching musicians who can play actual instruments. I don’t care if 100% of the pop artists abandon guitars, as it makes the music I love — heavy stoner/doom/psych rock and metal, all the more rare and special. See Colour Haze, Ufomammut, Graveyard, Witchcraft, Motorpsycho, Electric Wizard, Elder, Gojira, Mastodon, Baroness, Torche, etc.

    • A good point in theory, and definitely fair for the heavy bands you mentioned, but one of the problems people have been mentioning in the comments here is that so many guitar-based indie rock bands just go on stage and LOOK FUCKING BORED. Seriously, we all know this is a problem. I don’t particularly care for CHVRCHES or Icona Pop myself, but there’s no reason to think that two or three people with laptops and samplers — if they have an engaging stage presence and good, energetic singers! — can’t put on a show that’s more fun than the morass of reasonably talented indie bands who just fucking put on dull shows because they don’t care about engaging an audience and they haven’t practiced enough.

      It IS telling that out of the large number of shows, indie, electronic, heavy, and otherwise that I’ve seen this year, the ones that were the best were all heavy: Boris, Deafheaven, and Swans.

      As for myself… I just go about liking what I like and not worrying too much about which bands are going to make it big… which is the whole point of independent music way. If a band I like is playing one night at the Black Cat while a bigger buzz band that I don’t care for his two nights at 9:30, I don’t get worked up about it. And if a band I like ends up playing bigger places, more power to em.

      • None of the bands I cited have looked bored in the performances I witnessed. Boris may act aloof but you just know they’re freakin’ stoked.

        I’ve seen plenty of electronica performances, and with the exception of Amon Tobin, I’ve always gotten bored, and always wanted to leave early. There’s a reason MDMA is so strongly associated with IDM (and lately, mainstream pop). People need the drugs to get through those boring-ass performances!

    • Also, in DJ-based electronic music (not the electro pop type we’re talking about here) the norms of engagement and performance are not the same as rock/pop shows — of course a guy pushing buttons is not that interesting to WATCH, but it’s really about facilitating interaction in the crowd rather than watching an impressive performance. That’s part of why techno purists get bent out of shape about big EDM light shows and rock star DJs, but I think even at a big American rave with LED walls everywhere you’d still find that the goal is really to get people to dance, not to stare at the DJ the whole time. It’s also why most people don’t really care how “live” EDM shows truly are or aren’t.

      • Your comments left me thinking of the time i saw Wampire live, i had never seen any pictures of the band, just listened to the record, which i really liked, and by looking at the front cover i thought they were a duo and were a really cool figure like Nick Cave or something, with this really cool aura. HA! When i saw them, man there were just your regular 5 guys indie band. I don’t want to diss the band, at all, the playing was competent and i really loved the album, but man the whole thing just kind put me off, un-engaging

  27. I think the title should be: Deconstructing: Chvrches, Icona Pop, And The Decline Of Those Guitars That Are Like, Double Guitars.

  28. I hear that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables.
    I hear that you and your band have sold your turntables and bought guitars.

    It’s all just a cycle.

  29. I don’t know on what planet you guys living. But I remember that in 1988 the charts were full of electronic music, same for the whole 90′s,… (people got bored from hairmetal). At least 70% of the charts. Today I see a lot of recycling (90% major label dance crap). These days you can hear (pop)rock fromArctic Monkeys, Queens of the Stone Age, Balthazar, Franz Ferdinand, Arcade Fire, Trixie Whitley, Recorders, Editors, Miles Kane, Girls in Hawaii, dEUS, Puggy, Black Box Revelation, Sir Yes Sir, Jacco Gardner,… in primetime at major radiostations. Which was unthinkable during the grunge-era and the complete nineties. At least in Belgium/Europe.

  30. Even hip-hop, a much younger genre, is in relative decline compared to EDM. There are a few rappers with major successes, but honestly dub step and EDM in general have supplanted it in catchy danceable music dominating the charts. The hip hop artists that do make major appearances are mostly featured in Calvin Harris-style bangers. And people forget that just a few years ago we were seeing (wrong) “Hip Hop Is Dead” pronouncements everywhere. People will always come back to music played with instruments just as they will always come back to computer generated sounds.

    • If you read this Billboard piece ( , from a commercial standpoint “[Recent hits’ have reinforced the alternative format’s draw as a provider of crossover hits….Alternative is in a great spot right now with many songs debuting here and moving to other formats.” From a critical acclaim/art standpoint, there are plenty of exciting bands like Vampire Weekend, Tame Impala, Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire, Phoenix, Sleigh Bells, Savages, The xx, and many others that are getting good reviews and connecting with young festival audiences.

  31. I hear that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables.
    I hear that you and your band have sold your turntables and bought guitars.

  32. RIP Guitar rock, I will miss you :-7…….


    …..until you resurface again 5 years from now

  33. there’s plenty of indie bands doing interesting things with guitars. look at king krule. look at mac demarco. these artists aren’t outright “rock” to a T but it’s exciting to hear people trying to break the mold

  34. Sure you have Chvrches recent buzz/success, but what about the far greater successes of The National (and comparable bands) playing Barclays Center, fun. & mumford storming top 40 with guitars, Young The Giant, alt-j etc selling hundreds of thousands of records/getting radio play. They might not be as dominant as they were, but they certainly arent going any where. It will always employ the same emotion/sonic value and when people want that theyll use it/seek it out.

    • I’m sort of in the same boat. Established acts like The National, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, The Walkmen, My Morning Jacket, Spoon (I could go on and on) might not be “guitar” rock, but guitar definitely features prominently into most, if not all, of their music. Then you have new(er) artists like Tame Impala, Local Natives and Fleet Foxes who fit the same bill. Kristian Matsson as a finger player is probably one of the most skilled guitarists to come along in a generation, but he doesn’t dry hump the air wearing a Flying V so he doesn’t get labeled as a “hero”.

      The way I see it, guitar is being relegated to one of three new roles. It’s another instrument in an ensemble, a la The National or Radiohead, as it used to be in the early days of country and jazz. In other venues, guitarists who aren’t lacking for skills are exploring what the instrument can do and how to make it the perfect ingredient in a song. One other route it is taking is as an accompanying presence for singer-songwriters like Matsson.

      As a pop instrument though, it might be at a low-point in popularity. I still have memories of the Jonas Brothers sporting Les Pauls, so this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

  35. Chairlift is still by far the best of those new syn-pop band and Something a landmark record. Do people have such short memories?

  36. So here’s the thing, rock and roll is sex. And there’s nothing sexy about playing a keyboard or laptop on stage. Name one sexual icon that sits behind anything digital like a keyboard or a laptop, and I’ll give you 50 that play a guitar. Bowie blew Ronson’s guitar, not Eno’s keyboard. Hendrix, not Rick Wakeman, set his instrument on fire.

    In a band, the order of who gets laid is:

    1. the singer
    2. the guitarist
    3. the drummer
    4. the bassist
    5. the manager
    6. the roadies
    7. the food services kid who’s mistaken for the bassist
    8. the guy on keys

    And playing a guitar, just the touch and feel, is so much more palpable than a laptop or keyboard. It’s not tap tap tap, it’s elegant fingerings and rhythmic back and forths, not to mention the guitar’s constantly erect composure. Are there innuendos for a synth, or laptop?

    So yeah, keyboards have waxed and waned opposite guitars, and sometimes with guitars, but guitars will never disappear because sex will never disappear – (I have to think this generation’s sex is not as good as previous generations’, simply by how inorganic and stale their music is).

    And the problem isn’t a lack of interest in guitars by today’s bands, it’s a lack of interesting guitarists. Who do the kids have today? John Mayer? Mumford and Sons? All the bald, bearded, fat mandolin/banjo playing dorks from Brooklyn and the Northwest? These guys end up doing Geico commercials! Even the brilliant Jack White gives off a weird neighbor you ignore vibe. Give this generation a guitar hero, and you’ll see the reemergence of great guitar based bands.

    (DJing is obviously not being considered because DJs are generally solo, rather than within the framework of a band.)

    • Interesting take. Pop, I would say, is also sex, just with even more emphasis placed on the singer. If it’s a solo artist, then the only other sex icon might be the producer (guys like The Dream, Danja, Timbaland), and they’re probably not even going to be on stage during a live performance. In a more band-oriented pop group like Chvrches or Kate Boy, the focus is still going to be mainly on the singer. The fact that the keyboardists are more marginal owes itself not so much to the inherent unsexiness of the instrument (although I think you’re right that the guitar trumps it) but more to the relatively reserved manner of those band members. When I try and picture the two guys in Chvrches, they seem almost like twins in my mind–there’s just not much distinct about them as people, at least as far as I can observe in a performance. Lauren Mayberry has much more of a presence for the simple reason that I’m hearing her voice, the voice being the most sexually potent aspect of any pop song (the beat being second). Plus, not having to look down at keys all the time, she’s able to make more of a connection with the crowd.

      Nothing I’ve written here really challenges your argument. I guess my position is just that I’m okay with the absence of a guitar-wielding sex icon, since I’m more interested in the vocals anyway (and I typically prefer pop over rock). And there’s still the occasional keyboardist-with-character, such as Johnny Jewel in Chromatics. He has going for him what a lot of the most notable guitarists do: a distinct name, a distinct style of dress, and a distinct sound. An exception to the rule, perhaps, but in the coming years the increase in such exceptions might change the rule altogether. (Probably not, but I though it would sound cool if I concluded with a grand claim.)

  37. If you’re going to argue that the guitar is in decline, I think you need better case studies than Chvrches and Icona Pop.

    • Esp. Chvrches. Their album’s dull beyond the singles. Moreover it’s dull in a specific way: timbres and beats are pretty much the same across every song (much like a guitar band – it all makes sense now!) but they aren’t nearly high-quality/well-defined/separated enough to bear that sort of scrutiny. I think what I’m saying is that some people (Reznor, Kraftwerk, Underworld, Orbit, etc.) are good synthesists but Chvrches really aren’t (at least not yet) and it shows.

  38. This is just silly.
    — Caleb (from the decidedly guitar-rock-driven Oakland band, Churches)

  39. I think the title should be: ‘Sony, Warner & Universal have decided guitars suck, so let’s suck it all together’

  40. Here’s my issue with this argument: it uses faulty logic. You claim Icona Pop “rocked” harder than Merchandise who you previously stated was “dreary shoegaze.” How would a dreary shoegaze band ever rock? They whole point of what Merchandise does is to create overwrought, dense doom pop that channels Morrissey at his most self-indulgent as it does any of My Bloody Valentine’s sonic grandeur. It isn’t meant to rock, and to single it out for not doing so is being intellectually dishonest.

    Additionally, you’re being short-sighted in how you examine the decline of guitar rock in a cultural context. This argument is raised at least once a decade. Before The Strokes were being touted as a thing, electroclash was making waves in the then nascent indie press for its complete opposition to guitar-oriented rock music by creating a legacy that drew a direct line from things like Italo disco, synthpunk, and minimalist dance music to what was then the present. This was happening concurrent to the drab late ’90s/early ’00s music scene which placed a much greater emphasis on rap and pop music. It wasn’t drab simply because it was emphasizing those styles but rather because it focused so heavily on them to the detriment of a broader scope. The rock thing happened, the indie press blew up, and by the middle of the decade guitar bands were “back.” But guess what? It swung so far in the other direction that even synthesized pop stars like Pink and Kelly Clarkson started adopting guitar rock into their sound to score hits, so eventually people had to grow bored. And they did. We’re in that backlash now. That’s also why stuff like hardcore and noise rock is big amongst indie kids again; they’re forms of guitar music that are as opposed/hostile to the notion of “guitar rock” as the pop bands that you’re promoting. But in five to ten years we’ll start seeing a group of kids who are so bored with synthpop and EDM and weirdo folk pan flute solos that they’ll choose to rebel by picking up a guitar.

    • Yeah but outside Brooklyn only like 20 people on the internet listened to electroclash. I’m talking about a widespread youth movement.

      • Sorry, don’t know why my reply didn’t end up below yours. Anyway, one last point:

        I also think you overstate the value of guitars being cost prohibitive. Most of the kids I see using computers at shows today aren’t fucking around on >$400 laptops, they’re using expensive Macs. You almost even concede this by bringing up GarageBand. Many good quality guitars can be had at prices that are cheaper than the rigs many use to produce that kind of music. Do some people skate by on low grade electronics? Yes, but does anyone really listen to James Ferraro besides music journalists?

        I think everyone concedes that guitars aren’t cool now, but the very notion that guitars are dead is itself as retro as the guitars. It’s been said countless times before (disco, synthpop, techno, electronica, hip-hop, rap, etc.) and proven to be wrong every time. This is just another down cycle after a period of oversaturation.

  41. I lived in Bumblefuck, USA, not Brooklyn. I wasn’t the only non-Brooklynite to hear of Peaches or Fischerspooner. Most parties at the time found a way to work “Fuck the Pain Away” into playlists. It was also at least partially responsible for helping to kickstart interest in the indie dance movement by helping to drive coverage to bands like LCD Soundsystem and Crystal Castles, both of whom were labeled as electroclash when they first emerged. It didn’t fully catch on as its own label, but it was an important piece in the formation of indie dance as a thing, which came to define a portion of that era’s music. So yes, it was part of a wider youth movement. It also turned out to be somewhat prescient of this era’s youth movement as we’re now seeing Italo disco, synthpunk, coldwave, and a host of other genres it amalgamated become hip reference points as poptimists cast off the tyranny of the guitar for the rebellion of the synthesizer.

  42. I think “deconstructing” is probably the least fun word there is.

  43. churches and icona pop are a thousand times more boring to me than deerhunter or mission of burma will ever be. I listen to electronic music, don’t get me wrong, but i really do not like either of the bands who you use in this article. They are in no way doing anything innovative or new, just as people here saying ‘guitar’ bands are doing nothing new either (i would disagree with that, but that’s for another discussion). You want good innovative electronic music. This weekend I saw SHIGETO, BEACON, and NITEMOVES. There is good electronic music. And to the guy in the comments who said Zedd was better than Ducktails, I feel bad for u son because Matt Mondanile fucking rules.

    • Fuck always trying to do something new. Some people just want to hear good music. Some of the best music ever made was not innovative and not particularly new in any aspect. Damn this would be a strange and boring world if everybody were trying to invent the wheel everyday.

  44. I think the overlying theme of all of this is that EDM, along with most pop music is popular because a lot of people don’t want to think about their music, they just want to FEEL it. Music is their escape and so are these drug filled bro’d out festivals.

    Bands unfortunately no longer sell music. It’s all your live show. So who’s going to sell more concert tickets and demand huge crowds at festivals? Ultimately in most cases its the band that gets people moving and let’s them escape from reality for that 60 minutes. The problem isn’t necessarily about the decline of the guitar, but the decline of the emotion and intellectual nature that guitar based music creates.

  45. Actually, while being a good live show for their excellent singer, Chvrches is mind numbingly boring after 3 songs. Icona Pop is….a sparkle and fade non entity made of air and nothing. Grimes on the other hand is pretty damn good.

  46. Can anyone name an electronic band with good lyrics? (lcd soundsystem doesn’t count because they’ve got too many guitars and real drums)

  47. Sure…why don’t you try Junior Boys?

  48. There’s, like, a whole army of these occult doomy ’70s style rock bands exploding in the underground. If retro rock goes supernova in the latter half of the ’10s, known that not everyone was so pessimistic.

    • What we need is for electronic music to really ‘grow up.’ At one point in time, guitar music was nothing but dance pop and silly love songs. In the ’70s, it began being seen as serious and artistic music, and the artier proggy bands made the top of the charts.

      Electronic music has the arty, proggy bands, but the ones topping the charts are the dance-pop anthems. It hasn’t gone through maturity yet; one may cite Kid A era Radiohead as it hitting puberty, but beyond that, I haven’t heard too many major Electronic records really reach a new zenith of artistic creativity AND achieve major success like guitar music has.

      Maybe we need cyberdelia to get big. Until then, when guitar music comes back, expect a s**tload of riffs.

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