“Other than Jack White, there aren’t really any guitar heroes anymore.” – Anna Calvi
The idea of a guitar hero is, by most accounts, an outdated one; something reserved for the pages of Mojo or plastic Xbox peripherals. But reading Anna Calvi’s words and listening to her album, an interesting question is raised – why has today’s popularised indie scene (nebulous I know) left guitar heroics by the wayside?
Of course there’s the old punk argument that it all amounts to onanism, and you won’t see a much better endorsement than StSanders’ wonderfully manipulated concert footage, making every straining posture and self-satisfied gurn look as ridiculous as it truly is. But listen to Calvi’s self-titled debut and that loses some force. Her technical, almost classical, guitar playing weaves in and out, becoming a breathtaking facet of many of her songs, something that will appear, stun you and fade just as quickly. So why are people with skills beyond chugging chords and slow-paced picking moving into genres like metal (and its many component parts) or sticking to a classical background?
Of course, there’s the pressing concern of “cool” – the current indie media favours the lo-fi, the no-fi, the glo-fi which all stick to one central tenet: less is more. Less production, less focus, less (discernible) technical skill. If you’re a green indie band, you want to get noticed and, let’s face it, there aren’t many people who actually want to fly in the face of what’s perceived as the cool thing to do, it’s just peer pressure at its most basic level. There’s also quite probably a question of perceived benefit – someone who has practiced for their entire life to become a technically proficient player is likely to have listened to the kind of music that encourages that (all of my most incredible guitar playing friends are metal fans) and is most likely to want to play in an area that rewards them for their skill, not shuns them.
My question then is this, why has that pattern not been broken yet? In a postmodern world, the contrarian is often the most lauded, and it seems high time that a set of contrarians with above average guitar skills step up to the plate. If indie is most concerned with innovation, breaking the mould and in a lot of a cases, subverting the popularity of the mainstream, surely in a musical era dominated by heartless, singer-fronted dance music on one side and impenetrable, directionless noise on the other there’s a place for an indie guitar hero? I for one would love to see it, and I see Anna Calvi as the prototype for that, a guitar player who knows how to make their skill a part of a whole, rather than the sum of a song’s parts.
But now it’s over to you. This is, obviously, a simplistic piece. It’s not long, I’ve not researched it and it could probably do with having its argument narrowed a little. So tell me what you think – would you welcome a more obviously technical alternative music scene, is this a terrible idea, or have I missed a whole sub-genre of wildly innovative guitar maestros playing witches’-cave or whatever the fuck Pitchfork loves at the moment? Let me know!