Retromania Book Summary - Retromania Book explained in key points
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Retromania summary

Simon Reynolds

Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past

4.4 (21 ratings)
14 mins
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    Since the year 2000, both experimental and mainstream popular music have failed to innovate.

    Do you think the quality of music has taken a nosedive in the new millennium? Perhaps you’ve gone to recent concerts by so-called innovative bands and been disappointed by their atonal chords and lackluster sound experiments.

    The problem with modern experimental music is that its methods are stuck in the past, and the musicians are struggling to come up with something new and exciting.

    This wasn’t the case in the 1990s. Then, music fans were constantly being surprised by innovative artists. The techno and rave movements exploded onto the scene, helped along by impromptu and drug-fuelled parties illegally hosted in abandoned warehouses.

    But the turn of the century seems also to have marked an unfortunate turn in music history: the new millennium has brought no new music.

    You can get a good sense of this stagnation by going through music magazines or websites such as Wire, Pitchfork or Fact. Their articles and reviews make clear that nothing new is happening.

    Even the most experimental genres derive from ideas that have been around for at least 20 years, whether it’s the minimalistic repetition of drone or noise, the unstructured freewheeling of improv music or the disharmonies of atonal music.

    And so the mainstream music of the 2000s pulls out all the stops in an attempt to appear groundbreaking.

    Take the Black Eyed Peas, for example. In order to appear cutting edge, they lean heavily on futuristic and sci-fi scenarios in their videos and apply robotic effects when the lead singer is delivering lyrics such as, “I’m so 3008, you’re so 2000 and late.”

    But the Black Eyed Peas aren’t as innovative as you might think. Their beats recall those that Missy Elliott used near the end of the 1990s, and their use of Auto-Tune – a device that corrects a singer’s pitch with unnatural accuracy to give it an electronic sound –  was pioneered by Cher in her hit song “Believe,” back in 1998.

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    What is Retromania about?

    Retromania (2011) takes a critical look at the state of modern pop music and asks what happened to all the innovative energy behind the pop of the past 50 years. Why hasn’t there been another groundbreaking innovative musical movement like the punk-rock explosion of the 1970s or the hip-hop boom of the 1980s? Find out what’s keeping today’s artists from creating the next great rock ’n’ roll revolution.

    Best quote from Retromania

    Play me some music that is characteristic of the late 2000s as opposed to the late 1990s - Jaron Lanier, American musician and composer

    —Simon Reynolds
    example alt text

    Who should read Retromania?

    • Music lovers who want to explore the roots of contemporary pop music
    • Nostalgic flower children who want to revisit the music of their youth
    • Musicians who want to spark the next revolution in today’s pop culture

    About the Author

    Simon Reynolds is a British music critic and journalist. After working for the magazine Melody Maker in the 1980s, he became a regular contributor to the New Yorker and the Guardian and wrote several books on the history of music.  

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