An interesting if late-arriving story in yesterday’s New York Times discusses how the often-strict racial lines in the rock underground—namely, that black people by and large don’t dig rock music–have started to shift. The story contends that starting in the late 60s, just as white audiences were embracing Jimi Hendrix, black listeners gravitated to R & B, funk, soul, disco, and hip-hop, despite the fact that rock was largely a black creation. But apparently the popularity of TV on the Radio, which is 4/5 black, as well as Bloc Party, the Dears, and This Moment in Black History, all of whom have one or—hold tight—two black members, partly signals a reversing of the trend. These new black rock fans? People have dubbed them blipsters—black hipsters. Ugh.
This whole argument couldn’t be more ridiculous, but that’s the way it is when you deal in generalizations. The piece does mention Prince, Living Colour, and Lenny Kravitz as popular black rockers from a previous generation, but it’s not as if the contemporary bands mentioned above are heralding the first wave of a celebrated black underground. I could list of dozens of bands with black members, but instead I’ll just point you to this fine piece by Jake Austen and James Porter, published in Roctober back in 2002.
Perhaps the oddest thing in the Times story is the description of James Spooner‘s Afropunk showcases in New York. Spooner, director of Afropunk, a recent documentary about black punk rockers, requires his bands have a black front person–but doesn’t that mean a white quintet with a black singer could play, while a black quintet with a white singer couldn’t?
The Times piece does include a few good quotes that use humor to temper the humiliation and exasperation one must feel as a black person in an overwhelmingly white culture. Nev Brown, a photographer and blogger from New York, says he’s often mistaken for a security guard at rock shows. But it’s Chicago’s own Damon Locks—his band the Eternals is idiotically labeled “hardcore,” which is sort of like calling Tortoise heavy metal–who’s the funniest:
[Locks] said he is frequently mistaken for “one of the other three black guys” in the city’s rock-music scene. “We joke about it,” he said. “We’ve been thinking about getting together and starting a band called Black People.”
In an e-mail about this piece that Locks sent out today he acknowledges there are more than three black people in the scene, but it’s almost certain that in the original quote he’s referring to Robert Lowe (Lichens) and Ralph Darden (Jai-Alai Savant). Locks has also spoken about forming a band with these two guys as well as drummer Mike Reed to be called Black Sunday, which isn’t quite as amusing as Black People.
One more thing: you can find some freshly posted video footage of Locks’s previous band Trenchmouth here.