We all know the story of the great Emperor Nero of Rome, who played his violin as the great city burned around him. What many of us dont know is that the entire city did not burn, that was simply a myth. In reality it was actually the large brick walls that separated the homes of the Roman elite from those of the peasants and slaves (Reagan SMASH !!). Still, Rome was on fire and the people were running, but Nero simply played his violin.
Today’s musical scene has a similar brick wall that runs through it’s proverbial streets. Popular music has been a segregated affair that runs straight down every dividing line you can think of (race, creed, color, upbringing, social status). Anyone who listen’s to Ryan Seacrest to “American Top 40” on Sunday mornings (we miss you Casey Kasem) can attest to the fact that it is a battle between Hip Hop, Rock and the remnant ruins of the Bubble Gum Pop acts of the 90’s (common Brittany … just hang up the mini skirt and call it a day). The turn of the century brought us a distinct divide in musical sounds and a war we hear still waging today on our airwaves.
While Hip Hop is thriving in low income minority communities, it has also spread into white bread suburban towns. Want proof ? Just look for the closest white kid with a hoodie and an iPod. Rock on the other hand, the staple form of American pop music for almost half a century has seen a steady decrease in listenership. Most of this decline can be blames on the “fracture” of the Rock genre. No longer was Rock music just Rock, it was now Alternative, Metal (Death, Speed, Hair, Ect …), Scene, Emo, Screamo and many many more. While Rock fans clamored amongst themselves, the Hip Hop community continued to grow. Anyone who has been to high school or college in the United States remembers that the type of music dictated a lot more than just your radio presets. Your music began to dictate your clothes, your friends and even things as large as what kind of car you buy or how you react to certain situations. In the effort the be different the groups have further grown apart and of course eventual began to distain each other.
This has been the truth of our musical scene in America for the last 20 years. Still, like any structure that has stood too long, this too has reached its time and now is primed to fall. Lead the charge against this wall are artist like the one I had the good fortune of seeing this past weekend at a local bar in a no where town. I was invited to see this band by its enigmatic and quickly lovable guitar player. The band was playing a small bar in the town of Amityville, NY. A town that was only vaguely famous for a haunted house (The Amityville Horror) and is not mostly a low income community played the background for this valiant effort by a mostly unknown band. The bar, on the main street of Broadway (creatively named The Broadway Bar) was a small dive with a small stage. This looked it might have been the home to a very small usual crowd of old men who have been there too long and a couple of young people who never really could get out of their town.
This night, things were different. This night the bar would play host to the life blood of the music industry, new acts. The band I specifically went to see was on last, so I had a good opportunity to enjoy a couple drinks, talk to the band members and watch a couple of proceeding acts. I started the night with a low quality domestic draft beer and two shots of Jack Daniel’s (the drink was packaged together for $10 and creatively named Cock and Balls). I stepped out for a smoke in the dimly lit area behind to bar to find the entire bank huddled together in a circle. I went to listen in, and what I heard set the tone for the rest of the night. The band was quickly planning out its set list and was mostly encouraging each other and “hyping” themselves up. This was no small stage for this band. The look of determination in their eyes told of the intention of this band to truly “rock the house”. Though the crowd was small, they had no intention of dismissing them. They were here to put on a show, and they were going to do it well.
The band before them stopped playing and a palette cleansing DJ took over the dominant sounds intermittently to allow this band to set up. The band quickly took the stage and began to set up their instruments and needed props. They moved with a sure sense of purpose that increased the sense of anticipation that you began to feel. Without realizing it, I had been pulled into an actual concert. I felt both the excitement of a fan awaiting their favorite band and the anxiety of a freshman band that was taking the stage together to try something new. They moved with quick deliberation and they put the set together.
Soon enough the time had come and their lead singer began to talk to us. He toyed with the crowd a bit, and the room obliged him with a few confidence inspiring cheers. It was time to start the show. You knew this was different the moment the band began to play its first song. The strong baseline carried by the drums and base was quickly accompanied by a skillfully wielded guitar but instead of the melodic (relative statement) harmonies of a lead singer, I heard something I did not expect. I hear the quick and funny rap stylings of the lead “singer”. This was a fusion band. This was a band that fighting the norm in the best way. Instead of simply trying to be different for the sake of different, this band took a whole new approach. They decided to take the best from all that had come before them and fuse them together. In doing this, they proved the great truth of all art, the final product is much more than the sum total of its parts. This didnt simply create Rock-Rap or Rap-Rock, it created something all its own. Something that truly sounded new and refreshing.
By the third track I no longer was attempting to take mental notes of little details. I was no longer writing a story about a fledgling band, I was simply a fan. I nodded my head rhythmically to the sounds of music and smiled at the lyrical wit of the rapper who was keeping us so captivated. This was when I realized that this was the Great Fire of Rome. This in front of me was the first that would burn down the walls of separation. Bands like this would be the future of popular music. From this musical revolution new friendships can now exist. Music can once again united us rather than divide. All this from a band I had barely heard of. A band jokingly named “Dussel Has Friends”. Should you get a chance to hear this band, take it. Take it with no questions … you will not regret it.