Press your ear to the door of the average 12-year-old boy’s bedroom a couple of years ago and you’d have heard one of two sounds: furious masturbation or the clumsy strumming of ‘Wonderwall’. These days what would you hear? CHUNK! CHUGGA-CHUNK! CHUGGA-CHUNK! Wee-widdly-wee-wee-widdly-CHUNK!
I fear for the future of intelligence and subtlety in music because ‘Guitar Hero’ – the closest your Xbox can get to having cancer – is building a new generation of meatheaded, knuckle-dragging, air-guitaring Bill & Ted morons conditioned to churn out chundering great power-chords and ‘smoking’ solos every time they pick up anything guitar-shaped.
‘Guitar Hero’ and ‘Rock Band’ are becoming the predominant way for young teenagers to be exposed to music – between them they made £100million more profit in 2007 than all digital music sales put together – and clunking, dirty-crotched old neanderthal rock is perfectly suited for the games: a roaring repeated riff, a gnarly bout of stunt guitar halfway through to up the difficulty factor, time kept up with the rhythmic banging of the head.
Mötley Crüe sell five times as many ‘Rock Band’ downloads as they do on iTunes, ‘Guitar Hero: Aerosmith’ sold three times more than the band’s latest album in its first week. The Beatles recently announced they’ll finally be releasing their back catalogue as downloads for their own ‘Rock Band’ franchise (the files are far harder to copy than standard MP3s, y’see) and sales of classic rock mags are up.
Eight-year-olds are starting to ask dangerous questions about Lynryd Skynrd, Twisted Sister, Steely Dan and Pat Benetar and memorising the intricate solos to DragonForce’s ‘Through The Fire And Flames’, Guitar Hero III’s equivalent of a ‘final boss’.
Before long these kids will be picking up real guitars and starting real bands, and what will that mean? Wolfmothers. Faaahsands of ’em. Lumbering clog-footed over the horizon, come to crush the inventiveness out of music and drag us back to rock’s dark ages (ie 1974). I mean, who’d rush out to buy ‘Rock Band: Sigur Ròs’? Who’d find a gaming thrill in piecing together an elaborate sonic soundwarp by pressing some buttons on a fake mixing desk in ‘Producer Hero: My Bloody Valentine’? About 12 of us, that’s who.
There might be a smattering of the obvious alternative bands on the ‘Guitar Hero’ download books – Nirvana, Pixies, Oasis, Coldplay, Muse, The Killers, Foo Fighters – but how many of these button-mashing Slashes will pick up a proper guitar and attempt to emulate the complex arpeggios of Johnny Marr or the perverted weasel squeals of Joey Santiago? No way, dude! That’s, like, expert level shit! CHUNK! CHUGGA-CHUNK! CHUGGA-CHUNK!
Having dainty-arsed alternative pop pushed into the margins is no bad thing per se – we’re here to oppose the mundanity of the mainstream anyway, right? But to remain a viable cultural force, how could the more esoteric end of rock get in on the music game act?
The likes of Ladyhawke, Heartbreak and the rest of the current bunch of ’80s electronica revivalists could have their own ‘Keytar Hero’ game while ‘New Rave Band’ could be a smash whereby you press X to set off the MIDI and then bash a credit card-shaped controller against a table as fast as you can to get as much MDMA up your snout as possible before the song finishes.
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The appeal of ‘Guitar Hero’, though, is the achievement of creating the tune yourself, so unless ‘Grandiose Orchestral Interlude Hero’ catches on, indie is going to have to get creative and delve into other gaming genres. How about ‘Reverend Evil’, where you play a wounded Jon McClure trapped in a spooky house beating off members of The Horrors with rusty piping while trying to hunt out the rest of Mongrel, each of whom teach you a verse to a cod-rap song about how Gordon Brown is the real zombie-making virus in this country and how one man’s flesh-gobbling mutant is another man’s freedom fighter?
Or ‘Grand Theft Automatic’, where you’re a yelpy Welsh hobbit speeding around a virtual Cardiff bazooka-ing police helicopters and robbing gangster bosses to the refrain of “what’s that bouncing off my truck’s grill?/Is it a mobster?” Or ‘Tomb Radiohead’, where a scantily clad Thom Yorke somersaults around the Aztec catacombs of Peru in search of the mythical Lost Tunes Of Thebends?
Rather any of those than ‘Indie Hero’, which would just involve tapping buttons in the correct order to keep your wonky fringe out of your face while shagging Peaches Geldof, and would come with a controller shaped like a syringe. See if you can stay awake and avoid getting arrested for long enough to get to your own gig in the Peter Doherty Edition! I’ve a feeling it won’t drag the kids away from playing ‘Back In Black’ to their virtual Knebworth…