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OPINION: Why Rock’s Sense Of Community Might Matter More Than Anything

Tomas Doyle
Tomas Doyle 31 July 2016 at 15.55

A wise man once said, ‘without music, life would be a mistake.’ But that’s as much about the people we meet through songs as the songs themselves... 

Hello, my name is Tomas Doyle, I am the Deputy Editor of Rock Sound magazine and to quote the mighty Less Than Jake, ‘All My Best Friends Are Metalheads’.

Well, okay, that isn’t quite true but it is a point of fact that virtually every person I care about, or have any sort of meaningful relationship with, I have come to know through a mutual interest in rock music. 

Think about that for second. An entire life that has been shaped and carved in a very real way through a series of noises that come out of a speaker.

Except rock music isn’t just about the sounds that we fire into our ears – not really. The true beauty of the records we share a love for is that they have always been a catalyst for some of the most strongly forged communities imaginable.

It’s about the pals you make at school through sneakily listening to your favourite albums in the back of class. It’s the kid you see in town rocking a T-shirt of a band you know so start talking to. It’s the frantic half hours you spend sweating other people’s sweat at the front of packed-out gigs and the days you spend afterwards making those nights in to the stuff of collective legend. Hell, eventually it might be the band you start with your mates (where you rip off those musicians you idolise and can’t play nearly as well as, but it doesn’t matter because you have all of the fun doing it).

And the reason rock music of all creeds has long been a hotbed for such tight-knit companionship is, when it comes to it, pretty simple: we are all, at some level, outsiders. Whether you’re a gang of punks in 1977 being spat at in the street for having three foot high mohawks or a Marilyn Manson fan being berated for the ‘satanic’ (yeah, right) content of your favourite tunes, we’ve have always been the kids who don’t quite resonate with what the mainstream deems ‘reasonable’. Even the biggest, most successful rock acts of the last 10 years have risen to the top on an wave of acclaim from us freaks and weirdos: whether you belong to the MCR or BVB armies, the chances are that in those fandoms you have found people who understand you and what makes you tick more than the average Joe in the street ever could.

When Rock Sound interviewed AFI frontman and all-round straight-thinker Davey Havok recently he explained the concept with laser-guided clarity.  

“You can find a community you connect with and make that your family. Family is about so much more than just DNA.”

He couldn’t be more right. The music we hold dear, at its best, expresses our deepest fears, galvanises our greatest hopes and helps us realise that even life’s most imposing mountains are conquerable: why wouldn’t you want to hang out with people who connect to those big, life-altering emotions in the same way as you?

But like any good, self-policing community, the rock scene runs off mutual respect and an ethos of helping one another. Of course even under our big, black-clad umbrella we’re sub-divided in lots of ways (death metal to emo and right back again) and there will always be people who like the exact same records as you who you don’t want to be mates with because, frankly, they are thunderous dicksplashes – we get that. 

It’s important to remember though, that in a pop-culture that is measured in light years, the person who doesn’t like the same era of Panic! At The Disco as you probably shouldn’t be a target for your ire. 

Against a backdrop of ultra-processed X-factor gruel, shallow-as-an-ants-paddling-pool reality TV and music that denigrates women, poor people and anybody with the audacity to express their emotions in anything beyond the most basic terms we must always remain an enclave for acceptance, not elitism.

After all, what happens when the misfits feel like even the people who no one understands don’t understand them? How would you have felt if when you first started dipping your foot into the rock, punk or metal scenes you were told you were doing it wrong. 

Quite aside from the fact that there is, obviously, no objectively correct way to enjoy music, it’s an unspoken responsibility of established members of our subculture to welcome in those who are just finding their way, rather than deriding them for not liking the ‘cool’ albums. 

Remember that band you started with your mates and how much you sucked? Exactly. And since when was any of this about being cool anyway?

Too often, misguided efforts to ‘protect’ rock culture leads certain among our number pushing away the people who need its support the most. 

Think about all the joy this music brings you – why would you ever want to deny someone else that pleasure?

The truth is that we live in a hard, treacherous world and the more people we have who understand and can look after us, the better. Rock music provides the platform for connection for us all, we should revel in the strength of those bonds, not seek to tear them down. 

If you’re a little older and have already made your mates in the scene, be sure to make an effort to talk to that kid at school you see with band patches on their bag or the newbie at the gig on their own. And if you’re just finding your way in, welcome, there is something even more amazing than music here for you – there is friendship for life. 

As for me and my mates – they are, as Mr Havok rightly points out, like family to me. But if you read this magazine and  care about those notes coming out of your speakers as much as we do, then as far as I’m concerned me and you are family too. 

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