Is being original overrated?John Robb ponders…

There is always the rumbling agreement about originality in music. Groups are regularity dismissed for their lack of originality as if this was the only criteria that we can judge music on.

The curious thing is that most music that is labelled original these days, especially indie music, is a copy of the post punk period. It’s almost like ‘original’ music has become its own genre with its own cliches and any music that is angular or arty is automatically bagged as ground breaking is three decades old in ideas.

Is copying the Gang Of Four any more clever than copying the Beatles? Or is this a case of rampant rock snobbery? And do groups like Franz Ferdinand copy Gang Of Four anyway( they sound nothing like them but are endlessly compared to them by journalists for some bizarre reason).

Why are some musics ok to re cycle endlessly and some not? Why is Britpop with it’s adoration of the sixties any more redundant than the latest post punk copyists?

It’s especially weird that when there is lots of ground breaking music getting made in post dubstep and on the fringes of black metal and drone metal that there is still a stampede to bands from Brooklyn when new music is mentioned. Of course there are some great bands there but surely their art rock is making commentators feel as warm and comfortable in their post rock comfort zone as any sixties lick copped by a Britpop band. For my money the real musical advances are being made in metal but everyone ignores that scene for some reason- maybe because of the aforementioned rock snobbery.

And now that post punk has been analysed and compressed into a micro version of what it once was the reference points of these so called new ground breaking bands have shrunk even more. Since it’s been decided that post punk was about a clutch of journalist friendly bands and not about the likes of Bauhaus and Killing Joke as well, bands who made equally groundbreaking music but were dismissed as Gotj (Goth always sneered at but then it was never a train-spotting bloke’s enclave was it? Perhaps there was too much dressing up and sex and women involved for it to get taken seriously by the music nerds).

The re-write of history has resulted in a very narrow perception of what being experimental is, an experimental that when copied instantly makes itself redundant.

Sometimes you just have to let instinct take over and follow what your primal passions are and if that means a cross of post punk, Beady Eye, electronic music, fierce punk and freaky metal then why not? Why dismiss it if it makes sense to you? An ancient for of music like Gnawa can have more emotional and mystical power than a bunch of hipsters and will sound more original if you have never heard it before.

I’m open to everything. New or old. My criteria is my own soul and not some contrived idea of correct music to listen to especially when you think that everything you think is experimental shows your own ignorance of the musics roots.
Don’t believe everything you hear!

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. I once read an interview in which Billy Childish stated that “originality is overrated”. And I definitely agree with that in as much as I’d rather see and hear a band that is exciting and fun than something boring but original.

  2. If it sounds good to me, it’s good. I think there comes a time in everyone’s music listening career however that when once you were wowed at the brilliance of a particular new band or artiste, you one day discover that it was in fact a cover version you were marvelling over.

    One that springs to mind with me was at the Strat Pack concert where I heard the Crickets do ‘I fought the law’ – I always thought it was a Clash song, not a 50s B side. Watching a Bio about Led Zeppelin recently, it was revealed that a few of their early songs were blues covers with some word and tempo changes. The Stones did similar.

    As I say though, if it sounds good to me, it’s good. Just a bonus when it’s an original too.

  3. How right you are. Musical sectarianism bit the dust a long time ago. Or should have done. Don’t know which genius said ‘there are only two types of music, good and bad!’ for which read, ‘music I like and music I don’t like’, but he/she was spot on. Music elicits a primal reaction, which is rarely wrong. Tunes which grow on you clearly don’t hit the spot first time, but it’s unusual to loathe something and eventually adore it! True music lovers have, by definition, a catholic taste. Vive le Okinawa!

  4. I totally agree with this.I am the same.If i think it sounds good i like it regardless of how Hip it supposedly is.

  5. Originality is what pushes music forward. If we get complacent about that, then that leads to what we have now, a situation where it appears fine to claim to be derivative. There’s always been derivation, and variations on a theme, but in the past it was done with a claim of novelty and originality, and, amazingly, a little of the time, it actualy made good on that promise. And that’s how music evolved. In a forest of hair metal and synth ballads, Acid House did sound completely new, even if it was just disco music stripped to its bear essentials. Same with Jungle at the time, I still find it hard to gauge what the component influences for that were, reggae and a kind of electronic be-bop maybe but only kind of.

    So yes, originality, or at least a claim to it, is absolutely essential in music, it’s that goal that made Miles Davis, Stravinsky and Talking Heads (for example), do what they did. They were unique because they strove to be, completely dedicated themselves to being.

    Originality is the only thing that makes music vital and interesting, I don’t want to live in a museum.

    • everything comes from something..the Talking heads were not original- just a version of something that went before. Now that you are old Rev, you have heard everything that came before…


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