what the fuck does 'seminal' mean
what the fuck does 'seminal' mean
what the fuck does 'seminal' mean
what the fuck does 'seminal' mean

Seminal is one of those overused words that means everything and nothing.

In the dictionary it has two meanings…

1. ‘Of, relating to, containing, or conveying semen or seed.’
2. ‘Of, relating to, or having the power to originate; creative.’

For fellow LTW! writer Dan Lucas it’s ”Ëœmusic with a modicum of ambition, not just a lazy exact copy of something a band once heard and thought was cool’ which is a perfect description and if you add to this ”Ëœinfluential’ I think we have a rough idea of what seminal means when it’s used by music journalists- the trouble is how do you decide what is seminal.

Bands that are quoted as seminal have nicked as much stuff as bands that are sniffed at for being retro.

There seems to be a strict list of seminal bands, an unthinking list of groups that can never be deviated from.

It’s become one of those journo buzz words to be attached to the clutch of bands that can never get a bad review from the Fall to the Pixies to the Velvet Underground but there a masses of other bands who, in the terms of rock, also fit the description but would never be called seminal in polite company like the Levellers, the Stranglers, Black Sabbath, Trex, early Adam And The Ants- each one original and influential in its own way. Missy Elliot is really original but is she ever called seminal?

One person’s seminal is another person’s derivative, it’s all about perspective. For example, The Pixies are endlessly cited as inventing the loud/quiet thing and they were very good at it – but it had been done before.

There is a rock history consensus – agreed bands who are cool to like but the reality is a bit more blurred – the holy bands of rock criticism are lauded for being original/seminal/cleverer than the rest but when you been around a long time you know the process is the same.

Oasis were slagged for their obvious steals whilst Blur were patted on the head for being cunningly influenced by bands and doing pastiche. Stone Roses are retro and Radiohead are originalb- but like all musicians they are all magpies – Radiohead, like David Bowie, copy what’s happening in the music scene to keep their brand alive, is that seminal?

Being original is great on the ears but then so is writing a great tune or putting an emotion into a song, the music can be a vehicle for set of feelings- sometime the bands bending over backwards to make ”Ëœseminal’ records for music critics to love miss out the melody and emotion and create fine bits of architecture, like an impressive glass building which you look at and are impressed by its weird shape and scale but it makes you feel nothing of being human.

Bands that are meant to be stunningly original have just as many influences as bands that are meant to be slavish copyists- they just have better PR’s.

Maybe its time to loosen the shackles, you don’t have to like music because it’s in the seminal list, music is too instinctive to like to have reasons attached to it.

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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. Dead on with Bowie John, he was always a bit of a thieving magpie, his real talent was in picking up on fashionable trends a fraction before the rest of the hipsters and collaborating with true innovators such as Fripp, Eno and Iggy. Aptly illustrated by his attempt to steal Pinky & Perky’s sound on The Laughing Gnome………

  2. Dead on with Bowie John, he was always a bit of a thieving magpie, his real talent was in picking up on fashionable trends a fraction before the rest of the hipsters and collaborating with true innovators such as Fripp, Eno and Iggy. Aptly illustrated by his attempt to steal Pinky & Perky\’s sound on The Laughing Gnome……….

  3. Amazed that you’re comparing Radiohead and Bowie, who yes take bits and pieces here and there but importantly have progressed and evolved and had a hugely diverse career, with the Stone Roses, who had one album anyone liked and are best known for being terrible live.

    Yeah the Roses were popular, and influential on a large number of other bands who thought that because they were northern and working class then that alone made them great (cf. Oasis). But the truth is they were four guys who ranged from bad (Ian Brown) to overrated (Remi) musicians (John Squire was both, with riffs that sound like they were composed by the crazy frog). They and their fans embodied that kind of false persecution complex that exists in so many Little England small towns and cities, thinking that any attack on their plodding music equated to an attack on their home and their background, which is absurd. It was sadly something that resonated with a lot of people, and is pretty much where the whole bullshit Madchester thing came from: a little fad that a group of people clung on to for far too long to make themselves feel big and important, when there was never any need.

    That “honest, real music” tripe that Roses apologists peddle out is just an excuse for the band’s lack of ambition and the patently obvious fact that Brown and co. didn’t give the tiniest little shit (see Reading ’96) about anything but their own inflated egos/bank accounts. They are, like so many bands of the era, a group that went “Hey, remember the 60s! That was awesome!”
    “Well here’s that!”
    Not something that was influenced by the 60s and classic British rock which has endured so well and is unquestionably popular, but a faded photocopy that people cling on to through cloying nostalgia.

    I could go into an art gallery and find a great painting, and sit down and sketch it. Then my sketch is art. Then I can go home and take a photo of that sketch, and it’s still art. Then I can sketch it again, or perhaps I can go back to the same gallery and sketch a different painting, and say that’s my art too. And if it’s a really accurate sketch people might love it, and I can blow it up out of all proportion and make loads of money out of people coming to see it, and I’m a hugely successful artist. But then we all know that really I’m nothing. I’m a no-mark lacking in ambition who lucked out. I’m Noel Gallagher, I’m Ian Brown, I’m Chris Martin. I’m a nobody.

  4. You can be as popular and as influential as you like. Simon Cowell’s bands get slated on here (rightly) for being shit, as do the likes of Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Madonna and Elton John. Going back, the biggest selling band of all time according to certain sources is The Eagles. And yet they’re massive, absolutely massive; whilst they’re in no way original, a lot of people say “I want to sound/dance/look like them” and, being fans of real honest music, we mock it and talk about the death of pop culture. And yet you’ll say that because Manchester is buzzing about a Stone Roses reunion then they’re a seminal band? It’s massively hypocritical.


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