Time for my tuppence, although this list has been knocking about for almost two weeks already. Now, there have been plenty of hysterics about who was included and who was… not. It’s pointless to engage in the kind of debate about how they could leave the kind of people who would usually be on the worthy, dull lists pumped out by the likes of Rolling Stone or Q Magazine. Such magazines are the voice of the musical canon, of chin-stroking approval. I don’t weep for the fact that in this list Clapton and Page are nowhere to be found. We already know they’re excellent. Move on. As for figures such as Steve Vai, I don’t they should be included on any list to begin with (technically excellent, sure, but it’s a little like listening to a drum machine and being amazed at how fast it goes…until you get bored and decide to listen to something actually engaging.) All can agree, I think, that the exclusion of Jimi Hendrix, however, is simply willful perversity. Don’t have him at number one fine, no top ten…eek…ok, but nowhere? Childish nonsense. Jack Hamilton riffs about this in his article for The Atlantic, so I won’t fret over it here.
Spin‘s list struck a chord with me because from the off it is about considering guitarists, guitar playing, and all its attendant associations in the abstract. This is how Skrillex manages to be included, as for Spin he represents a way to give us a purest expression of what a riff is attempting to achieve. Similarly, by placing DNA’s Arto Lindsay on the list, we have moved out beyond our expectations of what a guitars should or should not sound like. The number one on the list (I won’t reveal) makes sense, in the context of those who have gone before. The list is a testament to an alternative canon, one whose genealogy isn’t the usual linear descent by primogeniture that other, decidedly phallo-centric (went there!) lists. The last words are “They put soul into our noise”, and this is what the mainstream will have a go at Spin for, but it’s actually what they are all about. This list is about actually opening up the concept of sound, beyond what we expect. It allows for dissonance, and noise, and silence, and frenzy, and quiet. It’s about not saying “this is what guitar should sound like”. It’s about making the open gesture and asking the question “what can guitar sound like?” Spin‘s list in a way moves beyond a philosophy of presence, giving us guitar playing qua output, rather than the means of production…as it were. Ahem. It’s about new ways of hearing, and new ways of listening, thus expanding what sound and noise can be. We are given an increased repertoire of perception, and more of our sensory environment is accordingly made intelligible.
Revelation: Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females. Had never heard of them, and Paternoster’s voice and guitar almost feels too big for one head, one set of ears, one mind.
Comfort: Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto of Fugazi. Liked them since school, but never crossed paths with anybody who cared for them one way or the other. The description of them in the list as “anti-frontmen, playing like a living, fire-breathing, two-pronged embodiment of democracy” makes me feel better about my listening in the wilderness.