- Surfer Blood photo by Angel Ceballos
It’s a cycle we see every year; as new bands emerge striving for superstardom the music press inevitably groups them together, labelling them, in an effort to capture and brand the trends of the day. It often proves to be good business and can turn an emerging scene into a genuine cultural movement.
Sadly, in this drive towards logic and order some ludicrous and damaging artificial boundaries have been created. There was a time in 2006 when any indie band with a key board player was inexplicably dubbed “Nu Rave”, while Trivium continue to struggle under the label “the new Metallica”; and a year can’t go by without fresh talk of a Britpop revival.
Of course for all the careers stifled by these misguided labels, certain scenes came to define generations and revolutionize the music world; thrash and the Big Four, the summer of Punk and even Nu Metal are just some of the scenes that left their indelible mark on the popular culture and guitar playing at large.
So with all that in mind we aim to get to the bottom of the genuine movements influencing guitar music around the world today, and we start with: Guitar Planet’s Guide to The Surf Rock Revival.
The Main Players: Surfer Blood, Best Coast and Wavves.
Today’s scene picks up where Californian surf rockers of the 60s and 70s left off. California has been home to many of music’s greatest and most influential movements. Originally known as the home of hazy summer surf pop and Dick Dale’s tubular riffs, the 80s and 90s saw California become known as a place of violence and danger.
Guns N’Roses gave us a taste of the drug fuelled; sell your body sell your soul world of Los Angeles while N.W.A put Gangsta Rap on the map. As the war between the gangs intensified and tension grew between the LAPD and the black community, the image of the stoned surfer retreated from the world’s view.
2009 changed that as a series of undeniably cool and distinctly Californian bands began to emerge from the US post-punk scene. Best Coast and Wavves had the style and the effortless aura of The Golden State while on the other side of nation Florida’s Surfer Blood started to make headlines by channelling sunshine surf vibes through the experimentation of the avante garde indie scene. Fast forward to 2011 and the three bands’ debut albums litter the end of year lists of fans and critics alike.
The Surf Rock sound is essentially a fusion between the soft tones of the ‘60s surf bands and the lo-fi fuzzed out post-punk of the 2000s. The light touch guitar work and the pounding rhythms that defined the original Surf Rock sound are combined with the ramshackle distortion of west coast icons Pavement and Weezer and married to a plethora of 21st century approaches, most notably the dream, or baroque, pop of Beach House and Deerhunter.
The result is a guitar sound that focuses on texture and tone as the bands create a hazy smoke screen of soft reverb and distortion for their airy light riffs to float within. Part of the success of the sound lies in its minimalist tendencies as the bands achieve an effortless aesthetic where the riffs and solos are precision engineered to sound care free but never lazy.
Unsurprisingly when it comes time to beef up their sound Surfer Blood opt for the bouncy power chords of classic So Cal icons The Knack, while Wavves prefer the whammy wobbles of The Ventures and The Shadows.
Lyrically melancholy prevails in the new Surf-rock scene, but while there are tonal similarities to the Beach Boys’ beautiful Surf’s Up, today’s surf rocker opts for a stoned ambivalence, expressing the philosophy of frustrated apathy; “Nothing Makes Me Happy, Not Even TV Or A Bunch Of Weed”.