Many critics view progressive rock as a dead-end, arguing that overly complex compositions and virtuosity stand in the way of true artistic expression. The genre undeniably reached its peak in popularity in the 70s and has been on the decline since the end of the decade, but that doesn’t mean that it’s completely gone. The fact that pure prog artists are difficult to find nowadays only reinforces the idea that music should indeed progress, while the spirit of the genre’s golden age certainly lives on in the work of many contemporary bands.
It was recently announced that a new international prog festival, Progstock, is going to take place 13th-15th October in New Jersey. Rahwah’s Union Country Performing Arts Center is going to house the event that aims to celebrate the genre’s resurgence. Headlined by Glass Hammer, the Tangent and Karmakanic, the line-up also includes artists like Randy McStine (presenting the music of Kevin Gilbert, with Nick D’Virgilio, Don Carr and Lloyd Landesman), Aisles, Rachel Flowers, Peter Jones (of Tiger Moth Tales), Francis Dunnery, 3RDegree, Circuline, The Tea Club, Cell15 and Resistor. Echolyn was forced to withdraw from the festival due to an injury suffered by vocalist and keyboardist Chris Buzby.
“It’s easy to assume – because even the massive force of Apple Music doesn’t feature a decent Prog option – that the genre is dead,” it reads on the ProgStock website. The festival was made possible by a successful Pledge Music crowdfunding campaign, which shows that there are still plenty of fans passionate about a genre that’s far from mainstream these days. In addition to the crowdfunding effort, the festival is sponsored by the House of Prog online radio station and the NJProghouse progressive music series.
One of the organizers, Thomas Palmieri said: “Prog never went away, it just went underground. There are thousands of wonderful bands out there. Popular tastes change, but the authenticity and originality of prog continues to flourish. The passion for this music is alive and well around the world.”
“Terrestrial radio has not collectively embraced a wave of new progressive rock bands since the second British Invasion in the early 1970s made legends of Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer,” an official statement says. “Response to ProgStock 2017 already is proving there’s more room than ever in today’s musical landscape for a resurgence in a genre of music that began migrating underground in the 1980s. All the artists [performing at ProgStock] arose in the 1990s or later, setting the stage for a new wave of acts starting to bubble up from the underground.”
Another proof that prog is not only alive but also has the potential to reach a mainstream audience is the success Steven Wilson’s new LP ‘To the Bone’ has seen. The record is Wilson’s first to have made it in the top 10, having entered the UK Official Albums Chart at number three, behind Elvis Presley’s ‘Top 50 Greatest Hits’ and Ed Sheeran’s ‘Divide’. It’s expected to reach number one after already topping the midweek charts.
In 60s Today’s review of ‘To the Bone’, it was already touched upon that this LP is rather a collection of pop songs than a work of progressive rock, which is also admitted by the artist himself. Still, it’s music with many layers that was composed with great attention to detail and produced beautifully. Ultimately, it’s a piece of art unlike the extremely popular mass-produced tracks that are played on mainstream radio these days, which tend to give pop music a bad name. However, it’s also unlike Wilson’s previous four solo albums, not to mention his work with the band Porcupine Tree, which had the complexity of old school prog with a very original and modern twist.
Long-time, dedicated fans of Wilson may not appreciate his departure from his old sound. However, they should be happy about the well-deserved success their beloved artist is now experiencing. Also, it’s important to point out that those having just discovered him are likely to be interested in what he’s done before, and, therefore, ‘To the Bone’ might prove to be a kind of a “gateway drug” to Wilson’s more conceptual and deeper previous material.
Although the upcoming ProgStock festival and the success of a single artist may not be the sign that teenagers all over the world are going to be listening to progressive rock all of a sudden, these two examples certainly show that the genre is at least still alive. There isn’t any guarantee that the first ProgStock won’t be the last, or that an artist like Wilson can go as far as to become a household name. But there seems to at least be hope that outstanding musical skills, layered compositions and thoughtful concept albums have a place in the 21st century music scene.