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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Roxy Music performing in Toronto in 1974
Art rock
Stylistic origins Rock, avant-garde, Experimental rock, Baroque pop, Psychedelic rock
Cultural origins Early 1960s United Kingdom and United States
Typical instruments GuitarBassDrumsKeyboard
Mainstream popularity Some bands had mainstream success in 1970s; since then, it has a relatively small fan base.
Derivative forms Progressive rock, Glam rock
Regional scenes
Largely global, EnglandScotlandWalesIrelandUSACanadaSwedenJapanCzech Republic
Other topics
Sunshine pop, Progressive rock

Art rock is a term describing a subgenre of rock music that tends to have "experimental or avant-garde influences" and emphasizes "novel sonic texture."[1] Art rock is an "intrinsically album-based" form, which takes "advantage of the format's capacity for longer, more complex compositions and extended instrumental explorations."[1] The Golden Age of Rock lectures define art rock as "a piece of music in the rock idiom that appeals more intellectually or musically; that is, not formulated along pop lines for mass consumption." The lectures note that it is "...usually somewhat experimental", using a long structure with several themes like classical music" or "a suite of individual songs." Art rock "almost always features keyboards more than guitar." As well, art rock is "not so much for dancing as for listening and it often tells a story or there is a philosophical theme to the lyrics."[2]


Relationship with progressive rock

The concept of "art rock" has also sometimes been used to refer to the "progressive rock" bands which became popular in the 1970s. Allmusic states that "Progressive rock and art rock are two almost interchangeable terms describing a mostly British attempt to elevate rock music to new levels of artistic credibility."[1] Progressive rock eventually stuck as a label for a specific genre of rock music, while "art rock" was used to refer to a wider, more subjective and harder-to-categorize collection of bands.

Larry Starr and Christopher Waterman's American Popular Music defines it as a "Form of rock music that blended elements of rock and European classical music. It included bands such as King Crimson; Emerson, Lake & Palmer; and Pink Floyd."[3] Bruce Eder's essay The Early History of Art-Rock/Prog Rock states that "'progressive rock,' also sometimes known as 'art rock,' or 'classical rock'" is music in which the "bands [are] playing suites, not songs; borrowing riffs from Bach, Beethoven, and Wagner instead of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley; and using language closer to William Blake or T. S. Eliot than to Carl Perkins or Willie Dixon."[4]

David Bowie performing in 1978

The Guide to the Progressive Rock Genres lists "art rock" under the subheading "Forms Tangential and Peripheral to Symphonic Rock/Progressive Rock." The guide states that "art rock" is "another term often used interchangeably with progressive rock, [which] implies rock with an exploratory tendency." The guide also gives another definition of "art rock", which "describes music of a more mainstream compositional nature, tending to experimentation within this framework", such as "Early Roxy Music, David Bowie, Brian Eno's 70s rock music, and Be Bop Deluxe.[5]

Connolly and Company argue that the "creation of the 'art rock' sub-genre, whose members were identified by music played with artistic ideals (e.g., Roxy Music, 10cc)... was in many ways a response to prog rock’s long-winded concepts, an attempt to condense progressive rock’s ideas into shorter, self-standing songs." He argues that "Art rock’s lifespan was brief, generally contained to the ‘70s."[6]

Art rock may be considered "arty" through imitation of classical "art" music or literature, or simply through eclecticism. Examples of the former include Queen, The Moody Blues, The Who,[7][8] Pink Floyd, The Nice, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, Kate Bush, The Beatles, and Love (Forever Changes) and examples of the latter include Peter Hammill, Roxy Music, Genesis, Doctors of Madness and Yes.



Music critic George Graham argues that "... the so-called Art Rock scene arose" in the 1960s, "when many artists were attempting to broaden the boundaries of rock." He claims that art rock "was inspired by the classically-influenced arrangements and the elaborate production of the Beatles Sgt. Peppers (1967) period" and states that the "style had its heyday in the 1970s with huge commercial success by Yes, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and later Genesis."

However, Graham notes that art rock "quickly faded when punk rock and then so-called alternative rock arose at the end of that decade, exactly as a reaction to the sophistication, and in many cases, pretense of big, elaborate rock productions, be they art rock or slickly-produced pop singers." Graham claims that since the late 1970s, "art rock has remained at the fringes and become one of many venerable styles...that attracts small numbers of avid fans, and continues to be perpetuated by a combination of some of the original artists and new generations of players."[9][10]

Guitarist John Cipollina from Quicksilver Messenger Service

In the US, a number of late-1960s bands experimented with "long compositions", with each band "trying to out-psychedelic the other" with unusual sonic experiments. The Golden Age Of Art Rock lectures state that the "piece that caused the explosion of Art Rock more than any other, starting in 1968" was Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida". In response, many other bands tried to emulate this art rock style, such as "Jefferson Airplane, The Steve Miller Band, The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, H.P. Lovecraft and It's A Beautiful Day." The Steve Miller Band "had quite a lot of Art Rock in the early albums. The lecture argues that the "two main long pieces" by The Doors ("The End" and "When The Music's Over") are "good examples of Art Rock."[2]

However, in the 1970s, US rock music "moved away from Art Rock", as southern rock bands became popular. Art rock reached its commercial height with the popularity of the aforementioned progressive rock bands, such as King Crimson, Yes, Rush, Genesis, and especially Pink Floyd. After the punk rock revolution of the late 1970s put DIY simplicity back in style, and as openly 'progressive' bands drifted toward the mainstream with hit singles and more commercial productions, their 'art rock' designation fell away. Brian Eno has been called the "experimental end of the [art rock] spectrum" for his early 1970s recordings.[2]


Laurie Anderson, a singer, performance artist, and experimental musician, performing in 2007

In the 1980s explosion of "New Wave Music, Art Rock faded away to the background", with the exception of "Laurie Anderson, who had wonderful solo albums like Mr. Heartbreak and Strange Angels even up into the Nineties."[2] Anderson's experimental performance art included performances with her homemade "tape-bow violin" which has a tape head in place of strings, and a strip of magnetic tape in place of the hairs on a bow. Since the later 1990s Anderson collaborated with Lou Reed on a number of recordings, such as "Call On Me" from Reed's collaborative project, The Raven.

Kate Bush used harpsichords and suite-based albums, and lyrics based on literature

However, "new wave" was a marketing phrase used in promoting music of various forms in the United States after the rise of punk, rather than an easily defined genre in itself. Since new wave and post-punk acts ranged from old fashioned rock 'n roll to dance-oriented "new romantic" synth pop to experimental collisions of genres and mergers of various forms of international pop music, the term "art rock" may have been applied, depending on the writer's opinion, to a large variety of music produced during the 1980s. For example, Kate Bush found mass popularity during the new wave period with music dominated by keyboards and even harpsichord accompaniments reminiscent of classical music. Her albums were structured conceptually as suites, and her lyrics were sometimes based on literary classics. All of these elements are in most definitions of art rock, yet Bush was not marketed as an "art rock" act. In fact, even Laurie Anderson has been categorized as a "new wave" or "alternative rock" act in some reviews.[11]

Anderson provides an example of a tenuous defition because she was also an artist in mediums outside of music, exhibiting her artwork and music primarily in art museums for a decade prior to making any concert tours, singles or albums. While the term "art rock" may suggest a crossover with other forms of art, and while a large number of "art rock" musicians may also be visual or performance artists, Anderson "went pop" only after establishing herself primarily in the art scene, and as such she was more of an outsider to the rock music world than is typical of "art rock" musicians. For instance, Brian Eno also studied art and participated in the avant garde art scene, but he first became known as the keyboard player for Roxy Music.


Ed O'Brien from Radiohead

In 2004, the phrase "art rock" was used by British writers from music publications such as NME to describe a group of new, mostly "indie" bands influenced by the 1970s/1980s work of artists including David Bowie, David Byrne, Tom Verlaine, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, and Brian Eno, and by the UK post punk scene in general. While other art rock bands such as Deerhoof [12] generally eschew self-conscious descriptions as "art rock", there is also a continuing subcultural movement of underground, sometimes highly uncommercial music with original roots in punk rock, post punk or the radical avant-garde whose style or philosophy would fall under common definitions of "art rock". Some of these bands may also be described as experimental rock, while the even more abrasive and abstract acts such as Wolf Eyes and Merzbow may be described as noise music.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Art Rock at Allmusic
  2. ^ a b c d The Golden Age Of Art Rock: Part One: Making It Last 2. Cosmik Debris Magazine Presents The Golden Age of Rock, January 2002
  3. ^ "Key Terms and Definitions". Retrieved 2008-03-16.  
  4. ^ "The Early History of Art-Rock/Prog Rock" by Bruce Eder (All-Music Guide Essay). Available at:
  5. ^ A Guide to the Progressive Rock Genres
  6. ^ What is prog?
  7. ^ Stuessy, Joe. Rock and Roll: Its History and Stylistic Development, 5th ed., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2003. ISBN 0-13-099370-0
  8. ^
  9. ^ George Graham Reviews Tom Taylor's "The Crossing"
  10. ^ It could also be said the rise of Disco music had a major impact in the decline of rock music across all genres in the late 70's, especially after Saturday Night Fever was released.Many rock groups absorbed influences by this new genre of music such as Queen & the Electric Light Orchestra. Punk music gained noterity, however, being the only new reactionary alternative at that period in time.
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Deerhoof Make Magical Art Rock". Retrieved 2008-03-16.  


  • Rockwell, John. "Art Rock" in Henke, James et al. (Eds.) (1992). The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll: The Definitive History of the Most Important Artists and Their Music. ISBN 0-679-73728-6.
  • Stuessy, Joe. Rock and Roll: Its History and Stylistic Development, 5th ed., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2003. ISBN 0-13-099370-0

Simple English

Art rock (also described as progressive rock or classical rock) is a word that is about a sub-genre of rock music that has "experimental influences".[1]. The term 'Art Rock' or 'Kunst Rock' was coined and defined, by the great black philosopher Doctor William Fearon, and is very much related to the 'Kunst Muzik' of the 1970s led by UK/US bands such as the Ramones, Talking Heads and Television and the Detroit/German led Techno movement. Dr Fearon coined the term and its German equivalent in recognition of the impact that Futurism had on late twentieth century music. Far from being an album based music format Art Rock is recognisable at live venues in the modern age, with the developments in light and video technology meaning that Art and Rock can be seamelessly fused. It is an album-based form that is able to have longer, more complex music and lets the musicians spend more time trying different ways to play their instruments.[1] Art rock is not created for mass consumption, meaning it is not made to be liked by most people. It is often long and has a lot of themes like classical music, but usually has more keyboards than guitars. Also, it is not really music to dance to, but music to just listen to, and it often tells a story or has a philosophical theme to the lyrics."[2]

Relationship with progressive rock

The idea of "art rock" has sometimes been used when talking about the "progressive rock" bands which became popular in the 1970s. Allmusic says that progressive rock and art rock are almost the same; both used to describe rock music that is more artistic.[1] Progressive rock eventually stuck as a label for a specific genre of rock music, while art rock was used to described bands that were harder to label.

Princeton University's Wordnet dictionary states that "progressive rock, art rock" are "a style of rock music that [came out] in the 1970s; associated with attempts to [mix] rock with jazz and other forms." It also says that it is meant "for listening and not dancing".[3]

Examples of art rock bands

Examples include Queen, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, The Beatles, Genesis and Yes.[4][5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Art Rock at All Music Guide
  2. Pipes, Rusty (January 2002). "Art Rock: Part Four: Departure from Gadda-Da-Vita - American Art Rock". Cosmik Debris Magazine Presents The Golden Age of Rock. Retrieved on July 24, 2008.
  3. Art rock definition. Retrieved on July 24, 2008.
  4. Stuessy, Joe. Rock and Roll: Its History and Stylistic Development, 5th ed., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2003. ISBN 0-13-099370-0
  5. Art and Progressive rock bands.

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