Maximalist vs. Minimalist Aesthetics in 20th Century Rock Music

Maximalists – value dynamic showmanship, idiomatic breadth, instrumental eclecticism, heroic virtuosity, harmolodic complexity, compositional grandeur and lavish sonorities. Maximalists essentially view showbiz as a meritocracy of virtuosity; the libertarian capitalism of rock.

Minimalists – value amateurism, sparse arrangements, a paucity of notes and chords, rudimental skill, compositional simplicity, rawness/underproduction and abrasive sonorities. Minimalists generally spurn showmanship, stressing D.I.Y. activism at the localized scene level; the collectivist socialism of rock.

Aesthetic Breakdown

Origins

  • Maximalism – The progression from high foundationalism, which peaked in 1966 with the release of Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys and Revolver by the Beatles. Officially launched with the June 1967 release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles.
  • Minimalism – The step beyond low foundationalism, as embodied by the mid-60s garage rock compiled in the Nuggets series. Accidentally spawned by the February 1967 release of The Velvet Underground and Nico, the debut album by the Velvet Underground.

Timeline

  • Maximalism – Rose in the late-60s, triumphed in the early-70s, reached its broadest global latitude during the mid-70s, and slowly decelerated between 1978 and 1983 amidst the reinstatement of foundationalism via disco and dance pop.
  • Minimalism – Had little influence as maximalism ascended, but congealed slowly between 1969 and 1977 from disparate sources, finally emerging as the dominant subterranean aesthetic in the aftermath of punk.

Genres

  • Maximalism – Progressive Rock (Prog), Heavy Metal (early), Brass Rock, 70s Funk, Fusion, 70s Electronic, Pomp Rock/Arena Rock, New Romantic
  • Minimalism – Garage Rock, Proto Punk, Kraut Rock, Punk, Post Punk, Industrial, Pop Metal, alt.rock, Grunge

Performers

  • Maximalists – Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Emerson Lake & Palmer, The Who (post-1968), Jethro Tull, Chicago, Earth Wind & Fire, Deep Purple, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, Mike Oldfield, PFM, Tangerine Dream, Magma, Harmonium, Supertramp, Al Stewart, Boz Scaggs, Rupert Holmes, Queen, Electric Light Orchestra, Steve Harley, 10cc, Styx, Kate Bush, The Stranglers, Ultravox, Magazine, Japan, U2, Simple Minds
  • Minimalists – The Stooges, The Shaggs, The New York Dolls, T.Rex, Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers, Neil Young, Graham Parsons, Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Faust, Can, Patti Smith, The Ramones, Pere Ubu, James Chance & the Contortions, The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Smiths, Wire, Bauhaus, Gang of Four, AC/DC, Nerdvana, Violent Femmes, Suicide, Throbbing Gristle

Epicenters

  • Maximalism – London, Birmingham, Chicago, Montreal, Rome
  • Minimalism – London, Manchester, Berlin, Cleveland, Seattle

Philosophical Antecedents

  • Maximalism – Classicism, Romanticism, Objectivism
  • Minimalism – Naturalism, Existentialism, Postmodernism

Noted Champions

  • Maximalists – Musicologist, professor, author and composer Ed Macan (born 1961) – “The whole underlying goal of progressive rock – to draw together rock, classical, jazz, folk, and avant-garde styles into a new metastyle that would supersede them all – is inherently optimistic.”
  • Minimalists – Sociologist and critic Lester Bangs (1948-1982) – “The first mistake of art is to assume that it’s serious.”


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One Response to “Maximalist vs. Minimalist Aesthetics in 20th Century Rock Music”

  1. Alex H Says:

    This explains a lot about people’s taste in music. This explains why rock critics love the same group of bands and why I rarely like them. I like some minimalists but I like maximalists better. People say minimalists are more emotional and “authentic”, but I get way more emotion from the maximalists. They got more tools and they know how to use them better. Plus you can fake being “authentic”.

    Where would you put Metallica? Most metal bands got elements of both maximalists and minimalists.

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