s the 1960s drew to a close, pioneering bands in Britain (and followed eventually by every developed country in the world) evolved rock from a simple music form valuing base emotions and attitude, into an elaborate form capable of incorporating involved compositional structures and sophisticated melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic elements. These were musicians who’d been exposed to classical music, art, and literature. Classical, jazz, folk, and electronic music elements were integrated; musicianship was emphasized, and instrumental content was no longer secondary to vocals and lyrics. This genre came to be known as progressive or art-rock. Genesis, Yes, ELP, and King Crimson were probably the best-known and arguably most accomplished progressive rock bands, but there were myriad others. Before the end of the 1970s, these bands had written themselves out of the market by making music over the head of the average pop listener (not to mention the rock media).
Kinesis was established in 1991 to release and promote worthy recordings in this genre. There are two prerequisites for the music: intelligence and musical sophistication - commodities not highly-valued in the rock/pop mainstream. This is not music for clueless kids desperate to be in on the latest hip artist. Rather, Kinesis is dedicated to those who, in the words of Anthony Phillips, “still champion the old-fashioned ideals of beauty, lyricism, and grandeur in art.”
Progressive rock marries the cerebral and the visceral, infusing the energy that defines rock with music that does not insult the intellect. The best musicians understand that emotion is still the raison d’etre of music. However, these are not the emotions of adolescents that the rock mainstream celebrates. These are the far more diverse and subtle emotions that can only be evoked by those versed in the craft of music.
Progressive does not mean simply new or different. If it did, the term would be rendered meaningless since it could not refer to the same music for any length of time. It is fashion that concerns itself with ever-changing superficialities, often going nowhere but in circles. Progressive was coined to represent a philosophical approach to rock. That philosophy embraces a nobler goal, the goal of any art form, to be able to express a greater range of emotions and ideas, in greater shades and nuances.
While the music industry may pretend that rock never grew up, progressive fans know otherwise. We believe that “the music’s all that matters.” It’s only knock and know-all, but we like it.
We enthusiastically recommend the following books:
Edward Macan, Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture, Oxford University Press, 1997.
Jerry Lucky, The Progressive Rock Files, Collector’s Guide Publishing Inc., 1998.
Paul Stump, The Music’s All That Matters: A History of Progressive Rock, Quartet Books Ltd., 1997.
Bill Martin, Listening to the Future: The Time of Progressive Rock 1968-1978, Open Court, 1998.
Conditionally recommended, the following book is a collection of essays. Some are good, but a few make for tedious reading, and a couple are just odd:
Kevin Holm-Hudson, Progressive Rock Reconsidered, Routledge, 2002.
Also of interest, though its extensive Key Recordings section fails to include Gentle Giant, Van der Graaf Generator, just about all the Italian bands, and many others of far greater importance than some of the artists who are included:
Bradley Smith, The Billboard Guide to Progressive Music, Billboard Books, 1997.
The quotes below are all from the 1990s, so take that into account:
“I think the main thing is that many of the people in the music press and the media come from the punk and immediately post-punk era... It has something to do with the fact that progressive music, for lots of journalists, is something just slightly beyond their understanding. I don’t mean that in a patronizing way because, for example, a lot of classical and jazz music is beyond my understanding. But I don’t damn [classical and jazz] for that. Unfortunately, a lot of people in the music press tend to damn things they don’t immediately understand. Progressive music, because it does tend to stretch genres and stretch barriers in that way, they have a problem with.” [Steve Wilson of Porcupine Tree, interviewed in Progression]
“What we’re basically saying is that we’re not ashamed to be playing artistic, constructive, carefully thought out music in the 90s because the whole impression given by the press... is that music has to be some kind of primal scream, and anything that is remotely sophisticated is to be frowned upon, and anything that requires some cerebral input must by definition be crap. We’re talking the kind of mentality of people who think the only good thing to come out of music was stuff by the Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones and, at a push, The Beatles.” [Steve Wilson, interviewed in Wondrous Stories]
“This aversion to pretentiousness forced us into a corner where all we could do for the past 15 years is re-invent punk or Velvet-influenced indie-slacker-mumble rock. The minute we step out of that corner, we’re labeled ’pretentious’, i.e., uncool. So drama is suspect, technical bravado is suspect, ideology is suspect, and all-around old school artiness is suspect... But this myth of pretentiousness will be perpetuated by loser-critics who never like bands that might be smarter than they are. And it’s perpetuated by crappy little labels run by greedy little men who record and release awful little punk-noise records for 50 cents... The truth is that prog rock was never interested in populist concepts like groove and hooks. It was thought to be facile. And it is. Progressive rock is an elitist movement... it’s more like: I don’t care if you don’t understand this music, but if you’re patient and take the time to hear what’s going on, you’ll be rewarded with an original emotional experience.” [Max Vanderwolf of Naked Sun, interviewed in Ben Is Dead]
“I still don’t see any evidence that the music industry has developed an interest in music.” [Bill Berends of Mastermind]
“We (UK) weren’t trying to be technical just to be technical. We were trying to take the traditions of classical music and that sort of harmonic sense and rhythmic complexity that Mahler and Wagner and Stravinsky had worked with, and incorporate the power, anger, and soul of rock music... One of the few things that perhaps does define [progressive rock] is harmonic complexity, which is something that tends to be lacking in blues-based music... To dig into profound emotions, one needs to get into more complex harmony.” [Eddie Jobson, interviewed in Progression]
“When jazz left the pop idiom, the only attitude for people whose passion was jazz was to be adventurous and pursue jazz as an art form. That pursuit is not only discouraged for the rock-era musician, we have to actively fight to do so... We’re continuing the evolution of the art form, removed from the pop idiom and industry.” [A Triggering Myth, interviewed in i/e]
“I do think that what we do is missing from the general picture of music, on radio especially. I can understand MTV doing whatever they do for money, or VH-1 for that matter. At the end of the day though, art has been forgotten, and there is that person in the 30- to 50-year old range who wants, dare I say, a certain amount of intellectual music.” [Carl Palmer of ELP, interviewed in Progression]
“These people (record company execs) think in terms of marketability. They don’t give a sh*t about the essence of what it is. A lot of these people, if they were being honest, would admit to you that they don’t know what they’re peddling. It could be bicycle seats, though they’d probably have a better grasp of that than something as abstract as music.” [Patrick O’Hearn, interviewed in i/e]
“Working at that [major label] level is a pretty scary thing. The business gets very cold and the air can get pretty thin at those heights. The bottom line becomes the ground you walk on and the mighty dollar is God. From my experience, I would have to say that a major is no place for someone who actually loves music.” [Jim Pitulski, interviewed in In the Company of Fish]