Is New York Rock & Roll Dead?

NME claimed NYC natives Rebounder are “reviving New York’s rock & roll credentials.” Dylan Chenfeld doesn’t totally buy it.

I think there’s always been exciting music coming out of New York. Whether or not it’s gotten press or been covered outside of New York seems to be a cyclical thing. Did New York rock die? I think it went in and out of fashion, and maybe it’s been out of fashion so long that it’s in again. But I think that’s how all artistic movements are. There’s never one thing that’s just consistently en vogue. In fact, the very nature of being “the thing,” just means that previously you were not the thing. 

It’s easy to hate on the cyclical nature, but calling something “New York” refers to elements that are inherently classic — things that are modern by virtue of being timeless — classic beauty, classic cool, even classic subversion. (Jeremy Allen White isn’t a hack because Brando was already strong and approachably hot once.) There are things made in New York and then there’s New York things. The look, sound, and feel of what we’re drawn to aren’t cookie-cutter, but they are consistent. We like things to come through stark, spare, and tough. The appointments are minimal because the backdrop of the city they’re in has almost too much depth before you’ve even started.

I think one of the reasons people are writing about it right now is because for the past couple years, it’s felt like “New York rock” had been so done to death that now it’s exciting to write about again. I guess from that point of view, it is en vogue.  

But rock is more of a big tent identity than it is a genre at this point. I think when people write about “rock music” or “rock culture,” what they’re ultimately talking about is people that do it themselves and aren’t a part of a larger infrastructure. You could give me a two-piece electronic duo and that could seem pretty rock. It’s less “guys playing guitars” now. It just so happens that Rebounder is to some degree that — and I think of all the people getting attention in New York, we are one of the more rock-y things, in the traditional sense. But we’re just doing our thing, and sometimes it’s rock, and sometimes it’s not. I guess the distinction that I’m trying to make is: I didn’t see what was happening and think, There’s a hole in the marketplace for New York rock. We associate with the NYC rock ideal but we do our thing no matter what folks think NYC rock means at any particular time.

“Rock” is a complicated word at this point. Obviously, the world is a much more diverse and stratified place than it was in the late ‘70s and early 2000s and rock, as it has traditionally sounded, is less pervasive than it once was. But that spirit and aesthetic seems to endure. 

There’s more people than ever who have been willing to play shows and try things out. And that is definitely a post-pandemic, why-not-go-for-it thing. The post-pandemic energy is real. We all got our apartments because they were cheaper during the pandemic — isn’t that one of the reasons why D*mes Square happened, because it was cheaper to live there? A bit like the stories you hear about 1980s NYC, or 2000s Brooklyn.

There’s a ton of new New York rock bands. The only difference between today and when we were in high school, when we weren’t as present on the internet, is that everyone sees everything. All of these little microscenes we talk about — there were probably microscenes before, but we just weren’t seeing it because you probably had to be in it to know. In that sense, it’s not that the scene popped, but that the heatmap of reference-ability popped. The cultural day-trading of the term “indie sleaze” popped. The real significant part of the scene isn’t anything that we did on the creator side; it was on the writer side, the Twitter side.  

New York is still a city full of young people trying to throw parties on a grid shaped by empire builders, and the change is brought by the high turnover rates from both groups. Kingmakers and it-girls come and go, but the streets stay the same. There will always be echoes from the class of ’07 as much as there will be from the classes of ’77, ’67, even ’27. “NYC warehouse party” will always yield a google result in the same way “NYC speakeasy” does. 

There’s so much great music happening. Some of it’s in New York. Some of it’s not. I think it’s a good time for New York. Anyone who is super hating doesn’t know how to have fun. And anyone who thinks we’re living in, like, the Summer of Love 1960s is having too much fun. Save their number, just don’t publish their takes.

As told to Annie Fell, with help from Pete Kilpin.

Rebounder is an indie rock band from New York City.