Hymns & Hardcore: Rock Music as Religion

When rock music is positioned against religion, the discussion is usually reduced to cults and Satanism in the mid-20th century, influenced by one variation of diehard fanaticism. On the positive side of this broad discussion, there’s the idea of “rock gods”, along the same lines of celebrity worship culture and largely prescribed to major 1980s arena frontmen, and then there’s Christian Rock as a genre. Despite the decrease in religious faith itself, especially amongst younger generations, religious elements of music (rock music, in particular) remain present today, if not in more subtle forms.
Historically, connecting music directly with religion evokes the thought of tonal praises to or of a god (this is true for various religious communities throughout the world, although for the sake of familiarity I’ll stick to examples from Western culture). Christian hymns, for example, include elongated notes and selective harmonies, consciously or not emulating hypnosis and attempting to connect to the natural world. Similar hypnotizing harmonies are arguably a trend in recent indie music a la Fleet Foxes or Bon Iver, though the simple acoustic instrumentation that accompanies these hymns is more connected to early American folk music.

Through hymns, one might achieve spiritual enlightenment; and like one’s quest for spiritual enlightenment, foundational beliefs in hardcore and punk music stem from the search for truth in all things -- perhaps the separating factor for punk philosophy being its inherent realist perspective. During the search for this truth or enlightenment, there is inevitably some form of catharsis -- a purging of negative emotions -- through song, verse, even physical movement or ceremonial procedures. The live show experience associated with live hardcore and punk music, including moshing and crowdsurfing, is ultimately an attempt at catharsis for both community listeners and performers alike. On the same note, various forms of screaming and singing in hardcore and punk music act as releases of anger, sadness, or oppression in personal or sociopolitical terms.

Thinking on a larger scale -- musical festivals are not a 21st century invention, but the popularity of such events have dramatically increased in the past decade, including legendary frontrunners such as Lollapalooza and smaller festival gatherings in every in-between town. Within these festivals, thousands of fans gather to experience music as a community; festival-goers strive for these experiences to be “spiritual”, or memorable on a collective level. Depending on the artist, audience involvement tends to be a major defining factor of a praiseworthy live performance, and while call-and-response is traditionally more typical in arena rock, sing-a-longs constitute a large majority of audience involvement today (think Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” or even small venue situations with acoustic instruments). These live musical experiences once again share similarities with religious-oriented congregations such as gospel choirs and Sunday Assembly alike.
So, you know -- that cliché that “music is my religion” -- I think it very well could be.


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