Tuesday, November 12, 2019
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How Mac DeMarco changed the face of indie-rock

Mac DeMarco is a figurehead in modern indie-rock – his style of music has spawned an onslaught of new musicians bidding to replicate his sound, or at least use his music as an influential basis.

After varied amounts of success with previous band Makeout Videotape, and his debut solo release “Rock and Roll Night Club”, DeMarco rose to prominence in 2012 with his sophomore release “2”. “2” and his next release “Salad Days” were the foundation to a sound DeMarco himself dubbed ‘jizz-jazz’.

“It’s a little bit sexy, a little bit jazzy,” DeMarco described when asked about the name.

Although DeMarco has since ventured slightly away from the ‘traditional’ jizz-jazz sound with his later releases, the number of musicians and bands that have spawned as a direct result of the jangly guitar driven sound showcases DeMarco’s remarkable influence on the indie-rock scene.

Typical characteristics of DeMarco’s sound are the use of jazz chords played on a heavily chorused guitar – creating a wobbly, jangly, slightly out-of-tune effect. DeMarco usually opts for a 4/4-time signature with a typical pop progression, which is unusual for jazz music. Consequently, the only aspect of jazz DeMarco usually utilizes in his songs is the chords and the notes he plays, and to a lesser extent, the bass riffs that are ever present within his songs. Layered on top of it all is a melodic lead guitar in which DeMarco employs to serve as a backdrop to his singing which is slightly off-kilter and, admittedly, not perfect.

DeMarco’s sound is, arguably, not entirely unique, however. The jangly guitar, the use of jazz chords and the heavy emphasis on melodic arrangement have all been major features of rock and pop music for generations. Bands like The Smiths, Steely Dan, Television, to name a few, all share distinct qualities with DeMarco’s sound.

What sets DeMarco’s sound apart is the fact that he has morphed these qualities together. The emphasis on melodic jazz notes and chords that are set to a 4/4 pop structure along with quite a simple, easy backbeat and, most importantly, a frontman who is charismatic singing songs that are catchy, poppy and relatable. These main facets are an indication as to why DeMarco has rose to notoriety, along with countless bands trying to replicate his sound.

Bands that are inadvertently compared to DeMarco’s sound – and sometimes unfairly – are usually those who have a direct association with DeMarco. For example, Peter Sagar previously worked as DeMarco’s live guitarist, he then went on to focus on his solo music project, under the moniker Homeshake. His music blends R&B and soul with lo-fi indie-rock, but he is often compared with DeMarco because of his association, regardless of the fact his music does not sound particularly similar.

Another example is Alexander Brettin, under the moniker Mild High Club. Brettin is a jazz trained musician who utilizes his education to produce his own unique blend of jazz and psychedelic rock. He is also good friends with DeMarco, hence the comparison. But, in reality, Brettin produces his own unique jazz inspired music, unlike that of DeMarco’s, with heavy emphasis on classic jazz tropes such as odd time signatures, heavy use of piano and synths, and improvisational aspects as well.

On the contrary, bands like Boy Pablo and Australia’s own Vacations and Good Morning have been accused of ripping-off or being too ‘Mac DeMarco-ish’. Perhaps Good Morning just lean on the side of Mac DeMarco’s sound closely, and it might be unfair to include them within this category, but undeniably the former two bands have been accused of ripping off a DeMarco riff or beat. These three bands in particular are clear examples of DeMarco’s influence on indie-rock. The sound that they all produce are indistinguishable.

Then there are the bands that, in some ways, can owe a certain amount of their success to Mac DeMarco’s sound. Bands and musicians such as King Krule, BADBADNOTGOOD, and to a lesser extent Rex Orange County and Jerry Paper. The former two incorporate a high level of jazz into their music, but also have an immense emphasis on hip-hop. Rex Orange County is much more soul and R&B but is often compared with DeMarco. Whereas Jerry Paper has been, for years, writing quite avant-garde jazz and funk music but has recently come into prominence, particularly due to the emergence of jizz-jazz.

The groups already mentioned do not even scratch the surface of how many bands and musicians have followed the jizz-jazz route. Some more honourable mentions include Paul Cherry, Walter TV, Connan Mockasin, Jarrow and Travis Bretzer.

What is evident is that Mac DeMarco has had a major influence and, more predominantly, a changing impact on the indie-rock scene. With a distinguishable sound and countless bands trying to replicate it, DeMarco has changed modern alternative music for fans and aspiring musicians alike.

*Feature image by Coley Brown