A Love Letter To... Rock In Opposition

A genre rooted in progressive rock... if you substitute cheese for a constant sense of existential dread

Jess Taylor Weisser
28th November 2017

Rock in opposition is a genre rooted in progressive rock, with all its cheese and pretentious pomp... if you substitute cheese for a constant sense of existential dread.

The movement was originally started in the late 70s by a few forward-thinking prog rock bands across Europe, who were dismayed by the major record companies’ unwillingness to distribute or promote their music. It’s easy to identify the problem with how these bands were marketed: they had far more in common with contemporary classical than rock.

Despite the use of riffs and rock grooves, the music almost exclusively features extremely dissonant, avant-garde harmonies, as well as a lot of orchestral instrumentation. Also, probably at least one vocalist scream-singing over the top, because how else are you meant to express the terror of the modern world?

Like, don’t get me wrong, rock in opposition is one of my favourite genres ever. But, I also know it’s a bit of a hard sell, and can be quite inaccessible for a first-time listener. The five bands of rock in opposition’s original movement can be especially difficult listens. You may wish to try the jazzy Henry Cow or the filmic, horror-infused Univers Zero - depending how much anxiety you want to be afflicted with for the rest of your day. A later addition to the movement, Aksak Maboul, blends Turkish folk with punk rock among other genres; their eclectic style may be of interest for those with as short an attention span as mine.

After members of the original movement began to split up or go into hiatus, rock in opposition became a catch-all term for all forms of prog rock that pushed the boundaries of the genre and played with the avant-garde. The band that first elicited my love was Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, a contemporary rock in opposition band more akin to metal in opposition. Their sound is characterised by cacophonous vocals singing pseudo-folk melodies, guitars screeching in microtones, and the strangest, most aggressively played improvised percussion you have ever heard. Like most rock in opposition artists, they make incredibly difficult music, but adjusting to the musical chaos is well worth the time and effort.

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