Why AXL/DC-style mash-ups could be the future of rock

Axl Rose and Angus Young onstage
AXL\/DC: the future of rock? (Image credit: Robert Marquardt \/ Getty Images)

Five years ago, smart-arse ‘Professor of Pop’, Paul Gambaccini sparked fury in the rock community by declaring the rock era “over.”

“It’s over, in the same way the jazz era is over,” the veteran DJ stated. “Rock as a prevailing style is part of music history.”

As dim-witted as this statement initially appeared, most rock fans will recognise a kernel of truth in the old duffer’s words. For all the scores of life-changing albums that continue to emerge, rock is currently mired in a state of stasis. A look at Pollstar’s 100 highest grossing tours of 2015 list bears this out: largely populated by stubborn turds the industry can’t flush away, there’s not a single rock band less than 20 years old on the list, which says everything about the lack of ‘mobility’ in our world. Each summer the internet turns blue with rock fans raging virulently about the familiarity of our festival headliners, but what’s the alternative if younger bands can’t put enough arses on the grass?

Frankly, rock needs a good boot in the balls. Only two live concerts really captured the imagination of our global community in 2016: Guns N’ Roses’ Coachella return, featuring an Angus Young cameo, and the debut bow of the new-look AC/DC with Axl Rose on lead vocals, both must-see experiences because of the potential for fist-gnawing fuck-ups. Whether one considered those gigs to be trainwrecks or triumphs is irrelevant, for two weekends at least, it felt like rock music actually mattered again.

Granted, these collaborations arose from an entirely unique set of circumstances, but why stop here? Just as Hollywood has re-imagined and reinvigorated superhero/comic book movie franchises by pooling the ‘talent’ in films such as The Avengers, Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman, we should look at creating super-group ‘mash ups’ within the rock world, splicing together icons to create a new hybrid breed.

From Blind Faith to Audioslave the concept of ‘supergroups’ is hardly new, but think of when Rob Halford fronted Sabbath for two shows in 1992, or when Slipknot’s Joey Jordison and Slayer’s Dave Lombardo deputised for an ‘unwell’ Lars Ulrich for Metallica’s 2004 Download set, or when Corey Taylor, M. Shadows and friends stood in for a hospitalised Jonathan Davis for Korn’s 2006 Donington appearance… those shows got everyone talking. Suddenly what might have been bogstandard performances became genuine events.

The solution here is obvious. Imagine the havoc we could unleash by tampering with rock’s DNA, re-booting legendary acts that are stuck in a rut. Stick Slash in Aerosmith for a summer. Get David Coverdale, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler together for BlackSnake. Let MegaDave back into Metallica for a festival run. Nab Lzzy Hale to front Def Leppard. Stick Jimmy Page in Queens of the Stone Age. Robert Plant won’t tour with Zeppelin? No problem, get Beyonce in for Bey Zeppelin! Let Gaga run/ruin Queen and Miley Cyrus front the Pistols. Our heroes are getting too old? Fuck ‘em! Conscript the young!

Okay, we’re getting facetious now, but there’s a serious point here. Why not embrace some new formulas? Who wouldn’t pay money to see some of our icons flying by the seat of their pants again, actually challenged by new blood rather than simply clocking-in for a pay cheque? Where’s the glory in playing safe forever, churning out the same songs until the Grim Reaper comes for your leathery hide? At worst, rock group mash-ups would make for some unforgettable nights out, filled with fun, excitement, danger and drama. That’s why we fell in love with rock music in the first place, isn’t it?

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Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.