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The Quota of Rock

Last night I went back to the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco for the second time this month, to see the Smoking Popes / Lovedrug show. It was an incredible experience, and I realized something about myself that is important to share (and might also be an important contribution to Rock Theory in general).


Gratuitous picture to get you to read further: Lovedrug’s symbol of the moment


Basically, I discovered that, for every reasonable length of time, there is a corresponding “rock ‘n roll quota”, which I am calling the “quota of rock”, that needs to be met. I am here defining “rock” as an experience I have wherein I am able to “rock out” for an extended amount of time to music that I am not playing myself. (There is also a “quota of my rock”, but we’re not talking about that).

To “rock out” means to have an irresistible physical response to certain types of music, involving:

  • Motion of the feet (but not so much motion as to be called “dancing”, usually). The traditional motion would be described as a slight raising and lowering of the heel, giving the impression of a runner being restrained to very small movements. Most people perform this motion in time with the basic beat of the song, but I like to get a little more complicated and mirror any further drum work with not just my heels (though they’re the more important part) but also the toes. I’m not sure how this looks to other people, but the great thing about “rocking out” is that, as a very basic method of dancing, no one really cares.
  • Motion of the upper torso and head. Many people would call this “head-banging”, but it is in fact somewhat more nuanced (though, to be fair, it probably did evolve, as a more laid-back / adult / shoegazer form, from head-banging). The primary thing here is that the head needs to “bob” in time with the music, and needs to be forward and down on the downbeat. In quieter parts of the song, the head and neck are alone in this motion, but with crescendoes in the phrasing or volume, the upper torso gets involved as well. During particularly loud or violent parts of songs, the whole upper body could be seen to exhibit quite a range of forward-and-back (“rock”-ing) motion.
  • If the music calls for it (i.e., if there is a part of the song which is particularly moving or emotional to the rocker), various side-to-side motions might be added. Typically this is done first with the head–but it’s important to note that any swaying is in addition to the forward-and-back rocking, not instead of it.
  • In more punk-style crowds, or if there is a piano – fortissimo transition (as when a rock band might suddenly halt all noise on the downbeat of 3 in 4/4 time, providing a silent tension, and then come crashing in on the next 1), you might also come across jumping motions. Again, these are simple up-and-down motions that go along with the base beats of the song. In the punk-style crowds, the jumping is accompanied by certain hand motions, but I mostly stay away from these–I like to keep the feeling of a tense core, taught but fluid.
  • In line with the last thought, hands are infrequently used in rocking out. For me, they typically remain in the pockets, or if I’m feeling like a change is needed, they can be brought out and crossed across my chest. Once in a while, if I’m in a more emo mood, the hands can be used as drumsticks on the chest.

Let that suffice for rocking out, in general. For me, however, there is another very important element to rocking out which isn’t necessarily universally shared: singing along. Certain environmental attributes need to be in place for singing along to be valid, but the most important of which is that the music needs to be loud enough so that, when singing at max volume, my voice is still relatively quiet enough not to affect other concert-goers’ experience. I don’t mean that they shouldn’t hear me at all, but rather that my personal rock contribution would mix well with what is coming from the speakers. In fact, I myself like to hear those next to me singing as well–it gives a sense of unity and solidarity…there is nothing quite like rocking out with a group of good friends. There are those, less-initiated perhaps, who go to shows and become indignant when the rest of the crowd participates via singing loudly and/or rocking out around them. I learned long ago that I can’t worry about what such people think about me, because they don’t know what’s going on. As a rule of thumb, if you go to a rock show and don’t want to be involved in the rocking out, sit at a table somewhere in the back.

Rock shows consist of a number of bands (usually 3), so they tend to last for a few hours. Thus to sing and rock out with total abandon for that time period is a tiring proposition. We can formulate a Law of Rock Fatigue, in fact: F = Rl, where F is physical body fatigue, R is a constant denoting the rockingestness of a given band, and l is the length of time the band plays (tend – tstart). Things become more complicated when you add multiple bands in a row, and we have to define the temporal fatigue quantifier (Q), which has been experimentally determined to be: Q = ((t1 – t0)/10) + 1. Here, t1 – t0 is the time in hours between the time the given band starts and the time the first band started (meaning, for the first band, Q = 1). Thus for any given show, rock fatigue (in units I will call “tireds”) is calculated via the formula (where n is the number of bands playing the show):

F = Q1R1l1 + Q2R2l2 + … + QnRnln

All this is to say that after rocking out, you might expect to have increased in at least a few tireds. That’s ok, though, because the number of tireds gained as a result of rocking out is directly proportional to the increase in the quota of rock, which is what this whole entry is about.

Anyway, over the past year, it has been obvious that my quota of rock has been largely unmet. Thus it was with great relish that I felt the tank of rock being filled up last night at the show. The opening band, Cast of Thousands or something like that, was unimpressive. Their music was good, but their stage presence exuded self-importance, posturing, and over-dramatization. Thankfully Lovedrug was none of the above, and they rocked out like crazy, increasing the heights of rockage to which I myself aspire. There was much Jonathan-esque rocking out, including singing along with the lead singer’s odd, high, crooning voice, which melded perfectly into the wall of strident guitar anthems. Lovedrug plays a kind of dark and beautiful rock (at times heavy, at times not) accompanied by brilliant vocal melodies, reminiscent of Muse, but in my opinion better. Importantly, they completely nailed their set, and what’s more, I could tell they were playing their hearts out; it is rare and awesome when those two events coincide.

The headliner for the evening was Smoking Popes, an old punk-style band from Chicago (I believe it is their reunion tour). I went to the show to hear Lovedrug, but Chuck had given me some Popes stuff beforehand, and I thought it was fair; so I was surprised when their live performance was far better than fair–it was incredible! An hour went by like a minute amidst a happy crowd bouncing and rocking out to catchy and sincerely-delivered melodic indie punk tunes.

The bottom line is that I need such experiences far more often than I remember to go after them. There’s something very satisfying and purifying about rocking out, and I feel very much at home in an indie rock crowd, despite all the pretentiousness that could justifiably be attributed to it. Also, going to shows tends to inspire me to write more music and care more about getting my music around. It is a yet-unfulfilled dream that Splendour Hyaline would have the opportunity to tour as a band in our own right, maybe with awesome folks like Lovedrug. Of course, there are many barriers to pursuing such a dream, but it is fun to be reminded of it nonetheless.

Well, so much for rocking out–now I’m heading out of town for Memorial Day weekend, where I will hopefully be doing another kind of rocking out–on real rocks. And wearing the awesome Lovedrug zipper hoodie that I bought to support such a great band–it’s blue with that sweet Pegasus guy on the front. Cheers.

PS: Check out this music video for Lovedrug’s song Spiders, one of their less-hardcore, more-accessible songs (maybe the single?).

By Jonathan Lipps

Jonathan has been making things out of code as long as he can remember. Jonathan is the architect and project lead for Appium, the popular open source automation framework. He is also the founding Principal of Cloud Grey, a consulting firm devoted to helping clients leverage the power of Appium successfully. He has worked as a programmer in tech startups for over 15 years, but is also passionate about academic discussion. Jonathan has master’s degrees in philosophy and linguistics, from Stanford and Oxford respectively. Living in Vancouver, he’s an avid musician, and also writes on the philosophy of technology.

3 replies on “The Quota of Rock”

Dude, I haven’t QUADRUPLE-ROCKed since the playing of that one rockingest song “The Cool Guy Song”

Regarding the use of hands in a state of Rockign Out:

I’m sad not to see a much celebrated physical response not on the list–especially as it involves the use of one’s hands. Jonathan, I’m sure you will remember the 1. ROCK, 2. DOUBLE ROCK, and 3. QUADRUPLE ROCK.

1. As every concert goer knows, the ROCK is a much used hand sign, generally meaning, “Hey band/artist, the music you are playing/just finished playing is totally rocking me!”


These are the hook-em horns, but the gist is pretty much the same.

The ROCK is generally used as a replacement for applause. I mean, clapping really isn’t a rock’n’roll kind of thing, is it? Its also not uncommon to yell, “Raawwk!” while performing the ROCK.

2. The DOUBLE ROCK is naturally an amplified performance of the ROCK. As you know, the DOUBLE ROCK is created by making two fists and placing them thumb to thumb (as if you’re riding a bike with extremly small handlebars) and sticking out your pinky fingers. Lift above head in rocking manner.

I’ve found myself using the DOUBLE ROCK typically at shows of bands/artists I really like (i.e. Those that score in my Top 25 All-Time) and particuarly during/after songs that effectively rocked me. Use sparingly and don’t forget to yell, “Dubble Raawwwk!!!”

3. The QUADRUPLE ROCK is of course used only in extremly rocked conditions. I would be hard-pressed to think of a performance from a musician that involved one that wasn’t in my Top 5 All-Time or something like that. Also, I think the only time I’ve seen it used is at a show’s finale. The QUADRUPLE ROCK is a two-man operation. Again, make fists and place alternating end to end with your partner. The two end fists should stick out their pinky fingers, thus creating the ultimate ROCK. Lift skyward. Of course, at this point you should yell “Kwadroopul Raaaaaawwwwwwk!” At the top of yoru lungs. If the show did indeed rock to QUADRUPLE ROCK standards, this final outburst will sufficiently propel you into Rocked Out Nirvana; a mythical land of tatooed, flying pegases.

Or is it pegasuses?

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