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Steven Wilson takes aim at shredders: “That’s not music. That’s sport”

Steven Wilson
(Image credit: Frank Hoensch/Redferns via Getty Images)

Steven Wilson is no stranger to hot takes. Last February, for example, the Porcupine Tree electric guitar player ruffled some feathers when he admitted he was “never a fan” of Eddie Van Halen or of the “so-called shredder mentality” that he said Van Halen fathered.

Although he since apologized to Wolfgang Van Halen for his comments, Wilson has reiterated his distaste for shred music, saying that the whole concept of playing fast can’t be described as music, and should instead be labeled a “sport”.

Speaking to YouTube channel Hack Music Theory, Wilson said, “I love that people can play like that, but the fact is they feel the need to remind everyone they can play like that constantly – to me, that’s not music. That’s sport.”

To better explain his view, Wilson returned to his “Olympic sport” analogy – something that came into play during his initial criticism of the shredder movement.

“That’s like an Olympic sport,” he continued. “And it’s like – the best analogy I can give is, if we’re talking now, if we’re trying to communicate through language, and I would say everything to you at 100 miles an hour, I would just gavel the words out without putting any emphasis, or emotion, or feeling, or enunciation as I’m doing now.

“That’s not communication, and I feel the same with guitar shredders. It’s very impressive, but it doesn’t communicate anything to me that I would really feel there [points to chest].”

Those sentiments echo what he said in 2021 about the shred movement, when he argued that the notion of playing guitar “almost like you’re playing an Olympic sport” was the antithesis of his own personal views on creativity and music.

As to how that related to Van Halen, the experimental guitarist offered, “I think that the legacy that he has, Eddie Van Halen, is in creating the shredder phenomenon, which is something so vile to me.”

In response to Wilson’s observation, Van Halen’s son Wolfgang wrote on social media, “What hurts is that he seems to only view Pop as a 'shredder' when in my opinion he was anything but. 

“Sure, he COULD shred, but Pop had melody and finesse like NO other ‘shredder’ that swam in his wake ever had (in my opinion),” he added, “and on top of that he was an incredible songwriter.”

Wilson later apologized, and clarified what he meant, noting that Van Halen was an “extraordinary musician” and “clearly an innovator”. 

But does Wilson have a point about the excesses of shred culture, with some players overly focused on speed and technique at the expense of the music?

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Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.