Indier Than Thou?

Posted: January 8, 2014 in A Little Less Profound
Tags: , , , ,
Steven Chen of The Airborne Toxic Event Photo by TATE fan Jennifer Largent Portland, 2009

Steven Chen of The Airborne Toxic Event
Photo by TATE fan Jennifer Largent
Portland, 2009

By Julie

Ed. Note: This post is a reprint from Julie’s blog, Musings from Boston. Originally published in 2009, it provides an interesting perspective on the issues of artistic integrity and the notion of “selling out.” The landscape of the music industry has shifted greatly in the past five years, but Julie’s observations remain relevant.

An email popped up via my Airborne Toxic Event google alerts this afternoon. The article, from MTV.com, was titled “Exclusive: Rachael Ray Plans Return To South By Southwest” – The Hold Steady and The Airborne Toxic Event being the first two rumoured bands invited to her event. For those of you who don’t know her (that includes me, not being a Food Network viewer, and not being able to cook either, apart from maybe fried eggs and steamed vegetables), she hosts a cooking show, and is apparently quite a celebrity. And an indie music fan. Which should be fine, right? I mean, I like hanging out in skanky clubs listening to bands, and I also enjoy bird watching. But for some reason, she caused quite a stir when last year, she hosted a party at SXSW (that’s South by Southwest for those poor lost souls out there who don’t know, a very popular annual indie music gathering – of all music genres – that takes place in Austin, Texas). I guess it was startling and somehow unacceptable for someone who does something considered “mainstream” to also be interested in something well, not considered mainstream. Whatever. The bands she invited to last year’s soiree were considered respectable by those who had appointed and anointed themselves as qualified judges for us poor huddled clueless masses who obviously don’t know what’s good for us.

About an hour after the MTV article landed in my inbox, Brooklyn Vegan picked up on the news – and proceeded to get slammed, the first comment being “brooklynvegan, brought to you by People Magazine!”

An interesting thing is happening here, as the music industry collapses onto itself and goes supernova. The internet brings bands from remote small towns into the homes and ears of music fans around the planet. Those fans can listen to new music, purchase songs and support those artists without ever stepping outside, and without a record label, manager, PR firm, or physical record store getting involved. Band to audience. That’s it. And simultaneously, probably because of the internet as well and wider exposure for bands signed to small labels or not signed at all, it’s mixed with increasing competition for people’s entertainment dollars and a desire to keep things fresh and connect with younger viewers tethered to their MacBooks. More films (including the big Hollywood ones) are using indie music in their soundtracks, TV shows and commercials are doing the same, ringtones fer god’s sake, games, you name it. Mainstream. Or better yet, no “indie”, no “mainstream”, but just good music and sure, bad music too, but as they say the cream will tend to rise anyway. Whatever people want to hear, and everyone can decide for themselves what they enjoy. This is a bad thing?

Of course, there are dangers. Take rap music, for instance. I’m not a huge fan now, but I remember walking around the Village in the early 1980s, record shopping at those cool little places back then, seeing breakdancing in the streets, rap music blaring from boomboxes, and thinking “this is important.” Even with my decidedly upper middle class and white upbringing (having been moved by my parents from Queens to Connecticut just before things got interesting), I just knew. At that time, although the major labels were already starting to put their filthy paws on it, the lyrics were still very political, socio-economic, and vital. It was original, genuine, the voice of the urban community. Public Enemy… N.W.A….Ice-T. Fast-forward 25 years. Um… yeah. But again, all hail the internet; the pre-packaged, glossy, and exploited remnants of that genre, well, it doesn’t matter anymore, because there are so many others who have remained true to their vision. With the lack of boundaries and absence of rules, I’m convinced it’ll sort itself out. There will still be a place for the glossy shit, ’cause heck, there are people who like glossy shit, and then there’s a vast cornucopia of delights for the rest of us.

Then there’s the other end of the spectrum. The “British music fan disease” as I like to call it, though we’re not immune from it here on the other side of the pond. It’s the belief that once a band has more than 15 people who’ve heard of them, and maybe they’ve sold a few CDs at shows and can pay their rent and gas bills, they’re no longer considered “acceptable” and you can’t listen to their music anymore. What a load of rubbish, as those Brits might say.

Oh, and another thing. I just finished listening to TATE’s Maida Vale session with Zane Lowe for BBC Radio One. Which is a very big deal over there, and as dorky, behind the times, and uncool as I am, I know of Maida Vale for their legendary radio sessions – Bowie’s early 1970s ones come to mind). So there’s a brief interview and Zane asks Mikel and Anna what’s next for the band. Which, I dunno, I would think that might prompt a somewhat intelligent answer about the group’s plans – touring, upcoming release, etc. So Mikel says they’ll be touring across North America after these shows in the UK, and then goes on to mention that the single has just been released there, with the full album a few weeks later. And he adds, probably very honestly, “after that, who knows? I mean, we’re still a new band.” And he gets slammed for that! What, is he supposed to be completely dense about when their album is coming out and where they’re playing? Is it uncool somehow to be involved in the daily activities and direction of your band, and involved in the business aspects of your music, which you’ve spent the past few years of your life completely immersed in?

Rant over. And as for me? Me, the unkempt, unwashed, and uncool. Just now discovering music that the hip crowd listened to, celebrated, and discarded 15 years ago. Tuning in to TV shows that I find I quite like, only to have them go off the air a week later (or, in the case of The Sopranos, after it was already off the air). Missing punchlines and references from movies, because I haven’t seen them yet. No more “cool” or “uncool”, “indie” or “mainstream”. It isn’t this, it isn’t that. It just IS. How wonderfully refreshing. Thank god, I can relax now.

JulieWriter of all things from the sublime to the ridiculous, Julie publishes musingsfromboston.com, a music blog with the bipolar personality of wannabe philosopher and charlatan music critic, where she is just as likely to review the audience as she is the band. Since 2008, she has inexplicably favored musicians from the Silver Lake and Echo Park region of Los Angeles, for which she fully blames The Airborne Toxic Event. She does her best to live by the motto “only one who attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible.”

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