Posts Tagged ‘GIRLSCHOOL’

Toxicity 93

Posted: February 12, 2016 in Toxicity
Tags: , , , ,
Anna Bulbrook's Girlschool artist portrait, by Jen Rosenstein.

Anna Bulbrook’s Girlschool artist portrait, by Jen Rosenstein.

By Glen

It’s the dead of winter – literally and figuratively, as the tumbleweeds blow across The Airborne Toxic Event landscape. Even the ever-trusty Anna Bulbrook has gone quiet of late – though we do have a bit more Girlschool coverage to catch up on. But first, my 15-seconds of fame…

TIN Hits the Radio Waves

A couple weeks ago, my fellow British Columbian (represent!) Tim de Monkey gave me the heads up that CBC Radio was looking for stories about bands that are tragically underrated. One thing led to another and before I knew it, my letter was being read on air, as a lead-in to “Sometime Around Midnight.”

If nothing else, I think we converted Stephen Quinn, the program’s host, who tweeted: “The letter was brilliant. Thank you! I know them but will now dig deeper.” And on having to cut the song short: “So pissed we had to fade it under. My note for the early fade outcue was, ‘No! Don’t do it!'” Agreed, Stephen!

Anna Bulbrook’s Girlschool: Smashing Barriers, Smashing Success

Anna Bulbrook’s little festival grew into quite a big news event, generating an impressive amount of coverage – universally positive. There is clearly a thirst for what she is doing for the female music community.

As the festival opened, Dazed published an insightful interview with the founder. I had to laugh at her response to the question of whether it’s harder to collaborate with women than men; I assume she had her Airborne bandmates in mind when she said:

I think I semi-expected that to be true, because it’s a stereotype that exists. But I have found collaborating with women on writing music for the Bulls, or working with my crackerjack team at Girlschool, to actually be a far more free and direct process than some of my recent collaborations with men. Men have their own dynamics, egos, emotions, and politics as well. Everyone does! Making art is emotional, whatever gender you are, and bands are emotionally supercharged environments.

On the subject of the sadly still sexist music industry, Anna had some pointed comments, but also an inspiring vision.

Why aren’t there more women artists graduating from their local scenes to the next level? We supposedly “handled” this back in the 90s!

I think that music should be a safe space for everyone. Period. So I think standing up for what’s right – whether it’s standing up for yourself or someone else – is a good place to start. I also think creating intentionally positive pathways or environments for music, which is what we are trying to do with Girlschool, is another answer. And by the way, these pathways don’t have to be “female-themed” to be positive, either. There are myriad ways we can increase consciousness in our art form and the industry that surrounds it, and to make the world a more safe and free space for everyone.

I say: if the world doesn’t reach its arms out to you, then make your own, better one! And after a while, your new world will maybe grow to become the real one.

Anna also sat down with Take Part, with whom she shared a disheartening but unfortunately unsurprising truth about what she’s faced at times as a member of The Airborne Toxic Event:

“In the alternative rock world, there are very few female voices… There are also very few female side members in bands… People would think I was a girlfriend, or they would think I was the singer,” Bulbrook said, noting that as a classical  violinist who began playing at the age of four, she has the most professional music training of any of the members of the Airborne Toxic Event.

“I’ve been in the position where I was sort of asked to dress a little more provocatively to get a label executive to consider us more seriously,” Bulbrook added.

Like she said to Dazed, you would like to think we’d gotten past this kind of garbage, but clearly there is a long way to go – which makes her efforts all the more important.

“I call this the vitamin gummy approach to feminism,” Bulbrook said of creating an event stacked with a lineup of talented female musicians. “You make something that looks delicious, tastes delicious, but it also just happens to be really good for you.”

Live Nation TV combined their own interview with Anna with coverage from the first night of the festival. Asked about the future of the collective, Anna says there is definitely more to come.

We couldn’t plan this weekend without talking about all the other things we want to do. Unless lightening strikes, there will be a future for Girlschool. What that exactly entails, we’ll probably start planning it 24 hours after this weekend.

Finally, to tie a bow on our Girlschool coverage, here are a couple photo galleries worth checking out. LA Record provides a glimpse inside the event, while Jen Rosenstein took striking portraits of each Girlschool artist.

Toxic Gold

Missing Mikel? Us too. Remember that time he took the encore out to the street behind the venue?

GlenGlen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.

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Anna Bulbrook is ready for #GIRLSCHOOL. From Anna's Facebook page.

Anna Bulbrook is ready for #GIRLSCHOOL. From Anna’s Facebook page.

By Glen

So, I had an interesting discussion with a reader on Facebook yesterday, and I thought it would be worth bringing up in Toxicity, as I suspect there are other fans of The Airborne Toxic Event with similar questions.

If I may paraphrase my conversation partner, he is worried that Anna Bulbrook’s focus on The Bulls may jeopardize the future of The Airborne Toxic Event, and wondered why I am covering Anna’s band on a site that is dedicated to all things Airborne.

They are fair questions, fueled no doubt by a number of ominous-sounding posts from Mikel Jollett and other band members back in the fall when the Whiskey Machine tour came to a close.

I’ve written before that I firmly believe there is more to come from this band; no need to rehash my reasons why. While it’s entirely possible that I’ll be the Last Naive Man Standing (it would hardly be the first time), in the absence of any solid evidence to the contrary, I see no reason to believe that the break is anything other than what they have said it is: a temporary reprieve.

More to the point, I also don’t believe that Anna’s dedication to The Bulls precludes her from continuing to be a vital part of Airborne for a long time to come. It is exceedingly common these days for musicians to have multiple projects on the go aside from their primary gig. Just looking at some other artists that I follow: Arcade Fire fans recently flocked to support Will Butler as he embarked on a between-albums solo career; Killers fans do the same for Brandon Flowers; and Gaslight Anthem fans are currently packing clubs for Brian Fallon’s solo jaunt. Nils Lofgren of the E Street Band actually had his own winter tour booked, and then had to cancel it when The Boss abruptly announced that he was calling the gang back together for the River Tour. All of these artists and countless others manage to juggle a double career, and with Anna’s ridiculous work ethic, I have little doubt she can do the same.

Artists have a drive to create and to perform, and sometimes their art leads them to places that just don’t fit well within the context of their “day job.” It gives them a chance to show off a different side that we wouldn’t otherwise get to see.

Mikel has said that 75% of the music he writes, he doesn’t bring to the band because it’s not in Airborne’s wheelhouse. What if he were to come out later this year and announce that he’s putting out a moody solo album, and embarking on an intimate tour with nothing but his voice, a guitar and a bar stool? I for one would love to see it. Of course I would desperately miss the full Airborne experience in the meantime, and I would hope to hell that they would all be back after he got that bug out of his system. But it would be spectacular in a different way, and you can bet your ass I would cover it closely here.

It’s the same with Anna. Airborne Anna is my favorite Anna, and that’s never going to change. But for now, I’m enjoying seeing her shine in a different way than she does with the guys. And we can hardly hold it against her for following her artistic instincts and her heart’s passion – as much as it would devastate me if doing so ever led her away from Airborne.

Artistry aside, as a working class band, the members of The Airborne Toxic Event are not rich. If Mikel needs a year off the road and out of the spotlight to focus on writing new material (not to mention his own life), the others need to stay busy, and to continue to put food on their respective tables. Having irons in other fires is not only natural – it’s essential.

As to why I’m covering The Bulls, I guess I would ask, “Why not?” I’m a fan of The Airborne Toxic Event, obviously, and to me that means supporting each of the band members individually. I am inspired by their art in all its forms, and I want to cheer them on in whatever they choose to do. As a father of three girls, I find what Anna is doing with #GIRLSCHOOL to be particularly important and well worth trumpeting with whatever meager voice I’ve gained through This Is Nowhere.

And really, what’s the alternative? Things with TATE are so deadly quiet right now, I’ve essentially got two choices at the moment: cover Anna and The Bulls, or shutter TIN until whenever The Airborne Toxic Event emerges from their cave. I totally understand that there are fans who may tune out until Airborne takes center stage again, but I’d prefer to keep things rolling here for those who are interested.

Make no mistake: The Airborne Toxic Event is and will always be the raison d’être of This Is Nowhere. As I told a friend the other day, when Airborne is out, I am out. But until that day comes, I’ll be behind each member of the band, wherever their muse takes them.

Bulbrookicity

If you’re still with me, thanks for sticking around!

Anna really is the only game in town these days as it pertains to Airborne-related news. With her #GIRLSCHOOL residency beginning tonight in L.A., she has garnered lots of media attention of late. In the past week alone, she has been featured in four major articles, from Impose Magazine, Lenny, Spur and Goad, and buzzbands.la. All four interviews cover similar territory, so I’ll pick and choose from them as Anna explains how #GIRLSCHOOL came to be, and why it means so much to her.

When we were planning the [August 2015] residency, I had just visited Rock Camp and experienced the mind-altering force of a 9-year-old confidently asking me who my feminist icons were in rock music. The idea to make the residency female-fronted was originally a dare to myself and the team managing the Bulls at the time. I’m ashamed of this now, but we actually posed the question: Will we be able to find enough quality female artists to make this residency great? And the answer was a resounding yes, and then some! I didn’t have enough hours to program all the artists I wanted to include. So, while the idea pushed me to take risks on new artists and new genres of music, I was also blown away by the quality of every single band. All of these projects were excellent, on or above par with most of the male-fronted bands in the local scene. And the feeling in the room felt completely right — like the beginnings of something worthwhile. So, during the course of that month, the idea started to take on a life of its own.

No one put a gun to my head and said hey you have to make GIRLSCHOOL happen. It came out of a desire to do it and after we did the test run in August with the residency, it really took a life of its own. It’s been nothing but fun and inspiring.

When the residency wrapped up in August, I felt so much positivity from the artists and so much love from everyone and I felt I wanted to do it again and people were interested in doing it again. The residency was an idea I had and I put it together with the people who were managing the Bulls at the time. From there I was fantasizing about this festival and I started working on it with Kyle and then these two girls Jasmine and Adrien just started showing up. Talk about force multipliers, they’re insane, they’re amazing. So we were able to do a lot more. As we started talking about it we went from seeing what we could do for a day to two days to, screw it, let’s add Friday, let’s add a second stage too. We could have kept going with adding bands but we wanted to bite off something we could chew, make sure the bands could all get soundchecks and have a good experience because everyone is volunteering. I’m hoping that it’s great.

Rock in particular is pretty gendered still. One of the reasons I love GIRLSCHOOL is because at the local level there are so many incredible female artists and bandleaders and songwriters and performers. Every project at the residency was really high quality, and I was blown away by that. But then once you get beyond the local level, the bands that graduate tend to be male-fronted bands. As someone who is a woman on stage as a “sideman” for my job, I can’t answer the question as to why it’s so, but I have noticed that it is so, and I would like to be able to be part of creating critical mass to push more women out beyond the local level.

I personally feel incredibly lucky to be part of this connective nest that is arising. So. I want to know: how can women support each other? What are the shared experiences (or disparate experiences) in our professional lives? And most important: how can we make positive changes together to influence culture and legitimately shift the needle for the next generations of women? How can we show young women a variety of ways to be successful in the music industry, or in their professional lives? What things did we have, or wish we had, supporting us in our paths?

When you have a nine-year-old look you in the eye and talk to you about feminism and ask you questions about what it’s like to be a woman further down the road, it really makes you think. In fact, it inspired me to participate and create and not just sit back and be just a random person in a band. I mean, I love playing music, and music is really meaningful to me, but I want other people to feel empowered to do what they want to do in life, whatever it is!

Notice that Anna referred to herself as a “sideman” for her job. We all know she’s much more than that, but still – we can take comfort in the fact that she was speaking in the present tense about being part of Airborne!

Toxic Gold

Finally, because we could all use an Airborne fix, here’s an acoustic “Changing” – back when it was known as “Something You Own.”

GlenGlen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.

BowieBy Glen

Virtually every modern day musician cites David Bowie as an influence, and The Airborne Toxic Event is certainly no exception. Today we explore the connections between TATE and Bowie, before catching up again with Anna Bulbrook and The Bulls.

Jollett on Bowie

As tributes poured in for the dearly departed Starman on Monday, Mikel Jollett added his voice to the despondent chorus.

The meeting of which Mikel speaks took place in the summer of 2003, when he met up with the legend at his Soho studio for a Filter Magazine interview and sneak peak of Bowie’s new album, Reality. Here’s the full version of his Twitter-abbreviated story:

AND THAT’S WHEN THE clocks began to melt. We’d moved on to a discussion of the end of rock and roll. The fact that rock music was now caught in this self-referential spiral in which new artists no longer merely referenced older ones, but straight-up copied them – the exact same sort of denouement suffered by jazz and classical music, two art forms far more obsessed with their past than with their present or future. And just then, the publicist leaned in through the door, looked at me, pointed discreetly at her watch. The time was almost up. And it occurred to me that it was all ending too soon: the interview, rock and roll, David Bowie. And so it was at that point when we were discussing it, and at this point when we are documenting it, when it is perhaps best to get out of the way, and simply let the man speak, because he says great things and there is precious little time left…

“Let’s put it down to post-modernism. It’s almost like the cat is really set among the pigeons. When Nietzsche said, ‘There is no God.’ That really disturbed the 20th century. And it f**ked everything up – philosophically and spiritually – when he said that. And I think when the post-modernists in the early ’60s put around the idea that nothing new will ever be devised again, it kind of f**ked things up too. It’s a trickle down thing. That idea has definitely become part of our way of thinking. (He paused here, sensing a change in theme. A crossing over:) And you know, you do start to wonder: Radiohead, as much as I love them, is it basically a kind of Aphex Twin with a backbeat? You know, I mean, how new is that? And is that important anymore, I wonder. Should we not be quite so keen to think that the original is the be all and the end all? Our culture is put together… it’s style, not fashion – I’m very emphatic about that – style is how we put our culture together. It’s why we choose a chair. Because it looks a certain way. I mean, why bother? Why do we have a choice of chairs? We need to have that to kind of say so much about ourselves.”

He was staring down at his hands, folding a piece of paper, caught up in it. “But that’s what’s interesting about it. I’m older and the sense of idealism was so clear-cut in the ’60s. I remember when I was 16 or 17 years old. I was such an idealist about what could happen in the future and all that. I just don’t know. I can’t read whether younger people – and I won’t say “young people” because I would include you as “younger people” (he looked up at me) – actually can feel that sense of idealism in the same way that I probably felt it back in the ’60s. (So here was this odd little paternal moment between me and David Bowie. And it occurred to me that it could have been with just about anyone who reads Filter. I just happened to be there. He was thinking, and he kind of looked up and said) Is it harder for you guys to feel that there definitely are certain things that we should abide by?”

I answered him. It’s not important what I said. Feel free to fill in your own answer here:

____________________________________

____________________________________

____________________________________

“Yeah, the contradiction really f**ks you all up doesn’t it?” is his reply.

You could probably mail your answer to him. I’m sure he’d love to hear from you. Because Jesus, the guy is a sponge for the zeitgeist – chaos theory in mathematics, the search for a unification theory in physics (to no avail), the evolution of post-modernism to post-post-modernism to a return to a classicism and a search for meaning. I don’t know if he reads these books or talks to these people or if he’s just the sort of person that senses such things when he walks down the street – but one way or another, he knows it. He gets it. He’s soaked it up.

“I think now, we don’t have a God. We don’t have a trust in any kind of politics. We are completely and totally at sea, philosophically. And I don’t think we want new things. I think we’re kind of scrounging around among the things we know to see if we can salvage some kind of civilization which will help us endure and survive into the future. We don’t need new. (And then, emphatically) We are f**ked. We’ve got enough new. Enough! (He yelled into the ceiling. This is the moment, remember it.) I think we will feel a lot more content when we are able to accept that life is chaos. I think it was an awful thought 10 or 15 years ago. But I think we are beginning to become more comfortable with the idea that life is chaos and it’s as simple as that: it is chaos. There is no structure. There is no plan. We are not evolving. We have to make the best of what we got. And if we can become happy about that, I think we ought to be able to establish a lifestyle in which we are more content.”

Bowie’s inspiration of Jollett was more than merely theoretical. Rather, he had a very specific role to play in the genesis of The Airborne Toxic Event’s most recent record, Dope Machines.

Every so often, one song can change everything. For The Airborne Toxic Event, that particular number happened to be an A Capella version of Queen and David Bowie’s classic duet “Under Pressure”.

“Somebody played it for me, and it blew my mind,” declares vocalist and guitarist Mikel Jollett. “I made a decision to change my whole approach to music. I just wanted to be joyful about it. I wasn’t going to worry anymore. For the first three records, I thought mostly like writer. My mindset changed. It was about inventing a musical logic that was unabashedly catchy and rhythmic, but way weirder than anything we’ve done in the past.”

The closing lines of Mikel’s interview with the master are particularly poignant, given the events of this past week.

I began to review, but then the time was up. He said – “It’s lovely to have talked with you. I’m so sorry we don’t have longer…”

We are all sorry.

Condolences and Reflections

Of course, Mikel is not the only member of The Airborne Toxic Event to be touched by Bowie’s death. We already discussed the fingerprints Bowie left on Anna’s serendipitously released new single, “Prudence.” She also took to Twitter on Monday to share her thoughts:

Steven Chen had this to say:

Adrian Rodriguez, meanwhile, posted a tribute on Instagram, while Daren Taylor said all that needed to be said: “fuck.”

Anna Bulbrook: Blazing a Trail for Women in Rock

While the biggest news from Anna this week was the Bulls’ unexpected release of “Prudence” and its b-side “Alright,” the songstress also continued to beat the drum (metaphorically and, I suppose, literally) for her fellow female musicians.

After all the talk about the reigning perceptions of women in the music industry, and after my 9 years of being the lone female performer at the alternative radio festivals much of the time, I felt called to do something purely positive for other women and with other women. Getting to fashion this little celebratory nest for a community of brilliant, driven, and talented people to connect and ‘do’ with one another has been the most meaningful and satisfying project I’ve taken on in a really long time. There are a lot of formidable female minds out there doing incredible things; we just want to highlight and give weight to the excellence we already see around us. There is a power and a magic in getting everyone together. We hope to continue growing our community and its impact for a long time to come, and I should add that people of all gender identities are a warmly welcomed part of our whole thing! As we like to say, a rising tide raises all boats.

Anna is quickly becoming a spokesperson for women in rock, but it’s far from empty words. As the driving force behind this month’s #GIRLSCHOOL festival, she is not only giving other artists an opportunity to showcase their talents, but also raising much-needed funds for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls LA. It makes a fan proud.

Toxic Gold

Somehow Anna also found time this week to drop in on a local Dear Boy gig, where she joined the former TATE openers on stage for a rendition of “Ghost in You.” HT to Sean and Veronica for the recording, and to Elva for pointing us to it.

GlenGlen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.

Toxicity 90

Posted: January 8, 2016 in Toxicity
Tags: , ,
Anna Bulbrook and The Bulls will play the GIRLSCHOOL Collective's Field Day Weekend later this month.

Anna Bulbrook and The Bulls will play the GIRLSCHOOL Collective’s Field Day Weekend later this month.

By Glen

As expected, 2016 has come in like a church mouse for The Airborne Toxic Event. But while we all wait to see what the future will bring, a certain violinist is still here to keep us entertained.

Anna Bulbrook Goes Back to GIRLSCHOOL

The multi-talented Anna Bulbrook is quickly becoming a leading ambassador for women in rock. After her band the Bulls successfully hosted the all-female-fronted GIRLSCHOOL residency in Los Angeles last August, they are now taking it to the next level. GIRLSCHOOL is back in session for the 3-day Field Day Weekend festival, Jan. 29-31 at L.A.’s Bootleg Theater. More than a dozen artists will join the Bulls in a smorgasbord of gifted female musicians, with all proceeds to benefit the Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls. Click here for tickets.

Tying a Bow on 2015

As expected, there hasn’t been much in the way of Airborne news as we close the door on 2015 and enter what is expected to be a quiet year for the band. All we’ve been able to dredge up of late is a pair of photo galleries from the group’s set at last month’s Not So Silent Night in Denver, courtesy of Westword and Greeblehaus (Amie Giese, a big TATE fan), and some major kudos from Popdose, which placed both Dope Machines and Songs of God and Whiskey high up its Best of 2015 listing (in a tie for 5th).

The Airborne Toxic Event ranks right up there with The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus in terms of clunky indie pop band names from the 2000’s. But the music, oh the music, is so freaking phenomenal. From their breakthrough single, ‘Sometime Around Midnight’, onward, the band rarely releases anything less than a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. That said — a lot of their best stuff doesn’t wind up on their proper albums. They have a knack for recording one-take ‘Bombastic’ video versions of their songs and scatter them like Easter eggs on the YouTubes for fans to find. As richly as their studio albums are produced, there’s something magical about the Bombastic versions that deserves an eventual box set. I bring this up because this year they released an entire second album as a limited edition digital only bonus to their new album, Dope Machines. This surprise album, Songs of God and Whiskey, was almost immediately out of print. Head to their website to this day and they say it’s not available. Search iTunes or Amazon and you can find it with a little work. I bought it for $10 and it was worth every penny. I don’t get the business model of making your best work in years so damn hard to find (this NEEDS to be released on CD), but I digress. Let’s talk about the music.

Songs from Songs of God and Whiskey, much like Foo Fighters’ Saint Cecilia EP, were written throughout the band’s career — and playing them loud confirms why this band is so damn wonderful in the first place. Every instrument crackles and shines, the band is on fire.

The proper new album, Dope Machines, is a different affair. Their signature guitars and Anna Bulbrook’s viola are downplayed and synths are pushed to front and center. It’s a risky move considering that crescendo of strings IS the band’s sound. But the bold move pays off. Dope Machines is the band’s most uplifting and joyous album since their debut.

I think we can all concur with the author about the urgent need for Songs of God and Whiskey to be released on CD – and vinyl, while they’re at it.

The Sad State of the Music Industry

There’s been many lamentations of late about the current state of the music industry, with its ever-shifting business models and penchant for churning out sound-a-likes heavy on groove but light on content – an environment that is not particularly suited to groups like The Airborne Toxic Event, self-admittedly not a singles band. Now, two more influential figures have added their voices to the growing, ever-concerned chorus.

First to weigh in was award-winning singer, songwriter and producer T Bone Burnett, who had this to say in an op-ed for the Washington Post:

How bad is the problem? Consider this: In 2014, sales from vinyl records made more than all of the ad-supported on-demand streams on services such as YouTube. I’m not running down vinyl — it is still the best-sounding, most durable medium we have for listening to music, by far. But why should a technology most people consider outdated generate more revenue than an Internet service with more than 100 million American users? That’s just wrong.

Just two decades ago, a music superstar was born when her record went gold, selling 500,000 units. Today, experts say it takes 100 million streams to match that kind of success. Even the most relentless year-round touring schedule or advertising licensing deals can’t match the income that a hit record once produced…

For small and up-and-coming artists, the income collapse has been even more severe; copies of one-penny royalty checks are rampant on the Internet. These artists are struggling American small businesses, and the deck is stacked against them.

Noted music critic Neil McCormick, meanwhile, came at it from an artistic angle in The Telegraph:

Adele represents a throwback to a time when the whole world sang the same songs. It is the one album everyone will have heard or heard about. Interestingly, this sales success was achieved while the singer refused to allow her album to be streamed, the new favoured technology of music distribution.

In 2015, subscription services Apple Music and Tidal were launched to compete with the major established (but mainly ad supported) platforms of Spotify and YouTube.

There is nothing inherently bad about streaming. Indeed, if they can get enough subscribers for paid services, then it may yet prove to be the financial saviour of a music business that has been struggling since the internet came along. But streaming is having a negative impact on the kinds of music that people listen to.

When listeners don’t purchase an album, there is very little impetus to lavish love and attention on it or explore the work of artists in depth. Instead, streaming promotes individual tracks, often from curated playlists.

It is a form of internet radio, a competitive listening arena where the idea is to grab attention by any means possible. It favours the hook, the novelty, the high impact sugar rush of instant gratification, whether that involves bold DJ beats, histrionic singers, combative rappers or saccharine ballads from querulous singer-songwriters. It is a singles market, in other words…

Should it concern us that so much of this new pop is utterly formulaic, giving people what they already like with just a subtle twist? It is an odd paradox that an obsession with novelty should create an atmosphere of bland conformity.

According to John Seabrook’s behind-the-scenes look at modern pop production, The Song Machine, the peculiar sameness and banality of singles are a result of the huge teams of songwriters and producers required to craft even the most insignificant hit. Nobody seems worried that the depth, nuance and flavour of a song is sacrificed, as long as it sells….

The slow and sparse maturation of live stars might be a scary reflection of what is happening in the grass roots, slowly dying from lack of care. Down on the ground, small venues are suffering. It is estimated that 40 per cent of music venues in the UK have closed over the past 10 years.

Venerable live forums like the Sheffield Boardwalk and the Cockpit in Leeds have shut their doors. Promoters can complain about business rates and lack of government support, but the bottom line is surely that audiences  are uninspired by fading local and national scenes.

Low-level bands can’t afford to go on the road because tour support from record companies has all but dried up.

Big labels used to spend a lot of money on A&R, nurturing promising talent, and sticking with particularly interesting artists for the long haul. Not any more. So, while the virtual world expands, the physical space where communities of like-minded music fans can interact keeps shrinking. Vital support networks are dying.

And as fewer dynamic new performers with original perspectives break through, live audiences drift further away. It has become a big pop monster eating its own tail…

The year will also be remembered for the awful scenes at Paris’s Bataclan venue, a direct attack on music by forces of terror.

It should serve as a reminder of how important music actually is in the fabric of our lives, and why we need the freedom, creativity and community it represents more than ever. Somewhere, somehow, the spirit of great, world-beating, popular music with ideas, emotion and substance has to rise again.

Not to be outdone, our friend Julie posted her own thoughtful musings on the subject, exploring a number of alternative approaches that have allowed some artists to continue to produce meaningful work while actually not having to worry about whether it’s time to go look for a day job.

According to Nielson SoundScan’s 2012 report, the three remaining major record companies of the once “Big Six” now control 88.5% of the global music market (sales of CDs, music videos and MP3s). That would be Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group. In the age of the Internet, with rampant illegal downloading, music sharing on social media and the popularity of streaming services like Spotify and Pandora, sales, even of MP3s, have steadily decreased. There is no doubt that this is what has led to the current climate of label desperation, in their last-gasp efforts to maintain big profits.

This desperation has created, as I see it, an adversarial relationship between the artist and their fans. At the very least, these corporations, through their own petty financial fears and insecurities over losing their market stronghold (which began a long time ago), have bred a culture of distrust. Fans are viewed by these conglomerates much the same way that I see the squirrels in my backyard — running off with the goods (or the bird food) without so much as a “how do you do.” It then becomes the sole sales strategy of the label to find a way to force music consumers to pay for their music and punish them when they don’t, rather than trying to develop new business models and marketing strategies that adapt to the changing environment and cater to the specific tastes of each artist’s fanbase.

The music industry “old guard” has also set requirements for musicians that are so unrealistic and myopic that all but a small handful of top earners churning out mainstream dreck are destined to fall short. This includes expected sales figures, radio airplay, Shazam numbers and other metrics, demographics and analytics — while dismissing old-fashioned ideas of community building and consumer loyalty.

Even as The Airborne Toxic Event celebrates 10 years as a band in 2016, these issues are no doubt weighing heavily on the minds of the musicians as they plot a course for the future.

Toxic Gold

According to last fall’s TATE fan survey, a slight majority of us are traditionalists: we like our Airborne Toxins pure, not remixed. Nevertheless, here for your consideration is “Sometime Around Midnight: Robo Patrole Remix.”

GlenGlen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.