A couple of weeks ago I made a passive-aggressive remark toward the current "scene" of music - that new wave of substance, that for the most part, is already beginning to have its own breathe of "I want to do that!" talent. Like the upward cycle we've been on in the last couple of years, my concrete evidence of the regurgitation and lack of bracing challenge among the punk community is the ramped return of "Recommended If You Like" lines I'm getting in personal messages and press releases all the same. "Hey, I've read reviews saying you like this, this and this band. I know you'll love THIS NEW BAND!" Do you? Or do you know that I'm a cynical asswipe who thinks this new band does sound like those bands that I like - only not good. It's happening. The same thing that pissed me off as a teenager with those stupid stickers that labels would put on CDs to dupe you into buying their newest signings with hopes to turn a buck - I'm really seeing that trend strongly coming back as of late.
While good music will always and does continue to exist and blah blah blah, I agree. What is good and what isn't can be hard at a time like this. We're at the "everyone's on the bandwagon to be genuine" train because it's the hit thing right now. No matter how deep you get into the underground, everyone uses the same tricks as the mainstream uses to get buyers to jump through hoops. It's marketing, and it's genius. You guys made vinyl big again, and because of it, now Hot Topic is cashing in. It's fucking genius. Still, you kind of have to wonder why someone would pay upwards of $300 for a second pressing of Deja Entendu and no one has re-pressed that yet?! The music world is a funny place that way.
I'm getting off track as usual.
Then there are the reunions. Numerous ones at that. Music seems, for the most part, pretty damn good right now. Great bands. Great albums. Great labels. Grand community of self-worth and an overall sense of great leadership from some - but with respected leadership comes blind following. It's not just in the "hardcore" or "punk" scene either. It's everywhere lately. Commercials seem like washed out, forced internet memes to sell a soft drink, and the nostalgia of how cool a Nerf commercial was in its appealing "camp" is room to remember when a band was a band to be a band and how that will never die, but unfortunately it takes time to be recognized by the general public years later.
At the beginning of the month, I was given an advance of Duck. Little Brother Duck!'s Don't Take Our Filth Away. It was captivating from the start. While I could pin down a lot of influences of what the album pulled from, those influences cross a spectrum of bands I would never see on tour together or who probably never even listen to each other respectively. I'm not saying Don't Take Our Filth Away is a game changer, but it's certainly fresh among a sea of "too closed-knit communities" of late. That's where a banner decade can take a turn for the mundane only years later. This is where we experience the final breath of the third wave and the drudge of the fourth through sixth thereafter. Duck. Little Brother Duck!'s full-length showcases dynamics, tempo shifts and enough gang vocals (which sometimes get a bit annoying) to keep some sort of heightened appeal all the way through, even though repeat listens draw on the album's ability to run together just a bit too much. Those aforementioned elements draw an A.D.D. listener like myself to the album's captivating core of "we can do anything here and do it with confidence."
In short, Don't Take Our Filth Away is the first record of 2012 to completely take me by surprise and bring me coming back for more just in the first day. It contains elements of everything I want to continue to see among the young underground today and the older rockers with sharp chops as well. Duck. Little Brother Duck! took me a bit out of some of the boredom of the last few months. My most anticipated records have come out swinging so far this year from bands that already had my attention, but this time the one inbox listen on a whim pulled me away from what I knew I'd enjoy into something exciting from left field. I want more bands to do this to an elitist shit like myself. Don't buy into what's around you, buy into the spirit of what lives inside you. Don't try to be a part of something, make what you're doing the thing to do. It's that sort of confidence that will keep music interesting and lessen the gap of lulls throughout the years.
"The whole 'music sucks now' thing to me is so lame. Youths write me and tell me that their band will go nowhere because of all the bad bands in the world. I tell them there has always been awful music and that no great band ever wasted any time complaining, they just got it done. Their ropey ranting is just a way to get out of the hard work of making music that will do some lasting damage." - Henry Rollins, LA Weekly
The media can be damaging. I wonder how Lebron James felt Thursday as sports outlets put his career on the line in every segment leading up to game six. It's not enough to tell people what's going on anymore, it's also about how they should feel about someone or something that they're closely attached to. My biggest personal problem in working in the media industry is basically trying to figure out how to open people up to something I'm excited about, without forcing my opinions onto them as a final will and testament about anything. When I read the quote above from Mr. Rollins the other day, it got me thinking about how negative not only I, but media outlets everywhere, can come off towards something they're just "not feeling" or "extremely biased" towards in the passion of conveying any sort of message.
It's a catch-22 in this business and a cop-out at the same time. We have to pit what we think is good to what we think is bad. Every day we wake up and evaluate someone's progress to others around them. We tier and create caste systems that are bulit and torn down on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis of "best of" lists and hyped review systems of numbers and best new "something or other" to make us selfishly feel like taste-makers and give us some sort of worth in a job that a lot of people not in this business could do - if they weren't already out there making a real difference in society, like we maybe should be doing instead of this.
I'm not going to lie, I've had a pretty shitty day. The one good thing that happened today was getting to see my friends play to a packed house show. Our other friends played with them. All of their friends showed up. It was quite a special moment to be briefly part of. While I always hear about concerns of opening for touring acts from some, a good local show stacked with close friends excited about what's going on centrally is an enjoyment that should be had once in anyone's life - especially if you care about the heart and community of music in general. No matter how big you see a band get and tour with other bands from states away, the local aspect of music is and forever will be felt as a well kept moment among many. In that living room, basement or backyard - the people around you get it. There is no media judgement. There is no "anticipated next album" or expectations in general for that matter. There is only support.
I can't tell you how personally happy I am for the current local scene in Texas right now. A lot of great bands are doing not only great things right now, but the best ones have the most distinct sounds that I've heard writing and reviewing for a national outlet. I know it's not only going on here, it's going on everywhere. The excitement a local scene has is necessary to carry over into national takeover - whether that takeover is playing small rooms for five years, or hitting it big in two or three. The great thing about the hardcore scene that Rollins grew up in during the '80s was that sense of local community - from Chicago to L.A. to D.C. to New York - that carried into national word of mouth. Through it all, shitty music has always existed during it. There are some terrible bands that get big all over, and a budding underground that will never die within a specific region. You just have to go out there and seize the moment among the muck. If you have a unique voice to some, you may not be suitable for others - but there's always that some, and that's who you should give a fuck about.
Today I realized that I wouldn't be getting an opportunity that some of my friends received. I somewhat have my thoughts on why that is, and for the most part it has to do with my output as of the past year. I've said it before, but today - especially - it warrants another reminder: If you don't go out and bust ass and never lose steam, someone else is going to grab the crown. Someone else who also yields success will probably get it when you trip for even a moment. It's a dissheartening feeling when you don't stack up to the competition, but it should still make you think for the long run.
A friend said something that cut quite deep tonight: "I don't really care what anyone else is going to think about this album. I care about the people here and shows like this and what my friends think." I'm thankful every day that any of you give a shit what I have to say. The truth is that I'm half plagiarizing discussions that I quarrel with among my best friends on a daily basis. In the end, that's all I care about - success will eventually follow to any who do their best at what they're passionate about. It's not about how you don't like what's going on around you, it's about how you can go out there and change it and get people to recognize that. It's not about forcing your opinions on someone, it's about getting others to see a different take on music, ideas, politics, religion and the such.
I'm coming up on three years for this site and I hope I haven't eaten those aforementioned thoughts. My close friends continue to inspire me, and it's helped so much. I can't be anymore thankful for that sort of "local" support and challenge. Every quick minute to the crawling year we grow a bit against the grain of "awful" we deem around us as highly opinionated creatures. Mediocrity will always thrive - it's how we end up fighting it that's the best part of any long term goal in life.
There are a handful of elements I do not like about this job. Being a sort of "judgement call" for an entire demographic of people (whoever that may or may not pertain to) is one of them. I don't hold myself on a pedestal by any means, and the best thing I can deliver onto whoever reads any of this is simply insight. That insight comes from living and breathing every minute of my life to some sort of aspect of music. It's the choices I make on my iPhone on the way to work at 7 a.m. and it's the song that gets randomly stuck in my head during my shift and it's the hours I stay up late reading articles, books and writing til 3 or 4 in the morning sometimes. It's the bands I heavily research and the talks among musical friends. So, if anything, yes, that makes me an authority on some sort of level. Yes, I feel very well educated in what I say. I feel so educated in fact, that sometimes I have to lower myself to the world around me. In working for a site that caters to a whole demographic of young mushy minds and those older elitist scum like myself, sometimes I loose it and go, "Really? No! Stop! I'm not going to let this cycle of bullshit run its course this time." On Friday, I lost it with this.
To repeat myself, because I stand by what I said: "If there's more press about the drama of your band rather than the music it produces. Quit."
Now, some of you guys found that to be an ignorant statement. Some of you guys agreed with me. That's great, I haven't been attacked in some time (well, since SXSW anyway...) and since I was at work during most of the discussion dealing with a whole other breed of idiots, I was only able to rebuttal to an extent. Tonight, after giving some thought to the original quote, I'll open up some more about my feelings toward this situation, and one that isn't the first time in the last couple of years, well, as someone pointed out, since music's great pop stride, has gone on forever. With understanding that, you also have to understand a set of variables. To say every band doesn't have a bit of drama (even The Partridge Family had their tiffs) would be an understatement. As those cases of tabloid/PAGE SIX news reels throughout the blogging network these days, it seems to take precedent over a lot of the substantial news that SHOULD be covered. That's not only in music. The Daily Show thrives off exploiting the major news networks of too much glitter whored across their reputable titles as gatekeepers. What do we do? The public eats that shit up! You fuckers love drama! Take a look at this week's top stories. At least half of the top stories (more than half if you count The Offspring single thread) were drama induced. Most comments. Best memes. You guys know the drill.
The thing is, and especially after working for this site for close to three years now, the younger these bands are getting, the more I hear about their drama in the news feed than I actually hear about their music. Again, the statement wasn't directed specifically at He is We or their music (subjective to argue, but bland to my ears) - it's about how sometimes I log on in the afternoon and the feed looks like a fucking high school gossip page of "he said, she said" bullshit. (Limp Bizkit reference. Check.) Yes, I may have used the term "Disney bullshit" a bit loosely in my original argument, but if there weren't behind the scenes mechanisms working on a "press release" or "statements" that are now being refuted - then something is up. It's not about the music - it's about an image, and that's the biggest part of this job that I'm sick of. Jason wrote a pretty blunt statement the other day, and there's really not much more I can add to it, because it just about sums up my point.
Drama happens. We're all human. Some of my favorite bands have certainly been through the ringer and some of the biggest bands have made it to countdowns of insane rock and roll moments that I watch on Vh1 over and over again. But those larger bands also have staked some sort of stock in this business a long time ago. After some time and some well followed music, those bands' drama ousting never overshadowed their work. With all the praise that The Dangerous Summer get musically, even their biggest fans are sick of the bullshit. Their external perception, this rock star image, is beginning to overshadow who they are as musicians. It used to be, when a band had problems, they took some time and regrouped - or just called it a day and accepted their small spot in history to someone - whether it was big or small. There's always tomorrow. If you were a band that gave your all to music and that made a "genuine" or "substantial" impact to even a minority, there's always a chance to get back on the horse - I mean, every band ever is reuniting right now - maybe in ten years, we will turn another cycle out of side stage cult followings. Maybe a bunch of kids will pull out their neon t-shirts and find those MP3s that were taken off their iPod to make room for their new favorite band because you couldn't get your shit together, or were managed by people who couldn't be as honest as you wanted to be about a situation. Honestly, any time anything is dragged through the mud and taken out back to be shot - a lot of people suffer. I can say this because I've seen it, I've read about it and I can tell you that He is We's situation is not the first - but maybe it's a mark to head in the right direction.
There is a moment of clarity in everyone's life where they realize that they can be easily bought and sold on their weaknesses. The reasons for you hating Warped Tour are the same reasons the kids older than us hated it when kids my age were going. The thing is, it's getting worse. Every band used to have to bust ass to last almost a decade if not more - those bands made a mark with their music that resonates today, and they did it without trying to have an image (their own, not one given to them by the media). It's a mark that makes us stoked about these small one-off reunion shows and so on. A lot of those bands have the Internet to thank for that - but they were also around at a time when there was a benefit to being blogged about - now it seems that some have taken the phrase, "There's no such thing as bad press," a bit far. The cool blogs are running puff pieces - or some blogs are Tiger Beat reincarnated for the technical age. That's why I made the statement I made. That's why I stand by it. It's my job to make those kinds of statements. If you've ever watched any of the "Rage Quit" videos on YouTube, that's how I feel most days of the week. That's the kind of shit you guys seem to care about. You say you're punk rock, but you're being sold an image from someone who doesn't know shit about punk rock, doesn't know shit about three to four years of D.I.Y. and VFW Halls. When Panic! At the Disco recorded an album before they even played a show and got inked - it was an image and sound that has been bought and sold for at least five solid years now. It is a distinct bubblegum-pop underground, just packaged to a different demographic. Guess what, I'm calling these bands out on it. I'm calling their managers out on it. I'm calling their labels out on it. As good as the underground punk and hardcore scene is right now, that mentality will seep into the cracks. It has through every genre ever. It's just a matter of time before wafting shit and eating stale saltines that "sound pleasing" because you've just given up.
"Angry without a message or a meaning. When I got into punk and hardcore we were proper outcasts. We got into fights with the pretty boys that nowadays seem to be the bands. We were ugly and stupid and no girls liked us. They still don’t. Now it seems like all the jocks and pretty boys got themselves some fresh Ink and everyone loves them...This is just another boyband. Maybe it is more appropriate to compare it with the 90s Hairmetal. Music that claimed some sort of metal stamp but was just supercommercial and substanceless music. Yeah, that’s what is happening. Music has no meaning, no substance. It just about haircuts and tattoes. We are living in horrible times." - Dennis Lyxzen (Refused, The International Noise Conspiracy)
This has been quite a week for music. I've seen plenty of great shows this week ranging from huge reunions to touring friends and local acts in an intimate setting. I saw a show on campus and one that I very much needed. They were all different: different styles, different ages, different places in their respective careers.
Still, I can't get this quote from Robin Davey out of my thoughts: "If you think that anyone cares what your music means to you, they don’t – they only care what your music means to them..."
Pretty amazing to think about for a second. Really think about the quote. Not only think about what particular music means to you, but also the understanding of when something that was creative and an outlet for someone else then turns into a gift, a commodity, product, song, album or lyric, etc. that now holds new meaning to you outside its original context.
The above quote (thanks to Cathy over at Sargent House) has been stuck in my head most of the week. It was stuck in my head while watching both new and old favorites. It's been in my head thinking about big festivals viewed in our homes - and those up close to the sound and action. I thought about it on the way home last night thinking about a girl, a family death - among many other business things I all had running through my thoughts as I carefully selected what was coming through my car speakers. It didn't matter who was driving in the car with me the other night - it was just my thoughts and my musical choices over them.
Think about this quote and we'll discuss it more later this week when I gather a more complete thesis statement.
All I wanted was a set of ear plugs. I couldn't find the pair I had brought and searched frantically past the pills of Mucinex, my headphones and random stickers and swag in my backpack only to come up short. So as a friend told me they were giving away some at the front of the venue, I made my way through the crowd only to be berated five times with a what looked like a plastic discount card containing a code to some website for something I was supposed to check out at some point, but instead ended up tossing every single one handed to me in the trash on the way back to the outside stage. Maybe it was the fact that I was fighting a cold brought on by the lovely Texas weather of the weekend prior or maybe it was the muggy weather that made me feel back at home and worse, or maybe it was the exhaustion of sleep and lack of food between putting on shows, going to shows, writing reviews (I gave that up halfway through the week) or the fact that everyone was partying around me and I looked like an extra in The Walking Dead. Needless to say, this South by Southwest wasn't a blast like it was last year - and the hoards of sponsors shoving their products in my face wasn't helping this punk rock kid enjoy himself past how rundown his entire body felt. I don't mean to sound like a grinch off the bat here. Because through all the muck, I saw a lot of inspiring things last week. I met a lot of inspiring young artists and talked to a lot of people that have come up from the underground to make the system work for them and make a career out of it. So before I get into my mental frustration, let me try to rundown the positives of the week and the reasons I didn't send Jason an e-mail on Monday saying, "Fuck this, I'm out. The system blows, and I don't want to be a part of it anymore."
During the week, I ended up putting together four shows (one of which I unfortunately couldn't attend due to prior commitments - which included our showcase in that mix), and putting on said shows, I brought in some talent I thought worth "showcasing" and some new acts that really blew me away. Mountains For Clouds really grabbed my attention the most early in the week and was the standout at the Count Your Lucky Stars showcase on Wednesday. Thursday's line-up felt underrated as hell. Mansions and Aficionado played the same venue last year to practically no one, and this year they packed in the biggest crowds of the night. Travis Shettel of Piebald even showed up to perform "Honesty" with Aficionado. Mansions played a couple of new tracks Christopher Browder has been working on for the new album. If Dig Up the Dead was his breakthrough, I expect the next record to be huge hearing these new cuts live. Then there was Look Mexico performing one of their best sets yet. A truly underrated act among the masses of the "defenses of pop-punk" - scholarly on another level past what I think some listeners can even grasp. A Great Big Pile of Leaves played to only about 25 kids. But they were attached to every word, and as the band knocked out a 40 minute set, all 25 kids were chanting for an encore. Like I said before - past all the "hype" going on downtown - that moment was bigger to that small crowd than anything else - that moment, to them, will be held special for a long time.
The show I put together Saturday was really something else though. It was a mixed bag of rock and roll to say the least, running the gambit of razor cuts and brash fury. Silver Snakes hopped on at the last minute and blew me away with their biting edge of alternative rock. The split set from Full of Hell and Code Orange Kids was something else altogether though. I already see Code Orange Kids being the biggest hardcore act of 2012 (the band are preparing to hit the studio to record their full length, discussing final plans last week), but it's their live show that just destroys. There are very few times when the heaviness of a band can transfer from album to show without feeling overly gimmicky and a bit misogynistic and so aggressive it's a bit laughable - but following in the steps of bands like Converge and even contemporaries like Trash Talk and Ceremony - Code Orange Kids are young and they're ready to tear shit up and bring their music to life in front of you, and I saw it at every show I watched them play last week. I let Full of Hell split the set, and they didn't disappoint either. It makes me even more excited to know there's another young band out there attempting something a bit outside of everything many kids will (and starting to RIYL a bit too much) base their new suburban bands around. Also, Jowls was the loudest band I heard all week - their new record is the real deal and I'm glad I got to see it play out in front of me. Seahaven put on a performance that will have me pay closer attention to the four piece in the future. All of this happened in a fucking pizza shop - that's what really blew my mind, that I even pulled off something so small when a 56-foot tall (?) Doritos machine is just five minutes away, and according to some, the best sounding stage of the entire week.
Before I get into the downer end of the week - I have to give thanks to Sargent House, and specifically Cathy Pellow for always putting this industry into perspective for the lost soul and fighting punk rock anarchist that lies heavily inside me. The consistency of Sargent House's roster is one thing we as subjective critics can argue, but the showcase on Friday night only proved my sentiments toward the label, and there wasn't a doubt it wouldn't otherwise. While it didn't contain any "secret sets" like last year, Pellow showcased a lot of the label and management's newest talent. Marriages (three parts of Red Sparrows) floored me with their performance of the entire Kitsune record. The album is one thing I can't get enough of lately, but to see it come together live and so flawlessly was entrancing. I was anticipating Indian Handcrafts, but a few live videos I searched across YouTube left me a bit weary. The tone, rawness and tight ship that came out of the two Canadians that night put whatever Death From Above 1979 had to offer last year to *ahem* death and any negative viral video notions I may have loosely had about their live performance in the same coffin. Then there was Chelsea Wolfe. Simply jaw dropping. Something of a cross between the vocal layering of tUnE-yArDs, the elegance of St. Vincent and the vocal eeriness of Thee Silver Mt. Zion, Wolfe is a real deal and she pulls all of it off more vibrantly live.
Finally this year, Absolutepunk.net made its presence known at the shit show of a festival. Packed into a 500 person cap of Purevolume House, we had quite a line-up. But alas, our showcase was the most troublesome for me to cope with. Each band put on a terrific set, but the night boasted one of the most heartbreaking moments I've ever seen at South by Southwest. For all the bands that stirred shit up and put on a show or a fight or pitched a new product or whatever their soapbox was for the week (not necessarily at our show, but in general) - I watched as one of our users, setting up for only his third show ever, had the curtain fall on him before his festival moment. Due to technical difficulties and wiring troubles none of us could figure out, Malcom Lacey (Arrange - user: WakeUp) didn't get to perform. Here's a kid, no gimmick, only hyped by the likes of ourselves and Pitchfork, getting a moment and having it taken away due to unforeseen technical issues. For some reason, that hurt me. I think deep down inside, I wanted to see something special that night. I'd seen all the other bands and I knew they were capable of pulling a great show (I mean, that's why we booked them - bangarang, amrite?!), but I wanted to see Lacey get a bigger chance, and I think I wanted to see this special South by Southwest moment of unnoticed talent on a larger scaled stage go noticed. It didn't happen, and it was gut-wrenching. Now, add that moment early in the evening to the crowds of belligerent drunks, half filling the room with disinterest in what music the showcase had to offer and more what the bar had to give them for free past 2 a.m. when 6th Street shut down its services, some attempts of attendees to get into an "exclusive" V.I.P. area that wasn't that big of a deal and the line of people who didn't get to see the show because of it - it was just disheartening. I even got to meet Adrian Villagomez, one half the reason I started working for this site, but it was all cut short by the bullshit of the evening. For some reason it all got to me. All the bullshit of South By Southwest ruined this bigger moment.
My one day and night in the pit of downtown Austin for South by Southwest was miserable. The bands I wanted to see were great - don't get me wrong. I was lucky enough to see Say Anything blaze through themost punk rock set of the entire week, and it made me think about this: for every harsh critic on the web or in print, there's always ten fans there screaming every word to both songs old and new. That's rewarding in seeing. I finally got to see Braid not outside a venue looking through the glass and leaving three songs in. I saw those three songs again, and more, five feet in front of me. I saw the band help out a marriage proposal. To me, that's the special moments of South by Southwest. It's those small moments when you forget you're at a festival the size of Disneyworld, and you feel you're just at a show watching Foundation stir shit up like it was any other night they were holding the crowd's attention from the pit's perspective. One of the best parts of South by Southwest is that I got to spend it with my friends in Former Thieves for the most part between both our hectic schedules. The guys played 9 shows in six days. One day they played three shows. That's insane to me, but it's not an uncommon element for South by Southwest either. The guys' first show was a house and their last was the closing of a bar on Sunday when most of the tourism had cleared itself out. It wasn't their "official South by Southwest" show that was their favorite. It was their last two - a pizza parlor and opening what could be deemed a hip-hop extravaganza featuring Bad Rabbits and Doomtree - both killed it as well.
It's not that my South by Southwest experience was completely miserable. I only had to sit through a handful of awful bands (mostly all Wednesday afternoon leading up to fun.), it's just that the business end of the deal ruined the enjoyable aspect of the annual festival this year around. I took notice of it more. I took notice of the crowds that stood in line for free booze and food instead of the line-ups on the bills. I'm not even talking about a lot of the official showcases that went on, I'm referring more to how overrun the majority of free shows have become. There are more venues and more companies and more sponsorships and more of "COME SEE ME!" for all the wrong reasons. Maybe all this hate and anger is just steaming off the little punk rock kid inside me that won't die. If I sound bitter, it's because I wish a bit of the deadwood, the party, the ad-space that the festival has become would die off a little bit and that it would just be a bunch of shows to check out or being able to see a band you love in an intimate setting for free and not standing in line while half the room is just there for all the free shit and "to just be there" - and this is coming from someone who has no problem getting into much of anything during the festival without a badge.
Maybe this year, because I was more involved with the production of South by Southwest, I began to see the festival from a whole other light. The fact is I couldn't believe the small amount of crowds for some showcases and the long lines that lasted blocks around the corner for others. It just doesn't make sense to me. The business end of it all doesn't make sense to me. At the end of the day, I'm no authority and I'm no one special. I'm just a guy who writes for a website to offer some insight and to unload his thoughts and confusions and to stir discussion. That apparently is not an occupation at South by Southwest or this industry. So instead, I just want to be dead with my friends. Until next year, goodnight and good fucking luck.
I know I've been a bit absent since my "Day Two" entry of South by Southwest, but the final two days of the week were the most exciting, the most rewarding, the most confusing and the most frustratingly exhausting days of the week and the year thus far. I keep blanking out the past few days thinking about how I'm going to unload a lot of what's on my mind, my future in this industry and how a lot of people have given me hope or shown me that there are sharks in every tank of this business.
I think that's the biggest term I had a problem coping with as I was having lunch Sunday afternoon - trying to separate the term "business" from all of this, while figuring out how to make a living off of whatever this is as well and intact some sort of integrity into it all. Finishing that Xerxes review last night was one outlet and stepping back into the interviewing game tonight was another. Standing in a room filled with kids who were eating up something that I couldn't grasp for the life of me made me feel a disconnect - a disconnect I felt on and off throughout the week. It may not be as simple as "getting older," and I hope it's as positive as "getting wiser" as well.
I'm going to get some sleep. Get up tomorrow and sit down with my headphones intact and just unload on TextEdit. What you get on Thursday morning (late Wednesday night) will be my best at explaining why I may give this all up soon or be inspired to keep fighting the good fight - whatever that may be past what I think it is in my head after this week.
South by Southwest was a blast for the most part - I just don't have business cards nor do I care about "hype" bands. Maybe that makes me the outsider - or maybe I just wanted a bit more hate moshing during Darkest Hour - that's all I'm saying.
Yesterday I jumped on the chance to do our weekly Wednesday Spotlight. I wanted to feature Narrows - my most anticipated artist of this year's South by Southwest festival. I'm unbelievably stoked to see these guys, so much so that I'm going to go well out of my way in an attempt see them twice this week. Besides the shows I'm putting on, I've basically built my schedule around them. After spending my first few hours of actual South by Southwest at a house show with Former Thieves, the sudden anxiety of bullshit sort of rushed over me again, a feeling I sort of repressed in the good times being had the past 24 hours. That sudden rush was an epiphany in a positive light. See, I was at a house, a good few miles South of the main festival, and people were there to see not only the opening locals but the touring bands as well. To them, the insanity of downtown meant so little to them, and it was this more intimate moment that really meant more to such a finite minority. And it's these nuances of South by Southwest that give me an untouchable, unspoken, subconscious hope.
Tonight's Topshelf Records showcase was pretty eye opening in the best way. Besides Topshelf being one of my favorite labels (the showcase also featured acts from Run For Cover, No Sleep and Count Your Luck Stars - community!), it was about all the feelings I had in last year's final write-up that suddenly came rushing back. It's the excitement on both the bands' faces and the attendees' body language. It was the stage dives, the open pits and crowded inside stage. People felt close to the music - they felt like they belonged to something, and probably more importantly, something they deemed as special to them. It was great to see so many people I regularly hold conversations with over social platforms, text and e-mail. Those conversations face to face in a personal moment felt more refreshing than those we have held over a public forum.
At the end of next week I'll probably draw up some rant about how "punk rock is still alive" and everything is going to be just fine in the face of continual mediocrity and the like. Really that rant will just reinforce some sort of status over me that I hold no more than any one of you going out to the smallest of house shows to see your friends' bands open for their favorite touring bands, or maybe even making it into that big official showcase somehow to see a band you've been yearning to catch for some time now. This week isn't about us as journalists, publicists, managers, industry snobs, elitists and trend hoppers alike (they all say he's a righteous dude…) - this festival should be about getting excited for music in the cramped four days. But let us also remember to carry those feelings of excitement and discovery into the rest of the year. Why just give gifts on Christmas? Why only care about a person on their birthday? Cut the egos, put away the business cards and let's all just party, pump our fists, jump in excitement and hell, maybe even stage dive if the venue will let you. Fuck the agendas of this industry, let's enjoy some tunes, talk it over with our closest friends behind the scenes and on stage, and keep close to whatever your tastes in the art may be for the next four days.
Yesterday the social airwaves were taken over by a viral video from Invisible Children. We saw it on our feeds, watched as people met it with positive, negative, and even trolling opinions of the video and we all learned more about Joseph Kony in one afternoon than some of us had ever known about this horrid person before. To be honest with you, I watched only about half the video before I turned it off in disgust of what someone would do to others, especially children. (In that sense, the purpose of the video made its mark I guess.) All of the research and commentary I read thereafter happened outside a classroom, a library, without news networks or periodical publications. After about an hour of going back and forth between arguments for and against the video's relevance and the organization behind it, I realized that none of the links I clicked on were "official press releases" or news network pieces - they were found throughout blogs and social airwaves. Even a piece from one of the heads of the organization defending statements made about the Kony 2012 video and Invisible Children was released over his Facebook. For about an hour's worth of reading opinions and what could be taken as fact or fiction depending on the side of the piece being discussed, I just sort of subconsciously said to myself, "It must be true. This is a reliable source. It's on a page that looks legit." Then I clicked and clicked and clicked and ideas and discussion gathered like a game of Katamari Damacy.
We somehow just sort of put our trust in the systems of people that we "know" through various social portals to never lie to us. Well, spoiler alert: people lie, exaggerate, embellish a lot of things all the time. It's not the way America works, it's the way the world as a whole works on the largest level of interest to the smallest feeling of self-interest and feeble behaviors we have every single day. We're all guilty of it. Because of this, at the beginning of last month, I turned my social network off completely. No Facebook. No Tumblr. No Twitter. No feeds. If I wanted information I either had to consciously search for it or it had to be told to me in person, by text, e-mail, and other personal and business devices off the now "normal" grid. For a minute there, it was relieving. Without hours to waste on social feeds moving from one story to the next, I got a bit more work done. I sat in a room and paid more attention to conversations being held in front of me than what was happening to everyone else that wasn't in the room sharing the moments that mattered at that time. After about two days, I realized that I was more aware of my surroundings, and less worried about others.
Here's the drawback to all of this: you reside outside the "now" of everyone else. Everyone else. Your friends ask you if you saw "that post" or if you witnessed the "twitter debacle" and so on. We even broke information on Jonny Craig from a fucking Tumblr post the same week I was off said grid. That blows my mind. Do you know I see news on my social networking feed a few minutes, sometimes an hour before I get a press release or see the information on a respectable news outlet (if those exist anywhere…) Then there's the "keeping quiet." Being in the know and telling a few friends is a dangerous business these days. There's the person who wants to get that information out first for more hits or showboating or whatever it may be, and then there's containing it outside social webs such as Facebook and Twitter. I mean, was Ryan Gosling really at the Boston American Nightmare show? Or did we just believe it because a trolling joke gained enough momentum from a few people we inherently, but blindly trust because we're part of their inner circle of knowledge by either close relationships, business networks or even the casual retweet.
Yet still, we've all sort of bought into the social system of trust. That system is sort of necessary when things like the Invisible Children video exists. It's necessary to open discussion for both sides of the topic, or any topic of that matter that may arise with heated feelings on either side of those educated or uneducated about a particular topic. What I mostly witnessed today was the blind leading the blind in said discussion. There were comments I read both for and against the video that were simply ignorant. Creating awareness of any issue has to be met with an open mind and open discussion - I think that's why I wanted to step away from social feeds for at least a week, because I wanted to see where my discussions brewed from - was it my ideas based on research or based on "public" opinion. With social networks, we've taken the concept of morning radio and have essentially given everyone a microphone and their own personal booth to blurt out any insane thought that pops into their head. It's sort of the reason why I stayed away from Twitter for so long, and how I've realized I'm now part of the problem having manned one currently. Through all the profound thoughts we share, there's so much muck of sarcastic and irrelevant conversation that exists among relevant intellectual property worth talking about.
Tomorrow starts the first part of South by Southwest with their "interactive" portion of the festival. These are the days based around tech heads and business solutions. What will technology do for their business and their brand? People want their products out there, and with of social networking, sharing, (re)tweets, reblogging and one giant clusterfuck of continual handing off of this thing (thing defined as a story, a product, a craft, brand, etc.) - I don't think anyone really has a real clue if any of what they try to harness is really working, and when something out of the ordinary happens with a new venture (Kickstarter, Bandcamp, Rdio and Spotify, turntable.fm to name a few in the current state of the industry), everyone goes into a day-trading frenzy of trying to figure out how they can make the concept work for them. It's seeing someone with something different and special and wanting to feel a part of it somehow. Traced all the way back to our young days of trends on the playground, basically no one wants to be left out of the know. As we grow older, that concept turns into wanting to be successful in some way that contributes something to the whole, it's an older subconscious version of wanting to "fit in" and be part of the "cool" club - just on a business level where you make money instead of trading POGS or baseball cards.
The thing is that we live too far into the future to turn back from gaining most of our information from hundreds of voices and sharing of links. I think today's actions held by many about a video many of us would have not seen had it not been for these social airwaves just goes to show how far away we are from getting a grip on how to properly open discussion about real issues using these systems we generally share memes and dick jokes on. This entry isn't to make you aware of Joseph Kony, you should be more than aware of who he is, what Invisible Children does or doesn't do by the end of today or you missed the point of having a social feed to begin with: these are the new town halls and community centers of outreach. We'll never truly grasp that concept until we open ourselves up to others and hear what they have to say, as opposed to either following what they have to say or simply rejecting it based on our "knowledge" or "opinion" we stubbornly adhere to. Tonight on Gunz's interview with Jason (ahem, with no mention of mwah?), he said something pretty important not only about this website, but I took it as it resonating more so, "Other websites want to talk to you…we want to talk with you. We want to have a discussion about new music..." While putting that quote in here seems a bit biased, replace website with anything - a chat room, your social feed, a tweet, commenting on a news article. This entry isn't about Kony 2012. This is entry is about how open you were to knowing more when you may have just heard about it today. How open were you to sharing your knowledge as opposed to turning up your nose because other people were just now in the "know" of things? How open were you to hearing another side of the then issues brought up about Invisible Children as well as the organization's defense - and then forming an opinion? I'm not here to tell you how you should feel, I'm here to discuss why you feel that way you do for or against my opinion of this story or any other for that matter. The next time we talk, I'll be telling you what exciting things I witnessed during the "music" portion of South by Southwest. But honestly, I'll be more interested in what you were stoked on - because without that, I'm just sitting here in my boxers and a t-shirt talking to a wall.
If anyone read my last entry, it may have been hard to follow - then again - most everything I write usually only makes sense to me. While I'm way more excited for the week of South by Southwest than I would lead myself or any of you readers to believe, I suffer enough from anxiety on a personal level, it always tends to bleed into my work. Those "great" points I make aren't methodical, they're generally neurotic and paranoid to the point of trying not to over-think the subject at hand. To me, there is no right or wrong defined in music (no matter how drunk and belligerent some conversations have gotten between me and others), just a means to gather more and more information in hopes of coming close enough to a conclusion without ever actually getting there, and therefore leading any topic to a never-ending open discussion. (See what I mean by over-thinking things?)
Tonight I came home to two things - one positive and one negative. I opened my inbox with a response from Converge vocalist and Deathwish Inc.'s Jacob Bannon. It read: "Thanks for that. I feel that you touched on something that a lot of critics/writers miss that aspect of what's been going on in the last decade or so in "heavy" music..." His response really left me staring at my screen for a few minutes. I said something that's been missed? I've said nothing that I believe a lot of people are thinking, that's my job as a critic, right? To sift through the bullshit? Where is the the term "bullshit" defined in an area of subjectivity like music? With no clear definition, the battle between what is authentic and what is processed to turn a buck continues I guess.
Then I read Patrick Stump's melancholy, heartfelt and truthful editorial. Coming from someone who has never been a Fall Out Boy fan, this column covers every aspect as to why music fans are their own worst enemy and on the same level of elitism they see publications to be and so on. A friend the other day was telling me a kid was removed from Anthony Green's solo show because he kept heckling Green to play more Saosin tracks after Green explained to him that "Seven Years" was just something special for the tour. Apparently the same fan berated obscenities toward Green like a small child who stops the world when he or she doesn't get his or her way. Over what? Trying to stretch a nostalgic moment longer for personal enjoyment instead of accepting the moment as something special? Have we become so attached to the past that we can't embrace beauty in the future? How many people listened to Soul Punk expecting more Fall Out Boy instead of opening themselves up to a new chapter for which it was? We all break in shoes, buy new cars and eventually throw away or even sell or thrift our favorite tattered t-shirts that once held special moments. (Maybe these aren't the best examples, but it's one in the morning, I'm trying to make some sort of sense.)
Stump's point on growing up is one many of us as music consumers tend to overlook. Some artists start their career mathematically trying to construct perfect architectures (we can't all be Godspeed guys, c'mon), but like Fall Out Boy, Thursday, Thrice and countless other bands we oh-so sit high on the throne in our musical tastes and judgements - they were young kids with nothing to lose attempting something that at the moment meant nothing more to anyone else but them. At that same time, we were young trying to figure it out as well. What I as a writer have yet to solve in this equation is where we lost that connection as our tastes evolved our favorite bands grew as well. Was it that we drifted apart like we do in our personal life with friends when our ideals and nuances take separate paths? Is it that simple? Or do we live in such a fast paced world that we don't have time to sit down and fully hear what someone is trying to explain they learned in trying to improve themselves? Are we that closed-minded in what we're comfortable in understanding?
As I sift through these showcases both official and unofficial during South by Southwest, there is a lot of "Who the fuck is this?" circling my head. There's also, "Wait, these guys still make music?" boggling around in there too. I don't know about anyone else reading this, but music, my favorite bands, they're like friends to me. They were there when I needed them most. Sometimes when we talk, we're not always on the same page. Sometimes growing up means finding a common existence of acceptance among conflicting ideals and beliefs and creation. It's about meeting new people who do share a common ground as well. People apologizing about not liking the new fun. album (or any new edition to a favorite band's catalog for that matter) is unnecessary. Their career is more ruined every time someone yells out a Format song at a show. The subjectivity in music is more positive than we lead ourselves to believe or act out. The negative aspect dips into opening our mouths in critiquing the present based on the past. That's why it's the past, it's over. The moment was there, we shared it and nostalgia is meant to be something special, not a bar we deathly have to hold onto. When I sat down to write the Narrows review, I didn't want to tell you how much I missed These Arms Are Snakes or how it sounds like Botch in some aspects - I wanted to tell you what Painted means presently.
Like one of the best scenes in Spaceballs, let's live in the now-now. 2012 is happening now. Let's talk about how Every Time I Die's Ex-Lives is one of the best records of 2012 in terms of guitar play and satirical commentary and talk less about how it compares to the band's other releases. I had a conversation with a good friend a couple of weeks ago about how anxious I am to live up to my final statement about last year's South by Southwest, how I hope I can live up to that in some way on a personal level. He just smiled at me and said it'll come once I get through the week and not to worry about living up to anything for anyone beyond myself. So on that note, fuck the past, continue to move forward and if at any point conversations among friends, attempts to grasp a record or competing viewpoints don't work out for whatever reason - move on and maybe some understanding will come in time.
Who knows, maybe one day I'll fully grasp everyone's love of Fall Out Boy. Hear this, I have the utmost respect for Patrick Stump from here on out, and I wish him only the best of luck in his future endeavors - whether I get what he's trying to do or not, at least I know his heart and mind are in the right place - and as the asshole critic I am, that's all I ever ask of anyone doing anything.
This year's South by Southwest is already two weeks out (a week and a half if you count when it actually starts with the "interactive" portion). This is a big year for many reasons. First and foremost, this site has a showcase this year. Jason will be announcing our line-up tomorrow, but it certainly feels special to be a part of this larger festival of who's-who and "who the fuck is this band?!" said in both the positive and negative tense throughout the week by many a critic and causal drunk alike. While I'm content with our line-up (we as staff fought it out, hugged it out, came to an agreement and we're stoked on the line-up which includes...errr, you'll see tomorrow.) From someone who has only been a part of the festival for two years now, I can tell you it's a shit show. There's a group of people who think they're something, and they're nothing but assholes. There's a group of people that just want to go and get sloshed for free and watch some music cause it's spring break, or they called in sick from work, or they have the day off, etc. Half of those people end up being assholes too - but just the ones that have a bit too much to drink or think they know what the next big thing is cause they're in this "in." Then there's a group of people from across all genres both local and touring that just want to play their music - their special creation - for the sake of playing it to a group of people and having that opportunity.
There are a few 8 Mile moments for some.
The music portion of the festival is like literally taking an entire industry of fuckheads, rock stars and more than grateful souls to play the smallest of venues and shoving them into one small area of the United States. It's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome if Mad Max were a DIY punk band or great local blues act, and the exclusivity and pompous behavior of some were Tina Turner. Luckily, there's hope among it all, and last year certainly proved it: new friends, labels, community, a new generation, etc. This year will be no different either. It's the friends staying with me and those I'll see during the week and the line-up of shows I've put together. The ugly truth is that you meet a lot of people that have "business" written across their face, and you wind-up scratching your head wondering if they still really enjoy music like they used to when they picked up their first few albums years and years ago. They talk to you like you're their friend, but they're looking for press in an indirect slide of tongue. You have to avoid it at all cost.
Still, in the face of said motivational devastation and confusion brought on by the powers that control what you should like and what gets shoved against your eardrums and thrown on a NOW THAT'S WHAT (SERIOUSLY?!?! THEY STILL MAKE THESE FUCKING THINGS?!) compilation or even a BEST NEW TRACK or "essential podcast" for the month, it's about making the best of the week. It's sitting in the corner of the lunchroom knowing that the so-called "popular" majority will never understand your qualms against the mundane and your love of things that keep you on your toes and heighten your curiosity and subconscious intrigue you can't shake for days after the circus lets out and the animals go home.
If I sound bitter, it's partial nerves and partial exhaustion. I personally came into this line of work because I needed to control and make sense of all these commentaries in my head I was spewing amongst my friends. Instead, it's been three to four years of really learning the divided line of integrity and lack thereof that knows no genre and isn't discriminatory to just bands - but publicist, managers, and labels as well. We're entering one of the largest music festivals of 2012 and there are still a good number of people "in charge" that are unsure of how to control piracy, get their music to more people beyond just touring and just plain be noticed in a sea of thousands of others that just want a shot at this dream of playing music as a primary outlet of, well, a job.
Here's to South by Southwest. Here's to mediocrity. Here's to the intimate crowds and long lines to see that one band you were really hoping to catch. Hold onto that moment when you get in and close to the stage. Enjoy it and forget that a complete shit show of false idealism is happening around you.
I often wonder what sort of mentality it takes for an artist (solo and band alike) to make it in this industry. I'm not just speaking in terms of how good your PR person is or if your manager has an "in" with the biggest festivals or if a "golden" award means anything beyond the 15 minutes it really holds weight. I'm speaking more of the thousands of bands that start out with the mentality of "Fuck yes, let's do it!" and then one day decide that what they started must be put down. There's a lot of variables in hanging up your guitar on the wall and entering the "real world" of shifting your part time job - when not on the road - into a full time job of the American dream, whatever that may be these days. That sort of mentality doesn't always have to be negative though. There are "family" elements and "career" choices well past living on the road and never becoming the larger element (or even stable one at that) you eventually want to become - that subconscious mindset since the beginning. Many have tried, but few have been able to live that dream while (a) keeping a stable and lengthy bout of integrity and (b) not becoming a shell of their former self or a nostalgic joke.
Two horses need to be beaten before I continue though. One, for each band's case, longevity doesn't have to mean that a band has to last a decade, in some cases it could be anywhere from a couple of months to a handful of years with less than three releases under their belt - which brings us to two, the subjectivity and impact of a band lies in the numbers of listeners they impact. The footprint left by any artist is decided on by a variable no one really has any control over and is constantly changing with each release as artists everywhere grit their teeth when an album leaks (because let's face it, who makes it to that big Tuesday nowadays?) I've had numerous discussions with friends about how some of our favorite bands today are only known by a small group of followers or other bands - not the mainstream or any sort of large majority. On paper, it looks as if they're failing, but in the cult minority, they could be gods among those listeners and will continue to resonate years later to future generations. Look no further than eBay auctions for a particular vinyl from a band that were mocked at the time by many a casual listener or self-absorbed critic.
In watching The Felix Culpa's documentary last night, all these thoughts just sort of overwhelmed me. While To We, The Nearly Departed is a short chronicle featuring a pacing of live footage from the band's final show at The Metro in Chicago and interludes of interviews and stock footage from the band's past, to me, it was more a quick retrospective of how a great band can come and go with a snap of a finger or changing musical landscape. I would certainly put The Felix Culpa in that category of a band people either got or didn't grasp fully. For those that didn't, maybe the songs were "too long" or there wasn't a "hook" that got stuck in your head for days. For those that did get it, there was a reason behind it: it was a band outside someone's normal taste, it had sentimental value in the lyrics, it helped someone pick up a guitar or drumstick or maybe the band made a perfect record for someone at the perfect time said listener needed it.
Maybe given the relationship I have with the band, my opinion is biased in itself. Last South by Southwest, I got to spend a couple of days with the guys - family men, newlyweds, video game nerds and we all came together to talk about our love of Engine Down while attending a festival that plays out like more of a lavish show-off of who's-who instead of a week of just hanging out with your friends while more friends play music. I constantly think that bastardization of the art form and the lifestyle is where the chord gets ripped from the amplifier one last time. Music should always be about getting in the van and playing first and foremost. It's about a person's first open mic or a big local opening for one of their favorite acts. The rest will follow. If you're honest and attempt something that you believe in, I think that's what will resonate the most over time. That's where some sort of longevity on either a minor or major level will occur eventually.
The beginning and end of The Felix Culpa isn't a new story, but it's the first one that made me think long about all the bands that meant something to me like the guys have: The Snake the Cross the Crown, Engine Down, Blueprint Car Crash and a slew of others. Each band has their own story, it goes back to the variables mentioned and those I forgot. Maybe Jack Black said it best in High Fidelity, "Is it better to burn out or to fade away?" There are arguments for both and enough bands that have experienced one or the other. The music industry is an unforgiving career for many, but with the adamant of "archiving" (whether legal or illegal as certain people see it), at least we live in an age where we have the ability to pass on the music that made an impact to us in some way, and when we pick those records up months or even years later, here's hoping it will be as gripping as the first experiences we had with them.
I've always sort of wondered when I'd shake my teenage angst. At 25, it doesn't seem like it's going to happen anytime soon. I'm in college debt, cut it close to paying my bills with a part time job and continue to juggle two internships - one of them being with this site. For my parents, 25 was figured out. For some of my friends, 25 is being settled. There's more, there has to be more than just settled, right? There's a tight rope (read: noose) of mediocrity we walk (read: hang from) every day with choosing to let small details go by or choosing to get swept up in the stagnant acceptance of what is and will never change. But alas, we all still have the power of making ourselves something, leaving that lasting footprint that no amount of artificial contamination and fiscal damnation can tarnish for generations to come. They're ideas. They're discussions. They're thoughts that leave room for subjective chit-chat among the elite and the lowbrow alike. While I do enjoy Justin Vernon's contribution to the greater art of music, I'm overly infatuated with what he has to say about the subject of "award" in an industry that bastardizes art into a commodity. I think Vernon leaving out this line from his acceptance speech was probably bittersweet -
"It’s hard to accept this award because of all the talent out there, but also because Bon Iver is an entity and something that I gave myself to. A lot of people give themselves to it, so it’s hard to think of Bon Iver as an artist. Bon Iver is not an artist. Bon Iver is an idea.” - SPIN article
See, some people will take that line as elitist and superficial and overly pretentious. Most of those people probably have no idea who Bon Iver is to begin with. As I've been dissecting that quote all day, trying to decipher its meaning like a Rubik's cube, I want to apply the quote more broadly outside of just Bon Iver, because the same should go for any artist doing anything anywhere at anytime. Music is considered an art to some because art can be sort of an escapism. There's so many rules set in stone to some degree in our society that when it comes to painting, street art, short films, comic books and even sitting down to let your soul out in one perfectly placed crescendo or chorus line - you don't want restrictions. The worst restrictions can come after the art is made, and that's the judgement we as critics and "sweet hookups" end up making, and I think that's what Vernon is renouncing - the idea that an "idea" can be judged and made to be something more or less than what it is - just an "idea," plain and simple. Take it or leave it.
Forever acclaimed, most will tell you that the music that "lasts" is the music that "went against the grain" or "revolutionized how things were" for a generation or a specific group of people during a specific time (generally set against the grain of how societal norms are going and political strife is effecting this and that and so on) - but it's not the revolution itself that connects, it's the unspoken integrity. Thousands of Bon Iver fans aren't excited about the win, they're stoked for a hot minute that something that they believe in their hearts to be true and heartfelt made it past the polished bullshit most of us sat through for three hours on Sunday night. It was a sign that maybe "they" (they being: industry, the general public, lowbrow, fat pockets) got that music like Bon Iver is needed past the quick hits and NOW! That's What I Call A Radio Dial compilations that continue to sell for whatever reason.
There are writers, publications, artists, labels and the whole of this industry that have this sort of "agenda" to them. There's this line of constantly wanting to be right and in the "know" of what's next. Most of these people are just older versions of ourselves. They once loved music, pogo'd during a Ramones show once and were old enough to understand how revolutionary Nirvana was while only realizing Fugazi was an equal underground counterpart years later. Some fuckbag once told me a review I wrote about a show was horrible because I was attached to it nostalgically and it was written from "my heart" for lack of a better phrase. That's it. That's where music comes from, right? That's why certain albums and songs last for years and others become that one-trick pony thing. Is that the right phrase? Isn't art supposed to come from the heart and an unspoken feeling to begin with and therein find a connection once done - not force it to happen through airplay, television soundtracks and ad-spots? When Dylan Baldi destroys his guitar in what can be deemed as one of the most perfect displays of swelling frustration to grace a record in some time on "Wasted Days," the proceeding "I thought I would be more than this!" over and over and over again has been stuck now for days in the back of my head. I wonder if for every pop artist with a hit single or Grammy win or those millionaires that have gone bankrupt and regret their footprints of drawn-out, overplayed Clear Channel radio rubbish, if for a second that line haunts them for days on end.
I'm not sure why it hit me tonight. The idea crossed my mind the second I pulled onto the highway to go watch the Super Bowl with a friend. Maybe it's this weekend. Maybe it's in the rut I'm in. Maybe it's the work I owe a lot of people, and better things to do with my time. Maybe I want to see the effects of a personal #SOPA blackout. I'm not sure. When I wake up tomorrow and finally drag myself out of bed and onto my futon to sit down and blankly stare at the screen before embarking to my e-mails, I'll move just there. No Facebook. No Twitter. Not even the occasional Tumblr scroll for shits and hoping to find that one funny meme to slightly entertain me for the afternoon. As of the Sun rising tomorrow morning, I will be disconnecting from the social sphere. For how long? I'm unsure. I want to try and last until the end of the month, but we'll see how it goes. At the very least, I want to last a week.
I know, I know. Keith Buckley kind of did this already. He is an inspiration in doing so, but this is about me, not him. I want to see how it effects a lot of things in my life, both personal and professional. Mostly I want to see how it effects my consumption of both inspiration and musing. I'm either writing, or I'm sifting through article and editorial links on Facebook and Twitter (generally aggravated by half of what I read) for hours. What could I be doing with those hours? Finishing half-read books on my shelf? Completing my work in a timely manner instead of 10 minutes here and a half an hour in social networking's endless no-man's land?
Then there's the personal side. I want to see with how many people I can keep up with just by phone - call or text or simply spending more time out. I want to spend time in a room holding great conversations, instead of computer parties and half-listening to what someone has to say because you're checking up on something on your phone that has nothing to do with the moment. For an extended period of time, I'd like to make the best of my surroundings and see how that in turn effects my thoughts and therefore my writing. I want to enjoy my social surroundings without sharing them with the outside world. I want to see how far they'll stick without having them archived.
This whole thing revolves around that archival of information. So many ideas, opinions, pictures, songs, film clips are shared, reblogged, liked or reposted in just one day, I'm unsure if I'm retaining any sort of discussion that's going on around me or if I'm even having a minute to form an opinion of my own, with so many sides of the topic striking me at once. Why do I feel justified even in sharing with you every null moment or inside joke you're not going to get unless I tell you a thirty minute story behind it?
I'll still use the Internet. Still be on the site. Still will be sifting through e-mails. Just no "social" feeds of any kind to gather information or be a social voyeur.
At the very core, I just want this to be fun. I'll let you know how it's going in the next installment.
[ed. note: the views expressed in this editorial are my own and do reflect the views of the entire staff of Absolutepunk.net]
A little over a year ago, the staff got together and ran a feature on our favorite labels. It was the end of 2010, and for some of us, it was like it was 2000 again. In the past ten years, labels have changed. It's not uncommon that they do. Dim Mak used to be a premiere post-hardcore label, releasing some of the best around before slowly evolving into a more electronic based outlet. While Vagrant still contains a varied roster, we've since seen the change in masthead and its star performers shift from wearing their hearts on their sleeves to more of an indie-vibe. As a whole, Vagrant still releases top notch music - just to a different demographic, or really, a demographic that has since evolved with them. Then there are two big ones: Victory and Drive-Thru. We all know the former has seen better days from most of us, but the latter has sort of lived in seclusion for the past couple of years. Following a string of what I deem to be not so savvy choices, Drive-Thru just sort of disappeared for the most part for many of us. No longer was I scanning their e-store or stoked to see who they signed next. In fact, I just sort of grew out of it really. Besides the horror stories I hear from the label's alumni - the ones we cherished when the label was at its peak and crowding our CD collections (remember those?). I think the downward spiral to Drive-Thru's eventual curtain was its lack of community and substance towards its end - something they held strong for many of us so many years prior.
2010 became a very exciting time for music again. I think a lot of us that were excited ten years ago about our scene, which we slowly watched evolve into seven circles of hell and mounds of sub-standard product, were finally getting that feeling back. Music aside, I think we were getting excited about labels again. We were getting excited because many of us felt a sense of community growing. I saw that all too well at last year's South By Southwest. I think, for the most part, we began to put our trust back into certain labels to lead us to another promised land, instead of roaming the desert for 5+ years blind and bitter to a lot of what surrounded us. More importantly, labels were now working closer together. They were and are now becoming independent subdivisions of a bigger community - a true independent state. Community is very important. If a label welcomes a band into their home, I - especially as a music fan - want to know that the said label in turn is genuine in their actions of bringing a band on as an equal among the rest of their friends. You can continue to have a strong community of different sounding bands as well. The best labels have done it for years - Epitaph being the biggest one off the top of my head.
This brings me to something that has bothered me this past year. I've talked quite often about the cycle of music and trends. I think the worst thing a label can do is follow any sort of trend or band as a cash cow, whether to fund another band or adjust to the demands of others. I'm not saying that a label doesn't have a right to reinvent themselves and grow-up and still release quality music they believe in. That's one of the main reasons I brought up Vagrant as an example earlier. I just think that any label pumping money into a band for the wrong reasons is not only doing a disservice to music fans, but also to the band as well. What happens when the public's trends shift? Who do you back then? I understand labels need to stay afloat - but at what cost? Integrity may not be the right word, but it's the first word that continues to come to mind.
Still, a community of anything is only as strong as the people that make it up. A label can give you all the support in the world: money for recording, money for touring, distribution on a large enough scale that your music can get out to millions and have a chance of survival like a 1,000+ other bands that "want to make it," and the twenty-five that generally do. A label can only do so much, and on a bastardized scale, it's just a brand, a sticker, a fucking "label" that sits on the back of a CD booklet or vinyl jacket. It's what is in the grooves, what I download or even stream that I even care about in the end. There was a long discussion via e-mail with the staff the other day about how we felt about Kickstarter. Not to get off topic, but my final verdict was that I simply didn't care where the product came from (albeit money laundry and drug trafficking I will not endorse), I just cared that the final project was worth my time.
One of my newer favorite bands signed with a label I've been less than stoked on for the past couple of years. Ironically, a label that probably makes ad money off me every time I show a warehouse shot music video for a cheap laugh to one of my friends. That band asked me how I felt about them signing with said label. I simply told them that I didn't care in the end. I only had a high expectation that they would make another fantastic record; that they shouldn't focus on "who" they're signed with, but more of putting out a quality product to their fans and the general public alike. Majors aside, my industry knowledge tells me that most labels give quite the creative freedom for their artists and generally won't shelve, but will back their investments' product. There I go bastardizing terms again. For see, a label's primary job should be backing their friends, their family, their community for all the right reasons. Labels should believe in their bands not as an investment, but as a fan wanting to show the world this awesome thing they can't stop listening to. Most labels were created by fans wanting to share something special. I'm not saying the majors don't have fans within their walls, but some of us see the difference between a marketing tool and a genuine music connoisseur.
My advice to any band out there is to strive for that signature and be a part of whatever community you always dreamed to be a part of since you decided to get out the garage and into your mom's minivan to show the world you're the next notch in punk rock's growing timeline. As long as you contribute something meaningful within that community, it'll only provoke others around you to one-up you and do better. Ideas will feed off other ideas, and you'll begin to see this creative, unspoken challenge amongst your peers. That's when the most exciting times in music have happened. That's when Brian Wilson went insane. That's when Refused wrote a defining record. That's what is happening presently. If both bands and labels work with the aforementioned ethics, we won't see two to three years of substance and integrity and then a seven year drop off, just to cycle again. We may, just maybe, could see a solid decade of music. Something that hasn't been done for some time.
Whenever I go to a small show and see an up and coming band, a few questions always circle my head. No greater question has circled my head more lately than the authenticity of any sort of new music that I hear. For some of you, right now, you know EXACTLY what I mean, and for the others, I'm going to explain myself. Trends generally start as an authentic thing. A couple of people get together, tell society to fuck off and then do their thing. Gradually, a sea of assholes say, "Hey! I can do that!" They pat themselves on the back, steer their lifestyle in that general direction and eventually latch onto something new as time moves on. It's why "waves" of bands exist. By the fourth and fifth wave, we've heard it, seen it and are pretty sick and tired of it. Not only does the product not sound original, it's just taking direct cues from ones that came before - instead of mixing in new ideas.
This has been the up and down with music for years - and in the punk scene in particular. Thanks to the oh so wonderful Internet, it's easier than ever to grasp an idea and make it your own fruition - simply coloring between the lines. When one thing is beginning to get big, you have to wonder where that line will eventually get drawn as to who's in it to do their own thing, and who's in it to ride the wave of others' success.
Thursday night I drove down to San Antonio to see Xerxes and Code Orange Kids on their winter tour. Xerxes' upcoming album is one my most anticipated of 2012. I've yet to receive an advance (ahem) but the tracks I've heard thus far and the feedback from a few other bands which have heard it is pretty overwhelming. Then there's Code Orange Kids, a band that could be one of the biggest in the hardcore and thrash scene by the end of the year. They're young, and talking with them on Thursday night, they're also very ambitious - and ambitious to take the right steps. Their live show, like Xerxes, is no bullshit game. They're both emotional trainwrecks. Code Orange Kids blows out your eardrums in intense fury while Xerxes violently grabs at your heartstrings. It just feels real. Match that to seeing Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) and Dowsing at a club in the worst part of Austin or The Reptilian and my friends in Innards play a shed (yes, a shed) a couple of nights later - and it just feels like all these things are happening for the right reasons.
This is one of the most exciting times for punk music, but it's also the scariest. There's a lot of "worship" happening - and I'm not saying that it's bad to take an old tune and spin it into something that's your own (not everyone has to reinvent the wheel), I'm just saying that it's statistically impossible for everyone to standout. For every local band that gets moderately big, there are ten local bands that want to do that exact same thing. Not everyone can make it - and most of you will fail in the process.
The cycle is coming back around, and there are going to be a lot of cookie-cutter bands in the next few years that follow - this I promise you. It's already happening with the music just on a local level. Then someone will buy in, and it'll turn into a complete clusterfuck of no one giving a shit. Then there will be bands trying to do something that's not that, until we come full circle to a couple of years like the last two we just had. So head this warning: It is certainly an exciting time to be in a band. I feel like the rock star thing is dead (Thanks Dangerous Summer!) and kids want to be genuine about the music they make. For the most part, they want to do it right. That's a great start. There's no telling how long you will last in this business. The best thing you can do is leave even the smallest legacy on a 7" split or have your only proper full length be something that slightly changes the tide and is held as something special by people who may matter more down the line.
Someone told me something so simple, but verbally slapped some knowledge across my face leaving a mark that is a partial reason I wrote this blog. It's easy to be a follower. There's no thought, and anyone can follow anything. It's harder to be a leader. It's harder to get someone to listen to what you have to say and follow accordingly. Love'em or hate'em, those people are doing more with a week's worth of work than you may do in a year. Be a leader, have integrity and ask yourself if you're setting a precedent or notch in the bigger picture. That's what punk rock is about - the following part is why many people say it's dead. Let's fucking prove them wrong.