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May 13, 2008


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Yeah, I don't really like local scenes, though that probably came across in my post. I think they generally come down to either one really good band/artist that drags along a bunch of other bands who wouldn't have gotten noticed otherwise (which can be a good thing or a bad thing) or a bunch of bands who aren't affiliated but who just happen to be in the same geographic area, e.g. Brooklyn. (The DFA created a real artistic community, but they were it.) I think the very fact that so many bloggers and critics of our generation found their musical place within hardcore scenes is problematic, because being a fan like that is a really unusual experience. It leads us to value those things I was pointing out, and that I think don't really matter very much, ultimately. Our affection for local scenes skews our judgment and leads us to look for things that I don't think most people care about except as a good story, and that encourages the thing that I think is really killing music--a focus on music as narrative rather than music.

I dunno, I've actually been a member of a local scene as a 20something musician rather than a teenage fan, and they really ain't all they're cracked up to be. I think most great bands happen despite local scenes, not because of them. And all those bands you mention are ones that some people pinpoint as where indie went wrong--someone in particular mentioned Pavement as the point where hardcore-influenced indie became the college rock we know today. I don't agree with that being a problem, but I don't know if bringing up those bands necessarily helps your case.

...whereas I, 8-9 years ago, owned and operated a venue not too unlike the Smell, so that certainly colors where I'm coming from. In the span of time I booked national and local shows, there was at any given point 2-5 local bands that held their own against many of the national acts getting more recognition. And you look at bands you cited - GBV, Slint - they came from towns you wouldn't expect to be on anyone's radar. So I guess the glass-half-full version of what you're saying is that you can shine a light on nearly any local scene and find a band (or bands) worth being excited about.

In a way I guess that's actually what's happening with the internet - but perhaps like you say, the narrative surrounding the band has changed.

...and let's not talk about singling out any bands that "ruined" indie rock. That's a post for another day!

Yeah, I was gonna get into the whole internet thing on your other post, but it works here too. It's been weird and not a little interesting to move out of the media clusterfuck of NYC. Almost all of my friends who are still there and who write about music seem to be very, very bitter about the internet. They post a lot of things that are very negative about blogs and about people who think the internet can do some good. Now, I've guest-blogged for Idolator, and just that little taste is enough to make me totally understand why Maura, at least, is so down on all of that. At the same time, as Matthew said in his tumblr post, I think it's problematic to look at this in purely economic terms. What you're calling a "vital audience" is really an economically viable audience; you're not saying anything about the ability to nurture and sustain a band as artists, since that can happen just fine online. You're talking about the ability of a band to make a living being a band, or at least not lose money by being a band. And I don't think local scenes are any better for that. Certainly Brooklyn wasn't, lemme tell you! (Though my friend from Pittsburgh says the gigs there pay really well.)

Like I said in my post, I think it's problematic that online music has become this dirty word for critics. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that 90% of bloggers aren't shallow wannabe tastemakers who couldn't write their way out of a paper bag. But that doesn't mean that blogs are the only model for online music. I think you're suggesting one here--blogs as a kind of local anthropology, and I'd certainly like to see that. (As I think I said in my own post bitching about blogs some time back, the problem with musicblogs has become that they think posting the same thing someone else posted is acceptable. It's not! Blogs as personal expression is the worst idea ever.) I think there are other avenues to be pursued. When you're in New York (or LA, maybe), music is tied up with these different measures of success--bands being successful, different people claiming success for those bands, and all of that seeming to have an effect on you as a critic. But sitting here in bumblefuck upstate New York, I'm not sure any of it does. Maybe as a working critic, since I'm not working for shit right now. But as someone who writes and thinks about music, I'm interested to see what the internet can offer.

This post is interesting. It's also a response to my post, but it reads it in terms of literature, and from that writer's perspective, music has it really good. At least we've embraced technology a little. Again, an outsider perspective, maybe a useful one to have.

I've been chewing on Mike's post for a few days, and naturally I'm going to comment here, instead of at his own blog--since I am more part of your community than his, though I like his writing.

My problem with that post is going to be hard to articulate, but here goes. Here's the thing: local scenes are more important than how good the music is, than whether a band or two "breaks". I say this as someone who has never actually experienced a scene. But my point is that music is a social thing. Yeah, we tend to listen to it in isolation more often than not, at home, on the train with our iPods or whatever. That is absolutely my main connection with music. We're so used to being able to listen to music from so many different places, that it becomes all but placeless, as if it came from nowhere. But I think it's a symptom of a larger malaise in our culture, one that still tends towards the breakup of any semblance of community. We can talk all we like about online communities. It ain't the same. (Though I'm not saying they're not "authentic". Making online connections, however real, does not sufficiently replace meeting people in person.)

What I'm stumbling around saying is this: whether a scene "produces" bands that are good enough to make it, should be irrelevant to the health of the scene.

I'm resisting the notion that we should only ever be concerned with how well-made something is, with how good a song sounds on the radio, or through speakers or headphones, with how good it is as "pop music", however much I must admit to being used to that model myself. If we live in areas where there are no local scenes worth mentioning (maybe because it's all ska or whatever), it seems to me that's because all eyes are constantly elsewhere, looking for "product" to come from elsewhere, to satisfy our social need for music, which is not being satisfied.

I'm sure this comment is mostly incoherent. I feel as if I'm barely approaching my point. Anyway, Scott, I like your point about those bands that "make it" coming from somewhere. It may look from a pop perpsective that they merely drag the other musicians in their wake, but maybe they don't see it that way.

(Next time maybe I'll complain about how technology has determined how we experience music, and that with the energy/environmental crises upon us, those means we have of fulfilling a social necessity will no longer be available to us.)

Mike - I agree with just about all you're saying. I hesitate to get caught up in an anti-musicblog screed (I've done that plenty already), though I echo much of what you've said here.

For me the issue at hand is developing an audience. Whether that means getting rich or finding a few dudes to join your Facebook profile, putting your music out there means you're looking for an audience to hear it. So, economically viable schmiable.

The thing I seem to be picking up on in what you're saying and in what other bloggers/magazines seem to be implying when they talk about the effect of the internet on small-time musicians is that the net can somehow supplant a local scene. There seems, to me, to be a disconnect between people's perception of what happens on the net and what happens in the real world, with more value, for some reason, placed on the net. Sort of tied to what Richard is saying - why would we place more value on three comments at the bottom of an mp3 post versus three people standing in front of you, nodding and smiling as you play?

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