Tokyo Damage Report

FUCK OPTIMISM ABOUT THE POST-RECORD-LABEL MUSIC INDUSTRY

For years, people have been bragging about how the music corporations are dying off, how Capitol or Warner or whoever, they got too greedy, they ignored mp3s, they screwed themselves and they will go obsolete, ushering in this glorious new era of artist-dominated creativity and Renissance lutes playing on every street corner. And yet what I’m seeing is bands being even more slick, homogenized, and plastic . . .and they’re doing it ON THEIR OWN without any major label forcing them. Fuckin’ weird!
 
Ever since the ‘70s, people have been complaining, “Music is not as creative as it used to be,” or whatever. It’s one of those perennial moans. But this new problem is different –  more insidious . . . and it  could be even worse than the old problem (the greedy and corrupt music industry). At least music label weasels just stole the money . . . but the current problem is preventing people from making good music to begin with!
 
Here’s the problem in a nutshell: nowadays, even no-name, unsigned bands today are much more proficient and professional than in the past – not only the musicianship but the production, the mixing, the graphics, and being aware of shit like ‘branding’ and ‘our lifestyle concept’ or whatever. But at the same time they sacrificed any sense of fun or of danger.  It's a fucked trade-off.
 
Band logos are a perfect example – any punk or metal band with a myspace is gonna have this elaborate, professional, paid-a-graphic-designer-to-use-Adobe-Illustrator-ass logo that is really complicated and shit, and yet PRECISELY BECAUSE it’s so super-duper complicated, it’s impossible to graffiti that logo. I bet band-related graf is down 90% from the days of the DK and @ and Black Flag symbols being everywhere. So it’s more ‘extreme’ looking but at the same time more slick and less of a threat to society.
 
But why? And why NOW?
 
Part of this plastic-ization is due to technology. Computers get cheaper, software gets better . . . so nowadays even broke bands with no album out can afford to get slick graphics and protool the fuck out of their recordings and sound slick.  Both bands and fans are suckers for symbolism. Three examples: “I got a bunch of tattoos therefore I must be a tough guy from The Streetz.” “I got software which can edit and correct every individual note I play so I must be talented as Mozart.” “I got hella distortion pedals, so I must be really angry and heavy.” This is materialistic bullshit – it only means that you paid money for things. I mean, if Garth Brooks spent even 10% of his income on amps, he could be 20 times loud as Motorhead. Barry Manilow could make a chain of distortion pedals that reached to the fuckin’ horizon without even noticing that his bank account had fallen. That wouldn’t mean that those dudes are the new Kings Of Heavy, right?
 
But that’s only 50% of the plastic-ization.
What’s the other half? Hard to say! If I had to guess, I’d say the other 50% is the increasing musical sophistication of both the music producers and consumers. Well, maybe sophistication is not the right word – since it has a positive meaning. Maybe we should call it ‘paralyzing self-consciousness’.
 
What I mean is, kids today grow up with literally hundreds of sub-genres of music to choose from. That was not always the case. Bands have to deal with issues of ‘how much do I conform to the genre I have chosen.’ That wasn’t a big deal back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Like, it used to be you’d write a song that expressed a feeling you had about something, but now it’s about, “Are the kids going to tell that my fake-dissection riff doesn’t go with my fake-darkthrone chorus? Or will they find that an appealing juxtaposition?” Even young musicians are acutely conscious of the legacy and rules of the bands they’re imitating and it really is cramping peoples’ style. Naamean? Nowadays the indie music culture (whether that is metal, punk, or whatever Brooklyn trend has hipsters mesmerized this month) has become much more insular, self-referential, and like a closed loop. The musicians don't get their inspiration from the world around them, just from other bands they like.
 
Kids need to understand: it didn’t used to be normal for people to compose songs by saying, “OK let’s have our verse sound like band xxx, our chorus sound like band yyy, and the breakdown sounds like band zzz.”  To think like that – It’s like the girls at my old high school who sprayed their hair xxx-centimeters up, and wore yyy-amount of makeup and zzz-centimeter high heels and had everything in place, but when they actually got to the dance they were so self conscious they didn’t actually DANCE. That is what indie music is like now. 
 
Rap is another example of this : both top 40 guys and underground guys spend insane amounts of time complaining about ‘the industry’ and ‘the game’. That’s not even music – it’s shop-talk. You know, shop-talk! People in every job on Earth get together and moan about how the boss is a dick and the union dues are too high, and the assembly line is too fast, and the donuts in the break room are stale, and you wouldn’t effing believe all the politics at this damn office. But here’s the thing: everyone else only does shop-talk TO THEIR CO-WORKERS. And even then it’s FREE. Only rappers expect total strangers to PAY to hear about their problem with Interscope. I know rappers are supposed to be narcisstic but jeez, guys.
 
I’m not complaining about the old “Such-and-such a band is fast and popular, so we’ll play faster,” or “Such-and-such a band is distorted so we’ll use more distortion, we win!” copycats. This sort of problem has always been around and will always be around. And to a certain extent, that sort of competition is good because it pushes people to be more flamboyant.
 
Hardcore ‘80s punk had that copycat mentality in spades, BUT – it’s still popular all over the world today.  Not because of the conformity, but because the musicians were actually fighting the world, and that feeling comes through in the music, and affects people – even kids too young to have been there.  The songs were just the audio part of a whole movement. They weren’t the whole thing. Whether country, rap, black metal, or cro-magnon hardcore, influential music was something that fellas did when not burning churches, shooting dealers, fighting the system, or stabbing people. They weren’t sitting around just listening to music and trying to get laid!  They weren’t willing to stay in their safe little musical scene, they were out in the real world, and had actual crazy experiences that they turned into songs, not vice versa.
 
Let me put it another way: if you get lost in this self-referential closed loop, only caring about what other bands do or what fans think, you lose the “Me vs. The World” vibe that makes people bond passionately to your songs. You need “the World” part of the equation.
 
I'm NOT saying everyone has to be political. I'm just saying, there used to be a time when people would get their inspiration from the world around them, not just from the music they listened to. Not anymore!
 
Bands: it’s not about how much tattoos or distortion or how extreme your lyrics are, or how twee and idiyosincratic your indie-pop is, that shit has no bearing on if you MATTER. Bands can be totally great and still not matter. If your fans dance and buy a shirt and go home, you might have ‘rocked the house’ but you don’t matter, in the long run, because you don’t have a fuckin’ PROGRAM.
 
In other words, the performance –for better or worse – only tells half the story. The only way you can tell if a band matters is by looking at the behavior of the audience.
 
When Slayer plays and the audience tears all the seats out of the stadium and afterwards it looks like an earthquake hit it, that is a sign. When Black Flag graffiti shows up all over the country, and more than 50% is not done by the band members themselves, that is a sign. When MDC plays and cop cars get overturned when the cops come to complain about the noise, that is a sign.  When Norwegians start burning churches, it’s a stone dick move – but it’s still a sign. When you dis someone so bad that they shoot you, you’re dead, but you matter. When PE got everyone wearing Africa medallions instead of gold chains, and dudes booed LL off stage for being superficial, that meant that PE mattered (despite the fact that I really love both bands). When the Ramones toured America in the ‘70s and everywhere they go, some teens start their OWN band, where there were no bands of that style before. . . that means Ramones fuckin’ matter!
 
It doesn’t matter WHAT the exact change is . . the point is that the fans change their life. That is what happens when bands are ABOUT something. This is what happens when bands have a PROGRAM – some ideas that extend beyond the tiny ghetto of the music world. When bands aren’t willing to stay put in that one little area.
 
I’m not talking about fans slavishly obeying bands or being fashion clones or what-have-you. I just mean fans that leave a show thinking, “OK, fuck limits. I am gonna try and do something I never tried before. If these guys can do it, I can do it. I’m gonna get involved with something bigger than music. I’m gonna apply the lessons of this band to my everyday life.” I mean, shit. Nowadays it’s all about selling 4-color t-shirts and youtube hits and ‘pushing the brand.’ NONE OF YALL ARE ABOUT SHIT. NONE OF YALL HAVE ANY AMBITION. It’s sad.
28 comments

28 Comments so far

  1. Sophisto June 1st, 2010 1:14 pm

    You’ve outlined the situation in a way I haven’t seen before. Entertaining and worth the read.

    The idea of people manifesting their sudden influx of musical inspiration in the real world instead of chirping on some online forum seems less likely today.

    Finding a band that sung about unpopular opinions as a result of their life experiences and were gaining enough ears and minds to break into the “Mainstream” would be pretty cool.

    Thanks for the rant.

  2. Tzench June 1st, 2010 2:00 pm

    Me and my friends have the theory that everything started to suck ca 1990, since at that point the record companies didn't sign bands anymore, they started to create their own bands. consequently, no interesting bands have emerged since that time. I suppose you don't quite agree.
    The hipster revolution have not only destroyed music, but is also a serious threat to the very idea of fun.

  3. Steve June 1st, 2010 8:15 pm

    I like how you smoothly transitioned from things I believe in (like how bands and artists have all this control now, and continue to suck) to your agenda about the importance of fans (and to that end, the importance of bands). I had to look up "twee" and "four-color t-shirts"!
    So is this a "shame-on-you bands" for not being able to inspire anybody, or is it blame the fans for taking 90's apathy too far? (which I suppose means going from saying 'fuck the system, I don't care about this mess', to 'I don't care about this mess, so long as I can afford a cool designer "fuck BP" t-shirt)
    I want to read a well-written rant about how hipsters listen to things 'ironically'. I would do it myself, but I don't know any hipsters (I know some former-hipsters, but they gave up hipster-ism once hipster became the new hipster), and I'm not sure if I know what irony is anymore.

  4. andrew June 2nd, 2010 5:43 pm

    why are people so fixated on hipsters?  like whatever the hell you want to like.  'hipsters' are a new name for something that's always existed and they really haven't changed anything.  the problems attributed to 'hipsterism' are all synonymous with the internet generation.  but obviously we all fucking love the internet; so lets blame hipsters!

  5. sadie June 2nd, 2010 9:34 pm

    When I first came to this site, it was for the ‘Ha, these articles about Japan are funny’. I’ve stayed for the music critique/rants. You say things that are amusing, but no less true for their humour. You’ve pretty much put what I was thinking about the situation of music today into better words than I could have.

  6. def June 2nd, 2010 10:29 pm

    depending on what someone doesn’t like the definition of hipster changes.

  7. admin June 2nd, 2010 11:02 pm

    Hipsters are hard to define precisely BECAUSE they won’t take a stand on anything. They have no ethos or backbone. They just steal ideas from random subcultures, bleach out all the principles, and then wear those things as if they are somehow as vanguard as the original people. “Don’t like what I just said or wore? I won’t fight to defend it – I’ll just claim irony.” In their defense, though, ’90s hardcore people who are super earnest, sensitive and vegan are just as unbearable. But those people have dwindled to a tiny minority, while hipsters still plague our shores. Fuck the upstairs dogs are barking again. Shut up!

  8. Josh June 2nd, 2010 11:49 pm

    I don't know if I agree that music has to cause a violent reaction like the ones mentioned. The type of music you like seems to be a function of the lifestyle that you lead and the actions that spring out of listening to it are really just things you just weren't inspired enough to do before.
    Art is just a way of interpreting life, of taking what we see and giving it a narrative.  Jump around and tearing a bunch a shit up or is not the way I respond to anything and I think that you will find that is true of many non-intense style music fans. That is when I hear a song it may stir me to act, but in a measured way and not immediately. People don't all burn down churches when listing to music, it doesn't mean that they weren't affected in a meaningful way.

  9. admin June 3rd, 2010 1:31 am

    @josh: you’re totally right! It’s my bad for not thinking of more examples of how music can effect someone’s life. Like for instance if you listen to Tom Leher (who sings about the play Oedipus, math, the periodic table, and masochism), and you were to pick up a book and read about those things, that would also count in my book!

  10. cbp June 3rd, 2010 7:34 am

    I think you miss part of the problem, which is that everything got pretty much maxed out by the end of the 80s.
    You couldn't get much harder than Morbid Angel or Merzbow and really matter so much; you couldn't play faster than Yngwie and have anyone care; you couldn't fuck a dead chick like John Duncan did without getting arrested.
    So the only thing left to do was drop out and make bad ironic music, which everyone did for a while in the 90s and now we are over that and what are we supposed to do?
    I think rock as we know it is finished, as in the 70 year long period of creativity we have experienced is winding down and from here on its just about paying homage to the old masters… but if we're all still around, maybe something new will come up, maybe not.

  11. Bebio June 3rd, 2010 8:23 am

    I am sorry, but I disagree with you on most of your points.
    In my humble opinion, you are most certainly viewing the past with rose-tinted eyes. Or maybe, you are only talking about the decline of hardcore music, which like any other genre which pretended to be anti-system has been thoroughly absorbed by the mainstream world, and made it profitable.
    You want music to inspire freedom in its fans. And that is what most people seek, even when they go to see Madonna. They want to feel free, to feel like they are breaking the rules, even if only for the duration of the show, and then they go back home, to their boring and controlled lives. But most of that freedom is just illusion. They are no more free than anyone else, they just believe to be so for a finite amount of time. By the time they realize they are not really free, they will have already paid the money for ticket, or for the cd, or for the t-shirt, or for the piercing, or for the tattoo.
    Your thesis that music was largely free from formulas 20 years ago or more is just… sorry man, it is indefensible. Things have NOT changed. If you read any book about the inner workings of the music industry, it would be crystal clear to anyone.  Even a beginner's book like The Band's Guide to Getting a Record Deal by Will Ashcroft contains in itself enough real-world examples and stories to shatter that illusion. Steve Albini in his "the problem with music" article already professed the obvious 14 years ago. If you told the musicians at Motown in the 60's that they were "artists", they would laugh out loud. Most rock bands (elvis, rolling stones, and other bands that supposedly were communicating their inner thoughts) were successful mostly on the basis of their sex appeal, and a drug-induced lifestyle that left them at the financial and artistic mercies of their agents and A&Rs, and their anger was often completely diffused and misdirected, meaning that they were incapable of threatening the system, much less being aware of it. Any money or power that they had accumulated was a mere shadow compared to what their "patrons" had earned. The sex pistols, for all the tattoos and image styling that people did based on their existence, are relatively unaware that they were a product manufactured by Malcolm Mclaren.
    Now, let's get away from the mainstream and focus on the underground. 
    The underground, wishing to escape the tentacles of control and corruption sponsored by the big industries, embarked on DIY, attempting to generate a self-contained circuit, made by the artists for the artists, and which gave privilege to a more direct contact between artists and the community. However, in most cases it only led to a reproduction in minor scale of the same hierarchical pyramid seen on the mainstream. It is inevitable that any sincere action of emotional expression carried out by a band (whether it be the Ramones, Public Enemy, etc), if reproduced long enough, will lead to the destruction of the personality and identity that gave birth to it. With repetition and massification of any action comes the loss of identity and purpose. Most of the people who repeat the action in its later stage will do so mostly just for being copycats, or being angry at their girlfriends, for a joke, or any other reason completely different from what the band originally intended. The real meaning of that action would have been lost a long time ago.
    And therefore, there was once cosplay geeks, anime geeks, computer geeks, punk geeks, role-playing geeks, spiritual geeks, drug-loving geeks, bondage geeks… any scene that started out of a genuine small community, where no one leads and everyone shares for the sheer passion of it, without thinking of financial gains or self-sustenance, if it grows big enough, will generate a hierarchy, with the founders taking top place, the newcomers taking the role sometimes of copycats, innovators or just trouble-makers, contests and conventions and festivals are created, organizations and institutions will create a circuit of venues to host those events, and create merchandise to sustain the growing scene. Kids in desperate need of their own identity will normally just copycat the ones at  the chain, until someone comes along that occasionally disrupts the system. Even then, it will get big enough that their founders will no longer be able to oversee the whole logistics of it, and then the "scene" will acquire its own "sentient existence" and seek to self-propagate endlessly. Fashion will be created, old-time purists and newbie innovators will fight to the death about questions of style and substance, and we will all wonder where did it all go wrong. 
    I, for one, welcome our new internet overlords. I discover excellent bands (of those who know exactly what they are angry about, capable of taking control of their own lives, and pretty aware of their place in the overall scheme of things) almost on a monthly basis. I am even discovering lost gems from the 90's, 80's and backwards that I could never have listened before. More importantly, I can hear music that inspires me. There are still new scenes being formed, by people hungry to create new communities around their own interests, and with lots of things that they want to express. But you might have to look a bit beyond the spectrum of punk or rock and roll to find them. Refused was one of the last bands that actually struck a death blow in the scene, and they had no choice but to leave it, and disband. 
    Fugazi and Dischord Records is one of the few examples of a scene that was capable to control its growth in a sustainable way. Ian Mackaye and his colleagues are still capable to single handedly orient and inspire the community. 
    I deeply apologise if this post was boring, but I assure you, the most commonly heard phrase in the music world decades ago would probably be "man, don't mess with the formula!" I know many bands who pumped themselves on drugs, tried to be free from society's conventions and dictations and just ended up lost and confused, while their agents and record label bosses made a fortune from their clueless anger. 
    If this means that on the Internet I will have to bear with a large number of conformist, well produced asshole bands, I accept it. For me, the gains I have seen so far greatly outweigh the losses.
    Thank you for reading, if you made it so far…

  12. Andrew June 3rd, 2010 2:28 pm

    First of all, my perspective on this issue is a bit skewed because I listen almost exclusively to hardcore punk (I still only have the vaguest notion of what a "scene kid" really is, and the concept of crunk-core is too repellent for me to actually venture a listen ((also, autotune makes me throw up a little))).  So there's that.
    However, I have to stand up in defense of derivative (some may say "uncreative") music.  Take D-Clone as a perfect example, not least because they tell you right there in the name that they're jacking a style.  But the thing is, they do it REALLY FUCKING WELL.  They write fantastic songs, their live performance is fun as hell and (for what it's worth) they look really cool.  Sure they're not re-inventing the wheel, but I get a lot pleasure out of their music.  I suppose that might not be exactly what you were talking about in the sense that they're surely not thinking about these things in a commercial/marketing driven sense, but on the other hand they are very very consciously tailoring their sound and image to appeal to a certain demographic.  It just so happens that they belong to that demographic (and so do I).  Where was I going with this again?…
    Anyway, D-Clone are awesome and they represent, to me, pretty convincing evidence that it's not particularly bad to make derivative music if it's done well and in all sincerity.

    Also, cbp, if you really believe what you said up there it's only because you haven't yet heard the new(-ish) Paintbox album "Trip, Trance and Travelling".  Concrete proof that rock is neither dead nor stagnant in the 21st century. 

  13. admin June 3rd, 2010 6:29 pm

    @andrew & bebio: thanks for writing! I don’t disagree with you! Surprise! I tried to make it clear that my rant wasn’t just another ‘music is not as creative these days’ – type of rant. I suppose I failed in that regard. As far as d-clone goes, yeah, they’re a fun band, but my point was: discharge was about the world’s horrendous problems, and d-beat bands are about . . . discharge. the problem is not copy-catting, or insincerety, the problem (to me) is that music about music about music. . . is kind of a circle-jerk. Circle jerks can be fun, but they don’t really matter in the long run. The only people who do music-about-music well are zappa and weird al. Perhaps you guys can think of other bands as well?

  14. François June 3rd, 2010 10:19 pm

    I think we can expend this from music to any kind of art form, really.
    I remember reading & hearing about the big controversies that went through French society when Victor Hugo & al. started creating some "romantic" style theater plays.
    Oh the outrage, they were outside the almighty classical style of tragedy.
    Same with a couple of painters, where people wanted to rip their art for being so new & not following the rules.

    Who would seriously drop a shit nowadays about a new kind of sculpture or anything ? On the other side, people everywhere get creative without the bounds that used to exist.
    Same with music. It got to break so many barriers in the last decades, educated society so much about what we could do as human beings outside the established norms… So now that society accepted this, there's less anger, less barriers, more freedom of some kind.
    Of course there's still a shit load to do in this world, and music can still be a part of it, as other kind of arts. But it got so saturated as a medium that it's not as easy as before to get creative through it and get heard.

  15. Bebio June 4th, 2010 5:25 am

    Hi admin, glad to hear about your opinion of course.
    Well, if you mean making music for the sake of music, I interviewed Toe last year (as an e-mail interview for a web fanzine, I never met them personally), and they strike me as precisely the kind of band that doesn't want to depend financially on it. All of the members have side jobs, and when I asked them by if it bothered them, they said they wouldn't have it any other way, that it was liberating not to be controlled by patrons. 
    I moved to Tokyo last year, and looking at your post about the Jimusho system, which I really loved, I kinda understand why. There is a lot of control going on in this place. But thank goodness that I can still see some good noise bands in Shimokitazawa or somewhere like that. I have seen some excellent experimental stuff that I would never have seen back in my home country.
    Maybe now in the 21st century we are so massively exposed to everything. It is harder to feel inspired or shocked by a band's music. 

  16. szaszha June 7th, 2010 1:53 am

    i recently started a new job where we have to listen to top 40 all the time. instead of having like, satellite radio or muzak or whatever, at this fucking subway we listen to a local radio station for background noise. it seemed like they only played five songs, so one night i wrote down every song and how many times it played in my seven hour shift. i discovered that the playlist is actually around 18 songs, with the most popular one playing around once or twice an hour, and the next most popular song playing once an hour, and then the rest playing between 2 and 1 times an hour throughout my shift. top 40 radio blows.
     
    but going back to what you were saying, it is really strange and almost eerie for me to think about all of the myriad sub-sub-sub genres of music nowadays. i work with two guys who are in a band. they say that their music is screamo, in the style of attack attack. so what you are saying about copying other bands in a calculated way is totally true: at one point this guy tells me that "in our genre of music (a big red flag right there) one thing we do is make a cover of a pop song but we make it screamo." so basically this guy was talking about how they cover a kesha song (i didnt even know she existed until about a week ago) and that is supposed to be rad because of the genre they are in. i'm thinking, "what the fuck man. it used to be that if you were heavy, you were totally against pop songs as a fucking rule." now suddenly its cool to cover pop songs. i'm not talking about like when slayer did "in the garden of eden" i'm talking "hey guys let do a beyonce cover". seriously, what is the world coming to? i dont know if you've heard attack attack, but my little brother showed me one of their videos and my jaw dropped and stayed there. it started with some chugga chugga blast beat shit, then they sounded like blink 182, then they dropped into a pop/disco breakdown, then started singing like cannibal corpse and then went back to sounding like green day. i honestly did not know what to say. i immediately reached for the bottle.
     
    it seems like every genre of music is colliding in a very disturbing cacophony that would be cool if it was innovative, but is just shockingly awful because it has become the norm. get on youtube and check out brokencyde if you want proof. those guys had me scratching my head, weeping in a corner for a few hours because i just could not wrap my head around it. 
    like, look at this: http://media.photobucket.com/image/hardcore%20then%20hardcore%20now/plas_knucks/l_fa38b587665a718fafd8b671642e36b4.jpg
     
    its disturbing to me how this crazy amalgamation of subcultures and subgenres has been growing and mutating and getting wierder and wierder. have you seen how kids mosh nowadays? they call it "hardcore dancing" and they basically swing their fists around and do ninja kicks. how are you supposed to get into a mosh pit like that? in a real pit everyone is pressed up against each other and moving in a generally counterclockwise circle *if* there is even enough room in the venue to do that. people shoved and punched and kicked and occasionally got hurt, yeah, but how the fuck are you supposed to wade into a crowd of teenagers swinging their fists and kicking with abandon at everything around them and expect to have fun?
     
    what disturbs me the most about the latest trends in music, especially "heavy" stuff, is the corporatization of it. you're right about everyone thinking "oh, well the big labels are now obsolete, blah blah blah" BUT its just the opposite: every single popular music act, including the stuff thats supposed to be "heavy" and avant garde is produced and refined to hell and back by like three guys in LA, and if its not by those three guys its buy the six other guys around the country who imitate them! this aint the monkees, this aint just milli vanilli. this is a whole new era of 100% preformulated music. and even the new bands who arent produced by those three or six guys are <i>doing their damndest to copy that shit!</I>  the musicians (or "artists"[gag me]) have little to nothing to do with the creative process. how can you call yourself a fucking artist when you are just singing lyrics someone else wrote, to a song someone else produced, and doing it all through autotune so heavy that your fat drunk grandpa would sound like sade through?
     
    this is pretty fucked up.  i mean, another commenter talked about how shit started to suck in the nineties, which is partially true, but there was still some real shit going around back then. the difference is that sometimes in the nineties, real shit got real popular. nowadays if you're trying to do anything remotely different from the def jam/island/WB/usher/justin bieber/lady gaga/attack attack/tomorrow's motherfucker or whatever accepted idea, you dont get into the charts. in the nineties and before, there was a small chance that you could get popular with something different or legit. 
     
    not no mo. nu uh.
     
    my point is that while people are hailing the end of the corporate age of popular music, they are overlooking the fact that musicians are corporatizing themselves, <i>of their own accord</i>. 
     
    which i think is what you just said. fuckin shit!

  17. szaszha June 7th, 2010 2:20 am

    oh, and also, the intensely dissatisfying way that modern popular rap music continually self references itself (walkitout * 10, grillz, wood grain, spinnerz, i have so many bathrooms i can shit in my pants and throw it in a nearby commode). its so galling to see people around me willingly memorize and sing lyrics so shallow and vile. its also wierd to me that one of the popular rap songs right now is actually a ska song (i wanna be a billionaire) and that its now ok to have taylor swift do backing vocals in a gangsta rap track. 
     
    it all makes you want to stick your head in the sand, suspend your disbelief and just deny the ways that popular music is continuing to evolve into a disgusting tentacle rape of your worst aural nightmares.
     
    i wouldnt even know about any of it except for the fact that i hear it at work and at school. i could be blissfully unaware, listening to all my free netlabel stuff and my old cds, yet the inexorable press of modern garbage tunes litters my work and social life to the extent that it is completely inescabable. i cant go to the local metal/hardcore clubs without seeing this screamo shit, and i would have been very happy not knowing who kesha was. but now my ears and mind have been soiled and i'll never be the same again.

  18. Tony June 7th, 2010 6:34 am

    This post and some of the comments to it are the best stuff I've read on the internet in a long while. Thank you. I've tried to formulate some of these things on my own but with less clarity. So thank you.

  19. admin June 7th, 2010 6:44 am

    @szaszha: thanks for writing! what was the name of that attack attack song? and, can you find a webpage where they actually rent rims?

    It’s interesting how difficult it is to make my point without lapsing into a (totally justified and fun) ‘bands are not creative enough’ rant. It’s like the ‘bands are not creative’ rant is a black hole that keeps sucking in my real point : if a band wants to have a lasting effect or bond with its audience, the band needs to be inspired by real life, not just self-referential music about music.

    Also, i think it is a great idea to do covers – provided that they’re so fucked that the listener can’t figure out what the original song is. Sid Vicious’ massacre of My Way is a classic. Opeth’s totally straightforward rendition of Bridge of Sighs – on the other hand – is a collosal dissapointment, despite my utter love for Opeth AND Trower. And who can forget Sockeye’s one-second rendition of Don’t Fear The Reaper?

  20. szaszha June 7th, 2010 11:04 pm

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQVpITyOdc8
     
    thats the attack attack video. check the pop disco breakdown at about 2:50. one thing these guys apparently pioneered is the "crabcore" dance, where they headbang in a squatting position while playing guitar and swaying back and forth. good for them for at least creating one original thing.
     
    while we're at it, lets see how middle class white american youth is synthesizing the popular rap genre. here's brokencyde with "40 oz" (note: this is worse than vanilla ice, but still better than eminem who will always be the worst rapper in history, ever):
     
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWQ89wNOfLw&feature=related
     
    and here's where you can hook your ride up with the rims and tires you need to be the flyest guy gettin high while you drive:
     
    http://www.rentawheel.com/
     
    for fucking real!

  21. Tzench June 8th, 2010 4:49 am

    The process that started with atificially created bands in the nineties has continued with the producers completely cutting out the middle man (the musicians). While this makes sense from a comercial perspective it continues the decline into superficiality hell.

    This process continues with bands like Brokencyde and Attack Attack. This is where producers and marketers try to create an comercialy optimal brand by maximizing the target audience – they all have everything -Video Hos, tatoos, technoo beats, guitar solos etc. It doesn't add up, but that's not relevant.
    I loved the crab dance in the Attack Attack- video. They look like the band you are supposed to shoot down in Space Invaders.

  22. szaszha June 8th, 2010 8:49 pm

    space invaders! excellent analogy! maybe we could whip up a cool flash game called "attack attack of the shitty bands" and it could be a vertical scrolling shooter like space invaders, but you shoot animations of members of corporate music groups instead of little alien guys. i'd love to shoot me some eminem, i know that much.
     
    i guess i would need to learn flash. remind me about this in a year!
     
    i hope some more people will throw down some snaps on this band, so that we can keep up the attack on attack attack.  XD

  23. DW June 10th, 2010 10:32 am

    Another great rant.
    I think a huge part of what is going on is this all-pervasive careerist/success mentality that's taken over.  All the wildly idealistic artists are being replaced by entrepreneurial pragmatists who are more interested in their online business models than in their creations.  And, like you said, marketing tools make it easy for musicians to fake the appearance of professionalism which people mistake for talent and/or quality.
    There is something to be said for that Darwinian struggle bands used to have to go through in order to climb the ranks, get noticed, grow their name, and earn their street cred.  The harder you have to work for it, the better you're going to get.  More importantly, the more likely you are going to weed the people who live for the music from the people who are mainly intereted in the money and the perks.
    I think your insight about musicians not having any guts is dead-on.  That's what creates these insular pocket cultures.  It's like the music world is turning into academia. 
    Academia is such a sterile environment, because it's all about analysis, endless categorization and sub-categorization, quoting of what people wrote before – which is the music scene you described.  Creating involves stepping out there into the unknown and taking risks.  Reacting to the world out there with your own voice.  

  24. Keith McX June 13th, 2010 5:37 pm

    @admin:
    I only follow USHC as far as participating in a music scene, and think you are pretty dead on with your rant.  I think the cool thing in the scenes right now is to emulate late 80's/early 90's NYHC or Integrity.  I suppose that is fine for an influence, but when I go to shows and see 5'4" 120lb. kids sporting mad ink and "street fashion" and spouting lyrics of "street realities" I can't help but to laugh.  I've come to accept that it isn't my job to "grumpy uncle" the kids in the scene that are doing these things, but it does disappoint me.  A lot of the young bands around here too have insane gear and are pretty talented musically, but it's still all very 3rd rate worship.  The best punk and hardcore moments seemed to have happened as part of something reactionary so with luck, new bands will be smart enough to notice all the bullshit and do something that is worthwhile (to my ears).  As for any band that signs to a major label… fuck em', not kidding.  The whole reason you go that route is to go "next level", so those bands can fuck off as far as I'm concerned (70's punk bands get a free pass).  I do agree with the statements of bands using sophisticated technology to emulate major labels to a T is pretty lame.  But we all know very well that there are unwritten rules for punk and hardcore bands are supposed to follow as well to be real.  So yeah, pretty much everything is fucked up and diluted from what it once was.  I don't even want to get on the topic of classic bands doing shit tons of reunions as of late as well.  There are a few current bands out there that I do like actually, but they never tour here.  >.<

  25. admin June 14th, 2010 12:23 am

    @keith: thanks! Your comment about punk bands – does this mean all the blink 182 people turned into cro-mags people? or the blink 182 people decided to quit? Anyway what you said made me think of an idea that’s been bouncing around my head for a while: if you want your band to sound like ‘band x’ . . . don’t listen to ‘band x’, isntead listen to the stuff that BAND X WAS LISTENING TO AT THE TIME THEY WROTE THEIR FIRST SONGS. if band x had a real revolutionary, distinct sound, 9 times out of 10 the stuff that inspired band x was totally un-cool music, or suprising wtf music. And that’s why you like band x : not because they were utterly creative and did shit never before done on earth, but because they combined un-expected influences in a new way. Just copying band x is not enough, because it becomes really stale. But if you take band x’s secret, un-cool influences and re-mix them in your own way, maybe you can ‘channel’ a band x feeling. having the same feeling as an old band is different and harder than just copying the riffs, which is what people dont understand.

  26. Keith McX June 14th, 2010 2:35 pm

    @admin
    "pop punk" seems to be at an all time high in popularity.  And yes, current pop punk groups have side bands that bring the street style.  Shit is wack, but easy for me to dismiss.  Also, I agree with your creativity formula posted above.  When I see records at the store that says "for fans of ________", I just think fuck it, I already have the originator and pass it up. 

  27. Mika G. June 17th, 2010 8:56 pm

    Some thoughts, in no apparent order:
    1. Great blog post, lays it out there pretty cleanly.
    2. I think the reason your point tends to get sucked into the uncreative black hole rant is that it's actually the same issue at the core. A band that's creative is one that comes up with music based on their personal experiences, not someone else's personal experiences. Ride a bike through the African countryside and write a song about it, that's got a fair shot at being creative. Listen to that song, then make another one that sounds like it, and creative is no longer a factor.
    3. I think technology has made it a lot easier for listeners to find music they like, so that at least is a win. Before the internet, I wouldn't have had any way to even know about Japanese punk bands, or some DJ out of Australia. Heck, now I know what the emo scene and Attack Attack are… although in that case I don't feel my life has been improved by the experience.
    4. Speaking of which, Attack Attack just blew my mind. Not really in a good way… more of a WTF are these guys thinking kind of way. They should change their name to Blender Blender to more accurately describe their music. Even the inventing crabcore part, sorry, but nope. 80's hair metal bands did the same thing. Although, it reinforces my previous point… these guys weren't on TV, I didn't have to buy their album to find out how much they sucked. 5 minutes on youtube and I learned something today.
    5. Main counterpoint. I think a lot of it depends on what a genre of music is expected to accomplish for the listeners. If you want to let out feelings of say, anger and hurt, and you want to listen to something in that vein, it probably helps if a band writes about their own feelings. Not that I'm a huge NiN fan, but the following lyric seems like a genuine response to personal pain: "It comes down to this/ Your kiss/ Your fist". Now if you just wanna have daydreams of romance, a lot of pre-formulated bubblegum pop probably works just fine. And if you wanna get out of your computer chair and move around kind of mindlessly… maybe you should listen to some good techno. Of course, I know Mr. Admin feels I just uttered an oxymoron, but let me explain. A good techno song is one that makes me want to dance, almost uncontrollably. Also, it probably sticks around, so I find myself re-running it in my head while moving to the remembered beat days after the last actual listen. If that's the desired effect, I'd say it takes less raw creativity and more a feel for rhythms. Even there though, I suppose the same underlying point holds… the best stuff usually comes from people with their own concept and style, so that they just sound like themselves.
    6. I do think music has gone downhill somewhat due to the relative lack of trends recently. Not much has come out recently that is all that distinctive, at least not that I've run into. To some degree though it's also true that ye good olde days weren't that much different. Most bands weren't creative enough to escape the bounds of genre and style to create their own sound. I mean, how many bands like Queen or Madonna or Judas Priest have there ever been, where you could hear about ten seconds of a new song of theirs and know who you were listening to? It's rather hard to be creative enough that you're actually unique.
     
    That was longer than I intended. It's good to have this conversation though. Thanks.

  28. admin June 19th, 2010 8:35 am

    @mika: thanks for your thoughts – you were able to articulate some of that better than I could. About attack attack – which let’s face it that’s what most of the comments are – the first time I heard that formula (emo chorus + thrash verse + metalcore breakdown = hopefully the kids will like it) was on the second Avenged Sevenfold album back in – when? 2002??? So attack attack is not blending anything , i figure. They probably think ‘hey, avenged sevenfold is a great genre of music, let’s do something like that.’ To tell the truth, the avenged sevenfold album is a guilty pleasure of mine, up there with ICP and Mean Jeans. But – to me anyway – the difference is, Avenged Sevenfold bothered to write actual good, catchy riffs. even though it was derivative and formulaic – and honestly, what isn’t? – they bothered with songwriting. whereas, and modern bands are more like, “OK, can the kids tell that this is the ‘breakdown metalcore part’? Can they barely distinguish this from the emo part? OK then our job is done. Next song!”

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