Tokyo Damage Report

authentic sounds vs. authentic relevance

Been thinking about authenticity. Say it’s 2014 and you want to really get down with your favorite subculture – say, do some authentic Dada art or start a ‘80s hardcore band.  Why is that so hard?  People who imitate literally – even if they are sincere and get all the right equipment and have really sweet riffs . . . it isn’t quite right, is it? What’s missing is RELEVANCE and THREAT TO SOCIETY.  Dada or HxC isn’t relevant or threatening in 2014 – which of course is different than saying it isn’t still good or it was “just a trend” or etc.


Just saying that literal imitation is always going to miss the vitality of the original.  Why? The reason you love your favorite band is NOT THE BAND ITSELF – it’s the band IN THE CONTEXT OF A MOVEMENT OF OTHER BANDS. Or artists, or whatever. The originals – whether it’s art, film, skateboarding, music or whatever – took place in a new scene that was rapidly EVOLVING, with each new band/artist/skater/whatever constantly going beyond, in a spirit of friendly but fierce competition.  If you’re trying to be ‘authentic’ 10 or even 2 years later,  it doesn’t matter how good your band is, if the band isn’t still in the context of that ‘scene’ . .

It’s the whole scene that creates the vitality, the momentum,  that unique feeling when a bunch of kids discover a new world where anything seems possible. Doing it later . ..  It’s like watching a movie where you already know the end.  The revolution didn’t happen. Pop music was not destroyed.  The main guys turned into junkies and ripped off their best friends. You know the limits of it, and knowing the limits is enough to make it not relevant. There’s no suspense, no sense of rapid expansion of teenage freedom, no sense of building a new world, which gave that music its radness.


. .. there’s a contradiction:  at the time to be ‘authentic’ was to be evolving, but if you’re evolving then you don’t sound like the bands that you like. To be ‘authentic’ you have to be competing directly against the heavyweights of the original time, but if those heavyweights have either broken up, changed styles, or become huge stars, you don’t have the same scene, so the music can’t be authentic. I guess Is why the whole “re-thrash” boom, even though the bands were sincere and enthusiastic, sounded so much like a homework assignment from history class.


But ok!  Let’s back up!  So far we’ve only been talking about LITERAL imitation.  There’s a whole nother WORLD of imitation just waiting to be explored . . . even if I’m the only one who is repping it. Imitation by ANALOGY.


This idea (imitation by analogy) could apply to ANY retro thing – movies, fine art, yodeling, etc – but  just for an easy example I’m going to talk about ‘70s punk.


If you ignore the music, clothes, and lyrics, of ‘70s punk, and focus instead on the EFFECTS IT HAD ON THE WORLD AROUND IT, focus instead on what made it RELEVANT  and THREATENING, then we should be able to, by ANALOGY, figure out what  authentic punk would/should sound like today in 2014.


Start with the PERFORMANCE.  Even if you’re a veteran band with all – original members, no legal disputes, total OG credibility,  fresh out of rehab and playing with all the stamina you ever had, only playing songs from the first album . . even then!  . . .if your audience is old farts who don’t dance, and young kids who spend the whole show holding iphones aloft, it’s not relevant, it’s meaningless, because you’re not having the same EFFECT.


Punk shows would result in the theater being destroyed, 29 cop cars pulling up and beating up kids, cop car windows getting smashed, vast amounts of graffiti being sprayed by kids all the way home, and people starting their own bands, vowing to out-do their idols.


Therefore, punk PERFORMANCE in 2014 would have to get people –and cops – that worked up.


I have no fucking idea what it would sound like – I can’t even begin to guess, nor should I! because I’m fucking old.  I just know how to tell if something is authentic or not- it’ll result in riots, graffiti, destroyed venues and tons of new bands vowing to take the same sound/performance even further out.


Another thing:  REACTIONS.  If you were a punk in the ‘70s, you could count on random strangers – jocks, rednecks, cholos, security guards, can’t forget skinheads – just trying to kick your ass for no reason, on a daily basis.  That was what weeded out the weaklings. You had to be willing to take risk in order to be down, with no real reward. No money, no internet fame, no compliments from the critics or trendy people.  But they did it because they were so totally isolated and fucked up and just stubborn that they had no place else to go.


So, as you can guess by now, the question is,  “what would authentic punk look like in 2014?”


Again, I have no idea! They’d look some way that would get them jumped by random people! What that might be I can’t imagine.  Earlier punks sometimes tempered their shock value with political statements – torn up flags or god-save-the-queen underpants worn outside the regular pants, and a sort of gross androgyny. But who knows if that would cause a reaction anymore?


My point is, you can SOUND and LOOK authentic but it won’t be relevant. Or you can BEHAVE authentically – which is to say, relevant and threatening – but in that case, you won’t look or sound like punk, or like anything else, for that matter.


But you can’t ever do both at the same time!  It’s like the rug that’s too small for the room. Whenever you drag it to one corner, you expose the opposite corner.




Related point:  scenes (again, art, dance, film, literature, etc) generally start by taking a variety of obscure influences and combing them in a different way – usually you’d have, say, 3 or 4 main artists which each of them had vastly different influences but they all had one or two commonly shared new things (called a zeitgeist) that bound it together.  So scenes start out being outward looking.  And the constant social threat/ conflict with the outside world just adds to that: you have to pay attention to the world because you never know when it’s going to sucker-punch you, and you take that anger and energy and use it to power the music.


So that makes the scene relevant. And being relevant, it blows up. And , by blowing up, it generates a bunch of zines and radio shows and assorted middlemen who make it their business to nail down the rules.  People just listen to the same 4 big bands, and forget about all the diverse old bands that all influenced their favorite bands. They just concentrate on copying their favorite bands exactly, to please the new class of gate-keepers.


Meanwhile as time goes on, and the evolution slows down, and the popularity increases, it becomes more normal and less threatening, and so people can afford to  pay less attention to the outside world. They get less anger and energy from the outside, and spend more and more time in their little artificial world where they are pandered to and told they’re rad.


In other words, all scenes go  from OUTWARD LOOKING to INWARD LOOKING. They become victims of their own success. And after you’re inward looking, the last stage is to fragment into a million micro-genres in a futile effort to convince yourself that things are not stagnant and irrelevant.


The end!

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