Rebecca Black's "Friday" has been the jam of this year's South by Southwest. This isn't at all a good thing. On the heels of arguably the biggest music festival in the United States, Black released what could possibly go down as the worst song (read: abortion) to have happened to music in some time. I mean, have you heard that thing? Someone should get the shit kicked out of them for putting money into this. Something like "Friday" is beyond the point of subjectivity in music, in fact, I'd probably fund the next Attack Attack record just to have this go away.
Even after sitting through every remix possible (the dubstep one being my favorite, the actual GMA live performance being my least), I still went about most of the week of South by Southwest in the best possible attitude towards what is about to happen in this scene - scene being subjective, but generalized to the stereotypical parameters this site might endure at times. After working on putting on five shows months prior for the already busy week ahead - that produced six interviews for the site and three to four hours of decent sleep a night - it was still a blast through all the negative stress of my many jobs. Most importantly, I was able to do two things that directly effected how I foresee the future this year and in the next few while it lasts: I was able to witness the next wave of bands interact and have conversations about where they think things are headed. For one week I felt like Don Letts being part of the inside of the budding punk scene.
Let's face it. Music DOES move in waves. We were in tough times of good music there for a while. That's not to completely denounce the end of the last decade which DID produce good music, but for some reason the uncreative talents of some seemed to soar higher than others. In opposition of that, in communities of the Midwest, the Northeast and even spawning up in the Southern California area, bands were beginning to grow into tight friendships and touring families. Those families were melding into labels. Those labels were and now ARE coming together to form tours with substance and integrity. Instead of every band sounding like each other, bands are now unique again in their execution. While Level Plane and Revelation and Dischord are all but dead, labels like Topshelf, No Sleep, Sargent House, Bridge 9, Paper + Plastick, Count Your Lucky Stars, Mylene Sheath and Run For Cover are forming challenging communities.
My last day of South by Southwest was not spent rioting outside a Death From Above 1979 secret set or waiting for the late night performance of Kanye West down at the power plant. It was spent amongst some of my closest networks, and some of my new friends I've met over the past year since last year's outing. Yes, some of the bands I love are now friends, and I have no problem saying that, just as they have no problem with me being honest with them about their music. Saturday morning I spent the day at No Sleep and Atticus' showcase featuring some of the best bands around right now. Native, Defeater, Former Thieves, Felix Culpa, Touche Amore, Aficionado, Make Do and Mend and so much more. But it was a set from Balance and Composure that made me excited about the future of No Sleep. A band that I haven't payed much attention to, but caught my eye that afternoon as something special in our future with their upcoming release, and another nail and board in the ever growing structure of No Sleep. Stealing the set of the day, and unfortunately early for some because of time conflicts, Moving Mountains showed how a band can back up their buzz and anticipation. Showcasing easily one of the best sets of the weekend, the band showed why they have such a strong following, and how people are still discovering a bit of underrated quality about the group, including myself. Waves is looking to go down as one of the best this year; their performance said it all.
To cap off my week in highly anticipated style, I spent it with my closest network since beginning this sham I call a writing career. Sargent House is that label for me. There's a diverse roster (Gypsyblood, Adebisi Shank, Native, Fang Island, etc.) and a challenging group of bands at that. While I'm beginning to see that challenge set in among the bands and groups of friends across the rest of the labels I've mentioned, Sargent House still sits as that bar. Sure, label owner Cathy Pellow has been known to be very vocal, but that takes gull, and she's got a label and following to back it up. Back to the "challenge" ideology. The prime example is seeing Zechs Marquise's performance Saturday night. While everyone was mainly waiting for *cough* the Mars Volta *cough* Zechs Marquise gave the best performance of the day, and easily of the week. Though Omar didn't skip a beat, his brothers are certainly stepping up to pedestal that others see him on. That's awesome! David Sandstrom told me that the thing about The Shape of Punk to Come was the challenge of the rest of the bands in Sweden. The rest of their SCENE was immersed in the marketplace of ideas and expanding and melding new things and making it a game. I'm not denying Omar's talent, but I hope he looked at both his siblings Saturday night and thought about showing them up in the future, something of a supportive rivalry.
That's what is needed. It's one thing for us asshole critics and elitist fans to be subjective in our taste and outbursts of what WE find to be good music, but it's more important that those communities of bands that are rising up right now are challenging each other and feeding off the talents of their friends. When we reach that point at the end of the year when we just have this pile of good music, then we can say "Okay, this one was better than this one because..." setting a verbal bar and enticing even further progression amongst our favorite artists. It's about seeing a band like The Saddest Landscape, who were making music earlier in the decade, stepped away, and now they have come back stronger than ever. In our interview, they were commenting on the stronghold that this community of bands have. No one wants to go home, but when they do, they're already gearing up to be back on the road. It's not about the money per say, but it's about the friendships and experience outside the community one has grown up in. It's about expanding life experiences and molding that into your next album. Outside this specific group I'm speaking of, this can also be applied to great music across the board. The way Grizzly Bear choose a spot to record and feed ideas off of. The way Bradford Cox can just create a plethora of songs via his apartment floor. It's looking past sounding good on tape, but connecting outside Pro Tools and an ADAT.
The days of the rockstar are all but dead. Most of the bands I had stay at my place or hung out with all week had normal nine to five jobs back home. Most of the bands you love and support are living off the same part time wages you probably are. We tend to forget that being in a band is a job. As I sat there and watched one band plan best for their upcoming tours, you could feel the excitement of being added to certain bills, but the caution to do things right, because unlike some of the bands in the past few years, things aren't just simply given to them. I'm not talking just money, but critics blowing a load over a band before that band has time to hone their talents and then later basing criticism off of a still evolving bucket of talent.
2011 is going to be the year the dam breaks again. It's still hard to say or pin down an album or band that is going "redefine" or "rewrite" the past like Shape of Punk to Come or Relationship of Command or even Deja Entendu or Full Collapse did. Even if things aren't pushed that far, after my experience at this year's South by Southwest, I can say that any notion of dark times many still feel they are in with music (which they shouldn't be, I was at two labels' showcases of plenty of great bands on Saturday, not to mention other great label showcases all week), the next two years are going to shift the respect back to the artists that deserve it. Who will survive? How long will it last? Time will make fools of us all, and even I can only take so much in day by day.
The best advice I can give right now is to keep an open mind on the future, for so long I got caught up in how things were going to run and how the industry was going to shape its business models on the day to day. Honestly, I think I've worn myself out with all of that. Now I'm just ready to sit back and enjoy what's coming in one of the most exciting times for music since I was 16 years old.
- love and respect
[All photos are courtesy of Mitchell Wojicak. I have had the pleasure of Mitchell staying with me over South by Southwest, and he is one of the best dudes to be around and an all encompassing genuine guy.]