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Getting Past the Industry to Love Music Again
South by Southwest 2012: Day One
03/15/12 at 10:06 AM by Adam Pfleider
Sorry for the late response. I've been Robo-tripping a cold for the past two days and this morning I've felt the worse, and by that, I think my body is finally purging itself of the bulk of compression that's been sitting on my lungs for the past 24 hours. That said, I'm probably going to stay in this morning (going to try and suck it up and catch Narrows before heading to the show I'm putting on tonight.) Besides feeling like complete shit yesterday, the day wasn't a total bust - for the most part.

I woke up to go pick Eda and her friends up at the airport and after dropping them off I headed to the West side of town to catch fun. play a short performance. Now, what I'm about to say is going to be cruel, but it has to be said - so please just bare with me. fun.'s set was acoustic, and absolutely incredible. As far as vocalists go - not only in pop music, but in the contemporary in general, Nate Ruess is pretty untouchable. You can bitch all you want about the slight use of computers on the new record, but he certainly proves himself live. The band is tight as ever. Jack Antonoff can even solo pretty slick on that acoustic. To see such a great performance, boy did I have to sit through some horrible stuff. The opening band, I didn't catch their name, but the one who won the opening slot was pretty good. Loved the rhythms and vocal melodies. As a band who "got a shot at the big time" they were better than what followed. Even as I was well over light-headed from the quarter of bottle of Tussin I had before heading to the showcase, the next three acts either bored me with washed out electronic antics or unmoving songwriting. I attended the whole show with Cameron (cameronisonfire) and I think he said it best, "It's like mainstream pop is trying to grasp the indie sound." It's weak, and not even an overdosge of "purp" could make it sound better.

The night was a way better story. I was helping Keith Latinen put on his Count Your Lucky Stars Showcase. Like Topshelf the night before, there was a ton of "community" (don't forget, it returns tonight) felt across the room. Whether it was the local support of bands like football, etc. or the newest signings from Texas - Innards and Two Knights - about 200 kids both inside and watching from the open window outside - you could feel the intensity that again, away from all the "official," there was something a group of people felt more special about. It doesn't just go for this show, but any show held outside the "official" perimeters of South by Southwest - from warehouses to coffee shops. South by Southwest isn't about where your badge or wristband can get you, it's simply about where you are in the moment. I know most of the bands and have seen just about everyone on last night's roster, but I do want to point out how Mountains For Clouds blew me away. First time seeing them and hearing them and it was one of the best performances of the week so far.

There's one disconnect I wanted to point out about last night that sort of irked me. I was really stoked to have Chris Simpson's new band Zookeeper play (Mineral, The Gloria Record), as well as Bob Nanna and Lauren LoPiccoo close out the night. I have respect for all these guys for what bands they were in and what bands came after. Besides us older guys and the rest of the bands, both acts had some of the smallest crowds of the night. Maybe I've reached the age where there is a disconnect now from generation to generation, but it just sort of bummed me out. So maybe this is just me being an elitist or someone stuck in the past, but don't forget where your favorite bands took their influence from and I would encourage to catch these special performances when you can.

I'm going to rest up and head out to see Narrows in a few hours. Hopefully I'll be better tomorrow. Shirts For a Cure, Sargent House and the site showcase - tomorrow is packed and I can't wait!
Tags: SXSW, Count Your Lucky Stars, Nostalgia, Community
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Late Night Thoughts: Community Records
01/26/12 at 12:06 AM by Adam Pfleider
[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.

Let's make this our decade to do it.

- love and respect
Tags: Late Night Thoughts, Labels, Community
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Late Night Thoughts: Hearts
11/08/11 at 10:28 PM by Adam Pfleider
Some of the things that really grease the wheels of that noggin up there come to me at the most unexpected times. I recently asked Matt Pike (he books a lot of your favorite bands and that whole American Nightmare reunion) to do a Five and Alive of his favorite AN songs. While he sent me the criteria of a Five and Alive, he also sent me a well worded intro. In perfect timing, I just so happened to be listening to Poison the Well - probably one of the most important and influential hardcore bands in the genre for me. If the band's first two albums were blueprints drawn from Cave In and early Piebald, they were the contemporary blueprints for the unfortunate third wave thereafter. When the band redefined their sound (The double take of You Come Before You and then the underrated, but firstly rejected Versions), they did the scene a favor but only noticeable years too late - like most of the re-inventors.

I've always wondered why I was so attracted to the genre. I didn't grow up in the mean streets of anywhere. I never had it "that rough." I surely was never a fighter. Then again, I never listened to hardcore's brute side. I was never a tough guy. Also, I've still never gotten into that side of it today - unless it's as brutal as Trash Talk - but my favorite hardcore bands are also my favorites lyrically. Touche Amore has written one of the best this year with Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me. Lyrics are what can make and break a band for some. Generic pop music and Nickelback have survived for years, so I know that's not the case for the majority of people - considering it seems like the majority of America is still uneducated in art and literature due not to the educational system by the contemporary media and social networking alike.

With that, the hardcore I grew up on was generally about girls and friendships. It bridged the gap of the tough guy to the emotionally the tough guy with a broken heart and a melody every once in a while. Hardcore has always been about more than community - it's therapy. It's a musical AA and a wall that bounces back your frustration instead of absorbing it. It worked during the Regan era, and it's even more frustrating now to grow up in some of the muck we can't work past.

Punk music has always rode this social line of the times. While mostly political, there's only so many times you can talk about the system sucking. The reality of the situation is that the system has always sucked, you just need to make it work for you. There's aggression in the class struggle, friendships and societal norms - and well, love - that when thrown against the driving chords of hardcore, it strikes a nerve with many. The guy in the pit isn't putting on a show, he's having a therapy session right in front of you. The kid climbing over the first two rows for the mic really needs to meld his voice with that of the band because that one line means more to him than anyone else in that room - or even anyone who has heard the song as well.

The hardcore community can be closed minded (see also: Bridge 9 forums), but in the end it's more about the individual that makes up that element of community or backbone than the community as a whole. When Bob Ritchie told us to "get in the pit and try to love someone," he was speaking about the group therapy part of it. Healing personal and social wounds through music. From all of my studies on the scene, it's very tribal, and that element is the most important.

The lyrics that comprise most of the hardcore community - from "Institutionalized" to "Hearts" - they are the language of that tribe. It's why certain lyrics are printed on the backs of shirts (of course showcasing the pit, stage dive, group shot, family photo every time) and how a particular line can light up a room vocally in unison.

When I was younger and sifting through hardcore records, I used to think of them as being the barbaric stereotypes we all know them to be. There's something in the way the choruses are executed that grabs you as the problems start stacking up. It's a beautiful genre that contains many of the stereotypes we've come to know, and even love. At the end of the day, pop-punk kids will turn emo and the metal kids will either turn to ambient noise or nowadays, dubstep. I think when hardcore bands reunite, they tend to have the biggest draw because the message was never lost as it was being handed down. It's one of the few genres that young kids dig at when discovering what came before their favorites. Hardcore is the fury in our head and heart, and its lyrical prowess - when penned meaningful enough - is the open door to the aforementioned furnace that burns inside many of us.
Tags: Late Night Thoughts, Hardcore, Life, Community
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Late Night Thoughts: Songbird
10/26/10 at 01:15 AM by Adam Pfleider
Tomorrow night I'll be seeing a hell of a show. On the heels (which should read "heals") of a battered scene the likes of this shit, we're in what they call "the rebuilding season" of bands either gracing us with fresh material or nostalgic hat tipping to the past. In the midst of all of this is a growing community of bands and labels not only standing up for, but truly representing, an outcry of good, passionate music the likes of not what we want - but are in dire need to consume.

Sure, we can still get excited for new material from bands like Glassjaw, Thursday, Bayside or even Sunny Day Real Estate (hey, whatever happened with that?), but we need to be more excited with the availability of fresh faces getting us through the day.

The past few nights, the kitchen crew and I have been rocking some old school Bled and Brand New and Fenix TX - remembering the good times; the progressive onset; the joy of saying, "Wow, this band actually stepped it up a notch." That said band might have stepped it up from being great already, not "Oh, well, this is a bit better than the pile of dog shit I've heard before."

This all brings me to my biggest gripe of the evening, and something that's been boiling inside me for some months now: what's with all the new genres? What the fuck is "chillwave?" It just sounds like a more electronic throwback to the "new wave" top 40 of the '80s. And "witch house?" Someone said it best when they said, "Yeah, I remember this, but it was called goth and/or industrial."

There's certainly nothing wrong with bands like Best Coast or Salem - bands taking something old and making it fresh again - but do we really need to deem it under another fucking genre? How many assholes with their heads up their asses need to be in a room to justify this shit? When did this whole writing/editorial game become so tiresome that we had to make up new bullshit terms to make us sound "hip" and "revolutionary."

The funny thing about all of this is I think half those bands don't think "What new genre can I invent?" It's the jackasses like myself that put the plastic tags on the mattresses and say, "Do not remove under penalty of douchebaggery!"

I understand this entry must sound muddled and all over the place. (Which of my entries are not?) I guess I've just been thinking about how the cream is finally starting to rise to the top this year. It seems like many listeners are finally sick of the hand that feeds them, and are biting back at the "flavors of the week" and supporting honest music done without an industry's mask.

The Republic of Wolves' Varuna makes me feel that way. The Narrative's self-titled makes me feel that way. Native's Wrestling Moves makes me feel that way. These are all different sounding records. They're all rock records - plain and simple - but they all have distinct touches that make them separate to the ear.

Tomorrow I'm seeing a hell of a tour. The next night I'm seeing a hell of a tour. Next weekend I'll be seeing what I think is the best festival in Austin. There's so much good music out there this year, but take this warning: Enjoy it and don't think too much into it. Don't think you're the first one to have discovered it, because nine times out of ten, it was done before. Most importantly, share it and bring together a strong community of support behind it. A community of ideas that's constantly building upon each other.

The marketplace of the new industry is slowly brewing. People are sick of the meek - and they will not inherit our headphones any longer.

Okay, maybe I don't even know where I was going with any of this. It made more sense in my head on the drive home from work.

- love and respect
Tags: Late Night Thoughts, AP.net, Community, 2010
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