I've been listening to my friends' record for the last week. It's a record that's been worked on for the last year. It's from a band you probably never heard of, even though they're connected (down to the point of recording) with many a band that receives praise and glory through the news feed of this very site and others. It's not important to tell you who they are, but to tell you their current story and where I'm going to go with it. I, and a few people I have shown a few songs to, think the music is pretty damn good to good to pretty epic. I think it's a solid release, and at the most minimalist of output with the final product, it at least deserves to get heard by how many people can hear it. Then again, that's the goal of all music ever created, right?
There's no management, no label, no hype, no viral campaign, no six month outlook and no plans for a "spring tour" in the works. The only publicity the band has is a bio/press release I told them a year ago that I would write when they started working on the record. It is in fact an album, that when mastered at the end of the week, will be in a state of limbo. It was all funded out of the pockets of the three people who helped create the music. In this business, whether you are the one creating the music, pushing the music (management, publicists, booking agents) or writing about it (press outlets and Tumblr blogs galore!), it is all a "labor of love" with no job stability, 401K or guarantee of climbing the corporate rung based on a set output.
As someone who almost dropped out of it all, only to be blessed by a hand to pull me back in within a matter of days, I consider myself lucky and humble to be a part of a special minority of "people who actually give a shit" and still fuel their "labor of love" with a passion not lost in the muck of the day-in and day-out. I mean, I never thought I'd be happy filling out spreadsheets and taking inventory - but I also have a turntable on my desk - so fuck you society! I finally won!
Tonight ol' Nassiff texted me and asked me to read his response to Kevin Devine's Kickstarter campaign. While Devine didn't get an Amanda Palmer response just yet, he certainly won over my heart just by reading his statement about the project this morning. As someone who respects the hell out of Devine already, Nassiff also brought those sentiments home with his column tonight.
That being said, I still have my convictions about Kickstarter as a whole, and they are convictions I brought up with Nassiff over the phone after reading his column:
1) "The Whole 'DIY' Argument": You want to do something you love, well, fucking work for it. Nobody likes a fucking trust fund kid in the world of punk rock, but a kid who thinks he's so "punk rock" and "DIY" is just equally as annoying. That said, the only reason I have a laptop is because I had cancer as a kid, and I used scholarship money later given to me as a "survivor" to purchase one. It sometimes bothers me and still seems a bit shady. I mean, money to be able to purchase a laptop that I wouldn't have been able to afford otherwise, or money towards cancer research to save lives. I know it's a ridiculous stretch of an example, but I'm trying to make a hyperbolic statement that every system is abused, and that everyone is going to cry "Why not me?!" like a child...always and forever until we're all rich with gold mansions and rocket cars. Coming from someone who has always busted his ass while people around him just "get things," I get it. I've lived that feeling of frustration many times, and probably will still experience numerous times over until I'm six feet under. It's why we'll always argue about free healthcare and why some people can't get food stamps with next to no income and others making a good five figures beat the system. Deal with it. Sometimes it's not the system, it's the assholes who have access to it. Maybe I shouldn't hate Kickstarter for my "work for it dude!" attitude, I should just hate those assholes.
2) "Incentives": Here's the biggest gripe I have with Kickstarter. The linear notes, phone calls and little prissy things that super fans eat up for a couple of extra dollars. Is it necessary to whore your work out like that? An extra 7", a show in your hometown (that's probably just going to be plotted on the next tour) and even a test pressing are all tangible, not insane incentives to have fans get more "bang for their buck" as they say. (Do people still say that?) Anyway, I just think there's a fine line between "investing" money in a project and getting a return of something so low. Why not just sign all the Kickstarter funded bundles? Are you that big that your signature is worth a couple of extra dollars? Would you charge me that if I came up to you after a show? Why charge me that now? And by far, my biggest complaint is the "thank you" section that some pay for. I've been "thanked" in a few releases this past year. Most of the time, I didn't even know. It's a special moment when you go, "Oh shit. Cool. But did I do anything?" I certainly didn't pay $5 for it. To me, it just sort of bastardizes the whole system.
The truth is, in the last decade of change throughout the industry, the old ways are finally crumbling. There used to be four big shots, and now there are three. No one gives a shit about last year's American Idol, X Factor or America's Got an Hour to Kill Because Worked Sucked at My Dead End Job or whatever "talent" show is making some phone company a lot of money. There are smart people in this industry that still care about music and know how to help people make money. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. I'm lucky enough to have met and known a few in my time, but they are a minority in the overly saturated market or "music business by the books" graduates. I get that Kickstarter could be a step in the right direction in helping bands like my aforementioned friends get their music to the masses because enough people believe it should exist on some tangible level in a business where most consumers would rather just steal it because that sort of consumerism has become the norm.
With progressions this past week with Bandcamp, it's a sign that Kickstarter is not the only means to a new business end in this industry. I'm just saying that the entire system of "crowd-sourcing" as it is deemed needs some work from the users and rewarders of the program itself. We're living in a time of great ideas and expansion. Don't become greedy like our corporate relics. Let's be fair, and show the next generation that this one killed the dinosaurs and finally learned from their mistakes.
It's been five days that I've been in Los Angeles so far. One day of training in the office, and two real work days. That's not the surreal part. The surreal part is being on the other side and looking in. There are things you can't repeat (duh) and you begin to see a bit of the opposite end of the spectrum you once worked on. In time, you'll begin to grow into the opposite polar end of being within the confides of the music industry (in this case management, product, tour planning, etc.), and far removed from the other end of publicity, fandom and consumerism. You can still be a fan, but I'm sure some of the "know" will take a bit of the magic out of it all somewhat. That's fine, I've slowly crossed into that emotion throughout the years, so yes, I now know that Santa Claus isn't real and that he didn't fuck the Easter bunny like most of the uneducated portion of America believes.
It's all smoke and mirrors, and if you're not aware of that, then you've obviously never heard of the Internet. It's disgusting, but it happens. Thankfully, I don't work for such a company, but it exists more often than not. I guess these companies haven't heard about the Internet either. In today's industry, who can you trust? That's why it's harder to get an album advance more than ever. It looks like now, even press releases will be hard to come by.
Then again, personally, that whole write-up is scum to me anyway, and is a mockery of something sacred.
But as I've mentioned in a previous entry, I have a project that's in the works to make sense of all the madness that's to come this next year. Rest assured, Cathy Pellow will be the first to read it. It's not going to be digitally transcribed through this blog or any other on the web, and it will be handwritten in a journal that my mother gave me for Christmas. There will be no names, and there will be no "tell all." It's about once again restructuring my writing into something else - the challenge of it all, and anything I have ever set out to do.
See, this past week, a good friend asked me how to get into the "writing game" or "journalism" business. After 3+ years of working during its bitter downfall, I want to tell him to run as far away as possible and get that law degree fast. It's not that "music journalism is fucking dead" because of things like this, it's for a lot of reasons, and few of which I had to get out of writing for the time being. (The irony is that I'm typing this now, right?) One of the biggest reasons is that I saw myself cycling similar thoughts about different records, different viewpoints on the industry and even catching myself contradicting my initial understanding or dismissal of certain information and/or social interaction. Another was the lack of long form in media. I don't necessarily blame it on the publication, I blame it on our spoiled nature of wanting things now and fast and cheap in the last five years.
Sure, prostitution is illegal, but we'll fuck anything if it's free, right? The death of print is not only in the death of the long form article, it's also in saying, "Why the fuck would I pay for a magazine that will take up space, when it's on the web for free and even gets to the point in a matter of minutes?" No one "has time" for the long form anymore. The progression of technology has somewhat become a crutch our mind can happen to lean against subconsciously within routine and time.
In following that line of thought, I will come to why I had to really step away: I was tired of being part of the subjective hype. Like I said in my final column last year, what's so great today isn't shit tomorrow. You can't wait four or five years to put out a record, because that's a long time where someone has come along to take your place in that listener, fan, consumer's mind. If you didn't make a big impact on that first run (that's a Catch-22 in itself - sophomore slump, forgetful third record, etc.), time is not on your side in this fast-paced, electronic dreamland of an entertainment industry. I found myself using "hype words" and "buzz phrases" in the excitement that half the time would just calm down some months and even years later. I found myself part of the problem, not the solution. It was fucking depressing to me in the last six months of the year.
Now, I'm sitting here very happy. I have no television - though I renewed my Netflix account for some entertainment escapism. I'm also trying to eat a bit better. Most importantly, I have a new outlook on life. A more positive one. I hope this year I can push all the negative tendencies I have for not only the slop most of America eats out the urinal some companies still are willing to produce, but my own apathetic views on the industry by now working within it. I thought about killing myself in 2012 multiple times toward the end because nothing in life and what I loved made sense anymore. In five days, the sun has looked bright over the hills these past few mornings when I woke up. To me, that's a great start to a new year.
After a week without my computer, I can finally inform you all my plans for the new year. I plan to finish the book on the post-hardcore scene I started within my free time. The other part of my free time will be to work on a journal outside of this one (a written one in fact) and will chronicle something special. It's taking my Consequential Apathy column into a gonzo state of experience and retort. Other than that, this year will be amazing for music. Sargent House's current release schedule alone is incredible, and that's just one label.
I get on a plane tomorrow night and get put into a new world, a new perspective and new rack of many hats to wear.
2012. The year that almost killed me.
2013. The year that....
...hoping for the best. I'll take on one giant at a time I guess. I'll always have a story to share with you guys. Thanks for listening for so long.
The minute you pick up an instrument, you're immediately a rock star in your own eyes. It's the dream (no matter who tells you otherwise) that any musician would hope to live: Play music for a living. It happens to only the smallest percentage of all musicians (probably somewhere on par with a high school star making it to a professional career), but year after year and band after band, more people put their ticket in to run the course. They sign on to ridiculous hopes and dreams of an industry that has been brought out back and beaten with its own shoe over and over for the past decade. Like bands, labels come and go, leaving impacts for specific generations and niche listeners trumpeting praise and worship for years on end. You know many people like this - just not gatekeepers who see themselves as an authoritative figures on the subject. Everyone has that friend who's like, "You've never heard _______ ? Dude, you gotta hear _________, it's the essential record that never got big. Such a shame," and so on.
Most of my friends are those people.
Then again, most of my close friends play in bands. Hell, I've played in bands. It's fun. On the outside, we rally around the belief that our friends can be that next band that everyone wants to talk about. There's a part of us that wants to say, "Yeah, I saw their first show," or was thanked in the liner notes of the big hit record. Even if you're not playing in a band, there's a superficial connection that not many others can relate to "since the beginning" or whatever. Shoving all the ego aside, friends can still be fans. We're supposed to be, because without fans, a band (or to bastardize it, a business) has no room to expand into that rock star dream I previously spoke of. Living in Texas, there's no shortage of great unsigned acts, and in living in Austin, there's no shortage of indie-best-new-something either. It only increases the bitter apathy, and your warrant in wanting your friends to exceed is heightened.
A couple of Sundays back, I stood in a room with about 1,000 people watching a friend play with his band for the last time. Wait, let me rewind. I met Henry back in 2010 during South by Southwest through Moving Mountains. I checked out his band For Hours and Ours and was blown away. Great live show, underrated sound. With more touring, For Hours and Ours should have been big. Then there's that phrase we repeat far too often - "should have been big." We as close friends use it just as much as industry executives trying to figure out why a band with the right look and sound and run of direct supports flopped on their first headlining run after months of sponsorships and financial support. It's a question we forever ask ourselves about countless bands across the years. As I watched For Hours and Ours' close friends storm the stage during their final song, I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the feel of the room at that moment. I see dozens of shows a year, attend festivals and see some amazing "Oh shit, did that really happen?!" moments - but there was a unique energy felt for that full hour up until that one final drag and burn after years of investment. There's something more past the community and past the friendships and interpersonal feelings toward the moment. There's the subjective feeling of success on filling a room, whether it's your first show, first tour or last celebration remembering all of it.
Everyone in the room knew it was over. Like a time of reflection during a life changing event we have been tied to, we can't help but think of the better times and acceptance during a personal strife.
The thing is, if you put your all into it - every week you went on the road without a shower, the room of five kids and the room of five thousand, the countless planning between part time jobs to do a tour and the positive attitude and humble feeling you had behind each small goal you slowly (or for some, quickly) reached - you succeeded. Maybe you didn't financially. Maybe you'll pass down your gear to your kids, or sell them to a young kid on Craigslist who is about to venture out into the last decade or handful of years you just lived. There are the tours that should have been and opportunities you didn't miss, they were just out of your control. The true success lies in the groove of your first 7" or the production and honesty of a few demos you put up for free on Bandcamp. You accomplished more in a short time than many will throughout their whole life. Be proud.
An interesting topic was brought up through my Twitter feed a few weeks back. With the excitement of Texas is the Reason's reunion, most will forget how small the band's catalog is. Same can be said for Desaparcidos. Another for all your sweater bound prayers to the sappy gods for an American Football reunion. Small catalogs. Large impacts. Think of how many bands have done that? Rites of Spring. Minor Threat. Operation Ivy. These are bands who you can fit whole discographies on one disc - that one disc changed a landscape. I'm surely not saying that you should think small, you just should think "now," the moment, the initial creation. That final string you pluck in the studio could be your last, or it could be in crowded room filled with connected memories.
It's 2012. While we care more about how homophobic a chicken sandwich is than the education system, gas prices and the overall state of the economy shelling out student debt that doesn't even out with job growth - everyone has an equal and fighting chance. You just have to do it. It's as simple as that vintage Nike ad. Wait, is that still and ad? In all seriousness, this is our time. I think Patton Oswalt, although addressing the comedic community, made a point in his two open letters this week: "And since this new generation was born into post-modern anything, they are wilder and more fearless than anything you’ve ever dealt with." There's no telling who will write the next great song or album. Millions attempt each year, only a few come close to an accomplishment on a large scale. If you write a song your close friends enjoy in a mix of the bigger bands you look up to - that's success. If you wind up selling out of your first record and see if going on eBay for an outrageous amount one day while sitting at your six figure desk job - that's success. Picking up a guitar and being a rock star shouldn't be a goal of most in 2012. It's knowing you have nothing to lose and not much to gain in this current industry. Not everyone gets a final show. Not everyone gets a final practice. Not everyone gets to even release and record something past a few local opening slots...
...But everyone has a fighting chance, and as Juicy J put it via Twitter a few days ago, "It's aug 1st 2012 ,if u not where u wanna be in yo life....keep hustlin."
Last night I got off the phone with one of my best friends who is currently out on tour for the second time in his life. This happened right after reading professor David Lowery's open letter to NPR intern Emily White, who, in a recent blog, proclaimed that she only purchased 15 CDs in her entire life, but obtained an iTunes library of over 11,000 songs. White is 20. My friend is 22. I'll be 26 in two months. Lowery, being a professor and ex-musician, is 51 years old. There is definitely a generational gap between all four of us. All four of us are involved in the business (or was), and to debastardize it to an extent, the "joy" of music. The four of us are also part of a greater consumerism, both financially and emotionally, of millions that hoard digital libraries, buy used CDs and flip them for new ones and/or spend way too much, or luckily at a steal, on OOP print vinyl or new, limited circles of wax.
To detach Lowery from the equation, the three youngest people mentioned do live in what he calls the "Free Culture movement," and i completely agree with that term. But at 26, myself and the older users and staff members of this site should remember going through the motions. I remember Napster on dial-up. I remember living through the downfall of it and the rise of Kazaa and Morpheus on countless others. I remember switching to Soulseek and ripping iPods in my early college years and then to the backdoors of Sendspace and Rapidshare in the later years. Yes, I have pirated a good chunk of music. In reading Travis Morrisons' column tonight, I also remember doing all those other things (with the exception of shoplifting. What?! My dad's a cop!). But I've also spent a good deal on t-shirts, concert tickets, CDs, vinyl, posters, etc. in that time. I love the tangible feel and ownership of something I find special, and even though I may not always have the dime for it, I generally attend the local record store at least once a week, if not twice and try to leave with something. Take that as you will and if you want to continue reading this op-ed.
For those that are 18-21, such as White, you came in at a time of music discovery when what Lowery describes as a "neighborhood" without an "antiquated police force" exists. More than just music, every form of media is digital and free. I just found out you can download comic books a few months ago! I thought video game emulators were one thing in my time, but that recent concept really blew my mind a bit. It's all free, why would you pay for it? The gas to go to the store only to find it's sold out, or the store doesn't carry it? You could order online, but there's extra for shipping. A simple Google search, and within minutes it's unzipped and in your iTunes. I could go to the store and buy fresh tortillas and meat and vegetables and cook tacos and invite my friends and share a good time. Fuck that! One of the best instant gratifications gained living in Texas is Taco Cabanna. Convenience reigns supreme.
That's my biggest problem with White's blog. Lowery touches on all the fiscal reasons why White is wrong, but I want to touch on the brightest red flag I had with her piece. This is going to come off as corny and lame (then again, a lot of what I say does, so take it or leave it) - there is nothing special in the "convenience" of either making music or consuming music. I say that in the most positive light too. Before sitting down to read both White and Lowery's blog entries, I watched Pitchfork.tv's documentary on Modest Mouse's The Lonesome Crowded West. Besides the information on the classic album's recording and meanings behind such Jesse Lacey covered classics as "Trailer Trash," the film makes old points on touring and promoting music without the vast space that is "the 'Net" and its ad-space virus which consumes sites like this and those lawless towns we loot from. All of the grain bands face daily only helps to create what I see as the best music in the end. The tension, anxiety, good times and bad, fear and letting go you hear in the most cherished records are generally reactions of going through the motions of making the music itself - especially lyrically, and sometimes (read: hopefully) instrumentally. (see also: 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons, Read Music / Speak Spanish, Kid A)
Like good satire, music has the ability to not only make us reflect on current trends and motions, the best music makes us grasp something deeper in the reaction to what's being executed. That's the thing that separates convenience from the people who should be in this industry: If something holds enough meaning to me, I want some sort of tangible item to remind me of that - especially when it comes to music. I will pay my water bill late for a copy of a record I've been looking for for sometime. I will drink less than stellar beer to own a copy of a CD or vinyl recently released from one of my favorite bands. I would sacrifice my credit - and have - to financially support something I believe in. I know that I'm not the only one who would do or does do this, and I know that there are people who are reading this thinking I'm insane. Well, so be it.
The economy certainly sucks. There just isn't enough money to go around that everyone can even remotely live a "convenient" life. I'm three years out of college living somewhere close to the poverty line trying to make it. My friends in bands are doing the same. Some of them you've never heard of, and some of them you might think are rock stars truly aren't. My friends who run labels doing their best to support their family of bands do well. But some rosters cater to a demographic of those 15-21 year-old listeners that share the tunes, and you have to remember that a pre-order goes a long way to put back into the label to sign more of "your friend's awesome band(s)" so they can truly see the same muck of business shit we all do.
I have no idea what to do about the financial situation of this industry. I can only give so much myself and still be able to work part-time and not give up my own dreams. It's not "convenient" whatsoever. It's an adventure, and the bands and industry people who live (or lived) through the years of "inconvenience" are generally the smartest. They know how things not only work, but how they work best. I'm not saying that White should quit her dream, because hell, she's on a great path. I'll say this, her demographic needs to think about the "convenience" of life catered to such technologies we've all been thrown into. Nothing I've ever loved has been easy to obtain or understood the moment it entered my life. There was no instant gratification, only days and months and years of appreciating something special that I once garnered. There's no "convenience" in true ownership, only hard work rewarded. I haven't been handed a lot of things in my life, so I know the work that has to be put into such ownership and confidence. A great band this week asked, "So what if everything that you ever loved more than anything was killing you this slow?" Well, this past year I've been on a deathbed of sorts. Some close friends have struggled as well. Just understand that big advances and trust funds generally don't make a lasting impact - quality music does. Go out and make a quality product and people will throw their hard earned money at your confidence and heart put into it. The people who matter will. They're the fans who will give your "new direction" a biting chance and take a plane or road trip cross country to see you reunite years later. People will put themselves through any number of "inconveniences" for any number of quality products - especially the comfort of music.
"The whole 'music sucks now' thing to me is so lame. Youths write me and tell me that their band will go nowhere because of all the bad bands in the world. I tell them there has always been awful music and that no great band ever wasted any time complaining, they just got it done. Their ropey ranting is just a way to get out of the hard work of making music that will do some lasting damage." - Henry Rollins, LA Weekly
The media can be damaging. I wonder how Lebron James felt Thursday as sports outlets put his career on the line in every segment leading up to game six. It's not enough to tell people what's going on anymore, it's also about how they should feel about someone or something that they're closely attached to. My biggest personal problem in working in the media industry is basically trying to figure out how to open people up to something I'm excited about, without forcing my opinions onto them as a final will and testament about anything. When I read the quote above from Mr. Rollins the other day, it got me thinking about how negative not only I, but media outlets everywhere, can come off towards something they're just "not feeling" or "extremely biased" towards in the passion of conveying any sort of message.
It's a catch-22 in this business and a cop-out at the same time. We have to pit what we think is good to what we think is bad. Every day we wake up and evaluate someone's progress to others around them. We tier and create caste systems that are bulit and torn down on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis of "best of" lists and hyped review systems of numbers and best new "something or other" to make us selfishly feel like taste-makers and give us some sort of worth in a job that a lot of people not in this business could do - if they weren't already out there making a real difference in society, like we maybe should be doing instead of this.
I'm not going to lie, I've had a pretty shitty day. The one good thing that happened today was getting to see my friends play to a packed house show. Our other friends played with them. All of their friends showed up. It was quite a special moment to be briefly part of. While I always hear about concerns of opening for touring acts from some, a good local show stacked with close friends excited about what's going on centrally is an enjoyment that should be had once in anyone's life - especially if you care about the heart and community of music in general. No matter how big you see a band get and tour with other bands from states away, the local aspect of music is and forever will be felt as a well kept moment among many. In that living room, basement or backyard - the people around you get it. There is no media judgement. There is no "anticipated next album" or expectations in general for that matter. There is only support.
I can't tell you how personally happy I am for the current local scene in Texas right now. A lot of great bands are doing not only great things right now, but the best ones have the most distinct sounds that I've heard writing and reviewing for a national outlet. I know it's not only going on here, it's going on everywhere. The excitement a local scene has is necessary to carry over into national takeover - whether that takeover is playing small rooms for five years, or hitting it big in two or three. The great thing about the hardcore scene that Rollins grew up in during the '80s was that sense of local community - from Chicago to L.A. to D.C. to New York - that carried into national word of mouth. Through it all, shitty music has always existed during it. There are some terrible bands that get big all over, and a budding underground that will never die within a specific region. You just have to go out there and seize the moment among the muck. If you have a unique voice to some, you may not be suitable for others - but there's always that some, and that's who you should give a fuck about.
Today I realized that I wouldn't be getting an opportunity that some of my friends received. I somewhat have my thoughts on why that is, and for the most part it has to do with my output as of the past year. I've said it before, but today - especially - it warrants another reminder: If you don't go out and bust ass and never lose steam, someone else is going to grab the crown. Someone else who also yields success will probably get it when you trip for even a moment. It's a dissheartening feeling when you don't stack up to the competition, but it should still make you think for the long run.
A friend said something that cut quite deep tonight: "I don't really care what anyone else is going to think about this album. I care about the people here and shows like this and what my friends think." I'm thankful every day that any of you give a shit what I have to say. The truth is that I'm half plagiarizing discussions that I quarrel with among my best friends on a daily basis. In the end, that's all I care about - success will eventually follow to any who do their best at what they're passionate about. It's not about how you don't like what's going on around you, it's about how you can go out there and change it and get people to recognize that. It's not about forcing your opinions on someone, it's about getting others to see a different take on music, ideas, politics, religion and the such.
I'm coming up on three years for this site and I hope I haven't eaten those aforementioned thoughts. My close friends continue to inspire me, and it's helped so much. I can't be anymore thankful for that sort of "local" support and challenge. Every quick minute to the crawling year we grow a bit against the grain of "awful" we deem around us as highly opinionated creatures. Mediocrity will always thrive - it's how we end up fighting it that's the best part of any long term goal in life.
Last Thursday morning, moments after I posted last week's column, I got a call from my mother that my grandmother, who had been suffering and declining for about two years now following a stroke, would probably pass over the weekend. As I stood on stage Thursday night watching Thrice play "Beggars," I definitely choked up a bit and I started thinking about the drive home on Saturday. When I was driving home late Saturday night, I was trying to quell my anxiety with the right musical selections in my car for the eight hour trek of interstate and more importantly, the eight hours alone in a car with just the stereo and my thoughts. As I think about it now, it sounds crazy that some of us vent through the medium of music in such a way. You don't want to watch a romantic comedy where Katherine Heigl plays the same character again after you broke up with someone, but you'll put yourself through the abuse of a sad song at your darkest moments. Seems strange, doesn't it?
A few weeks back I talked a bit about the ownership of music. Once it leaves the artist and it is put on the market for the general public to consume, it has the ability to shift meaning depending on the person listening and translating it and then attaching it to a moment or event for better or worse. Of all the familiar motions we tend to move through in life, death is certainly one of the roughest patches we must overcome. There are a lot of feelings both large and small that run the gambit through not only our hearts, but our minds as well. As I sat in the funeral home Sunday with my mother and aunt and uncle, I couldn't take my mind off the music that was playing over the speakers. Maybe it was simple subconscious distraction, who knows? The only wakes or funerals I've ever attended, I've never noticed whether or not there was any music playing at all. Sunday, I noticed. A mix of old country and gospel, I immediately figured it was simply part of the funeral home's general selection. While I sat there silent listening to an old Willie Nelson track, I overheard my uncle talking about how he found some older country and gospel albums helping clear out a home for a friend and wanted to bring them to my grandmother in the nursing home. In the condition she was in at the time, this now seemed the most appropriate.
One last selection on the jukebox.
I sat there wondering what would play at my funeral (there's your Saves the Day reference…): "Pyramid Song" or maybe the first untitled track off of ( ) by Sigur Ros first came to mind. Something soothing and accepting was my initial thought. Then I began to think, well, what if you were a metalhead? Would it be wrong to blast Cowboys From Hell or Ride the Lightning if it meant a sincere memory of how much that person loved to headbang and throw up the horns every chance they got? What do they play at Juggalo funerals? Wouldn't you want to honor the "family" wish to spin The Great Milenko or Riddle Box one last time before they close the casket? I'm not trying to say these things to make you laugh or be hyperbolic in outlandish varied situations that might occur - I'm just thinking very outside the box to make a point. Remember, anything, any wish, any last testament is a possibility. I'm sure there are a lot that exist. If we can turn our ashes into vinyl as this new century's burning viking ship, then I feel any final request is relevant to this conversation - especially when considering music.
When we attach ourselves, or others, to certain musical backgrounds, the music acts as a bookmark in growing chapters of our lives. Just as certain music has the ability to close a chapter on someone close to us, it goes without saying (because it's been said thousands of times) that elements as small as a lyric to something as large as a shared favorite band, to the songs and albums and concerts in between - they all hold depth to when we knew a particular person well, whether its warranted or not at any moment it may strike us. I bring up the word "warranted," because of a parallel that hit me while I was sitting at a beer garden late Sunday night trying to relax myself and jotting down a lot of my anxiety into what you're reading now. As we grow up, we need these bookmarks to sort of cherish the greater moments of our lives. There are certain memories we will come across not because of music, but we can attach a certain time, a specific group of people to the larger whole of a catalog or genre or specific record for that matters. What's more interesting to me is how building a record collection can lead to losing pieces of it in the end, and gaining them back later down the line. Remember your close friends in high school? How many of those albums have you traded in for new ones? What about the parties with a particular mix of friends you'd hear from every weekend? Are they still part of the regular rotation or are they fair-weather, collecting dust in the closet of a memory only to be recognized when you run across them months and years later? We sometimes lose boxes of records in a move for various reasons, and we often denounce our past ties to certain bands because their sound never changed, but our tastes and opinions did.
Watching Thrice for the last time Thursday night was a perfect parallel to the weekend that followed. My grandmother was always there for me as a kid, and she's one of the few people who was very optimistic about who I was and where I could go in life. She gave me hope. Even though she's gone now, she'll always be a force behind what little confidence I hold. My favorite bands made me believe that music could be special for various reasons. It's hard to see them go - especially when they have such a strong connection in shaping not only who you are, but how they are a benchmark of who you once were and the growth you've made since then. The same can be said about the hundreds of people I once knew or had frequent beers with - and even though I may not see them as much, if not ever again, they were there for a reason. The hardships, the good times; the first kiss to the worst rejection; the tastes of success and the biggest failures yet. This weekend I encourage you to dig deep in your iTunes folder or in the back of your closet for that box of CDs. Whether it's your copy of Middle of Nowhere by Hanson or the cracked casing holding Slanted and Enchanted by Pavement underneath that, turn off your television and your video games and YouTube searches for things like this. Take a drive or put it on in the background while you call a family member you haven't heard from in a while or old friend you often bring up in conversation when telling stories from "back when..." Music is immortal - the people we share it with are not.
There are a handful of elements I do not like about this job. Being a sort of "judgement call" for an entire demographic of people (whoever that may or may not pertain to) is one of them. I don't hold myself on a pedestal by any means, and the best thing I can deliver onto whoever reads any of this is simply insight. That insight comes from living and breathing every minute of my life to some sort of aspect of music. It's the choices I make on my iPhone on the way to work at 7 a.m. and it's the song that gets randomly stuck in my head during my shift and it's the hours I stay up late reading articles, books and writing til 3 or 4 in the morning sometimes. It's the bands I heavily research and the talks among musical friends. So, if anything, yes, that makes me an authority on some sort of level. Yes, I feel very well educated in what I say. I feel so educated in fact, that sometimes I have to lower myself to the world around me. In working for a site that caters to a whole demographic of young mushy minds and those older elitist scum like myself, sometimes I loose it and go, "Really? No! Stop! I'm not going to let this cycle of bullshit run its course this time." On Friday, I lost it with this.
To repeat myself, because I stand by what I said: "If there's more press about the drama of your band rather than the music it produces. Quit."
Now, some of you guys found that to be an ignorant statement. Some of you guys agreed with me. That's great, I haven't been attacked in some time (well, since SXSW anyway...) and since I was at work during most of the discussion dealing with a whole other breed of idiots, I was only able to rebuttal to an extent. Tonight, after giving some thought to the original quote, I'll open up some more about my feelings toward this situation, and one that isn't the first time in the last couple of years, well, as someone pointed out, since music's great pop stride, has gone on forever. With understanding that, you also have to understand a set of variables. To say every band doesn't have a bit of drama (even The Partridge Family had their tiffs) would be an understatement. As those cases of tabloid/PAGE SIX news reels throughout the blogging network these days, it seems to take precedent over a lot of the substantial news that SHOULD be covered. That's not only in music. The Daily Show thrives off exploiting the major news networks of too much glitter whored across their reputable titles as gatekeepers. What do we do? The public eats that shit up! You fuckers love drama! Take a look at this week's top stories. At least half of the top stories (more than half if you count The Offspring single thread) were drama induced. Most comments. Best memes. You guys know the drill.
The thing is, and especially after working for this site for close to three years now, the younger these bands are getting, the more I hear about their drama in the news feed than I actually hear about their music. Again, the statement wasn't directed specifically at He is We or their music (subjective to argue, but bland to my ears) - it's about how sometimes I log on in the afternoon and the feed looks like a fucking high school gossip page of "he said, she said" bullshit. (Limp Bizkit reference. Check.) Yes, I may have used the term "Disney bullshit" a bit loosely in my original argument, but if there weren't behind the scenes mechanisms working on a "press release" or "statements" that are now being refuted - then something is up. It's not about the music - it's about an image, and that's the biggest part of this job that I'm sick of. Jason wrote a pretty blunt statement the other day, and there's really not much more I can add to it, because it just about sums up my point.
Drama happens. We're all human. Some of my favorite bands have certainly been through the ringer and some of the biggest bands have made it to countdowns of insane rock and roll moments that I watch on Vh1 over and over again. But those larger bands also have staked some sort of stock in this business a long time ago. After some time and some well followed music, those bands' drama ousting never overshadowed their work. With all the praise that The Dangerous Summer get musically, even their biggest fans are sick of the bullshit. Their external perception, this rock star image, is beginning to overshadow who they are as musicians. It used to be, when a band had problems, they took some time and regrouped - or just called it a day and accepted their small spot in history to someone - whether it was big or small. There's always tomorrow. If you were a band that gave your all to music and that made a "genuine" or "substantial" impact to even a minority, there's always a chance to get back on the horse - I mean, every band ever is reuniting right now - maybe in ten years, we will turn another cycle out of side stage cult followings. Maybe a bunch of kids will pull out their neon t-shirts and find those MP3s that were taken off their iPod to make room for their new favorite band because you couldn't get your shit together, or were managed by people who couldn't be as honest as you wanted to be about a situation. Honestly, any time anything is dragged through the mud and taken out back to be shot - a lot of people suffer. I can say this because I've seen it, I've read about it and I can tell you that He is We's situation is not the first - but maybe it's a mark to head in the right direction.
There is a moment of clarity in everyone's life where they realize that they can be easily bought and sold on their weaknesses. The reasons for you hating Warped Tour are the same reasons the kids older than us hated it when kids my age were going. The thing is, it's getting worse. Every band used to have to bust ass to last almost a decade if not more - those bands made a mark with their music that resonates today, and they did it without trying to have an image (their own, not one given to them by the media). It's a mark that makes us stoked about these small one-off reunion shows and so on. A lot of those bands have the Internet to thank for that - but they were also around at a time when there was a benefit to being blogged about - now it seems that some have taken the phrase, "There's no such thing as bad press," a bit far. The cool blogs are running puff pieces - or some blogs are Tiger Beat reincarnated for the technical age. That's why I made the statement I made. That's why I stand by it. It's my job to make those kinds of statements. If you've ever watched any of the "Rage Quit" videos on YouTube, that's how I feel most days of the week. That's the kind of shit you guys seem to care about. You say you're punk rock, but you're being sold an image from someone who doesn't know shit about punk rock, doesn't know shit about three to four years of D.I.Y. and VFW Halls. When Panic! At the Disco recorded an album before they even played a show and got inked - it was an image and sound that has been bought and sold for at least five solid years now. It is a distinct bubblegum-pop underground, just packaged to a different demographic. Guess what, I'm calling these bands out on it. I'm calling their managers out on it. I'm calling their labels out on it. As good as the underground punk and hardcore scene is right now, that mentality will seep into the cracks. It has through every genre ever. It's just a matter of time before wafting shit and eating stale saltines that "sound pleasing" because you've just given up.
"Angry without a message or a meaning. When I got into punk and hardcore we were proper outcasts. We got into fights with the pretty boys that nowadays seem to be the bands. We were ugly and stupid and no girls liked us. They still don’t. Now it seems like all the jocks and pretty boys got themselves some fresh Ink and everyone loves them...This is just another boyband. Maybe it is more appropriate to compare it with the 90s Hairmetal. Music that claimed some sort of metal stamp but was just supercommercial and substanceless music. Yeah, that’s what is happening. Music has no meaning, no substance. It just about haircuts and tattoes. We are living in horrible times." - Dennis Lyxzen (Refused, The International Noise Conspiracy)
Thanks to the wonderful age of social news feeds, this one popped up from Sargent House just last week. After nine other (very helpful) tips, the tenth one left me thinking all the way to work, at work, on the way home, while I was out at shows during most of the weekend, lying in bed listening to iTunes…well, you get the picture. In an age where even the underground seems somewhat processed and prefabricated and packaged as a counter-style to mainstream ideals of music and art - music in its most subjective form still resonates mostly through personal connection from musician to fan. While it has been brought up in conversation before, there is an interesting medium between when music is created and then handed off for judgement both critically and personally - a shift in value of what it meant to the creator has now become more valuable to the consumer and listener in a matter of hitting "play." For example, maybe "Mandy" was written about Barry Manilow's dog (according to Can't Hardly Wait), but damn it if it didn't mean something to a lot of people who loved and lost many an Amanda in their time. It's this unspoken paradox that can make or break any band, because it's truly out of their hands as soon as they sing into a mic or distribute a recording.
Why do bands decide to begin writing music? A bunch of friends get together, they all love music, right? Some want to be rock stars, some want to have a fucking hobby and annoy the shit out of their parents, right? Think of the bands that have been the most successful. Generally they "speak" to people in some way. There's the variable of how they do that - is it what they say, or possibly how they say it - but for the most part they make some sort of emotional connection through instrumentation to lyrical address. Some bands have been revolutionary…
Wait. Let's stop here for a second. Think about that last sentence.
Revolutionary. Why? How? Intentional or naive? I've heard some great bands tell me they were intentionally trying to reinvent the wheel. I've had some say they were just trying new ideas because they had nothing left to lose. I've had some say they were trying to escape the pigeonholed genre description they had been tagged as being because of a number of people and critics. Some of these "revolutionaries" were just young and couldn't play their instruments. Sid Viscious couldn't play his bass, why the fuck should I have to learn?! Amirite?! For the most part, these bands of the past and present are now heralded because they did attempt something different at the time in retrospect to everything else. Time was not on a lot of these bands' sides, and personal qualms and infighting aside for some break-ups, no one gave a shit for what they did at the time. A friend showed me a ton of great old At the Drive In and Mars Volta live videos with them cracking jokes about people listening to "nu-metal and hip-hop" - is that what we were doing? Probably for some. Why was that? How did I ever get out of it? See, I can boast all the jokes I want now about your shitty scenecore music, but I'm sure nothing I say will ever negate the fact that maybe, just maaaybe that Rise-core band or radio pop sensation speaks to you. That's why they continue to sell out tours and sell merch to so many - because that "chug-scream-synth" record means something to them - them being millions. I went through it, it's okay. Then someone showed me something challenging.
Jokes aside and back on topic, no band truly has the capability of judging how successful their art can and will be. You could tour for years on end with some of the best music you think you've ever created - one album after another - but if no one gives a shit, you'll never be successful on a level you eventually want to be at - especially at a time when everyone can and will open a Kickstarter, use their trust funds or work for half the year in a shitty part-time to tour the other six months living some sort of dream. When the cycle starts over again, hitting the road will hopefully boast bigger crowds for some the second or third time around - but if it doesn't, you may have lost the "connection" along the way, or never made one to begin with. It goes to bastardizing the term "music" again into a "commodity" though. If no one wants to buy your product, even with some sort of following - you're left as last year's product - or a vintage collectable to some that once was moderately successful to others.
I do have one problem with the quote the more and more I thought about it this past week, and it leads me back to something I said earlier about the business end of both the mainstream and the underground. By that, I mean the quote would lead one to believe that if you want to be successful as a band, you have to give the audience what they want. Well, as both an avid concert attendee and a part-time server, I can tell you this: people are and will be assholes to their own discerns. It sucks, I know. But as a small minority who can muster some sense of patience with these slow, stubborn people, we can also grow to understand that giving a consumer what they want is not always best and generally doesn't work out for any long term business end. Again, I'm a server, and even rectifying a problem to its fullest doesn't mean there's added gratitude when a situation arises and is more than resolved. The same can be said about creating music. Want to write the record you always wanted? It doesn't sound like your successful last album? Well, it's time to get the fuck out and make room for my new favorite band, because you're yesterday's news ass-wipe!
That's sort of our mode of operation - especially in an age where every bit of information we try our best to retain is disposable, because with our smart technologies, it's just a couple of clicks and a search away! With music being as disposable as Chemistry notes for tomorrow's big test once it's done and we need to retain something else, I can only hope that each generation challenges themselves with every song, album or band they come in contact with and continue to want to grow just as their favorite musicians hopefully want to do as well. I can also hope bands will hinder success on whether or not they're being truthful in what they create. The gap between creation and distribution is a very scary thing to put your life behind when you (a) do want your art to mean something, if not the same feeling to someone else (b) maybe have your music be a bigger impact in someone's life both personally and within their growing musical spectrum and (c) be financially successful in ways you can continue to be creative in and have it be recognized.
As I was standing to the far back of the venue against the wall while Cursive put on one of the best sets I've seen of the band on Saturday night, I began thinking about the unfortunate news about my grandmother, grasping the concept of death ("Big Bang"). I thought about the girl standing a few feet up that I had been trying to ignore all night because of certain feelings ("The Martyr"). I thought about being successful current new endeavors myself, but having less than $50 to my name at the moment because work was slower than I anticipated earlier in the afternoon ("Dorothy at Forty"). It was a panic attack that I was enjoying as each song played into the next. It was a show that I personally needed after the day that I had. It didn't matter if these were songs part of bigger conceptual albums, it meant something more to me. There's a solace people feel in music that is untouched by anything else I have yet to see. This viral video from a few weeks ago only further proves that.
Being a musician has to be one of the worst jobs to have because there's no direct financial success. If you're white collar or blue collar, your decisions directly effect your pay, and for the most part, those decisions are usually a taught skill that has a definite answer. If I perform task X through these universally accepted means, success will happen and I will reap tangible benefits. Since music is one of the most argued forms of subjectivity among many of us, there's no telling if you could be a success overnight, or with your third album almost a year after its release. To that worry, I'll do my best to add to Mr. Davey's quote. I'll say this tacked to the OP, "...But if you're honest with yourself and what you write, there are enough people out there that will take notice that some form of success will follow." How big will your success relatively be? That's for the marketers, your manager and publicist and the general public to latch onto and figure out - or at the very least, a publication to throw you into the "hype" machine. You can trust those people, right? They're all getting better and better in seeing who's faking it and who's spilling their guts without remorse. The god awful truth is that you have nothing to truly lose in this industry right now. Gut yourself on stage and let your soul speak for itself. Do you have soul?
This has been quite a week for music. I've seen plenty of great shows this week ranging from huge reunions to touring friends and local acts in an intimate setting. I saw a show on campus and one that I very much needed. They were all different: different styles, different ages, different places in their respective careers.
Still, I can't get this quote from Robin Davey out of my thoughts: "If you think that anyone cares what your music means to you, they don’t – they only care what your music means to them..."
Pretty amazing to think about for a second. Really think about the quote. Not only think about what particular music means to you, but also the understanding of when something that was creative and an outlet for someone else then turns into a gift, a commodity, product, song, album or lyric, etc. that now holds new meaning to you outside its original context.
The above quote (thanks to Cathy over at Sargent House) has been stuck in my head most of the week. It was stuck in my head while watching both new and old favorites. It's been in my head thinking about big festivals viewed in our homes - and those up close to the sound and action. I thought about it on the way home last night thinking about a girl, a family death - among many other business things I all had running through my thoughts as I carefully selected what was coming through my car speakers. It didn't matter who was driving in the car with me the other night - it was just my thoughts and my musical choices over them.
Think about this quote and we'll discuss it more later this week when I gather a more complete thesis statement.
All I wanted was a set of ear plugs. I couldn't find the pair I had brought and searched frantically past the pills of Mucinex, my headphones and random stickers and swag in my backpack only to come up short. So as a friend told me they were giving away some at the front of the venue, I made my way through the crowd only to be berated five times with a what looked like a plastic discount card containing a code to some website for something I was supposed to check out at some point, but instead ended up tossing every single one handed to me in the trash on the way back to the outside stage. Maybe it was the fact that I was fighting a cold brought on by the lovely Texas weather of the weekend prior or maybe it was the muggy weather that made me feel back at home and worse, or maybe it was the exhaustion of sleep and lack of food between putting on shows, going to shows, writing reviews (I gave that up halfway through the week) or the fact that everyone was partying around me and I looked like an extra in The Walking Dead. Needless to say, this South by Southwest wasn't a blast like it was last year - and the hoards of sponsors shoving their products in my face wasn't helping this punk rock kid enjoy himself past how rundown his entire body felt. I don't mean to sound like a grinch off the bat here. Because through all the muck, I saw a lot of inspiring things last week. I met a lot of inspiring young artists and talked to a lot of people that have come up from the underground to make the system work for them and make a career out of it. So before I get into my mental frustration, let me try to rundown the positives of the week and the reasons I didn't send Jason an e-mail on Monday saying, "Fuck this, I'm out. The system blows, and I don't want to be a part of it anymore."
During the week, I ended up putting together four shows (one of which I unfortunately couldn't attend due to prior commitments - which included our showcase in that mix), and putting on said shows, I brought in some talent I thought worth "showcasing" and some new acts that really blew me away. Mountains For Clouds really grabbed my attention the most early in the week and was the standout at the Count Your Lucky Stars showcase on Wednesday. Thursday's line-up felt underrated as hell. Mansions and Aficionado played the same venue last year to practically no one, and this year they packed in the biggest crowds of the night. Travis Shettel of Piebald even showed up to perform "Honesty" with Aficionado. Mansions played a couple of new tracks Christopher Browder has been working on for the new album. If Dig Up the Dead was his breakthrough, I expect the next record to be huge hearing these new cuts live. Then there was Look Mexico performing one of their best sets yet. A truly underrated act among the masses of the "defenses of pop-punk" - scholarly on another level past what I think some listeners can even grasp. A Great Big Pile of Leaves played to only about 25 kids. But they were attached to every word, and as the band knocked out a 40 minute set, all 25 kids were chanting for an encore. Like I said before - past all the "hype" going on downtown - that moment was bigger to that small crowd than anything else - that moment, to them, will be held special for a long time.
The show I put together Saturday was really something else though. It was a mixed bag of rock and roll to say the least, running the gambit of razor cuts and brash fury. Silver Snakes hopped on at the last minute and blew me away with their biting edge of alternative rock. The split set from Full of Hell and Code Orange Kids was something else altogether though. I already see Code Orange Kids being the biggest hardcore act of 2012 (the band are preparing to hit the studio to record their full length, discussing final plans last week), but it's their live show that just destroys. There are very few times when the heaviness of a band can transfer from album to show without feeling overly gimmicky and a bit misogynistic and so aggressive it's a bit laughable - but following in the steps of bands like Converge and even contemporaries like Trash Talk and Ceremony - Code Orange Kids are young and they're ready to tear shit up and bring their music to life in front of you, and I saw it at every show I watched them play last week. I let Full of Hell split the set, and they didn't disappoint either. It makes me even more excited to know there's another young band out there attempting something a bit outside of everything many kids will (and starting to RIYL a bit too much) base their new suburban bands around. Also, Jowls was the loudest band I heard all week - their new record is the real deal and I'm glad I got to see it play out in front of me. Seahaven put on a performance that will have me pay closer attention to the four piece in the future. All of this happened in a fucking pizza shop - that's what really blew my mind, that I even pulled off something so small when a 56-foot tall (?) Doritos machine is just five minutes away, and according to some, the best sounding stage of the entire week.
Before I get into the downer end of the week - I have to give thanks to Sargent House, and specifically Cathy Pellow for always putting this industry into perspective for the lost soul and fighting punk rock anarchist that lies heavily inside me. The consistency of Sargent House's roster is one thing we as subjective critics can argue, but the showcase on Friday night only proved my sentiments toward the label, and there wasn't a doubt it wouldn't otherwise. While it didn't contain any "secret sets" like last year, Pellow showcased a lot of the label and management's newest talent. Marriages (three parts of Red Sparrows) floored me with their performance of the entire Kitsune record. The album is one thing I can't get enough of lately, but to see it come together live and so flawlessly was entrancing. I was anticipating Indian Handcrafts, but a few live videos I searched across YouTube left me a bit weary. The tone, rawness and tight ship that came out of the two Canadians that night put whatever Death From Above 1979 had to offer last year to *ahem* death and any negative viral video notions I may have loosely had about their live performance in the same coffin. Then there was Chelsea Wolfe. Simply jaw dropping. Something of a cross between the vocal layering of tUnE-yArDs, the elegance of St. Vincent and the vocal eeriness of Thee Silver Mt. Zion, Wolfe is a real deal and she pulls all of it off more vibrantly live.
Finally this year, Absolutepunk.net made its presence known at the shit show of a festival. Packed into a 500 person cap of Purevolume House, we had quite a line-up. But alas, our showcase was the most troublesome for me to cope with. Each band put on a terrific set, but the night boasted one of the most heartbreaking moments I've ever seen at South by Southwest. For all the bands that stirred shit up and put on a show or a fight or pitched a new product or whatever their soapbox was for the week (not necessarily at our show, but in general) - I watched as one of our users, setting up for only his third show ever, had the curtain fall on him before his festival moment. Due to technical difficulties and wiring troubles none of us could figure out, Malcom Lacey (Arrange - user: WakeUp) didn't get to perform. Here's a kid, no gimmick, only hyped by the likes of ourselves and Pitchfork, getting a moment and having it taken away due to unforeseen technical issues. For some reason, that hurt me. I think deep down inside, I wanted to see something special that night. I'd seen all the other bands and I knew they were capable of pulling a great show (I mean, that's why we booked them - bangarang, amrite?!), but I wanted to see Lacey get a bigger chance, and I think I wanted to see this special South by Southwest moment of unnoticed talent on a larger scaled stage go noticed. It didn't happen, and it was gut-wrenching. Now, add that moment early in the evening to the crowds of belligerent drunks, half filling the room with disinterest in what music the showcase had to offer and more what the bar had to give them for free past 2 a.m. when 6th Street shut down its services, some attempts of attendees to get into an "exclusive" V.I.P. area that wasn't that big of a deal and the line of people who didn't get to see the show because of it - it was just disheartening. I even got to meet Adrian Villagomez, one half the reason I started working for this site, but it was all cut short by the bullshit of the evening. For some reason it all got to me. All the bullshit of South By Southwest ruined this bigger moment.
My one day and night in the pit of downtown Austin for South by Southwest was miserable. The bands I wanted to see were great - don't get me wrong. I was lucky enough to see Say Anything blaze through themost punk rock set of the entire week, and it made me think about this: for every harsh critic on the web or in print, there's always ten fans there screaming every word to both songs old and new. That's rewarding in seeing. I finally got to see Braid not outside a venue looking through the glass and leaving three songs in. I saw those three songs again, and more, five feet in front of me. I saw the band help out a marriage proposal. To me, that's the special moments of South by Southwest. It's those small moments when you forget you're at a festival the size of Disneyworld, and you feel you're just at a show watching Foundation stir shit up like it was any other night they were holding the crowd's attention from the pit's perspective. One of the best parts of South by Southwest is that I got to spend it with my friends in Former Thieves for the most part between both our hectic schedules. The guys played 9 shows in six days. One day they played three shows. That's insane to me, but it's not an uncommon element for South by Southwest either. The guys' first show was a house and their last was the closing of a bar on Sunday when most of the tourism had cleared itself out. It wasn't their "official South by Southwest" show that was their favorite. It was their last two - a pizza parlor and opening what could be deemed a hip-hop extravaganza featuring Bad Rabbits and Doomtree - both killed it as well.
It's not that my South by Southwest experience was completely miserable. I only had to sit through a handful of awful bands (mostly all Wednesday afternoon leading up to fun.), it's just that the business end of the deal ruined the enjoyable aspect of the annual festival this year around. I took notice of it more. I took notice of the crowds that stood in line for free booze and food instead of the line-ups on the bills. I'm not even talking about a lot of the official showcases that went on, I'm referring more to how overrun the majority of free shows have become. There are more venues and more companies and more sponsorships and more of "COME SEE ME!" for all the wrong reasons. Maybe all this hate and anger is just steaming off the little punk rock kid inside me that won't die. If I sound bitter, it's because I wish a bit of the deadwood, the party, the ad-space that the festival has become would die off a little bit and that it would just be a bunch of shows to check out or being able to see a band you love in an intimate setting for free and not standing in line while half the room is just there for all the free shit and "to just be there" - and this is coming from someone who has no problem getting into much of anything during the festival without a badge.
Maybe this year, because I was more involved with the production of South by Southwest, I began to see the festival from a whole other light. The fact is I couldn't believe the small amount of crowds for some showcases and the long lines that lasted blocks around the corner for others. It just doesn't make sense to me. The business end of it all doesn't make sense to me. At the end of the day, I'm no authority and I'm no one special. I'm just a guy who writes for a website to offer some insight and to unload his thoughts and confusions and to stir discussion. That apparently is not an occupation at South by Southwest or this industry. So instead, I just want to be dead with my friends. Until next year, goodnight and good fucking luck.
I know I've been a bit absent since my "Day Two" entry of South by Southwest, but the final two days of the week were the most exciting, the most rewarding, the most confusing and the most frustratingly exhausting days of the week and the year thus far. I keep blanking out the past few days thinking about how I'm going to unload a lot of what's on my mind, my future in this industry and how a lot of people have given me hope or shown me that there are sharks in every tank of this business.
I think that's the biggest term I had a problem coping with as I was having lunch Sunday afternoon - trying to separate the term "business" from all of this, while figuring out how to make a living off of whatever this is as well and intact some sort of integrity into it all. Finishing that Xerxes review last night was one outlet and stepping back into the interviewing game tonight was another. Standing in a room filled with kids who were eating up something that I couldn't grasp for the life of me made me feel a disconnect - a disconnect I felt on and off throughout the week. It may not be as simple as "getting older," and I hope it's as positive as "getting wiser" as well.
I'm going to get some sleep. Get up tomorrow and sit down with my headphones intact and just unload on TextEdit. What you get on Thursday morning (late Wednesday night) will be my best at explaining why I may give this all up soon or be inspired to keep fighting the good fight - whatever that may be past what I think it is in my head after this week.
South by Southwest was a blast for the most part - I just don't have business cards nor do I care about "hype" bands. Maybe that makes me the outsider - or maybe I just wanted a bit more hate moshing during Darkest Hour - that's all I'm saying.
This year's South by Southwest is already two weeks out (a week and a half if you count when it actually starts with the "interactive" portion). This is a big year for many reasons. First and foremost, this site has a showcase this year. Jason will be announcing our line-up tomorrow, but it certainly feels special to be a part of this larger festival of who's-who and "who the fuck is this band?!" said in both the positive and negative tense throughout the week by many a critic and causal drunk alike. While I'm content with our line-up (we as staff fought it out, hugged it out, came to an agreement and we're stoked on the line-up which includes...errr, you'll see tomorrow.) From someone who has only been a part of the festival for two years now, I can tell you it's a shit show. There's a group of people who think they're something, and they're nothing but assholes. There's a group of people that just want to go and get sloshed for free and watch some music cause it's spring break, or they called in sick from work, or they have the day off, etc. Half of those people end up being assholes too - but just the ones that have a bit too much to drink or think they know what the next big thing is cause they're in this "in." Then there's a group of people from across all genres both local and touring that just want to play their music - their special creation - for the sake of playing it to a group of people and having that opportunity.
There are a few 8 Mile moments for some.
The music portion of the festival is like literally taking an entire industry of fuckheads, rock stars and more than grateful souls to play the smallest of venues and shoving them into one small area of the United States. It's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome if Mad Max were a DIY punk band or great local blues act, and the exclusivity and pompous behavior of some were Tina Turner. Luckily, there's hope among it all, and last year certainly proved it: new friends, labels, community, a new generation, etc. This year will be no different either. It's the friends staying with me and those I'll see during the week and the line-up of shows I've put together. The ugly truth is that you meet a lot of people that have "business" written across their face, and you wind-up scratching your head wondering if they still really enjoy music like they used to when they picked up their first few albums years and years ago. They talk to you like you're their friend, but they're looking for press in an indirect slide of tongue. You have to avoid it at all cost.
Still, in the face of said motivational devastation and confusion brought on by the powers that control what you should like and what gets shoved against your eardrums and thrown on a NOW THAT'S WHAT (SERIOUSLY?!?! THEY STILL MAKE THESE FUCKING THINGS?!) compilation or even a BEST NEW TRACK or "essential podcast" for the month, it's about making the best of the week. It's sitting in the corner of the lunchroom knowing that the so-called "popular" majority will never understand your qualms against the mundane and your love of things that keep you on your toes and heighten your curiosity and subconscious intrigue you can't shake for days after the circus lets out and the animals go home.
If I sound bitter, it's partial nerves and partial exhaustion. I personally came into this line of work because I needed to control and make sense of all these commentaries in my head I was spewing amongst my friends. Instead, it's been three to four years of really learning the divided line of integrity and lack thereof that knows no genre and isn't discriminatory to just bands - but publicist, managers, and labels as well. We're entering one of the largest music festivals of 2012 and there are still a good number of people "in charge" that are unsure of how to control piracy, get their music to more people beyond just touring and just plain be noticed in a sea of thousands of others that just want a shot at this dream of playing music as a primary outlet of, well, a job.
Here's to South by Southwest. Here's to mediocrity. Here's to the intimate crowds and long lines to see that one band you were really hoping to catch. Hold onto that moment when you get in and close to the stage. Enjoy it and forget that a complete shit show of false idealism is happening around you.
I don't know why I thought about it the other day, but I remember I started a blog back in high school to start posting about music. In fact, it was my senior year and I knew I was going to college for journalism. As I'm sifting through the entries (somehow I remembered my username and password), I realized how passionate I sounded about what I was talking about, and even more surprising, what bands still stick with me that I was passionate about then. I talked so much about nostalgia in 2011, that I really don't want to dwell on the past in 2012. In fact, I want to gain so much momentum that I gain this sort of ludicrous speed where the first three months seem like a blur up until South by Southwest. One entry had me laughing, smiling and shaking my head all the same. It was a survey I took back in the day, and some of the results still stand.
People always talk about the new year as this new start, but the fact is that every moment you are awake is a new venture, a new contribution of brain power, a new discovery and a new hour, minute or second. I'm slowly learning that. Like our trying to correct problems we still trip over years later and memories we still think about from time to time - there was always a soundtrack. The best part about a new day, week, month or year is that there are more songs to choose from, and for some of you, new ones to create and contribute to. Being a writer in this industry and having someone tell you that "music is subjective" always reminds me of my economics teacher saying all the formulas are "pretty much an estimate" when I kept throwing variables at her - it's a hard concept to grasp. When you're a critic, sometimes you try too hard to analyze why you like something, instead of just accepting its value for what it means to you - instead of what it should mean to others.