Let’s first talk about what kind of music this is. If you don’t like electronic beats and you’re coming into this with a closed mind, leave now, take your fake Fender clutching-ass back to the campfire so you can sing Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews to your beloved. Now let’s get into this review.
It goes on like that, at great, great length.
Twitter seems divided over this review is actually for real, or it’s a very clever parody of a certain immature and narcissistic style of music writing many of us both recognise and loathe. If it’s a troll, are the Independent trolling their readership, or is the writer trolling whatever passes for a music editor at the site?
One or two Guardian critics I won’t name have suggested this sort of thing is what happens when you don’t pay your writers.
Now, Flume’s Skin might be a great record, even if it’s not quite as good as Panic Room’s album of the same name. But it’s almost impossible to tell from that review.
It’s been overshadowed by the terrible nightclub massacre in the same city just a few hours later, the enormity of which is still hard to take in. But the murder of singer Christina Grimmie while she chatted with fans and signed autographs after a gig struck terribly close to home. Especially when I read that there were about a hundred people at the gig, which makes it the sort of gig I’m very familiar with, and there are many, many times I’ve chatted with band members after a such a show. As a female games journalist said to me on Twitter, the fear of this sort of thing lurks in the back of the mind of anyone with any kind of public profile.
I am fortunate to live in a country that isn’t awash with guns.
At the moment we know next to nothing about the killer or his motivation, but the probability that he was some kind of obsessive stalker is quite high. It’s why you don’t make tasteless jokes about the subject; because stalking is really no laughing matter. It’s also why can’t dismiss online threats out of hand either.
A couple of tweets from an acquaintance about the ubiquity of Iron Maiden and other classic rock and metal bands as background music in bars in Romania shows how mainland Europe has a quite different relationship with rock and metal compared to indie-dominated Britain. An equivalent bar in Britain would be playing Oasis or Ed Sheeran.
Especially in Eastern Europe, how much is this down to former Communist countries first encountering the music in a completely different context, such that it doesn’t carry the same cultural baggage as it does in Britain?
I know this is a recurring theme for me, but a big problem with British music is a critical establishment that defines every kind of popular music in terms of its relationship towards punk. A handful of snotty three-chord bands, or rather the pseudo-intellectual scribblers who worshipped them ended up casting a long shadow over everything that happened not only after 1977, but the years before. A lot of the narrative is revisionist nonsense, but it’s become the orthodoxy, endlessly repeated by those two young to have been there at the time. Anything that doesn’t fit the narrative risks being written out of history.
Eastern Europe experienced none of that. The fall of the Berlin Wall bought a flood of Western music, such that the cheesiest hair-metal of that time is revered in the same way the 1960s British Invasion is revered in America. Songs like Europe’s “The Final Countdown” and The Scorpions’ “Wind of Change” have a status that’s hard for people in Britain to imagine.
Although this doesn’t explain the huge popularity of metal in Scandinavia. So perhaps there’s another explanation?
I can understand people who just don’t like Springsteen. I was well into my 30s before I could even tolerate much of his music, let alone adore it. And for a first-time attender, a Springsteen show can be a little like attending a meeting of some religious sect – intriguing at first, then slightly terrifying as you realise quite how long it’s going to last. But once the rhythms of the night seep into your soul – as you understand how you are going to be swept up, then brought down, then lifted again; as you come to understand your part in the liturgy – it becomes hard to resist.
I’m not a Springsteen fan myself, but that paragraph somehow sums up what’s so great for me about seeing bands like Mostly Autumn and Panic Room live. Some people wonder exactly why I’ll travel considerable distances and stay in sometimes dodgy B&Bs to see a band they’ve never heard of play before a couple of hundred people.
The comparison with religion is spot-on.
There have been times when I’ve seen Mostly Autumn and been on a high for the rest of the week, to the extent that work colleagues have noticed. It’s not quite the same as Springsteen’s universality, of course. Sometimes it’s knowing more about the backstories of deeply personal songs about love, loss and bereavement than has ever been put in the public domain that gives the music such a powerful emotional punch. And the dynamics of a small intimate club gig where you frequently get to meet the band after the show is different from the electric atmosphere of an arena show. But the parallels are still strong.
What about you? Who is your Sprngsteen, or your Mostly Autumn or Panic Room?
The last couple of days have seen two good articles on the reality of making music outside the commercial mainstream. First, Rhodri Marsden in The New Statesman writes about the joy of being in a part-time band, which describes the reality for most bands I know. I can think of at least one musician who’s on record as saying the stability of a day job to pay the bills gives him more creative freedom as an artist.
The comments against the latter do betray the sheer levels of ignorance out there when it comes to the realities of music at grassroots level. There’s the numpty who implies they’re an industry insider who claims it’s impossible to write a great song without agents and talent scouts beating at the door. If you’re under 25, conventionally pretty and willing to work within the narrowest of commercial formulas, maybe. In all other cases this person is speaking unadulterated cobblers.
Then there’s the twit who claims that anyone who doesn’t aspire to headlining stadiums shouldn’t be making music, mocking those who play “300 seat clubs”. Perhaps if you attended a few club gigs you might discover what live music is all about? And maybe the reason some artists don’t aspire to be the next Coldplay or Adele is because they don’t want to water down their music until it sounds like Adele of Coldplay? Or just maybe not everyone who wants to make music wants to be chewed up and spat out by the celebrity fame machine?
Too many people have bought into a rock’n'roll mythology that was never an accurate reflection of reality even in past decades when the music business had money to throw around, let alone now.
What is “success” for a musician nowadays? From my perspective it’s the artist being able to make the music they want to make on the scale they want to make it, and to attract enough of an audience to be able to continue doing so. That doesn’t have to mean headlining stadiums. It doesn’t even have to mean being able to quit the day job. It means being able to play with a full band rather than a acoustic guitar and a laptop, if that’s what you want to do. It means not having to water down your sound to fit someone else’s formula. It even means being able to play your own songs rather than covers.
2016 has been a terrible year for deaths, but it’s also been a tremendous year for new music. The underground progressive rock scene has produced many great albums from bands as diverse as Mantra Vega, Knifeworld, Haken, Iamthemorning, Purson, Frost* and Big Big Train. The mainstream has come up with some impressive prog-friendly records too, with David Bowie, Suede and Radiohead amongst them. And that’s before we even start on what’s come out of the world of metal.
So, what’s you record of the year so far? What other records have impressed a lot?
It’s what passes for “rock” nowadays; but to anyone who’s old enough to remember bands like Thin Lizzy, it’s just laughable. It’s the sound of nothing, corporate beige music which apes the shape and form without any of the substance.
The “Music Industry” whines that there’s no talent out there. Yet they give their hype to dross like this when acts like Panic Room or Halo Blind or Mostly Autumn or Chantel McGregor or Karnataka exist, all completely off their radar. The only rational response is hollow laughter.
This is why the major labels need to be burned to the ground. Kill it! Kill it with fire!
In an interesting post by Serdar Yegulalp on how the cultural impact of music scenes is often only apparent decades later, he talks about the impact of Disco in the late 1970s.
In the 1970s, disco culture was pooh-poohed because it was seen by rock fans as straight America’s attempt to be hip. The way it legitimized gay culture went almost totally unseen at the time, in big part because gay culture itself was unseen — and, in my opinion, somewhat deliberately, by a lot of rock fans. I remember how Queen and David Bowie were, for a big part of my youth, seen by my compatriots as campy weirdos (read: “fags”), but then folks like Prince came along and pretty much knocked everyone’s sensibilities on that score into a cocked hat.
Nowadays the reaction against Disco is generally painted as a racist and homophobic backlash by straight white male rock fans. But that’s a revisionist narrative as well, playing today’s identity politics with the music of a generation ago, over-simplifying a much more nuanced reality.
As Serdar says, the urban gay subculture was hardly on anyone’s radar screens at the time, and Disco frequently came over as a corporate commodification of black soul and funk, which were seen as legitimate genres in the way disco wasn’t. And many of the disco era’s worst crimes against music came from white rock musicians who should have known better; Rod Stewart, I’m looking at you.
Today the tides of time have washed away the dross and we only remember the good stuff, like the funk of Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards, now deservedly recognised as every bit as talented musicians as any of their classic rock contemporaries. Or the things so exuberantly cheesy they get filed under the ridiculous label of “Guilty Pleasures”, like Boney M’s gloriously silly “Rasputin” which get covered by Finnish folk-metal acts.
One response, if you are a major, is to send your entire A&R department around the country to find out what people want to listen to (and, more importantly, buy). The label doing this, which can’t be named, has instructed its team to speak to promoters, club owners and others connected to local music scenes, until they have an idea of why new acts aren’t connecting. It has been spurred by the fact that this is the time of year when the frontrunners for 2017’s next-big-thing polls should be gathering at the starting gate. However, according to another insider, there is an unprecedented lack of viable hopefuls, let alone those with the potential to be the next Sam Smith, Adele or even James Bay.
“There’s nothing on the horizon, no music scene at the moment. It seems to be that the talent isn’t out there, [or if it is] they don’t know what to do with it,” says the label source.
Now, I know the major label industry prefers artists who are both under 25 and conventionally pretty, and much of the best music is made by people who don’t meet either of those criteria. But is there really a shortage of talent out there, or just a shortage of talent willing to work for the major label sausage machine under the major label’s terms?
Are these gatekeepers even still relevant? Yes, there are still people out there who don’t listen to anything that hasn’t been endorsed by those gatekeepers, but the relative failure of the ridiculously-hyped Jack Garratt suggests that even these people aren’t willing to swallow any old rubbish.
As readers of this blog will know, there are many acts out there who blow most of the overhyped major-label hopefuls completely out of the water. The commercial mainstream has never heard of these people. Perhaps the reason they’re not ubiquitous stars is because they don’t actually want to be?
The fandoms of the internet keep throwing its toys out of the pram. I have no idea if it’s getting worse, or whether it’s always been this bad but we just hadn’t noticed.
Maybe it’s the constant background noise of arch sneering between supporters of different eras of bands that have gone through many changes of lineup and musical direction; Facebook groups like “2/5ths of Yes is not Yes”, I’m looking at you. Or maybe it’s the ugly wars over the trailer for a much-hyped reboot of a thirty-two year old film; why on earth have so many of the worst culture warriors on both sides chosen that particular hill to die on? Or the ongoing Sad Puppies Hugo Awards mess, where I’m sure I’m not the only person who has lost all patience with both sides; the world of science fiction ought to be bigger than one clique of authors and fans who are still living in the 1950s fighting another clique of authors and fans who are still living in the 1970s.
A lot the appeal of being part of a fandom rather than merely enjoying the music, films or books is the feeling of belonging to a tribe. And some tribes love to define themselves by those who aren’t part of that tribe. Do fandoms become toxic when in-group signalling becomes more important than the actual art? And is this just an inevitable part of human nature, or are there practical things we can do to stop fandoms going bad?
It’s nonsense. Liking or not liking a piece of mass-market entertainment should not be a litmus test for whether or not you are a good person. And “Those people over there I don’t like will love or hate it” is the worst possible form of criticism.
So don’t do that. Better to celebrate the things you love.