Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Has the World Changed Or Have I Changed?: Musings on the New Musical Express Train to Nowhere

I've been meaning to write something about my general feeling of malaise with new music, and now that I've read two very eloquent posts about this same feeling at To Die By Your Side and The Vinyl Villain, I very likely don't need to now because I don't know if I have that much more to add, to be honest. But since I must write something to keep this blog alive, I'll do it anyway. It's my blog and I'll rant if I want to.

I'm twenty-five, so why I feel so jaded about music already is something I would like to try to understand. I agree with what the bloggers above have said about how maturity and acquired knowledge does eventually make music sound less "new" and "innovative"; the more you know about music and music history, the more connections you can make between new and old music. And if there's one thing I had to learn over the years, it's that art of any kind must always use what's come before it in some way. Originality is a flawed concept, and it's a concept that has dogged me for many years as I shied away from writing creatively for long periods of time, believing that I had nothing "original" to say. In fact, I wrote a short story called Life is Art is Life all about that particular conundrum. I realized that it's how you build on what's come before you that makes you special and memorable; no one reinvents the wheel, instead, you get fantastic variations like cars, ferris wheels, and my personal favourite, the pennyfarthing.

As others already noted as well, the music of your youth or the music tied to "new" experiences in your life will always be special to you. It's why there's such a thing as nostalgia. I like to think that there will continue to be new bands that will impress me in the future as I grow old, but at the same time, I don't think they could ever make me feel the way the Manic Street Preachers, The Smiths, The Clash, and New Order do. These artists/bands got to me first and changed my life in their respective ways; for the most part, they ushered me into adulthood. Sadly, only one of them is still around, and through unfortunate circumstances, have had to change from their first, truly brilliant incarnation.

So, have I changed? And is that at the crux of my lack of excitement over most new bands? Likely, that's a big part of it, but at the same time, the music industry and its attendant press has changed rather drastically in recent years. Technology and the Internet have expanded access for both artists and fans, and they've sped up the process of production and promotion. While these developments can be hailed as the next stage of a truly DIY music scene, in a lot of ways, to borrow from Dick Hebdige, they've defused and diffused it. It's become increasingly harder to pick through the sheer masses of artists/bands out there (for my thesis, I made some rough calculations and figured there are at least 450 000 artists/bands with profiles on MySpace). Add to this overwhelming number the erosion of interest via media bombardment, and the situation gets sadder - the more information people are exposed to, the more apathy there is. The brain can only handle so much before needing to defer to others' opinions to make decisions, and in some cases, the brain just shuts out information wholesale in an act of self-defence.

And of course the advent of MP3 blogs and their aggregators have made it quite easy and speedy to hype a new artist based on very little. Of course, if a band is ultimately worthy of praise, they will weather the hype and continue to make interesting music. But this mad rush for the "new thing" has accelerated to such speeds, I can't bother to keep up, and instead, have found refuge in filling out my collection with older bands' back catalogues. Often I end up discovering an old band that I had never heard of before (some blogs can be thanked for this). For example, I only just found out about the post-punk band The Sound this year, and I now consider them one of my favourites. I'm also very aware that the bulk of new music I end up paying attention to is created by artists/bands that have been around for awhile - though, I can often also be disappointed in new output by old artists as stated in my post about The Cure. That's a different discussion for a different time, mind.

At this stage, my modest patch of cyberspace has by no means garnered too much attention by promotional people, but out of the emails of this nature that I have received, I've only been interested in two or three, and only really and truly loved one. As Coxon from To Die By Your Side stated, most bands are just too samey to be worth listening to, let alone worthy of a blog post. I require more than just a new Libertines or Arctic Monkeys, and I am too often disappointed by the comparisons of these new bands to older bands that I love, comparisons which never pan out.

Not only do I have to be critical of the promotional hype I get in my inbox, but I have to be just as critical of the information I get from "professionals." I know I'll sound like some whiny curmudgeon when I say that the music press isn't what it used to be. Sure, in the past, editorial and journalistic styles have displaced that which preceded them, but the recent shifts really don't speak to me. I like to believe that I would have been far more impressed with the work of Lester Bangs and Nick Kent had I been alive at the time they were prominent. I may also have romantic notions of the more politicized, intelligent NME of the early to mid-eighties, considering I was a small child then, but I do long for those times. I read less and less music magazines these days because either their information is out-of-date, or they're too busy chasing the next Libertines/Strokes to care about what really matters in music and the discourse that surrounds it. You will never see as brave a cover as that nearly all-black 1986 issue of NME that discussed youth suicide, nor content as brave. As much as I love The Mighty Boosh, they are merely a sales figure booster for the NME with comedic links to music and Noel Fielding's rather pathetic public antics. I can't imagine the bands being championed in the recent press as being as iconic and meaningful even ten years down the line as bands like Joy Division and The Smiths were/are. And though I don't expect all artists/bands to carve "4REAL" into their arms in order to prove a point to the NME, I do long for those who are willing to stand out and stand by their beliefs and opinions, or frankly, willing to have an opinion at all.

Having said all of this, I will say there have been rare instances when the white noise of bands clamouring for attention has cleared for a moment, allowing me to hear new music that I believe has that capacity to change my life. I believe in these bands and what they stand for; not only do their music and lyrics affect me, but so do their ideologies and philosophies, aspects which make art meaningful. They take the brilliant elements of previous artists, musical and otherwise, and multiply them into something more than the sum of their parts. They are "4REAL" in the same way Richey Edwards once was. And these bands aren't even at their peak yet; there's no reason they should be, and that very fact makes them exciting. These bands are Vanilla Swingers, Stroszek and Black Umbrella, and you can read about them in more detail when you follow the links below.

Post #1 on Vanilla Swingers

Post #2 on Vanilla Swingers

Post on Stroszek

Post on Black Umbrella

These are the bands that will mean something to me in ten years time. These are the bands I would feature on the cover of a magazine purporting to be about "new" music. These are the bands that continue to give me hope that not all good music was in the past.

Goodbye Lennon - Vanilla Swingers

Railway of Bones - Stroszek

Secret Kiss - Black Umbrella


JC said...

"...I very likely don't need to now because I don't know if I have that much more to add."

Now that is just a nonsense.

I've sat and read your words three times in a row, and quite frankly, you've managed to put it a lot better than I did, and on a par with what the great Coxon had to say.

You've a wonderful talent, and like many other amazing bloggers out there, are far more worthy of a wider audience than the chancers who are published (periodicals and books alike), just because they went to school or college with someone well-connected, or heaven forfend, they were flavour of the moment on TV at one small point in history.

More power to your fingertips.

anglopunk said...

Thanks for all your support JC. It's meant a lot, especially as I stumble through this first year of music blogging.

Frankly, just knowing someone's reading what I'm writing and enjoying it is hugely motivating. And I suppose I can get a little too self-deprecating, but it's because I respect bloggers like you.

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