'I haven’t been really and truly bored since sometime about 1997'
September 13, 2018 1:38 AM   Subscribe

If the pop culture of the 1950s onwards was premised on wealth – the modest affluence of having pocket money was the cornerstone of “youth” culture – its transcendent emotional pull was built on a kind of poverty: namely, the severely restricted access to the means of producing and disseminating media. It is an axiom of political science that fanaticism thrives on poverty – the kind of deep, obsessive engagement made possible by the near-total absence of other outlets for one’s emotional and intellectual energies.
Houman Barekat contemplates how music stopped meaning everything.
posted by MartinWisse (41 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
I dunno about all this. There is the seed of something insightful, I think, but it all seems to derive its worldview from the same NME-centric perspective that I (as someone also born in 81) remember occupying during my teenage years. For example, to talk about Gang of Four, a band that, AFAIK, never had a top forty record in the UK, as if their existence and following had some sort of generational significance that modern artists can't match, seems to reflect the smallness of world that the various voices in this article come from.

Also, certain claims made as if self evident seem genuinely batty; for example, "If younger people enjoy unprecedented access to culture as consumers, their ability to participate as producers has, conversely, been commensurately diminished". I mean...what? If you're making a claim that seems entirely at odds with the astonishing world of DIY music production we now live in, I think you need to support it in some way.

Another thing, which seems slightly unaccountable given the fact that Houman Barekat is a person of colour, is that this seems to be an exceptionally white account of musical and cultural experience. While there is a degree of acknowledgement of some of the more overtly racist aspects of the rockist worldview, it seems to me that the notion of the "counterculture" being presented is inherently white, British and male, without the piece acknowledging this in any serious way.

I think the article is definitely worth reading, but I think there's much more to disagree with and question (including a lot of stuff beyond my random observations above) than there is to agree with.
posted by howfar at 2:46 AM on September 13 [10 favorites]


I would disagree with the notion that kids aren't bored anymore. What they have now is Boredom 2.0 -- extensive tedium resulting from overdosing on stimuli that aren't really that interesting. (I mean Fortnite, that's boring as hell as games go, as far as I can tell.) They could theoretically make their lives more interesting by turning off the machines, but that's not happening (yet). And as for the music argument, it's a category error; no one would argue we have access to less music now. We have access to more (in every realm of the arts), and yet the one great inelasticity remains: time.
posted by chavenet at 2:59 AM on September 13 [5 favorites]


extensive tedium resulting from overdosing on stimuli that aren't really that interesting

How do we distinguish the claim that stimuli "aren't really that interesting" from the age old complaint that the music young people listen to is just noise and these Pacmen are just an electronic pacifier? I mean, hasn't every generation thought that the stuff the kids today are into is boring?

Also have you played much Fortnite? Because, given the complexity and innovation of the game (yeah, it looks cartoony but there's a lot going on: this is a game which relies on real-time reshaping of the game environment as a fundamental aspect of play, if you look at pretty much any highlights video - e.g., you'll see a mix of stuff that could exist in a range of multiplayer shooters in the last decade and stuff that simply didn't exist until Fortnite Battle Royale emerged from the heady gaming soup of 2017) it's not the sort of thing the interest of which is necessarily obvious from cursory engagement.
posted by howfar at 3:36 AM on September 13 [7 favorites]


I think the Fortnite thing is a bit of a red herring. I agree that there are too many dull stimuli around, and it's not just the kids; adults playing candy crush on the bus, or idly swiping down a FB feed ten minutes since the last time they did it.

Fortnite clearly excites people, and the way that Epic are delivering content and engaging the user base is very well done. It's a highly polished product.

I feel the point about music no longer being the driving cultural torch bearer is valid. In the 80s and 90s (and earlier I suppose, but I can't talk about that) for people looking for identity or a cultural point of view that pushed the boundaries of authority there was music, and there was a few hours a week on BBC 2 and maybe a little more on Channel 4... but that was it.

Music doesn't have that monopoly any more. Media has exploded and fractured the available base into a million niches, each overlapping to the point that everyone can find something in media that represents them now.

That's where the problem with dull stimuli creeps in - the neoliberal corporate machine has matured to the point that it's no longer making content because it love the content; it's making content because it's done research on brain chemistry and audience participation and it's figured out the most efficient way to leverage your money from your pocket; it is iterating on that in yearly, more lucrative ways.

That there's very little soul in media these days is an unhappy byproduct.
posted by trif at 3:54 AM on September 13 [12 favorites]


The end of object fetishism coincided with the end of scarcity

There is still an enormous amount of object fetishism among vinyl collectors, whose ranks are growing - and scarcity has a lot to do with that. I've been selling records on eBay on and off for almost 20 years, and prices for genuinely rare things are higher than ever.

Today, social media enables young people to engage with culture and politics in all kinds of ways that have nothing to do with music; from the 1960s to the 1990s, music was pretty much all there was.

This ignores the birth (or quick expansion) of a number of other kinds of fandom in this period, but it does get what really happened here: social media didn't kill the importance of music, but it did largely kill the centrality of genuine subculture to it. They're separate now, which is hard for people me and the other grizzled-black-t-shirt-with-paunch fellows who populate this article to get our heads around sometimes.

“We are clearly in a post-countercultural period of some kind,” he told me. “I don’t really have any time for the counterargument, the sophisticated version of which says that music is still progressing by way of grime, underground techno, etcetera. The more banal version goes, ‘There’s plenty of great stuff out there, you just have to make the effort to find it.’ I don’t agree, partly because this seems to ignore the historical dimension of artistic production – the fact that music, literature, painting clearly develop across history, with troughs and peaks occurring at specific times.

Having seen a lot of great live music since the 1990s, and even in the last 5 years, I agree wholeheartedly with the 'banal' version here. Taking the retrospective, reductive, 'era' idea of music as anything other than a rough, incomplete approximation of any period of music is a mistake (as anyone who has been seriously collecting records should be able to tell you).

I also miss the secret society air of 80s/90s music counterculture, and do think that the gatekeeping aspect of the amount of effort that you had to put in did sometimes have a positive effect (but also excluded a lot of people, and led to a homogeneity that most of us with some privilege didn't really grasp). It's over now, so the choice is to do the shoe-leather work again and find the great stuff, or turn into a middle-aged bore that would rather piss and moan at home.
posted by ryanshepard at 4:12 AM on September 13 [6 favorites]


the neoliberal corporate machine has matured to the point that it's no longer making content because it love the content

Would it be fair to say that the machine (welcome to the machine, indeed) never did love the content, but that it needed a lot of people who loved the content in order to achieve its financial aims, but that it has found increasingly effective ways to avoid the messy inconvenience of human love?

That there's very little soul in media these days is an unhappy byproduct.

This is a view I find exceptionally hard to get behind. I simply don't see it. Who's finding it hard to access soulful culture when it's as easy as taking a wander around YouTube, iTunes (ahem, Apple Podcasts) or Spotify to find a dozen new things that people made for no other purpose than love? Sure, it's harder to get rich off soul than it used to be, but getting rich was never the point.

I really do sometimes feel like I'm living in a different world to people who feel that our era is in some way culturally bereft.
posted by howfar at 4:14 AM on September 13 [15 favorites]


I suppose there is as much soul as there ever was, in real volumes, but as a percentage of readily available media, it appears to have fallen? Would that be fair?

There is plenty of good entertainment being created by invested, creative, amazing people, but there is soooooooo much more junk around too, including a lot of the mass produced, by the numbers stuff.
posted by trif at 4:43 AM on September 13


I am reminded of the scene from the movie The Commitments where the band manager is interviewing musicians and asks each one in turn, “What’re your influences?” in a bored monotone. It perfectly encapsulates the way that some of us in the 80s made sweeping judgements of others — their taste, their ability, their fitness for association — based on what was in their Walkman.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:59 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


Did anyone else use their university library to look up record reviews on microfilm, trying to figure out what you had missed out on? Wander dormitory halls, writing down the names of bands on the posters people taped to their doors?

That's how I found new music in the late Eighties and early Nineties.

Access to new and weird was kinda hard, back then, for a kid who wanted something besides 120 Minutes.
posted by Caxton1476 at 5:59 AM on September 13 [8 favorites]


Did anyone else use their university library to look up record reviews on microfilm, trying to figure out what you had missed out on?

Of course! Finding anything about your favorite non-famous artists in those days took so much work. Linking to another thread, my 'favorite book' in college would have been one of those huge reviews of albums put out by people I can't even remember. Except I read them in the early to mid '90s and anything with keyboards was declared 'cheesy 80s', so practically every description was more turgid than the worst Pitchfork review. But that was all we had. Yahoo.com used to have a listing of bands - when that was created the world changed.

Do I think those times were better or had more soul, or that music meant more because of it? Hell no!
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:13 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


While I agree that this article arguably comes from a cultural perspective that is coded very white, that response feels difficult given the fact that Houman Barekat is a person of colour. There are certainly questions to ask about race here, but I guess I think we need to be a bit careful about how we approach them.
posted by howfar at 7:39 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


I was born in 1971 and have always been too nerdy and weird to relate to music in a subculture context. I listened to classical music, jazz fusion, and then synthpop in high school when it was acceptable either to listen to Metallica and Motley Crue or country music.

In college, the sort of music I read about in zines and mail-ordered was Celtic and Finnish folk, industrial/EBM, and darkwave. I couldn't care less about grunge! And I didn't have any friends close enough to share or argue about musical tastes.

I've been through many different phases of music since then, currently mostly into modular-ish electronica (leaning toward darker and more ambient sides of things) with a little bit of Irish and Appalachian and sometimes industrial, with occasional They Might Be Giants or symphonic metal or even field recordings.

With that in mind: I will always, 100% disagree that music isn't as good as it used to be or that nobody is doing anything new. While I am utterly weary of the dull slurry played at me in stores and restaurants, I think it's impossible not to find interesting music if you go looking.
posted by Foosnark at 7:54 AM on September 13 [7 favorites]


Did anyone else use their university library to look up record reviews on microfilm, trying to figure out what you had missed out on?

I had a well thumbed copy of the Rolling Stone Record Guide which unfortunately was largely the work of the awful critic Dave Marsh.
posted by octothorpe at 8:17 AM on September 13 [6 favorites]


"If younger people enjoy unprecedented access to culture as consumers, their ability to participate as producers has, conversely, been commensurately diminished". I mean...what? If you're making a claim that seems entirely at odds with the astonishing world of DIY music production we now live in, I think you need to support it in some way.

Is it maybe the idea that with the wealth of music out there, any individual's contribution is going to be less significant as a portion of the whole? I do wish the author had elaborated a little on that point too.
posted by Dysk at 8:29 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


" would disagree with the notion that kids aren't bored anymore. What they have now is Boredom 2.0 -- extensive tedium resulting from overdosing on stimuli that aren't really that interesting. (I mean Fortnite, that's boring as hell as games go, as far as I can tell.) They could theoretically make their lives more interesting by turning off the machines, but that's not happening (yet). And as for the music argument, it's a category error; no one would argue we have access to less music now. We have access to more (in every realm of the arts), and yet the one great inelasticity remains: time."

Not a fan of Fortnite myself, just not into shooting people generally, but how is it a boring as hell game? It's a shooter, which people widely enjoy and find exciting. Then there's the building element to spice things up, plus the central mechanic of the map space closing in creating a tighter space for action to happen in over time ensuring there's always something going on. Outside of the gameplay there is also a cosmetic element of dress up, plus the gambling, which while I despise and think should be illegal if not, regulated tightly -- are exciting and popular experiences for players.

I reject the notion that the past had better art. Seems to me as time goes on all art simply gets better. Music is better now, music that comes out in the future will be even better. Anything someone in the past could do, someone today can do better. It's crazy how much art there is today and every artist has thousands of years of art history to build on the back of. Not to mention how much more we know about psychology and biology, art can be made to target us in directed ways to affect us by taking leveraging that knowledge. You can also access and find art so much easier today.

I also don't think all this open access means people can't still have their little scarcity bubbles to build a mini culture around, for every big site doing a thing, there are a 100 little ones massively fewer people are aware of or use. Temples of obscurity can be built in many places online, I'm sure most people still know of some weirdo community or bbs or something with its own sub-culture stuck in its own microcosm.

As for "soul," I would also assert there's more than ever. First, there are more "souls" now than ever before. Second, people are more free to express their souls than ever before, even compared to a decade ago and hopefully in another 10 years we'll look just as repressive. Someone today can bare their soul into their medium of choice and have a medium with which to share it, we don't have to wait for a business process to determine which souls we get to hear laid bare. Even looking back at the artists of the past we remember for their soul and all that -- there were hundreds of other artists we'll never hear of who never made it that had as much or more "soul" than the individuals we use to define those concepts. We were already getting a slightly soul-deficient offering in whatever era your age dictates was "golden."
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:29 AM on September 13 [7 favorites]


The idea that the past had better art could be codified more as:

"A higher percentage of the art I remember from the past is better, in my opinion, than art from the current period"

That makes me wonder if I am exactly the problem here? My squelchy meaty memory is shit.
posted by trif at 8:36 AM on September 13 [5 favorites]


so the choice is to do the shoe-leather work again and find the great stuff, or turn into a middle-aged bore that would rather piss and moan at home

One of the things I admire about John Darnielle is that you can tell from his Twitter that he's always splashing into ever-newer, ever-weirder subgenres of metal.

I think it is truly impossible to isolate the experience of being young from the experience of listening to music when you're young. On the other hand, there has definitely been a massive change in media accessibility over the last 15 years or so. Non-scarcity-based fandom, across all media types, has always been a different animal than curatorial fandom.

I don't really know how teenagers express solidarity these days--sharing the dankest memes? Seems pretty thin, but, then, most of the music teenagers listen to tends to be, as well.
posted by praemunire at 8:44 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Yes, the counterculture isn't what it used to be. You need a monoculture to have a counterculture. Now, it's microcultures all the way down. There's plenty of great music out there with creators who would love nothing better than to be discovered by you right now.

I think the real reason people don't think there's as much great music now as there used to be is the same reason people think antiques are better made than contemporary furniture: The antiques that survived are indeed better made. The stuff that was not made well did not survive. You think there weren't boatloads of crap tunes extruded in the late twentieth century? That's not how I remember it. Now, I've had time to catch up with the great stuff I missed back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s like Gang Of Four, for example. I hadn't heard of them while they were active. I hope in ten years, I'll be able to catch up with all the great stuff I'm missing today.
posted by vibrotronica at 9:06 AM on September 13 [9 favorites]


I really do sometimes feel like I'm living in a different world to people who feel that our era is in some way culturally bereft.

This, times a thousand. There is more interesting, terrific music being made now than ever--it's just that separating wheat from chaff, signal from noise is vastly more difficult than it used to be. My sense is that music "means something different now" doesn't have much meaning beyond 'people younger than I am appear to find different music differently meaningful than I did when I was their age.'

I'm not sure that music will be commodified and entwined with notions of identity like it was in the second half of the 20th century, ever again. Mostly because the technology has moved on, and the kind of cultural place that popular recorded music occupied from ~1953-1999 is absolutely predicated on music being a thing, an object that one can acquire and have and show and share. When Shawn Fanning & Sean Parker dropped Napster on us in 1999, music stopped being a physical thing (which had only started about 100 years prior), and became a newer incarnation of its inherent, ephemeral nature. Thus, it's really hard to use for, e.g., cultural signaling and the like--it's hard for someone to "know who you really are" as a teenager/young adult with no albums or CDs (or books) on your shelves, or earbuds plugged into a phone that has no tapes or discs to pull out and share.

I don't think any conversation about changes in our musical culture, our relationships with music or what it means to any age cohort, is properly informed unless it's contextualized in the physical, technological changes that have lead to mass shifts in behavior that are beyond any individual's choosing (or even awareness, really). Also, Barekat asserts so much as fact that just leaves my mouth agape with WTF, as in "Social media enables young people to engage with culture and politics in all kinds of ways outside music. From the 1960s to the 1990s, music was about all there was[.]" Like, what? There were books and magazines and newspapers and TV and other people, and I have no idea why anyone would assert this, unless their specific childhood was really media-shuttered, and music was all that made its way in; or the author was just an incurious kid, and has never realized that there was much more going around them than they were aware of. (That's the fatal flaw of the essay, now that I think about it: the author assumes that their own experience was fully aware, truly synecdoche for their era.)

This also kind of drives me crazy: "What has, however, undeniably and irreversibly changed is that music has ceased to be the go-to locus for countercultural impulses, be they political or aesthetic in nature." But there is no more counter-culture because there is no more mono-culture to resist, not because "countercultural impulses" are some constant of human development from generation to generation. This is conceptual framing leftover from the Baby Boomers' youth, their counterculture, their struggle to make culture, and the world, their own. My sense is that the author's own framing prevents them from seeing how truly deep the changes and differences that they are perceiving really go, and what's genuinely driving them. I think that's important, because the subject of this essay is worth exploring, but if you're not asking good questions, the answers won't be very useful.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:08 AM on September 13 [16 favorites]


"If younger people enjoy unprecedented access to culture as consumers, their ability to participate as producers has, conversely, been commensurately diminished". I mean...what? If you're making a claim that seems entirely at odds with the astonishing world of DIY music production we now live in, I think you need to support it in some way.

Actually, revisiting this in its context - it's about opportunities. I play live quite a lot, in punk and punk adjacent bands, and I'm constantly being told by an older generation about how they used to go on the dole and just practice, play, record - work on their music, their art. They'd live in squats, and they'd have enough money and they could just spend their time and effort on whatever creative endeavors took their fancy. This is not possible today, with Universal Credit and nor was it possible with JSA. Squatters' rights were gutted as real estate prices skyrocketed. You simply cannot dedicate your life to music or any other art or culture any more, in the way that was possible up until sometime in the 90s.
posted by Dysk at 9:16 AM on September 13 [15 favorites]


I spent way too much of my youth listening to music (and watching TV, but that's another, similar rant) that I only sort-of liked, whether it was listening to the radio in the car, watching MTV, listening to filler tracks on the handful of albums I could afford to own, or listening to music of friends whose taste I only sorta shared.

Whereas my daughters, in their teenage years, were able to freely explore a literally endless variety of music, able through the internet to find people who really shared their taste in music and could point them to all sorts of music they loved. The idea of not having any music at hand that you really liked was as foreign to them as not having a camera handy. The difference between YouTube and MTV can't be overstated.
posted by straight at 9:22 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


I think that's an important point, Dysk, and it's an important distinction between "skyrocketing cost of living and the gutting of the social safety net has made it much harder to be a working artist" and "kids today have no soul".
posted by ITheCosmos at 9:25 AM on September 13 [6 favorites]


Actually, revisiting this in its context - it's about opportunities. I play live quite a lot, in punk and punk adjacent bands, and I'm constantly being told by an older generation about how they used to go on the dole and just practice, play, record - work on their music, their art. They'd live in squats, and they'd have enough money and they could just spend their time and effort on whatever creative endeavors took their fancy. This is not possible today, with Universal Credit and nor was it possible with JSA. Squatters' rights were gutted as real estate prices skyrocketed. You simply cannot dedicate your life to music or any other art or culture any more, in the way that was possible up until sometime in the 90s.

On the one hand, it seems like getting to the place where people enjoy a fair share of our society's wealth so that nobody has to work 40+ hrs a week just to eat and keep a roof over their heads would lead to an unimaginably wonderful flourishing of the arts.

On the other hand, right now I have easy access to more music that I genuinely love than I can possibly listen to in my remaining lifetime, so it's hard for me to imagine how I would even notice if the variety and quality of music available became thousands of times better.
posted by straight at 9:28 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


On the other hand, right now I have easy access to more music that I genuinely love than I can possibly listen to in my remaining lifetime, so it's hard for me to imagine how I would even notice if the variety and quality of music available became thousands of times better.

You might not notice the quantity changing, but you'd likely notice if the quality changed, assuming you're listening to at least done new stuff, and not just mining the past (no judgement on mining the past - there is a lot of awesome old stuff out there!).

But as a performing musician, I can bet you it would make a world if difference to me if we weren't having to struggle to scrape by. I'd be able to take gigs across the country that couldn't necessarily pay train fares, I could afford to take a punt on hiring a venue for a band who can't guaranteed draw a crowd, or who're from out of town. I could even pay said bands for performing, rather than just stressing about not losing more money than I can afford to. I could get music videos made, and pay indie filmmakers for it. I could pay artist friends to do posters and album artwork, instead of shoving my hackneyed photoshops on them like I do now. I could support myself better than I do, have more opportunities to play and develop as a musician, and support other musicians and bands, and other artists and creative types me broadly. And the crowd that comprises those artists and musicians and creative types could include more poor or working class people, as they could more easily afford to participate themselves.

I'm struggling to explain it, but it would make a huge difference to anyone working in any artform who currently struggles to support themselves, and could lead to much greater diversity. I doubt it'd make much difference to the middle class people who can afford a van to drive their fancy equipment around, or the people successful enough to make a living off it now (though it might allow them to shift their focus to something else if they're currently worrying about making art that's marketable enough), but for the rest of us, it'd be a huge deal.
posted by Dysk at 9:42 AM on September 13 [8 favorites]


They'd live in squats, and they'd have enough money and they could just spend their time and effort on whatever creative endeavors took their fancy.

I was in a band 20 years ago and I remember lots of sponging off of girlfriends, friends, and mom and dad more than an amazing social safety net, but Simply Red and other UK artists used to talk about going on the dole if their tracks didn't hit.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:45 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


whenever I get to thinking too much about how so-called popular music just doesn't mean as much anymore, it's usually a sign that I'm thinking too much, and what I should really be doing is listening to something new or old that I've never heard before, or haven't heard enough. The problem it seems is never with the music, but with our willingness (our ability?) to be open to it, to make time for it ...

The more banal version goes, ‘There’s plenty of great stuff out there, you just have to make the effort to find it.’

This has long been the case. Just witness what "80s music" has come to mean today versus what it was really like back then -- the vast continents of cool, weird, wild stuff that was to be found anywhere but the f***ing mainstream (ie: before indie and alternative ceased to be adjectives and started becoming genres), but yeah, you did have to go to the trouble of looking for it. And then bump ahead into the 90s and take a look at all the fabulous stuff that was happening around the edges while grunge, gangsta rap, Britpop and whatever was getting all the hype. But again, you had to do some digging to find it.

Where we are now is, of course, noisy as hell culturally speaking. Which is what comes from an age where the dominant goal of most marketing is GIVE ME YOUR ATTENTION OR GIVE ME DEATH!!! I'd complain about it more but I tried already and nobody paid any attention. And yet I still find there's lots worth digging for. I find this guy helpful for old and new.
posted by philip-random at 9:51 AM on September 13


Yes, the counterculture isn't what it used to be. You need a monoculture to have a counterculture. Now, it's microcultures all the way down.

This. This is the answer right here. There is no more mass culture, so there is nothing to "counter". We're all living in a billion little tiny culture bubbles created by algorithms.

The only possible counterculture these days would be to throw away your smartphone and stop using the internet for anything but, like, paying bills and chatting with randos on IRC. Hell, that'll probably happen within 10 years.
posted by Automocar at 10:04 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


There is no more mass culture, so there is nothing to "counter".
Of course there is a mass culture. Big name radio artists still sell millions of copies, what is Occupy WallStreet, or the 99%, YIMBY, #MeToo? At best you could say there are two mass cultures, but that's not even right because most the issues that are being spoken about certainly are not solved anywhere.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:23 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Of course there is a mass culture.

There is, but it's vastly less challenging to find alternatives to it - the amount of time, effort, and physical proximity that it took to do that in the era before the internet is what made and sustained countercultures.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:25 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


it's vastly less challenging to find alternatives to it - the amount of time, effort, and physical proximity that it took to do that in the era before the internet is what made and sustained countercultures.

I would say that the amount of time and effort it takes to find and sustain localized countercultures is the same, but distant, internet-based ones, is much shorter. So there may be something to that.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:52 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


I had a well thumbed copy of the Rolling Stone Record Guide which unfortunately was largely the work of the awful critic Dave Marsh.

At the beginning of his Rolling Stone's 500 Worst Reviews of All Time, schmidtt defines what he means by "worst", and under #2, "Curmudgeonly Reviews", he puts, "Reviews that are unduly harsh or dismissive, or offer a specious critique of a band. In many cases the artist that is the target of the curmudgeon's wrath is inventing a new genre, which confuses the critic, causing them to lash out with sarcasm and invective. In other instances, the curmudgeon has a personal ax to grind, and is lambasting an album for reasons that are completely tangential to the music itself. Almost all of Dave Marsh's reviews fall under #2."
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:58 AM on September 13 [6 favorites]


Jeez, how about a warning before posting a link like that Jack? I lost almost two hours browsing before I had to close the tab so as not to spend the whole afternoon reading it.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:35 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


I was in a band 20 years ago and I remember lots of sponging off of girlfriends, friends, and mom and dad more than an amazing social safety net

Yeah, I get the impression that the possibility of the dole musician lifestyle died in the early to mid 90s.
posted by Dysk at 1:37 PM on September 13


it's vastly less challenging to find alternatives to it - the amount of time, effort, and physical proximity that it took to do that in the era before the internet is what made and sustained countercultures.

I'm not so sure about that last bit, myself. I do think there's a much shorter lifecycle from counterculture to establishment, though. Vapourwave and AESTHETICS was counterculture for a few weeks or months before it became its own institution, because if the speed with which the ideas spread via the Internet, and the ease of subculture access. I also think that counterculture does continue to exist, and even has sustained scenes, it just isn't necessarily tied to a particular aesthetic or genre in the way that it was. There's a queer punk scene in the UK for example, that is a clear counterculture rejection of both mainstream values and media, and mainstream queer culture. There just isn't a unifying sound or mode of expression for it. Very few of the bands in it sound anything like punk in any traditional sense. For a brief moment a little while back they were almost all twee. That ran its course though, and isn't really that prevalent any more - there's more acoustic and electronic stuff right now, and metal and post-hardcore are starting to be The Thing. By this time next year, that won't be either. But it'll still be the same people at the same venues with the same events/nights/promoters (modulo scene churn).
posted by Dysk at 1:48 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


These laments (specifically those regarding one point of this essay, about how there's no notion of what Future Music could sound like), apart from the cultural myopia, always seem to miss that music scenes can't be abstracted to just the formal parameters of the music being played. Like, consider two hypothetical cultures orbiting around drone music: the one involves people actively listening to the music meditatively, and the other involves, say, potlucks and conversation while the music plays in the background. It's possible that the music in these two cases could be formally indistinguishable, but they're two distinct musical cultures, neither wrong.

The most recent show I went to was mostly metal/hardcore acts put on by indigenous or Latinx people, at a venue where you have to message the organizers on Facebook to get the address. Yeah, it's not quite the same as finding out about an underground show from someone who you can only interact with either in person or via a landline telephone, and yeah, the sounds wouldn't be unfamiliar to anyone who's been following those genres for the last few decades, but it's a legitimately different thing by virtue of the interaction between the music itself and the context it's being made in.

If anything, the defining aspect of music as it's made now is the fundamental conceit that sounds that we already know can be marshaled towards new ends. That's not to say that there haven't been radical artists doing that since the very beginning of the genres in question (Bad Brains is an easy example), but that there's still so much to mine there in terms of the melding of musical style and cultural context that isn't just (in the particular case of metal or hardcore, but the notion is easily generalized) white male anger. What's legitimately new about that process is that the distribution landscape makes it much easier for the artists doing that work to find their audience, and vice versa. I only wish that those artists weren't up against increasingly oppressive socioeconomic disenfranchisement, and I wonder if these elegies would still be written if that weren't the case.
posted by invitapriore at 6:00 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


You simply cannot dedicate your life to music or any other art or culture any more, in the way that was possible up until sometime in the 90s.

This.

And if you do want to do that, you have to immediately start monetising your creativity, via Patreon or Youtube or Kickstarter or whatever and you cannot stop. I posted this article because it seemed to hit some of the same points made in the Youtube creators getting burned out thread, from a slightly different angle.

It's probably easier than it ever was to be creative in one way or another, but it's hard to find the opportunity to fully concentrate on developing your creativity, to find the space to do so, without immediately turning it into a job.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:25 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


I was in a band 20 years ago and I remember lots of sponging off of girlfriends, friends, and mom and dad more than an amazing social safety net

Yeah, I get the impression that the possibility of the dole musician lifestyle died in the early to mid 90s.
Having just seen the 1981 Decline of Western Civilization documentary on the LA punk scene, it seems male rock artists sponging off girlfriends/depend on the organisational and social skills off girlfriends is a constant.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:25 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


I guess I just see less of that, moving mostly in explicitly queer and/or feminist scenes. I don't doubt that it's still true most of the time.
posted by Dysk at 6:58 AM on September 14


I'm struggling to explain it, but it would make a huge difference to anyone working in any artform who currently struggles to support themselves, and could lead to much greater diversity.

Oh absolutely. Some kind of UBI would make an enormous difference to all kinds of people allowing them to live much better lives and allowing them to do work that is actually fulfilling and worthwhile, and is something we should absolutely do for all kinds of reasons.

And I'm certain it would lead to all kinds of flourishing in the arts. And I think you're right that the availability and diversity of live performance would probably be the where it would be most noticeable in music.

But as far as recorded music goes, from a listener's perspective it feels like we've already hit the golden age of inexhaustible wonderful music of which you can never hope to listen to a significant fraction.
posted by straight at 6:04 PM on September 14


The digital revolution may well have diluted the dissident power of pop, but it has also revitalised the broader counterculture in myriad ways, and we are better off for it.

[citation needed]
posted by panama joe at 9:09 AM on September 15


It's an interesting article, the author does a decent job of trying to lay out some differences between past and present in how people play and consume music and finds some reason for expressing a sense of loss but still optimism. My feeling, however, is that the article somewhat misses the most significant elements of the great changes that have come over the past couple decades, and had their roots in even earlier eras, by placing the focus on individual responses to the shifts rather than wondering more about larger social effect.

For me, the biggest change is in moving from an era of mass culture dominance to subculture dominance, but without fully losing mass culture effect. The potential problem, and I say potential because I have no idea how it will play out, is not that there isn't enough good music anymore, or that kids today or music today is somehow lesser for shifts in production and consumption, but that subcultural dominance could potentially lead to the end of intersection for preference in parallel engagement.

There is no question that the history of the arts and mass culture has favored a narrow group of voices, primarily white male or those acceptable to a culture dominated by white men. Those that made and consumed works either could find favor through appealing to those systemic values, or, more narrowly, by actively opposing them in various forms. The dominant values helped define the oppositional values by dint of being so clear and open to challenge for their failings. A subculture dominant system doesn't necessarily provide that making any music or art produced more likely to find support only among those already sympathetic to the place the works come from. This could lead to narrowing of encounter, to the favoring of self and ease of engagement over influence that reaches beyond one's subculture or enjoyment that requires additional effort to find.

The issue isn't that things were better before, more that in changing the standards the advantages held by those who once fit the mass cultural definition of "important" will potentially never be found by those who may be limited to subcultural influence. The trade off is difficult to measure because it is so profound. The need to overthrow the past injustice was overwhelming, but tearing that system down doesn't guarantee the one replacing it will be necessarily better or solve the problems, it will just create a new dynamic of uncertain result.

In the arts, this goes back to at least the Dada movement, but really found force in the '60s counter-culture and then grew through the nineties into the new millennium where "authority" finally has been almost completely overthrown. Losing authority, however, also carries some loss of mass cultural meaning. When everything becomes acceptable to at least some segment of the whole, then its extremely difficult to speak to anything but ever smaller like-minded segments of an audience. Mass culture doesn't disappear entirely, but it narrows to the largest sub-groups and to values acceptable to the masses, mostly produced by large corporations that, essentially, set the new standards for acceptability by looking to sell convention in new packages and thus maintain connection to past dominant values by showing there is space for others to enjoy them as well if they hew to the corporate interest overall.

Innovation and challenge still exists on the margins, but finding it and having it speak to more than the already inclined to accept those works becomes increasingly difficult, which can allow for greater pilfering of ideas and methods by those with the most power if it is seen as adaptable to their needs. That waters down the oppositional force of challenge to becoming just another flavor of convention which is entirely open to new seasoning though little else.

Art that loses audience often tends towards increased insularity, only speaking to those in the know, becoming increasingly inaccessibly to anyone trying to engage with it from the outside. That happened to many of the fine arts, where acclaim became tied to art for art's sake, painting's about the act of or of seeing painting. Jazz went through be-bop to hard bop and then diffused into a variety of influences where the attempt to even define it became difficult, leaving new listeners to work through the history themselves and, mostly, leaving the mass culture idea of jazz back in the fifties. Classical music did much the same, though left even further back in popular mindset, and other avenues of expression also follow roughly the same route, finding celebration among the cognoscenti of the form for the more isolated it becomes from the main.

Will more music go that route, some of it seems likely to do so as the audience shrinks and the experience of the remaining audience finds appreciation in continually refining the form they know and like. There's nothing wrong with that in itself, but it leads to exclusivity. Other music will surely still seek a more basic approach to appreciation, as popular music must, but who's voice will it have and who will listen? If sub-culture does dominate, then there are not only those who've been left out of previous mass culture, but those who were at the top of that history. There are toxic subcultures as well as benevolent ones and if there is little interaction between them then the mass culture can become more contentious without much space for agreement as the acceptance of separation becomes built it.

It isn't that I'm saying the current path is bad, or predicting what will happen, I'm only expressing concern over how some aspects of the situation are being looked at as we go through this massive shift in production and consumption of the arts. There are arguments from both liberal and conservative positions that make me nervous for what might come as I'm not sure what the best path of address is. What is the best course on things like concern over appropriation, who can tell stories about those different from them and what does that mean? How do we look at the morality of a piece? Is it by judging whether it fits the world "we" want to see, the one that is, or in allowing for some aspect of projection to potentially unpleasant values for artistic expression? Who is it that a piece should be held as appealing to and judged for any perceived failings? If any possible objection is deemed as meaningful as any appreciation then what is the cost to the works? And possibly most importantly, at this moment where white male culture is the most vulnerable its been are we now asking those who hope to overthrow it to take a lesser position in any new paradigm that would possibly arise than that artists previously held? That challenges much of the idea of art up to this point, for good and bad.

My own hope, having grown up with strong attachment to the arts, but a desire to engage with them as much to find perspectives different than my own as in more immediate or easy "enjoyment" would be that the boundaries for who can create music or art would be overthrown, opening the door to a vast array of new experiences, but where those experiences would be engaged with by the many and where those once left out would have the same freedom to explore all their ideas and interests, no matter where they might lead, just as previous artists did as that is, as I saw it, a foundational value of art.

I'm not sure if we're on that path or something much more constrained just as I'm not sure whether my desired answer would indeed be the best one since my beliefs came through growing up to believe in certain values about the arts that younger people may not share and may find better replaced. I might not be able to appreciate the world that comes, but as it won't be mine anyway, that may not matter much. I just hope there is attention paid to the things potentially lost, those gained, and a look at what is desired rather than just letting it play out as it will without worry about the lasting effects out of preference for immediate satisfaction.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:58 PM on September 15 [2 favorites]


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