Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Twee Funds Terrorism

There was an interesting article in last week's L Magazine, a NY weekly that I only read when there isn't an Onion or Village Voice nearby. Despite one or two things in each article I check out, it's a shitty magazine and represents everything I hate about NYC 18-to-40-year-olds and Manhattan and hipster in general. It's up there with Rolling Stone, Revolver, The Source, every woman's magazine and Alternative Press on my short list of publications that I'd love nothing more than to have a fatwa put on their head(quarter)s.

But conveniently, the article touches upon something that was kind of not discussed much a year or two ago but, like 2Pac being overrated, is now getting addressed in the mainstream; that "indie" isn't an actual viable term in reference to being "independent" or whatever people would idealistically like to think it represented, but a specific aesthetic and marketing niche and nothing more. The motivating force behind the discussion was "Juno", a movie I haven't and will not see until it gets on cable or I see a bootleg of it, like I did with "Napoleon Dynamite". The previews alone (during "The Darjeeling Limited", in a clusterfuck of twee not seen since Belle and Sebastien played an actual knitting factory) hit that nerve I have for hating dramadies that feed "smart" or "clever" adult writing through the mouths of 9th and 10th graders. In theory, there's probably a way to avoid the "Dawson's Creek" effect and actually make that kind of convoluted dialogue seem realistic, but so far only "Life With Mikey" has succeeded in that balance.

There's a line between having believable clever young kids and 27-year-old ex-Scrubs writers using that annoying girl from "Hard Candy" as a conduit for post-modern one-liners.

Now, changes in nomenclature or shifts from ideological premises over time is a predictable part of language and colloquialism, but the term "indie rock" in the last few years has always struck me as kind of absurd. First, very few indie rock bands actually rock or play any sort of music that resembles rock as a genre or theoretical concept. Mark Asch perfectly sums it up in the piece when he opened with:
First, some taxonomy: Juno is not an “indie” movie. Juno is released by Fox Searchlight, a satellite company of the old-school Hollywood studio Twentieth Century Fox, itself a subsidiary of News Corp., whose founder and CEO is Rupert Murdoch. Somewhere along the line, “indie” stopped referring to the circumstances of a film’s production (the real independent films are the ones put out by postage stamp-sized distributors who regularly scramble to get their acquisitions a platform in the form of a week of screenings in any of the already overcrowded small theaters in any of the half-dozen cities in America where it’s possible to turn a profit exhibiting subtitled movies), and became an aesthetic distinction, referring to any movie with affected quirkiness and quippy dialogue. It’s roughly equivalent to how “indie music” now means “non-threatening white people with guitars.” You know, like the Juno soundtrack.

The marketing aspect is something that isn't anything new, although there are still hordes of Modest Mouse fans who don't get it yet and get quite irate when you question their sweaters, and was obvious back when the OC was on the air and the feeding frenzy and litany of articles declaring the mainstreaming of "indie", that was just really the mainstreaming of all music through bittorrenting and a great influx of information. You can wholesale discover an entire genre or sub-genre within a week or two, history and sound and all, if you go to the right sites and have a decent broadband connection. The benefits of this is taking some degree of power out the hands of "tastemakers", although hype has intensified and narrowed a bit, as seen by the fapping about Vampire Weekend right now or that a large segment of people think LCD Soundsystem are good (Pazz & Jop fails.) So with such easy access to 100 years of pop music, the phrase "indie" undergoes a schism. It, like most misused names or terms, shifts and starts to mean something else, in this case, "non-threatening white people with guitars" and a certain annoying sweater/manchild/animal and elementary school-obsessed aesthetic. The other occurance is what the term used to mean, "independant" in stance and DIY-ness, ceases to be included in the definition and is sussed out of the public hive-mind awareness, a lot like "emo" was officially changed to a perjorative and no amount of books revealing the past or inaccuracies of 00's revisionism of the term will change that. The same thing is starting to happen to grind(core) with the flux of deathcore and delusional metalcore/mathcore bands that are claiming to be grind because they and their inbred Long Island/southwestern fanbase don't understand that being spazzy and changing time signatures doesn't make you grind, and that 00's hardcore has no ties to punk whatsoever nullifying any chance of those bastard hybrid bands being "grind" (More on that later).

My stance has been that as a marketing term, "indie" is dishonest and harms most acts since most artists, like TV on the Radio, Animal Collective, DFA1979, M.I.A., The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Battles that are actually really good and to be lumped in with something that is, to be realistic, going to be pretty worthless and thrown aside by the next musical trend. LCD Soundsystem's topping of the various critical surveys just reinforced two things to me; The mainstream critics or most 'respected" bloggers and web writers have trite, convoluted, predictable, shitty, bland taste in music and that none of these acts will actually be canonized. It seems to me that, with the bands from the first half of this decade like Death Cab for Cutie and Bright Eyes already out of vogue and critics favor, there's no reason to take most of the bands seriously. Despite people's arguments about favor of post-modern "recontextualizing", most of the bands aren't doing anything anything remotely new, either copying other 00's indie acts (telecasters, ripped off hand-me-down post-punk drums, self-absorbed lit major lyrics and concepts, etc).

Sasha Frere Jones tried to poke a gentle hole in this deflating zephyr a while ago by claiming there wasn't enough blackness or rhythm in the music, the latter of which is true, but the hardest part of writing about art is to communicate ideas through word and informing the reader or listener about theory and technique without coming off pompous or aggressive. Indie rock IS boring and plodding. Indie rock IS musically uninteresting. Indie rock does try to replace good music with experimentation and overloading on inluences, references, and over-wrought instrumentation. As a provocative piece, it worked, but Frere was too easy to refute or draw ire with to have made a real impact and be more than a much-needed discussion piece, like this L Magazine article. His case would've held more water had he focused on the fact that it's a non-existent genre that blankets anything non-emo/metal/punk/hip-hop under itself and is propped up by failed zine writers and pretentious liberal arts graduates. The latter is perhaps the most aggravating feature, self-canonization with little care to revise or debate. Even metal and hip-hop, isolated genres with layers of disparate sub-genres, fans and ideologies, will have massive differences in opinion. I hate mainstream metal and modern death metal, but there's a large contingent of people who also think that sucks as well as a larger record buying public that will fork over $16 for the new Children of Bodom record. Within the umbrella of indie rock, there seems to be only three types of fan, hipsters, twee kids, and your odd hippie/Devendra Banhardt acolyte who keeps his acid tabs in his dusty second-hand copy of Bryter Layter.

I guess my qualm with the whole thing is a lack of discussion or honesty about the music, or what's marketed under the name for the music and. If the trusted critics and beloved writers of the scene have shitty, predictable taste (which, judging by the writer's top 50 for Pitchfork and a few other sites, they do), than how reliable is the canon? Do they really want me to believe people in the future will give two shits about Sound of Silver? Ga Ga Ga Ga is a piece of shit and Roxy Music were never good. Even more insulting is that indie is best pictured as the blob, sucking in whatever is sanitized or bland enough from other genres, like electronica, metal (doom and black metal, but no death or grind. Typical.), hip-hop (the holy hipster grail of Cam'Ron, Clipse, Lil' Wayne, and Ghostface), and etc. Ghostface has 3,000,000 plays on lastfm, and most of those are not from people who wore Wu jackets back in '94. There's an air of "we have now decreed it is cool for you to like this music" in indie, perfectly summed up in the increasing amount of attention hipster-acceptable metal and ironic/shitty revival bands are getting now. The Neurosis/Mastodon show was sponsered by Vice and NME had the balls to declare that "Thrash is back!". Plus, Vice and Pitchfork both have extensive black metal coverage, a clusterfuck of late that I can't really touch upon without overwhelming bias, but Joey did a good post on it recently.

Another front is how fucking annoying the people are, although I try to keep perspective that annoying college-age white girls should have the right to spaz out like Ian Curtis to really bad modern electro wearing leopard print spandez pants, ugly Nikes from '84 and a Flashdance tanktop. But at it's core, everyone issue with indie is not with the music, some of which is an actual solid musical entity and not just pilfered, assimilated or watered down extra-genre bullshit used to make boring white people feel included (let's be honest), but with those same people. Our generation is full of cocksuckers. A league of assholes with nothing new to say, hiding behind a steel sheet of irony and the insurance of being "post-modern". The appalling richness and first world-ness of this attitude became more grating after I went to Colombia over the winter break and realized just how ineffective and annoying my generation really is, and how much of that is supported by the sort of wealth and attitude and enables well-off white Americans to be reactionary and make Facebook groups saying "Fuck Darfur" and etc.

In the end, the label, aesthetic, and genre are all a disgusting Girltalk mash-up of irony and undeserved entitlement and perceived self-importance, summed up in the oversight of the movie "Juno", brought up by a few people; "If she's so clever, why didn't she know to use a condom?"


josephlovesit said...

Awesome and hilarious post, Christopher. And thanks for the link! You make a good point that a lot of the indie that is most aggressively hyped is really ephemeral. These so-called indie rock fans are some forgetful folks. Or maybe they're just used to sweeping last season's embarrassments under the rug at the start of every new season. For instance, I've recently started to enjoy Dan Deacon (about half the album is great), but where was he on all those big year-end lists/articles? There's no support base or loyalty. That's not such a bad thing because so many of these bands suck anyway and are best forgotten. But for a scene that prides itself with the "independent" tag, it's ridiculous how they don't care to actually support their own system in the long-term.

Those revival-"metal" bands that you mention really piss me off too. Having a handful of boot-stomping riffs and a whole lot of pentatonic wankery needs to stay in the early '70s where it belongs. I don't know how anyone is impressed by that crap. I see it on a similar plane as Spoon's recent Motown thievery. Like you said, that stuff won't be canonized (they're like musical research papers or something...). I saw Spoon live a little less than a year ago right around when the new album was coming out. I'll just say that the majority of the crowd's decision to stand and "dance" during the show was one of the more ill-advised things I've seen. Wholesale referencing of past musical successes is boring.

Christopher said...

Jose lo ama: I was actually worried after the post that I had rambled on without bringing up enough points, but I'm glad I did a better post than I thought. I tend to never proofread these things until the next day, haha.

I think our generation digs the rip-offs and supposed "post-modern recontextualizations" because they just don't fucks with music before the 80's. Hell, judging by hipster electronica and the wierd retro fixation, they don't even fucks with the 80's beyond nostalgia.

People always respond "Well, it's hard to be original", which I'm going to touch upon on my next post (that shit is going to take 4 hours to write, it's a long treatise on genre life cycles using death metal as an example). My response is, there's a hundred years of pop music, loads of awesome albums, why should we settle for that? Why can't our fellow Americans just, I dunno, stop making shitty bands? Things like Mest and Eighteen Visions don't need to exist, but everyone's so lassiez-faire about calling out that there are waaaay too many musicians.

Raoul said...

Fuckin eh. Juno nominated for an Academy Award for Best Pic? Pla-ease!
We're now at the apex of this indie shit in it's full blown marketing explosion. I regrettably saw that film late night bored out of mind. Indie was dead in late 90's. Twee as god awful shit. Great post.

Anonymous said...

I never got the whole indie hipster culture either. Weird abuse of post modernism, irony,pastiche know the drill..I dont have anything intelligent to bring into tht conversation at this point. For the record though, I generally dislike the idea of retro movements in life in general. (its like when old people reminisce, scoff at youngsters and talk abt the good old days- there's a lack of faith in the present and the future there) However, I don't listen to music on the basis of its forward-thinking ability to push boundaries or its potential to be canonized. For ex. I like LCD Soundsystem. I dont know if 'sounds of silver' is a classic or abt its longevity but i sincerely enjoy listening to it. I always catch feelings when you diss LCD. Hater! Hope you're happy hurting my LCD-loving ego.

I look forward to wht you've got to say abt how to approach music in response to the whole "hard to be original" line. sounds promising

Nice blog btw. Peace - jaykay

Paul S. said...

Shit yeah, I've been saying this about "indie" for years! And yes, Pitchfork is hella predictable, especially with their unthinking support of those boring twats Radiohead.

floodwatch said...

Excellent post, Christopher, and a fine return after your holiday of sorts. I did a similar response to the SFJ fiasco a few months back, though not as articulated or thought-out as yours.

I don't have much to add other than I agree completely and I look forward to your, uhm, 'treatise.'

Death to indie.

Christopher said...

Paul S.- In Rainbows, as much as I love Kid A and parts of Hail to the Thief, was the epitome of chilled-out, limp, wanky Starbucks-friendly alternative rock. Yet I believe the PM review was like a 9.something. People kid themselves into thinking that record is more than average.

Floodwatch- I just hope to post more, but it's hard now that I'm a full student again and I'm not sitting at home smelling my own shit, haha.

Jamiroquai Sr.- I'm glad you don't take the criticism to heart. I don't listen to music for those reasons either, but I do think there is a disposable quality to a lot of indie rock that never gets discussed. I just ask for solid records, is all.