2006 Year End Thoughts
The Musicians I’ve Met
bout a month ago, Tokyo's Marxy released a free EP called Beaus in Disarray. The music is for the most part hyper-compressed, wholly rambunctious, usually catchy pop-about-pop, with bright melodies making their way through a blizzard of musical signifiers: 8-bit power-ups I've heard a lot in Japanese indie-pop, the “honest” guitar strums of mid-‘90s lo-fi indie-rock, expansive 60s psych-pop vocal harmonies, etc. It's a busy 14 minutes, which creates the illusion that Marxy's more relaxed passages, like the dude-with-acoustic introspective "The Level One," are much more spacious than their runtime suggests (1:44 in this case; not too long). So he's playing with the idea of music manipulating one's sense of time and he's playing with ideas of an Instrumental Other (in this case the untreated guitar is more unusual than all of the EP's scattershot electronics). There are lots of other conceptual-turned-compositional ideas in Marxy's music worth considering, at least after enjoying the music directly, since the pop comes first.
Part of what I like about Marxy is that he loves discussing the conditions that shape the creation, process, and reception of his music—how invisible trends affect reception, how music is heard, and the amount of time people dedicate to its explication. He's seemingly read all the texts and knows all the musical history, but loves the social/technological/chemical/metaphysical theory behind the history too. He's participating in the discourse pretty seriously at neomarxisme.com, and no exaggeration, he's maybe the most knowledgeable young person re: Japanese consumer culture, at least under 30.
The same do-it-all spirit of Marxy, a.k.a. David Marx, bit me enough that I and Matt LeMay, another do-it-all, decided to set up a small record label called Beekeeper Records. It comes from the Brainiac song "Beekeeper's Maxim," which we settled on after discovering that the Bonsai Superstar-influenced Bonsai Records was already in existence. Our first release was Marxy's first release, Kyoshu Nostalgia, an indie-pop mini-LP that plays with the idea of media-generated nostalgia feedback loops (e.g. being nostalgic for that strain of the ‘80s that was nostalgic for the ‘60s, etc.). We had a semi-glitzy promo blitz (nice stationery, gold stamps, a few blogger email addresses), modest distribution, and there was even a record release party at the Dark Room. Kyoshu didn't make anyone famous, but I know Matt and I were really excited to put the record out, to make it capital-e exist, to like something so much that we actually threw more than a bombastic review behind it.
Anyway I wouldn't bring all this up two years after the fact, but this year I witnessed a lot of Know Your Bureaucratic Role shit-calling in Indie Rock, and it really bummed me out. (I understand the need for the whistle, I’ll get to that in a sec.) What I'm talking about, basically, is the cogification of indie rock. Back In The Day, everybody did everything—at least that’s how I imagined it must have gone. Here was a community of people generally excited about unpopular music, much more participatory, in the same way say college theater works, where the costume designer is the lead actress is the webmaster. Now, if you're a writer, you're a writer; if you're a label guy, you're a label guy; if you work at Other Music, you work at Other Music; PR dudes and musicians and booking agents and everyone else follows similarly. Cross the fences—fuck, even walk near them—and the Conflict Of Interest flag gets raised on your ass. Which is funny, since ostensibly everybody's Interest—i.e. the enjoyment of music—should be the same. So it's weird to think that, even superficially, a close-knit Indie Rock Community doesn't exist, since there's no longer an interest incapable of conflict. Two years later, I'm reminded of how difficult it was for anybody except MP3 blogs to even consider listening to Kyoshu, for no other reason than because Matt and I, two Pitchfork critics, had released it.
What's hilarious of course is the way a pecking order has come of this bureaucratization. Earlier this year, there was a thread on the Pitchfork message board titled, basically, "What Musicians Have You Met?" This pretty much says everything you need to know. It was so goddamn depressing, reading all these dudes actually brag banalities equivalent to smoking weed in a room Sufjan Stevens had been in once, or smoking a sufjan with pre-gay Stephin Merritt's slavehand, or taking a taxicab past Biggie's childhood home in Bushwick. Sorry Bushwick, not all of you lived on Biggie's block—your realtor played you.
After that, there's a whole lot to say about how dramatically booking agents have made indie rock more corporate, shutting out smaller local bands from local venues with their all-or-nothing packaged act deals, forcing bookers into corners with exorbitant fees, keeping fans another degree away from musicians for the sake of squeezing out a nothing commission.
The further I move from figures, the closer I get to rantsville, so let's put this all under "generally speaking." But all's to say, if you're not having as much fun with this stuff as you used to, feel like you're out of touch or don't relate anymore, there's more to it than your advancing age. I understand having a log or two in your pants when face to face with whoever happens to be your James Mercer, and I respect critical distance insofar as we probably shouldn't write about our best friend's bands and give them huge scores in magazines that move units, etc. Indie Rock is a big business now, money is involved, and when money is involved there will always be people not making any money trying to knock down the people who are, questioning their motives, trying their best to Sinclair some asses. The "we're not saying, we're just saying" witchhunts aren't going anywhere. But what I'm just saying is there's something foul and cynical and certifiably unfun about turning this carefree music community into your minimum wage meat factory. We all have a right to say whatever, but I'm bored by the just-because skepticism, the what's-next consumption-junction blase, and miss the wide eyes.
Reviewed by: Nick Sylvester
Reviewed on: 2006-12-20