by carl wilson

Things We Said Today (Episode 1)

pitchfork.jpg

Being a set of scattered self-quotations and notations on current subjects of discussion here and on Internet music fora in which we sometimes participate:

First, in comparing rockism and anti-rockism to the "auteur" and "studio" positions in past debates around cinema in another conversation today, I started thinking more about comparing film and music, and what it led me to was this: We don't really question or demean people who are solely actors in material they didn't write or direct, and we certainly don't expect actors to be basing their characters directly on their own lives. So why do we demean singers in the same position as "puppets" and "trained poodles"? Is it because it goes out solely under their names? Why should all singers have to do one-man shows when for actors it is optional (and often plainly undesirable)?

Sometimes I think it all has to do with the crediting conventions. Compare the white pop, rock or country formula - "by Ashlee Simpson" or "by the Beatles" or "by Tim McGraw" - to the past jazz convention (naming all the players, the producer and the exact date and time) or the way current rap and R&B; credits are often presented - it might not always say "by Usher feat. Ashanti prod. by Kanye with samples from AC/DC and Prince" but that information is often much more available and evident, the fans are aware and unthreatened by it. Isn't that a much more well-rounded account of the real provenance of the music, much more Hollywood-like, etc.? (Also Hollywood-like in the way it often goes so far as to leave out the writer altogether!) In a way that's all less enjoyable than the Pop illusion of "by Tim McGraw" or "by Nancy Sinatra" or what have you, but it's also less misleading and unbalanced. So, new pop thing - truth in labelling?

I was interviewed last night, due to the last Overtones column, by somebody writing for the Ryerson Review about Pitchfork and trying to divine the secrets of its success, as many outlets seem to be these days. A few quick theses:
1. Pitchfork is Pitchfork because indie rock and the Internet have a common base constituency, geeky middle-class white kids on their computers. So it makes sense that the biggest Internet effect on music would first be on indie rock. It's only recently that hip-hop and jazz blogs, for instance, have begun to come into existence. (There have been dance music blogs but pretty much all by rock turncoats, former rock fan/journalists who've been converted to electronic music, with Simon Reynolds the obvious exemplar.)
2. Pitchfork is also Pitchfork because it was in the right place at the right time when Addicted to Noise shut down. Typically when people write about Pitchfork they don't know enough about Internet music history to realize that AtN ever existed and had as big an audience as Pfork does, if not bigger, and a broader one too, if still mainly indie-rock-centric. (See thesis 1.)
3. Pitchfork is also Pitchfork because it emphasizes new content all the fucking time and lots of it. More is more. Even I have a hard time resisting the sheer quantity of news, reviews, etc. I find whenever I check it. The Internet cares lots more about quantity than quality, especially when quantity is delivered with scattershot attitude and quick-hit sarcasm.
4. As I argued in the column, P-fork's days may be numbered because indie rock is becoming less underground (so Pfork's I-know-something-you-don't-know attitude may lose its traction) and the underground is becoming less indie rock (so if Pfork rejects joining indie rock's leap into populism, it will be wedded to things like psych-folk, noise and metalcore and other not-pop sounds, and its audience will become more marginal than the audience it has now).
5. Brian Joseph Davis's line in the comments about one kid bigging up Weather Report to another kid is the best illustration of what I mean by information putting an end to indie rock.
6. This also relates to the past and ongoing debate about the lack of a positive politics in hip-hop today, the lack of any effective counterforce to misogyny etc. There isn't currently a politics to "youth culture" that you could compare to the politics of punk or the politics of 1991 identity-politics or nationalist hip-hop. There is an unrootedness, at-sea-ness in the stuff that bothers us about hip-hop the way there is in Pitchfork. This is not to say there is not a rebellious energy, not an anger, not a political awareness, but there is no political movement out in the world to correspond, so when music gets to yellin' it is often just yellin' into the void in the discourse. The question of what you're rebelling against is again answered by "what you got?" - and if what you got on the left is a general piety around womanhood, homosexuality, etc., don't be surprised if the rebellion-inclined rebel against that as well as against Bush and the Iraq war. There's confusion about the state of things but no movement - so there is an instant gratification culture and an instant-exasperation reaction. But this may be just a hush before a boom, who knows? Anyway, that all ties in to the debate around Greg Tate's Village Voice article on the hip-hop anniversary, the smartest responses to which said that hip-hop had not failed politically so much as the political leadership in the black community and elsewhere had failed to reckon responsibly with hip-hop and to incorporate its energies. (This is all over the internets, eg., lookie here (and read the comments) and here.)
7. To go back to Weather Report, where there are politics to indie culture today they seem to be non-generationalist, which is a good thing but a totally mindfucking one for any kind of poprockahiphop mentality which has always been "youth"-based - not that youth doesn't count (and maybe in my agingness i am beclouded) but it doesn't seem like anyone is making claims around the inherent revolutionariness or autonomy or dropoutness or any of that of youth culture, and in fact many kids are much less alienated from the politics of their parents, and from the fragments of history and foreign cultures and such they find lying around them on the virtual landscape, even if they haven't much of a linear framework in which to place them? Again, this is all neutral, just potential energy of which nobody can say anything until it turns into a battering ram or a slushie.
8. Obviously this could all be better knit together but no, not right now it can't.

But overall, I am too excited about the new Haruki Murakami book to contemplate such subjects further.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, January 25 at 7:14 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)

 

COMMENTS

Excellent point about AtN; its demise certainly sent me scurrying to Pitchfork. As for hip-hop, I wouldn't be surprised if Okayplayer.com (now six years old) gets much heavier traffic than Pitchfork ever did. It's a different beast, more artist-driven than snarky reportage, but an approximate contemporary.

Posted by Carl Z. on January 28, 2005 7:46 AM

 

 

The new Haruki Murakami book is great (what else would I say?), kind of like Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, with two alternating narratives. Downloaded Martha Wainwright last week (I'm a fan of LWIII) and loved it. Love your blog. KC

Posted by kevin chong on January 26, 2005 3:17 AM

 

 

Cool thoughts

Posted by industrial music, darkwave, dark ambient, idm, ebm band on January 25, 2005 10:46 PM

 

 

A few months ago I was reading a Wavelength program. I can't remember which one. Anyway, in this booklet one writer was making an apology for The Arcade Fire. It seems that among some members of the Wavelength scene, The Arcade Fire now need to be defended, apparently because too many "regular people" are starting to like them. Of course this is a typical example of indie-rock snobbery/narcissism. Of course it is silly and makes no rational sense. But it's fun for the kids.
People who are old enough to know better, though, should be able to enjoy whatever music they like and realize that who and how many other people also like it is completely irrelevant.

Indie-rock World, from my limited experience of it, seems to have not much to do with music and a whole lot to do with "competitive consumption" as the authors A. Potter & J. Heath would call it. (discussed, among other topics, in their very interesting book "The Rebel Sell" http://www.harpercollins.ca/rs/excerpt.asp)

The whole concept of a cultural underground is tiresome and illusory.

Posted by Mike Christoff on January 25, 2005 10:33 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson