Friday, October 26, 2012

Another link roundup (mid-October edition)

The first two are courtesy of RA's news feed:

1.  One normally finds links to mixtapes and newly released underground club tracks on the blog "The Head of Rothchild".  They also enjoy the occasional slog through the crappiest music one can find over the internet, posting audio, video, and photo links for us to point our fingers and laugh at.  I'd never heard of them until I saw their post on corny DJ photo shoots.  The intentional send-ups at the end of the post are actually not any more ridiculous than the real promo shots.  I can't for the life of me figure out what the guy in the first picture is supposed to be doing.  Is he pissing on his record collection through the hole in that fluorescent green disc?  

These photos don't look anything like actual DJ promo shots, so they can't even say that they were trying to steal from the pros and just overused the usual cliches.  They only have themselves to blame ... and that's saying something, because DJ promo pictures are unbelievably cliched and uncreative.  For instance, there's the "DJ covering his eyes" shot, and the million varieties of "serious and forlorn".  The most popular one is where the DJ looks off to one side, completely away from the camera, with his face partly in shadow.  These are just a few examples, but trust me, this is one case where the truth is nearly as bad as the parody.  


2.  An interview with Jeff Mills ... in Forbes!!  I love the description of him in the title - "artist, producer, DJ, and entrepreneur".  It is Forbes after all, so he's an "entrepreneur" and much of the discussion is devoted to his company/label's business model.  I can only imagine what the stock watchers thought when they saw this article.  Mainstream music publications are still obsessed over album sales figures -- how much did such and such an album sell in its first week, etc. What they consider "success" is still associated with a business model that is decades old.  Sometimes you see lip service paid to other versions of "success", like the free downloads as loss leaders strategies of Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead, and Youtube views.  But I think most of them still don't get it.  A song like "Gangnam Style" became a worldwide phenomenon, complete with iconic dance, hundreds of millions of Youtube views, PSY guest spots on American talk shows, flash mobs, countless tribute and parody videos, etc.  Despite all that, before it had started to make a dent in the charts outside Asia, a lot of music industry people wouldn't have considered it a "success".  At least not until it started racking up actual sales and downloads, which it eventually did, topping the iTunes download charts and pop charts in dozens of countries.  Now they'll just point to its iTunes ranking as "proof" that it was a hit, and ignore all that other stuff that made it a huge phenomenon -- stuff that's a lot more significant if you ask me.

Forbes and Tamara Warren, the journalist who conducted the interview, get it.  Mills comes across as the savvy head of a music and merchandise company that's keenly in tune with the changing needs of its customers.  Most actual music publications don't.


3.  Last week I thought I wrote a fairly inspired review of a concert by a legendary 80's music group. I tried to put the passage of time in perspective while trying to capture what makes them and their tour so special for longtime fans.  Then I saw this review of Morrissey by Hua Hsu on Grantland, which tackles much the same angle and of course blows my writing out of the water.

Not only that, his point is much more interesting and profound than mine.  Me = we get older and so do our favourite bands, how do both of us reconcile our current and past selves?  Nothing wrong with that, but it's hardly an original concept (which I knew, but still wanted to tell the story in that way.  But Hsu notes that these tours are partly about musicians playing the characters their fans expect them to play.  In the process, they blur the lines between those characters and their actual selves, and at the end of the day, who knows who is the real artist, who is the character that does what he can to collect the ticket money, and when the former morphed into the latter?  I don't this happened with earlier generations of artists.  It's not like Led Zeppelin turned out to be asexual homebodies who hated the blues.  CCR didn't admit they were pro-war all along and just went along with what the hippie crowd wanted so they could sell a few records.

Then you have artists like Morrissey and Robert Smith.  They were icons owing to a simple, almost parasitic formula.  They felt lonely, depressed, and isolated.  They wrote songs that expressed those feelings.  Their fans, who were also lonely, depressed, and isolated people who felt especially alienated by the plastic 80's music, idolized them because they perfectly understood everything they were feeling in their everyday lives.  And that's how The Smiths and The Cure built such a loyal following.

At least that's how the story goes.  But at some point, writing those kinds of songs in character became the most natural thing in the world for them, just like any fiction writer would put him or herself in the shoes of the characters in one of their books.  We can believe that Robert Smith was obsessed with death in '82 when he wrote "One Hundred Years", but as a fifty year old happily married man who tours stadiums and makes millions?  Morrissey is a militant vegetarian who hates the British royal family, there's no doubt about that, but he pushes those views as a convenient way of maintaining his legend, not as part of a deliberate attempt to change people's minds.  It's not to say that he's given up on the latter completely, but influencing people is not his main concern anymore.  He doesn't insist on meat and leather-free buildings because he wants people to follow his lead, he does it because it's convenient for him and he sees himself as a big enough star to warrant the special treatment.  And if it helps convince fans that he's as real as he was in the 80's and still deserving of his former status as a messianiac indie god along with the pile of earnings from the concert tours to go along with it, well, he's fine with that too.   You have to think that the Morrissey of the '80's wouldn't have played along with Stephen Colbert the way he did, he's more likely have stormed out rather than lower himself to trading barbs about vegetarianism with an American talk show host (even on a talk show parody like Colbert).

Maybe it shouldn't be surprising that indie stars of the 80's turned out to be greedy just like the mainstream artists they stood as the antidote to some thirty years ago.  After all, they were products of the 80's just like the rest.  Will there be a reckoning when fans start resenting their former heroes for turning into fakes?  Or did that already happen when the bloom partly came off the rose with their run of less successful albums starting in the mid-90's?

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