Monday, October 26, 2015

Ian Svenonius trashes NPR

For me there has always been something sterile about NPR that I could never quite put my finger on.  It's one thing when a "public" broadcaster serves as an outlet for giving national exposure to localized bands who could use the extra boost. It's another thing when that broadcaster develops a house style of promoting a specific type of airwave-palatable indie band.  Its stylistic choices eventually become as safe and predictable as those of the corporations they're supposed to be offering an alternative to. Not to mention that NPR music always feels like it is geared toward a specific kind of liberal arts educated upper middle class 30-something who feels they've lost they're edge since they left college and is looking for an outlet for connecting again with music but isn't creative enough to develop their own unique taste.

This is hardly the first article to criticize the gentrification of indie.  But whereas past critiques tended to point fingers at record companies for domesticating and mass marketing indie, rending it nearly empty of its former individuality and underground appeal, Svenonius takes aim at the consumers and leaves the evil record companies out of the equation entirely.  And it's not the first time he's accused the public of being complicit in gentrifying themselves.    

When it comes right down to it, I have very little sympathy for punk -- Svenonius' scathing attack on yuppies for their largely successful attempts to gentrify punk don't particularly disturb me.  Counterculture movements need to rapidly evolve either by growing in popularly and influence, or they have to fade away quietly.  A radical idea worth caring about can't stay on the fringe indefinitely without seeping into the mainstream and becoming more palatable.  After a while it becomes a Pavlovian reaction to whatever is dominating the mainstream, as entrenched in the old ideas and attitudes as anything big business could dream up.  In the interview I linked to above, Svenonius has also recast punk as taking pride in one's local surroundings and drawing inspiration from it. In other words, something that automatically must evolve as the local population evolves, or else gets swallowed up by the forces that smooth out the differences between different areas within a city.

A national public broadcast then can't help but yuppify a genre like punk -- it broadcasts everywhere and is blind to differences in locale.  There's room in the market for punk music that's been drained of its raw emotion and sense of danger, and "real" punks shouldn't expect anything more of a station like NPR in that respect.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Pitchfork Media sold!

Who saw this coming?

Many people have commented on the remarks by Fred Santarpia, Conde Nast's Chief Digital Officer, who noted that the acquisition of PFM brings "a very passionate audience of millenial males into our roster".  Meaning we should expect more coverage of hipster beardo indie bands, less coverage of niche genres, and less of an emphasis on female artists and contributions by female writers.

But isn't that an overreaction?  People have complaining about PFM's narrow scope practically since it was founded.  Then they attempted to branch out into non-indie genres and hired fantastic writers to makes those genres accessible to a non-specialist audience.  The results were not unlike record labels in the 70's supporting artists like Lou Reed or Patti Smith, not because they might break out and sell millions of records, but because they were "prestige" artists who brought an artistry and sophistication that to their roster that was different from what mainstream acts could offer.  Lou Reed would get dutifully reviewed in the NYT, giving some cultural cache to his label, but the real money was earned elsewhere.  And so it is with PFM.  The money is in attracting a devoted urban male readership who click on the news feed every day and listen to Destroyer.

I'll be interested to see how this affects the number and quality of long feature articles on PF.  Music journalism has been trending toward one paragraph review, soundbite links, and endless lists for well over a decade.  We'll soon see if PFM's new corporate overlords share that "vision".

Or maybe the whole thing is a slick way to sell more Vogue subscriptions to males ages 25-35.  Either way.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Sterling Morrison after the VU

This is not a new story, but it's a welcome one.  Many VU-related articles contained contradictory information about Morrison's post-VU life, but this one seems to set the record straight.  No bombshells, no real surprises, just a charming mini-bio of a man who wanted to change his career path and quit being a semi-celebrity.

His academic career still raises a few questions.  Besides playing occasionally in Austin-area bar bands and holding court over a succession of beers in student bars, what exactly was Morrison doing for fifteen years?  Did he turn more to teaching once he started a family?  Besides financial reasons, why did he become slowly disillusioned with academia not unlike the way he had with rock and roll?  The story is familiar to grad students today, who still tend to take on larger and larger teaching loads to support themselves while finishing their theses, which leaves them with fewer hours for doing research, which brings them no closer to finishing their theses, so they keep taking on a high teaching load to continue to make a living, and so on.  Is this what happened with Morrison?

And somehow I never realized that Galaxie 500's "Tugboat" was written as a tribute to him, although it all seems so obvious now.