Actually that’s still true today. I like music more than I like almost everything. Yesterday I told Julie (who is someone I probably like more than music) that if I had to choose between Andy Warhol’s work and the song “Roadrunner” by the Modern Lovers, I would kiss those screen prints and Brillo Boxes goodbye in a second. That’s a pretty tricky thought experiment though, because the way most people tell the history of the Modern Lovers involves Andy Warhol somehow. This is an oversimplification, since the Velvets were around before Warhol and did their best work without him around, although who’s to say where the influence starts or stops?
Anyway, I have nothing against Andy Warhol; I just chose him off-handedly because he’s obviously important. But Roadrunner, man. Great song.
So South By Southwest is going on.
And when I was a teenager in Omaha, the old-timers were already mourning what SXSW had become. In the days before the early 2000s, I guess it was a place for unsigned bands to be discovered by labels. By the time I heard about sxsw, it was mostly the labels putting on showcases and it was so expensive to go and stay in Austin that week, that unsigned bands just wouldn’t go.
Still, Nigel and I dreamed of going to sxsw, but the cost and distance to Austin always exceeded our grasp.
I write for a tech website so I got a smart phone and joined Twitter and started following people who do the same sort of stuff. Many of them are writing from SXSW. Many of them are from Brooklyn. All I’ve heard about from sxsw is about people going to viral marketing conferences and where people have been spotted wearing Google Glass and TED talk this and bullshit that.
Brooklyn, and New York more broadly, is a place I fell in love with via music. It is also a very strong brand.
Did you know
“the idea that art and commerce are at odds is a remnant of an old culture war: dogma presented as forward-thinking but really just protecting an outmoded status quo.”
Of course you already knew that. How long has it been since you took the phrase “sell-out” seriously? If you aren’t commodifying everything you do, putting ads in front of your youtube videos and monitoring your page views, you’re just an idiot and someone else is making that money. No band is going to turn down an opportunity for their song to be used in a commercial.
And you know art has always been at the behest of commerce. Why did everyone paint stuff for the church? Because the church paid them. Lucky painters did paintings of rich families. Even the Impressionists needed their patrons and they still were all poor and covered in lice.
And those examples are just painters! The more expensive and new arts–like film–don’t even have an illusion of being made with hands free of commerce. Some of the most seminal and revered films–Battleship Potemkin, Triumph of the Will–are openly propaganda. Every Hollywood movie opens with a corporate logo.
I haven’t sought out music coverage from SXSW, because I just don’t listen to that much contemporary indie rock, or much contemporary music of any stripe. SXSW doesn’t really have much to do with indie rock anyway.
I guess I see most indie rock as the form of the pop song played on guitars instead of via computer, and sung by a person with a pretty normal sounding voice rather than a computer-aided super voice.
And indie rock has a lot of pretense of “art,” but if it’s all commerce, does indie v. major label matter much? And how is using the same formula for a pop song–same line-up of two guitars, bass and drums, that has been used since Buddy Holly–innovative or impressive?
So I’ve been listening to American Primative guitarists and jazz music and Penguin Café Orchestra and space-age big band, and operettas and none of them are at SXSW, so for all I know it hasn’t changed, but I have.
Everything is technology of course. Last night, talking to Julie, I talked about how the acoustic guitar–even mine–is made in a factory (in Nazareth, PA), and the frets are a technological development, as is the bridge and the interface is the strings. It’s on a spectrum with Google Glass. Maybe it isn’t a spectrum. Maybe they just share a category. I mean, anything could share a category, depending how you categorize.
So it isn’t with any pretense of authenticity or superiority that I ignore most EDM or whatever. I just look at a computer screen all damn day, and I don’t want to make music while looking at my computer screen, and frankly, seeing a musician making music on their computer live is a comically depressing, post-modern display. But there’s no denying that it’s very now.
I sold off the Stratocaster a few days ago. The slow winter months tend to result in my selling something of value. Last year it was my amp, which was too big and loud anyway. This year it was the Strat. I liked the way that guitar played, maybe even more than the Telecaster that I kept and will probably have to sell next year, but the Tele has more sentimental value. It’s just a product that I used, when you get down to it.
Even the SXSW that old timers pined for–unsigned bands trying to become signed bands–is commerce based. Everything is.
The fact that everyone clamors to get into conferences given by someone who made millions of dollars running a web-based company probably isn’t categorically different from clamoring to see someone who made millions of dollars playing two-chord songs to teenagers.
Isn’t that sort of Andy Warhol’s point with the Brillo Boxes? Look for art in consumer design, because those are the same thing.
It’s not like the bastards won. There was no one else fighting.
It’s not like the counter-culture is being co-opted by the business guys, because there isn’t a counter-culture. There is only aesthetics. It’s not like an indie rock festival is categorically different from a tech conference.
It’s all how you categorize things, right? You can’t really afford to be so naïve.
I don’t feel so bad with the radio on. It helps me from being lonely late at night.