Thursday, February 2, 2012

Nitsuh Abebe on emo and generation gaps.

" 2006, a writer and music-industry gadabout named Sarah Lewitinn-- more recognizably branded as Ultragrrrl-- posted a blog entry faking a claim that shouldn't, in and of itself, have been all that provocative. My Chemical Romance, she suggested, was "this generation's Nirvana"-- the transformative favorite that meant something to millions. The provocative part, I suppose, was what came around that: a needling argument that the music press was run by out-of-touch 35-year-old guys who couldn't remotely hope to understand teenagers or a band like My Chemical Romance, and were hopelessly irrelevant as a result... As a rhetorical ploy, the argument felt a little too cheap and juvenile-- that great stubborn teenage move where one pretends adults are simply unable to understand the first thing about being human. In reality, a lot of older people's antipathy toward the kinds of bands she championed stemmed from thinking they understood the stuff all too well, having sifted through piles of angsty power chords and snotty pop-punk through the whole 1990s alt-rock gold-rush-- little of which seemed all that meaningful to anyone lately."

every time I go into a magazine store and look at the music mag section (which isn't as often as it used to be) i pick'n'flick through Alternative Press. I used to write a bit for AP, back in the late 90s when the review section was edited by Dave Segal (now at the Stranger) and it covered all the cool stuff of that time (so i'd do short reviews of drum'n'bass comps and digital hardcore CDs and so forth, and others would review post-rock, industrial, ambient, IDM, lo-fi etc). A mix somewhere between The Wire and what Pitchfork now covers. Even then there was a discernible gulf between the superhip review section and the more bread-and-butter feature-oriented main body of the magazine. But for most of the last decade AP has been a different beast altogether, it's all about the kind of emo/pop-punk/gothy-whatnot/non-extreme metal that Nitsuh's talking about. It barely intersects with the Pitchfork world (or even the Spin world). Basically the reason I flick thru AP is sheer fascination at the number of bands I've never even heard of but who appear to be, for some (who knows how many), stars.

From a Retromania-perspective, the interest of emo and post-2000 pop-punk and glammy/Gothy/lite-metally whatever is that it represents a sizeable musical cohort with whom the notion of Innovation seems to have little traction. This doesn't mean the music doesn't change: i daresay if you placed an emo record from 2012 next to one from 1998, there would be some differences, probably apparent even to a listener such as myself with minimal "competence" (in the semiologist sense of ability to "read" a sign-set). But these changes occur without much in the way of intent or purposive will on the part of the bands, I suspect, and probably owe far more to "scenius" type mechanisms, incremental and anonymous shifts driven by recording technology, economics, and then the basic level of competitio nbetween bands to sound slightly different (but not too different) in other to stand out in a crowded field. Innovation is not much of a priority, or even a criteria in this cultural field; things like energy, passion, integrity, lyrics, etc are.

Not forgetting looks and, er, style.

There's a lot of genres in music--more and more, maybe--that undergo change in that slow, anonymous, non-ideological way. So e.g. country in 2012 is nothing like country in 1960 or 1980. In terms of the substance of its sound, it actually sounds like the stodgiest aspects of radio rock (of the Bryan Adams/Tom Cochrane/Mellencamp/Petty/Hootie type) sung with a Southern accent. But these changes came about slowly as a result of demographics and radio and the gradual divorce of most of its audience from any kind of rural existence.

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