Saturday, April 30, 2022

retrotalk2022 - festivals fester

Eric Drucker at the Ringer on how music festivals are in the big business of selling your youth back to you. Like the concept of "forever goths" and the thought that an entire festival - not just specific reunions of bands on the bill- could be a kind of mega-reunion or flashback or form of time travel. Also the concept of a band's transition from "dated" to "classic".

"It’s been more than two decades since the first Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. After a rough entry, Coachella eventually showed new generations of American concert promoters and audiences that these events were not only financially lucrative and amazing backdrops for selfies, but also the locus of culture-defining moments. Coachella inspired plenty of like-minded, goofily-named imitators around the country. Some have persisted, others have perished. (A quick RIP to All Points West, Sasquatch!, Treasure Island, Intonation …)

"Yet as the number of festivals has multiplied, a sameness has developed in their lineups. Individual identities have been lost, even among the ones with the longest histories. Coachella started in 1999 with an eye toward underground sounds and Bonnaroo launched in 2002 with a foundation in the jam band scene, but by 2022, much of their rosters can feel oddly interchangeable. And ever since Lollapalooza transitioned to a non-touring event in 2005, it has struggled to develop an ethos beyond “We heard you like music, here’s a lot of it.”

"As the live music industry hopefully enters its first full festival season since the beginning of the pandemic, some of the country’s largest promoters have unveiled or resurrected more niche festivals as alternative options. These offerings focus on a particular era or sound and are usually limited to a single day of programming, rather than the current industry standard of spreading an event out from Friday to Sunday (or longer). Entrants in this category beyond When We Were Young include the 1980s gloom fantasy Cruel World, the soul showcase Smokin Grooves, the outlaw–roots country roundup Palomino Festival, and the throwback hip-hop showcase Rock the Bells.

"... Though ticket sales for major festivals far exceed the specialty ones, there is more of a sense of excitement around these recent entries. When every festival this year seems to be headlined by Metallica, Halsey, Green Day, and/or J. Cole, it makes sense why Cruel World would get forever goths pumped about the idea of moping out to Morrissey, Bauhaus, and the Psychedelic Furs on the same day.... 

"In the early phases of Coachella, the festival often attracted crowds with reunions of influential bands that younger fans probably hadn’t been able to see play live in their prime—most notably Pixies, the Stooges, and Rage Against the Machine. It was said that the organizers’ dream booking was the Smiths. With all due respect to Swedish House Mafia, reunion acts no longer appear to be a core part of Coachella’s mission. But many of the other recently announced events feel like reunions for entire bygone tours and festivals. Looking at the When We Were Young lineup, it’s hard not to see it as a retread of New Jersey’s The Bamboozle, or an idealized version of a certain multistage, summer punk showcase that once traveled our country’s fairgrounds and stadium parking lots. As Told says, “The elephant in the room is the Warped Tour.”

"....For some of the acts that are playing Just Like Heaven, it will be the first time they’ve been packaged under an aura of recapturing yesteryear. The dance punk band !!! played Coachella three times between 2004 and 2011. The group has been consistently putting out music for more than two decades and still tours clubs regularly. “We’ve never played the hits,” says Nic Offer, !!!’s frontperson. “Also we didn’t really have hits that were big enough that people are always going to be screaming for them, so we’ve been lucky in that.”

"...When Goldenvoice approached !!! last year about Just Like Heaven, they were reluctant, not wanting to get shunted into the old band category. “There’s that transition from dated to classic,” Offer says. “I think every musician is kind of counting on that moment when it’ll happen to them. And, you know, it looks like this is going to be the moment where it starts to happen for bands like us.”

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

so this is the afterlife...

Interesting / poignant piece by Nick Duerden about pop stars and what they do after their careers collapse, spun off a book he's done on the subject, Exit Stage Left: The Curious Afterlife of Pop Stars 

I've often wondered, and worried, about what pop stars do with themselves when their moment - often rather brief - has gone....  how they make ends meet.... what they do with all that time on their hands.... and not wanting to go out and about much on account of the inevitable "didn't you use to be...." comments

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

pre-echoes of Retromania # 6 - "going forward into the past"

Funny to see a reviewer (in Sounds, I think - unidentified, anyway) complaining way back in 1977 that Elvis Costello's music is as recycled and recombinational as his name. 

Having read Franklin Bruno's book on Armed Forces, it does seem like the m.o. of the Attractions often was to steal riffs and rejigger them, sometimes inverting them - these riffs often sourced in relatively obscure (at least to the New Wave audience's ears) rhythm-and-blues or soul songs, so they could get away with it presumably, or because it was simply their favorite music, or where they could all find common ground as musicians. 

But what's interesting is that despite this patchworking of bits and bobs borrowed, the outcome comes across with the force of the New - it's animated by an almost unprecedented spite and vitriol, and by the power of the playing and performance. 

The personality, the attitude, revivifies and repurposes all this second-hand material - that's what makes the song jump into the present and leave behind pub rock (a scene, incidentally, characterized by groups doing a lot of cover versions - a break with the progressive ethos of only doing your own material). 

Not forgetting the lyrics  - the locus of the New here, as in so much New Wave (along with image). 

The content changes the form. Charges it up. 

The urgency of the subject makes it totally now (meaning 1977 - the 1977 of RAR and ANL)


Monday, April 4, 2022

pre-echoes of Retromania #5 - "the nostalgia gap"

A piece by Tom Vanderbilt from The Baffler way back in December 1993, classified as a "salvo" and titled on the cover "Toward the Retro Apocalypse", but inside the magazine itself headlined "The Nostalgia Gap". He detects a malaise of '70s nostalgia among twentysomethings aka Gen X, whose "deeper insidiousness lies in the speed with which we arrived to this time of 1970s nostalgia, when it seems that only a few short years ago America was still in the twilight of its homage to the 1960s."

"....  Like some nightmare vision of Left Bank intellectuals gone awry, people coalesced in seventies preservation societies, adopting the trappings of some artistic vanguard (THE PAST EXISTS FOR OUR PLEASURE, their graffiti might read). They hashed out mythopoetical tales of the Brady trip to the Grand Canyon...  and played digitally remastered versions of “Midnight at the Oasis.” What is strange about this equation is that the people celebrating seventies nostalgia are for the most part early twentysomethings, whereas the sixties nostalgia was powered by early thirties Baby Boomers.... According to the historical precedent, the early twentysomethings should not be reminiscing about the 1970s, but the mid-to-late 1980s, when their formative tastes in music, film, and literature were being consolidated and they were blossoming into the much desired 18-24 demographic. And this should happen in the next few years. But why did we not wait? Why did we jump the nostalgia gun?...

"The answer seems to be that the speed of nostalgia has increased. We find ourselves in the strange condition of time sped up—a shrinking of the future to look back on the past. The rise of a global media network means that events, styles, trends, fashion and other sources of future nostalgia are disseminated instantly, and as each new trend is promoted and participated in, a previous one is made obsolete.

"....The speed of consumption has accelerated to the point where things that happened only a few years ago already seem laughably archaic, distant from memory and covered by a creeping nostalgia. ...

"There is some concern that with our increased nostalgia speed—a rush to remember—we will miss the 1980s in the blink of an eye, the decade reduced to some peeling billboard on a slick, open road to the halcyon days of the 1970s. Relax. In the New York Times “Styles” section, a kind of Weather Channel for predicting which way the winds of mainstream taste are blowing, a recent headline announced: “Barely Gone, 80’s are Back.” In the article, Village Voice columnist Michael Musto claims that “we’ve sped up to the point where we’re looking back to three years ago … everything’s happening faster in popular culture.” 

"Scenarios of the future, given a continuation of this speed in nostalgia, border on the absurd. We will look wistfully back to last week’s television...... The previous month’s Top 40 will appear in boxed-CD sets...

Vanderbilt muses upon the snake-eating-its-own-tail, ouruborus nature of revivalism... 

".... Would a future 1990s nostalgia take into account this decade’s 1970s and 1980s nostalgia, and then by extension the 1950s or 1960s nostalgia of those decades? Like Magritte’s La réproduction interdite, in which a man looks at a painting of himself looking at a painting of himself, stretching into eventual nothingness, a true nostalgia would envelop all previous nostalgias, a rather dizzying prospect indeed."

A difficulty with thinking these issues through is that you can get in a muddle by confusing personal biographic/generational nostalgia with the phenomenon of nostalgia for something you didn't live through (which falls into the domain of retro, whereas the painful personal kind of nostalgia doesn't necessarily - unless you start making music that sounds like the music of that lost golden age). The nostalgia-for-something-didn't-live through is disconnected from an individual's seasons-of-life rhythms (looking back that starts as soon as you've accumulated enough stuff to look back at).  And then there's actually a third set of rhythms, the fashion economy - here there can be recycling  that started much, much sooner than the normal generational rhythms of 20 years or whatever. That is a process that doesn't really have anything to do with nostalgia, in the sense of ache for a bygone time. Fashion recycling is based in the desperate hunger for something novel in comparison to what was only just a la mode.  

Only the first of these three forms of retrospection is ruly nostalgic - the second is actually more like discovery, things from the past that are new to you, the surprise of the charming specificity of the past,. And the third mode is just the senseless churn of trendiness, the inbuilt emptiness of the fashion economy. 

Vanderbilt does introduce this nuance, talking about "the strange sensation of “displaced nostalgia,” where one generation is nostalgic for the music and fashion of a period which passed before they were born?"

He also deploys a nifty, typically stern quote from Christopher Lasch: “Having trivialized the past by equating it with outmoded styles of consumption, discarded fashions and attitudes, people today resent anyone who draws on the past in serious discussions of contemporary conditions or attempts to use the past as a standard by which to judge the present.

Vanderbilt continues:

"....  more often than not what is romanticized is “the way we never were,” and history, the one thing that the media-constructed “twentysomething” generation honestly shares, is lost amidst the celebrating."

And notes:  

"The future of an artistic vanguard seems equally threatened. The notion of a radical “vanguard” has itself already become the stuff of memories, catalogued in so many retrospectives, the work of Constructivists and Situationists resigned to coffee mugs and calendars, their patron regimes long discredited." 

He seems to have read the recently published (well two years earlier) big fat tome by Fredric Jameson. 

But there was quite a bit of this sort of talk around then - that same season of '93, I wrote the record collection rock article in New York Times, indeed had roached similar concerns a few years earlier, while the emerging concept of post-rock was motivated in part as an alternative to the retrospective turn in alternative rock, a path forward.