Caught in the Crossfire – Printed Issue #4

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we present ourselves as a reflection of our identity, and how the means of doing so have changed in my lifetime.  I wrote a piece for Heddels on how we do so through clothing.

Music has always been a huge part of my life and identity since my teenage years; I’ve spent an abundance of my adult life learning about and searching for underground music.  I’ve delved into how the ways in which we’ve disseminated knowledge of, and expressed appreciation for, underground music over the past thirty years in Crossfire #4.  In particular, relating to a social media group called “Now Playing.”

I also talk about a few records from Japan that seem to be flying under the radar at the moment, featuring The Itaru Oki Trio, Murahachibu, Stomu Yamash’ta (with Takehisa Kosugi), Rosa Luxemburg and a fellow who recorded under the name L.

I hope you enjoy!

Caught in the Crossfire – Printed Issue #3

Spring brings warm weather, dreams of summer and a new issue of the Caught in the Crossfire broadside.  Topics this year include Robert Curgenven’s epic 2014 LP, Kim Gordon’s memoir and mall record stores circa 2015.  As always, it was published for the WFMU Record Fair with the generous support of Forced Exposure Basketball.

Thanks as always for reading.

Caught in the Crossfire #3

Caught in the Crossfire – printed issue #2

As a follow up to 2013’s broadsheet, I published another one in 2014 (again, for the 2014 WFMU Record Fair).  This time around, I wrote about protest in current music and modes of portable music listening.  Artists include The National, Richard Wagner / Jonas Kaufman, Kanye West and Santigold.

If you weren’t able to stop by at my table a the fair, it’s available for download here – if you are partial to simulacra, you can print it out double-sided on a slightly off-white cardstock.

Otherwise, I still have a few left of the original print run for the cost of shipping, if interested please comment here and I will drop you a note via e-mail (your comment will not be made public unless you desire)

Many thanks to Forced Exposure for their continued sponsorship / moral support and those who spared a kind word or two.  The next issue will be published for the 2015 WFMU Record Fair in May.

Caught in the Crossfire #2

Kanye West, Jeff Koons and Albrecht Durer

These are both a bit old, but one is still alive and kicking on social media and the other one should be.  The one highlights the other, methinks.

A great piece by Jerry Saltz on the “Bound 2” video which pretty much nails it, context-wise: http://www.vulture.com/2013/11/jerry-saltz-on-kanye-west-kim-kardashian-bound-2.html

Highlighting the grand irrelevant side of academics: http://www.vulture.com/2013/11/jerry-saltz-on-kanye-west-kim-kardashian-bound-2.html

Caught in the Crossfire – printed issue #1

Dearest readers,

In honor of the 2013 WFMU Record Fair, I published a two-sided broadsheet with some of my thoughts on music.  It’s not quite a zine but was inspired by them.  Topics include Top Ten lists, the vinyl marketplace bubble, Adele and Dennis Johnson’s almost-lost minimalist masterpiece.

I’ve put it up for download here – for best results print double-sided on a slightly off-white cardstock.  I still have a few left of the original print run for the cost of shipping, if interested please comment here and I will drop you a note via e-mail (your comment will not be made public unless you desire)

Many thanks to Forced Exposure for their sponsorship / moral support.  The next issue will be published for the 2014 WFMU Record Fair in May.

Caught in the Crossfire #1

Feed Bands, Save the Planet, Make a Capitalist Rich

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This content-rich post is brought to you by…

I first found out about this company Feedbands from a promoted tweet on Twitter – I challenge you to read “Feedbands is the Netflix of vinyl” and not think, “what the fuck does that mean?”  In the meantime, they updated their description to the more prosaic: “Feedbands presses an unsigned band to vinyl and sends it to you monthly.”  Records are only available to subscribers, for the month that they’re available and the band isn’t disclosed until the pressing is sold out.  All this costs you $25 a month (i.e. the cost of buying almost any new album that you actually want).

I can’t do a better job of conveying how ludicrous this sounds than they can, so I will note the following highlights from their website:

  • First Pressing – “Our records are always the first pressing of fresh tunes that rock. That makes each record an instant rarefied collector’s item.”
  • Biodegradable Download Card – “Your vinyl record comes with a biodegradable download card that you can use to download a digital version of the record. The download card is embedded with wildflower seeds: plant it, water it, and watch it grow.”
  • Why vinyl? – “Any true music lover will tell you that vinyl offers the absolute best listening experience. The analog and uncompressed sound of a vinyl record is leaps and bounds above mp3s -a difference which simply has to be heard to fully understand. […] Vinyl is physical. It’s something you actually own, as opposed to streams and digital files that can disappear into the ether. […] A vinyl record is sacred, handled carefully, and stored conscientiously. A vinyl record is forever.” [nb – that’s great but then does that make the downloads sacrilege?]

That last point is particularly of interest, considering how the bands are selected.   Musicians upload songs – if they pass muster with the “curators” of the site, they’re published to an app where listeners can listen and vote on their favorite.  Said curators then select the lucky band who makes it to the vinyl stage and is paid “thousands of dollars.”

I’m kind of fascinated by how expensive bad ideas make it to the stage where they can start losing money (“Hey VC, I have an idea for a record-of-the-month club from a label that doesn’t exist!  It’s like American Idol meets Columbia House!”), so I did a little digging.  What I found is:

Feedbands has been around for a few months before starting the vinyl thing, purely as a streaming music service – in fact, the records weren’t even mentioned before the recent ad campaign.  So what was their original purpose?  According to founding partner Nico Salakar(**):

“Feedband’s mission is to create an environment in which music can thrive. But what does it mean for music to thrive? It means that a talented artist or talented group can make enough income off their music to support themselves, to pay rent and buy food. It means that people around the world will hear their music.”

OK, well everybody can get behind that.  Salakar continues:

“To accomplish this, we accept only original music from truly independent artists. By working with artists who have the ability to make their own decisions about their own music, we can distribute music worldwide. Did you know that Pandora and Spotify are available only in a very limited number of countries? That is because the process of bringing the major label catalog to a new country is so administratively complex that it is nearly impossible.”

Now it’s interesting – as anyone familiar with music licensing for streaming media could tell you(*), the “administrative complexity” is because artists and record labels have to get paid by those operators.  And guess what! The Feedbands Artist Agreement indicates “Artist hereby waives the benefit of the ‘performance complement’ and any other provision of Federal law limiting or governing what recordings or songs are playable over Company’s Internet radio station.”  Rather convenient.

I am not suggesting that this is inherently evil (although it’s a little disingenuous to say your mission is to ensure artists are adequately compensated while making them agree to waive part of the rights that ensure this – however, the artist is still entitled to 2/3 of any gross revenue derived from their sale of the music under a non-exclusive license (***)) – but it does really illustrate where the future of media lays – content creation belongs to everyone and no-one, instagram for mp3s.

While we inexorably slouch towards a Jacques Attali-gone-wild post-authorship apocalypse, I’ll be thinking of all those people whose daily passion is to find and share music that turns their world upside down – maybe I should designate $25 of my monthly budget to one I’ve never supported in the past.

(*) or why not find out for yourself and read Damon Krukowski’s excellent piece for Pitchfork?

(***) taken from a Facebook post soliciting contributors, January 2013:

feedbands

(***) meaning the “thousands of dollars” guaranteed by the FAQ is generated from a number of subscribers ranging approximately 200-700; presumably towards the bottom of that scale

The Revolution That Few Heard – aka An Ode to the Import Bin

Last week, I mentioned the distorting lens of history relative to My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless and thought it would illuminating to remember how you heard about that kind of band back in 1991.  Not in a get off my lawn / walked to school uphill both ways kind of way, but rather to show how the 90s so thoroughly transformed how underground culture is disseminated.

Back in the 80s, there was college rock and there was modern rock(*).  The ur-college rock band was R.E.M. but it basically covered all the small, independent music being played on college radio stations across the US – your Pylons, your Butthole Surfers, Dead Milkmen, Del Fuegos.  Lots of local bands – it was the era of the college radio station LP featuring local bands who dreamed of playing the gig of their life in front of a major label A&R guy at the annual CMJ music conference in New York.  Modern rock was usually from Britain and generally descended from New Wave.  The Cure reigned supreme, alongside Depeche Mode, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Smiths, Sisters of Mercy, Echo and the Bunnymen, Psychedelic Furs etc.  You could still go to your local mom and pop record store and buy Killing Joke t-shirts long after anyone would have any cause to.

Back then, record stores enforced this segregation via bins dedicated to imports.  I think the idea was that imports were more expensive and that most record buyers wouldn’t want to swim through $10 extended remix 12″es.  But it was more of a cultural divide; if New Wave yielded modern rock, then it was easy to go backwards one step to arrive at dance music and disco – the most unpunk thing ever.  This animosity (to Animotion?) was never better expressed than in the Dead Milkman’s tongue-in-cheek “Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance to Anything).” (**)

By 1988, My Bloody Valentine had signed to Creation and released Isn’t Anything.  This was before the wave of bands that would make that label a marker of cool in the US – maybe you’d have heard of the House of Love, but the Primal Scream didn’t get big until “Loaded” and the Jesus and Mary Chain weren’t associated with Creation (***).  So rather, they were lumped in with the sensitive (non-dancey) foreign bands like the Cocteau Twins, the Smiths and the Church.  I’m sure there are still loads of underground music heads in their 40s who still associate this era of MBV with the goth kids at their school.

By the turn of the decade into the 90s, there were signs of both camps breaking large – on the US side there was Sonic Youth, the Pixies, The Replacements and Dinosaur Jr (sorta).  The UK had the Stone Roses and the Jesus and Mary Chain.  All of this was scooped into an emerging alternative / modern rock commercial radio format which had a bumper crop of hits from both sides of the Atlantic to choose from.  I remember a new station launching in Columbus, Ohio called CD101 and it’s hard to believe they would have bands in rotation like Siouxsie, the La’s, Ride, Lush, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Blur and the Farm – on top of the Blue Aeroplanes, Something Happens and An Emotional Fish.  So in retrospect, you’d think Loveless would have every opportunity to make a mark.

And then came “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

I can still recall seeing that video for the first time in the living room of one of the last parties of the summer (September 1991), just after debating the merits of the Sex Pistols album (my argument was: great songs, major label production).  I cannot remember another moment where one song came out of nowhere and changed everything overnight.  But change it did – thereafter, commercial alternative was on a non-stop kick of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, followed by Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and the soundtrack to Singles.  And so the metal-leaning, male sound of grunge became the sound of rock for the early 90s in the US, even as rave culture in the UK gave rise to the early Too Pure stable and the “true” rockers went Britpop.

So where did that leave Loveless?  It appeared two months after Nevermind and My Bloody Valentine toured the US that winter in support of Dinosaur Jr with a regional opener (the Midwest got Babes in Toyland).  Several of my friends really liked it but nobody thought it was any kind of revolution.

(*) yes this is slightly reductive

(**) Which, ironically, made the Billboard club charts.  Also, please don’t tell me about the pre hip-hop Beastie Boys mixing it up at Danceteria or the Mudd Club.  That’s exactly why kids like me spent their childhoods dreaming of moving to New York City.  In Ohio, acid washed jeans landed in the mid eighties and I had a mullet in high school.

(***) That the Jesus and Mary Chain weren’t associated with British indie acts of the late 80s and early 90s demonstrates that they kept their punk credentials intact.