Thursday, 7 March 2013

Taste, Taste Never Changes: The Continuing Tussle For Obscurity


There’s a comic strip on the shrouded cesspool of the web, made by a little-known anonymous user. It shows a stereotypical hipster fellow gloating about his love for an obscure band. Let’s call them The Shit, for example’s sake. The Shit have a considerably low amount of last.fm scrobbles, but the hipster in question (as you’d expect) doesn’t care, or rather, is despondently overjoyed that he is only one of a handful of people (if not the only one) to hear this band. Another [crudely-drawn] character comes over and mentions that he too enjoys The Shit’s music and was glad he discovered them. Cue a sad-looking hipster character and, in the final window of the strip, a screenshot of Windows’ Recycle Bin program with the words ‘are you sure you want to permanently delete The Shit?’.

While there’s no evidence to suggest this is a regular occurrence when said people’s favourite new bands get discovered by others - more importantly by those obviously far less entitled and musically knowledgeable than themselves - and delete that artist from their library (so as to retain their sense of obscurity and independence from the mainstream market), it’s a theme that unfortunately runs rampant in [online] musical discussions. Or, to think of a better word, conflict. In an age where the likes of Last.fm, Spotify, Soundcloud and Bandcamp pave the way for both new artists to make their money, and music listeners to discover them just as much-so, it also opens up a whole new avenue and definition for the archetypal hipster or, in realist terms, music follower to somehow get one-up on the rest of the World. But is this what music (or perhaps, more specifically, the culture of music) has truly come to in the 21st century? Arguments and competitive finder’s-keeper’s over the most unknown and unrecognized artists in a World seven billion in number?

One thing me and Eddie share more than most, as far as a music past is concerned, is that we both come from a community where music knowledge is king and obscurity is treated like some King Solomon treasure that is as much longed for, as much as it is treated with a level of importance and focus. Of course, such communities bring about the worst in music fans - arguments, dismay, disagreements...to think of a few nicer connotations - and there have been times when people have been known (even gloated) that obscurity takes precedence over quality. It’s no longer a case where quantity is opposed in that regard, rather quality is now the defeated opponent and the search for bands with as little scrobbles or online plays as possible, is now some endless contest that determines its winner solely based on whether people can actually identify or even think of one song such a band has composed.

And this is where the problem with our growing music community, like many entertainment markets, lies. Taste and the subjectivity of such an acquirement, are no longer a fair and open debate to express opinions and take suggestions. It’s becoming more a competition between each and everyone who even dares compete (or hints to competing on the field of battle) in order to be the one who has the biggest library, the most diverse taste, the largest/most expensive record collection, and ultimately, the biggest e-penis for everyone to stand, look at and admire. But is this really what we need; more fighting? A wise man once said that arguments should not be about victory, but progress. Diverse music tastes and their interested parties should not be aiming for a sense of bettering their fellow man - we have too much of this nature in our wider society, let alone in music. So while I can attest to people wanting to demonstrate that music isn’t all about popularity and financial sales, at the same time, it’s not about the opposing philosophy either. Further to that, it’s not about opposing the system and the system of financial/materialistic rewards and accolades simply because...it’s popular.

Popularity, or rather gaining it, is what leads me onto my next point, and the other end of the problematic spectrum of acquiring independence from the mass of similar tastes and blind followers that are more than likely to look up a song on YouTube as opposed to a streaming service. I refer again to the Mercury Music Prize, an award billed as a celebration of [lesser-known] British music and awarding one of these artists (at the end of the ceremony) with an accolade to celebrate their achievements in a market overly-saturated with the same-old sounds and the same-old ideas. Me being me, I take to looking at the likes of The xx, or Alt-J winning the award and immediately saying to myself ‘well, that’s them deleted from people’s libraries and MP3 players now’. I can almost feel the synchronous clicking of OK buttons and trash-can icons at the sound of these artist’s names being read out. But it only alludes to this stupid, deluded idea that oh because they’re popular now, by default, they’re now also rubbish.

Side-stepping one’s bullshit is in our nature - the majority of us do it - but to claim that, somehow, an artist has lost credibility (or is even at fault) simply for being praised/recognized/rewarded, is a good enough reason to wipe them clean from your library, and move on...sorry, I fail to see the logic there. If a baker you’d be going to, and been buying selected pastries from for ages, suddenly won an award for winning best of said product, you wouldn’t just stop buying them simply because they’ve been recognized for a certain level of skill (that and, more than likely, they’d gain more business revenue because of it). Unfortunately, there are (and will be more) people in this World - in whatever conscious, mental ideology of self-worth and personal relation with the World - who feel that, as noted, this is all some game and means of competition to win and feel higher placed. It’s the whole WE ARE THE 99% line turned on its head: I’m the 1% and I’m better than all of you losers. It’s a precursor and a willing catalyst for many a music fan to go ranting and raving with something along the lines of ‘I just got this wicked, luminous-green, limited 100-press vinyl for free from the band themselves. Enjoy your crappy £20 mass-produced Universal Music mainstream rip-off f****t!

But to drag commercialism and the business of music into the conversation would only let our eye lose focus of the main discussion here. But in some respect, on the other [conflicting] side of the argument, I can understand why there’s a sense of hate - or perhaps distaste - at music being given the glamorous and commercial spotlight. There hasn’t been a time when I have grown tired, and yes annoyed, at someone claiming they’re a massive fan of Gotye or fun. and then proving such long-time loyalty by saying their favourite tracks are Somebody That I Used To Know & We Are Young. True, it might be their favourite tracks, and I might be jumping too quick to conclusions, but to boldly state that - without evidence that you’re either aware of the artist's other tracks/albums or have even given them a fair few listens - only prooves how narrow and deluded the opposing end of music listening habbits, can be (and in some respects, the smart-arses of the web will also draw such conclusions, and ultimately come out looking just as idiotic). In that sense, popularity does have its slight hinderances in that it leaves artist’s music and sounds open to even tighter control and dictation by the record labels and media alike. But I don’t necessarily think this is a justifiable means for an eye-for-an-eye payback on those that, evidently, refuse to broaden their tastes and decide, instead, to rely on radio and media expression to tell them what’s out there.

Ultimately, it’s one of those anxious tightrope cases where respect should be given as much as it is received by a fellow music follower. I don’t argue against people wanting to broaden their tastes and find music that perhaps doesn’t get the subjectively-pronounced amount of attention and care, it deserves. But at the same time, I won’t condone people who think obscurity is the best and only way to achieve a sense of musical justice in the World. Neither will I accept anyone’s belief that x is better y simply on the basis that it’s awesome or that it’s not shit like everything else I might listen to. Music, as I mention once again, is subjective - it’s not a defined set of norms that people should be aiming to fulfill and complete. Further to that, subjectiveness also relies on a felow human’s own ideas and philosophy in how to go about discovering new music. Some people are more passionate than others; some thrive on discovery while others lay content in having found one or two new artists - that tick their boxes - in a given time-frame. 


Constantly downloading  and investing in new music is fine, but so too is simply letting new music grow on you, thus experiencing it in ways others might not even think of doing. But if we’re really going to sit here like internet tough-guys (record stacks on one side, a four-figure sound system on the other) and start mouthing off how vast and great both our present libraries and recent discoveries are - and how shit everyone else’s is - then what’s the point of having a discussion, as well as a place for community relations, in the first place? In the end, no matter how many name-drops you make or how high the figures are when discussing head-sets or speaker systems, war (in either words or actions) never determines who’s right. In the end, it only determines who’s left. And in the majority of cases, whoever’s left has already lost what innocent interest there was in the original topic.
~Jordan

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