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Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Conference Presentation: Aiming to Stay an Outsider

I consulted a few peers before I presented on this "Outsider" topic for Sound Summit 2013 - A Festival of Innovative and Experimental Music.  I felt this panel topic I was given, "Aiming to be an Outsider: How to stay relevant and urgent in the evolution of independent music culture" could be the last bastion of good philosophical argument before Sound Summit and it's conference program becomes a pragmatic industry bonanza/trade fair.

It was at the back of my mind to steer it away from any trade industry concerns, but was pleasantly suprised by Nic and my fellow panel members, Joe Sukit (Royal Headache), Shaun Prescott (Crawlspace Magazine), Kevin Boyer (Tyvek).

I actually wrote a whole paper about it and thought I would publish it here because at the conference we only touched on the context of the outsider, the site specificness and micro communities involved; and that for independent music every musical action is relevant and urgent to the creator. We talked a lot about the outsider reacting against what's prevalent, I was even quoted in Mess&Noise. However the focus of my paper was to extend from the current 5 year fad cycles of reaction towards a hypothetical place where the prevalence of each method of independent music is not something we care about; where each method of music simply co-exists and has access to a physical infrastructure, places to connect, organize, gather and play.

I feel the Australian governmental infrastructure supports the 5 year fad cycle, in an effort to disencourage communites to organise and create a sustainable voice. However if you, like Shaun Prescott (quoted from Sound Summit Panel 10/11/2013) "started off as a goth but just stayed in the 'scene' as he watched friend's develop, react etc",  there is still a possibility for organized dissent. As long as the dumb garage band and the noise musician could agree about what they are fighting against, everyone could just stay in the scene, however we still see the minority genre fade out to the suburbs, disabling any long-term resistant movement. We either gotta change the infrastructre - give long-term tenure to venues for all genres of music,  or learn to work together despite our differences??

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“Aiming to Stay an Outsider: The Continual Evolution of Independent Music Culture”
(1500 word conference abstract for presentation)
Independent music is synonymous with the imagery and pursuit of the outsider. There is no strict definition of outsider as there is in visual art, so the pursuit of the outsider to be “relevant” and “urgent” in Independent Music Culture has taken on some insider properties, “This does not necessarily manifest itself in a desire for wealth and possessions or other trappings of fame, but it must include a developed sense of being appreciated and of an extended audience for the work as well as the loss of anonymity.”[1] So as the pursuit of the outsider progresses within its inner circle of independent music culture, we arise at the question, where is independent music culture progressing? Frankly, I don’t know where Independent music is evolving. Will it remain in the post-modernist state where to be relevant and urgent one must not only react against the power structures of popular music but also react against parts of itself if one part gets ‘too powerful?’[2] Or is it now in a post-capitalist utopia where to be relevant and urgent, one just needs to create (like the proliferation of small brands/companies), as Independent Music has found its community we can all now focus on being individuals. [3]
For this presentation, I would like to hypothetically propel Independent Music culture into post-capitalism and follow it’s journey. Mark Fisher, the capitalism-realist states that the artist in a post-capitalist society, utilises the same tools as capitalism, no longer reacting against capitalism to make unique artistic statements, instead engaging in offshore and mass production, social media, and branding.[4] I follow independent music through its crisis due to digital distribution and file sharing, to find it well anchored in post-capitalist society by “fragMOREtation,”[5] specialty branding, the cassette or record becoming a brand identity that the consumer holds. Whilst co-existence has become a tactic of situational survival for the post-capitalist, “proLASTicity”[6] ensures independent music can last forever, happily next-door to popular music. Further, following the post-capitalist move towards user-generated content and mass media platforms not owned by the major music labels, independent music culture not only utilises social media to consume independent music but also niche DIY and independent press plays an important role in discovering ‘outsiders’ out of the consumer’s digital community.[7]
We have seen a shift in how music is distributed and thereby consumed. In a way independent music has taken hold of the physical unit to react against popular music’s I-Tunes digital trend. But even though Independent music still relies on physical units (maybe moreso than popular music) it’s physical units can be thought of more as a brand, than a nostalgic mass-produced item. Zully Adler writes the cottage-industry ‘specialty’ branding of independent music leads to popularity in unpopular objects such as Cassettes, VHS and Records.[8] The signification of the specialness of cassettes etc are presented in popular music, which does not sell these objects but represents them in videoclips and marketing like Eminem’s recent album and single, Bezerk.[9] Traditionally this could cause a backlash against cassettes, but Independent Music seems comfortable enough to keep on going trading tapes, and look a little more favourably upon popular music.[10] In this context, independent music can still follow post-capitalism’s trend away from the object and towards an acceptance of more cultures and brands as the cassette and record becomes a special brand identity.
The evolution of post capitalist society and culture points to growing and accepting more forms, the adult identity is not solid, it is variable like the teens.[11] Is independent music accepting more forms rather than being reactionary? There is the notion that we realise we can like popular music too, in post-capitalism even the reactionary can enjoy what they are reacting too, in more than just an ironic way. It is becoming increasingly acceptable to relate/change to your environment.[12]  For example The Boiler Room asks Sigur Ros to be recorded in one of their Youtube features, instead of playing post-rock, Sigur Ros bust out with some popular and underground Trap music.[13] They related to their environment and accepted a new form. Whilst, in my personal experience, independent music would formerly cover popular music songs to be ironic but nowadays after an independent rock’n’roll show, Per Purpose album launch or even a NowNow improvised music festival, the stage becomes a dance floor and people start dancing to popular music.
Post Capitalism also moves away from mass media authored and generation targeted content, towards individualised user generated forms (no matter your age, you are an individual online).[14] The scenario of housewives taking on teens when discussing Miley Cyrus’ twerking, birthed a meme for the Miley Cyrus brand on a mass media platform. Things have changed. Formerly, major labels comfortably authored content to promote their artists on the mass media platforms they also owned, but now all promotion is user generated and ownership of mass media has switched to Google and Facebook. [15] More people watch video clips on Youtube than MTV.[16] The major labels are having enough trouble staying afloat, let alone afford to buy Facebook.
Independent Music has never been influenced by mass media but has been generationally targeted and trended, as it has often been seen as a refuge for teens.[17] In a post-capitalist society more people of different ages are seeking out new music, ways to individualise.[18] Social media currently plays a big part in connecting the independent music fan with independent music.[19] However in this post-internet no-borders no-age zone Independent Music needs its independent media as well.[20] Ben Eltham and Marcus Westbury’s argument for small scale Australian cultural industry also supports small scale independent music media, At stake is not the future of artistic achievement in Australia — for artists will always create, no matter their economic circumstances — but the ability of Australian creators to tell their own stories, and create for their own communities.” Google’s Search Engine Optimisation and Facebook are constantly offering you suggestions, by cross-referencing your community, however reach is still connected with popularity and who you know.[21] To find something outside of that community is a constant challenge of the independent music fan,[22] to always search for the outsider. This is why we need independent and DIY press. As suggested before, Independent Music does not need to shrink away from physical objects because specialty physical objects are more related to brand identities than mass consumption.[23] In a post-capitalist society Independent Music can still be about the outsider if we have the press to tell us about it.
The act of creation, keeps the outsider vital. The music had to be made now and it was. Independent Music communicates the unsayable thoughts, feelings of the independent outsider.[24] Passionately creating an experimental dirge or even recreating a genre of music that was popular 15 years ago, is a vital act in itself, whose urgency is attributed by its creation. Luciano Berio said in Attali’s Noise: The Political economy of Music, “If we compose music we are also composed by history, by situations that challenge us.”[25] However Attali’s conception of composition as a saviour to society missed the mark a little, as post-capitalism’s social media usurped composition’s role “we are being condemned to silence – unless we create our own relation with the world and try to tie other people into the meaning we thus create.”[26] The post-capitalist independent music outsider searches for similar interests as well as the unknown, they are busy creating relations in every specific situation you find them in. Even if you record your own cassette and leave them at the Vinnies, the searching outsider is gonna pick it up, blog about it and fileshare it.[27] Social media in the post-capitalism environment can offer independent music creators, what they need to feel “relevant” - a developed sense of being appreciated and an extended audience for the work as well as the loss of anonymity.[28] And “urgent” as it is made now it is also archived to be “urgent” later, the “save everything” attitude of post-capitalist society[29] quirkily relates to the traditional argument for “doing to do, creation as adding to the canon (sic: /archive).”[30]
The antagonism that post-modernity tried to fight has been coalesced into post-capitalism. The fight between personalities and genres has become so accepted, it is the norm to be in more than one group, have more than one brand identity.[31] The outsider is not excluded, sometimes situationally, it is just necessary to be included. In popular music - the disabled, the lesbian, the poor, the indie are all in Fox’s TV series Glee,[32] whilst independent musicians dance to popular music if the situation allows. However Independent Music’s search for an outsider continues as we scavenge independent media for awesome tapes from Africa or just the latest plain indie-american band that our friends have not heard of yet. And simply in a post-capitalist society, we are encouraged to express, individualise – if anyone creates music independently they are vital and urgent because they do, and archive; and they are supported in their relevance by post-capitalism’s social media. Thanks for joining me on this journey of Independent Music Culture through the lens of post-capitalism.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Attali, Jacques. Noise: The Political Economy of Music (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985) 140
Collins English Dictionary “Outsider” Accessed Oct 24, 2013. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/outsider
Collins, Katie “Report:the crisis of what it means to be special is no longer limited to the young” Wired Co.UK Accessed Oct 24, 2013 http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-10/18/serpentine-89plus-marathon
Curtis, Adam The Century of The Self  240 minutes DVD, BBC Four, 2002
Cyber PR. “Are you Guilty – 4 Ways Indie Musicians are Killing Social Media. Accessed October 28, 2013. http://cyberprmusic.com/2013/08/15/are-you-guilty-4-ways-indie-musicians-are-killing-social-media/
Eggy Records “Goaty Tapes Zully Adler Interview”  Accessed Oct 24, 2013. http://eggyrecords.blogspot.com.au/2010/01/goaty-tapes-zully-adler-interview-i-had.html
Eltham, Ben and Westbury, Marcus “Cultural Policy in Australia” in More than Luck: Ideas Australia Needs Now, ed by M Davis and M Lyons, Melbourne: Centre for Policy Development Ltd, 2010.
Eminemvevo “Bezerk” Accessed Oct 24, 2013 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=359na4NeaVA
Fisher, Mark Capitalist Realism. Is there no alternative? London: Zero Books, 2009
Fong, Greg., Monahan Sean., Segal, Emily., Sherron, Chris and Yago, Dena. K Hole #1 Fragmoretation, New York: K-Hole, 2011
Fong, Greg., Monahan Sean., Segal, Emily., Sherron, Chris and Yago, Dena. K Hole #2 Prolasticity, New York: K-Hole, 2012
Fong, Greg., Monahan Sean., Segal, Emily., Sherron, Chris and Yago, Dena. K Hole #3 The Brand Anxiety Matrix, New York: K-Hole, 2013
K-Hole and Box 1824 “Youth Mode: What it means to be Free” October 2013, NY Paper presented at 89 Plus Marathon at Serpentine Gallery, London, UK  8 October 2013.
Lee, Timothy “Why we shouldn’t worry about the decline of the music industry” Forbes January 30, 2012. Accessed Oct 28, 2013 http://www.forbes.com/sites/timothylee/2012/01/30/why-we-shouldnt-worry-about-the-decline-of-the-music-industry/
Murphy, R, Falcuck, B & Brennan I, Glee TV Series, 20th Century Fox Television, Hollywood, 2009-present.
Rose, Jon The Music of Place: Reclaiming A Practice Platform Papers #26, Currency House, Sydney, 2013
Setzer, Adam “Google Penguin 2013: How to evolve link building into a real SEO” Search Engine Watch May 23, 2013. Accessed Oct 28, 2013 http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2269998/Google-Penguin-2013-How-to-Evolve-Link-Building-into-Real-SEO
Sherburne, Phillip “Sigur Ros reinvent themselves as dubstepping Trap-rave DJ’s” Spin July 2, 2013 Accessed Oct 28, 2013 http://www.spin.com/articles/sigur-ros-dubstep-boiler-room-dj/
Shinoda, Mike “Why Doesn’t MTV play Music Videos Anymore” http://mikeshinoda.com/2012/11/17/why-doesnt-mtv-play-music-videos-anymore-a-response/
World of WÜmme. “Sean Sandusky Does Prince’s Greatest Hits” Accessed October 24, 2013. http://worldofwumme.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/sean-sandusky-does-princes-greatest.html



[1] Collin Rhodes, Outsider Art: Spontaneous Alternatives (London: Thames & Hudson, 2000) 20
[2] Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985) 140
[3] Greg Fong et al. K Hole #3 The Brand Anxiety Matrix, (New York: K-Hole, 2013) 14
[4] Fisher, Mark Capitalist Realism. Is there no alternative? London: Zero Books, 2009
[5] Greg Fong et al. K Hole #1 Fragmoretation, (New York: K-Hole, 2013) 43-44
[6] Greg Fong et al. K Hole #2 Prolasticity, (New York: K-Hole, 2013) 46-48
[7] Ben Eltham “Eltham on why you should support NM” New Matilda September 13, 2013. Accessed October 24, 2013 https://newmatilda.com/2011/09/13/eltham-why-you-should-support-nm
[8] “Goaty Tapes Zully Adler Interview”  Accessed Oct 24, 2013. http://eggyrecords.blogspot.com.au/2010/01/goaty-tapes-zully-adler-interview-i-had.html
[9] “Bezerk” Accessed Oct 24, 2013 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=359na4NeaVA
[10]Goaty Tapes Zully Adler Interview”
[11] Greg Fong et al. K Hole #1 Fragmoretation, (New York: K-Hole, 2013) 43-44
[12] Greg Fong et al. K Hole #2 Prolasticity, (New York: K-Hole, 2013) 46-48
[13] Sherburne, Phillip “Sigur Ros reinvent themselves as dubstepping Trap-rave DJ’s” Spin July 2, 2013 Accessed Oct 28, 2013 http://www.spin.com/articles/sigur-ros-dubstep-boiler-room-dj/
[14] Katie Collins “Report: the crisis of what it means to be special is no longer limited to the young” Wired Co.UK October 18, 2013. Accessed Oct 24, 2013 http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-10/18/serpentine-89plus-marathon
[15] Timothy B. Lee “Why we shouldn’t worry about the decline of the music industry” Forbes January 30, 2012. Accessed Oct 28, 2013 http://www.forbes.com/sites/timothylee/2012/01/30/why-we-shouldnt-worry-about-the-decline-of-the-music-industry/
[16] “Why Doesn’t MTV play Music Videos Anymore” Accessed Oct 28, 2013. http://mikeshinoda.com/2012/11/17/why-doesnt-mtv-play-music-videos-anymore-a-response/
[17] K-Hole and Box 1824 “Youth Mode: What it means to be Free” (paper presented at 89 Plus Marathon at Serpentine Gallery, London, UK  8 October 2013).
[18] Ibid.
[19] Cyber PR. “Are you Guilty – 4 Ways Indie Musicians are Killing Social Media. Accessed October 28, 2013. http://cyberprmusic.com/2013/08/15/are-you-guilty-4-ways-indie-musicians-are-killing-social-media/
[20] Ibid.
[21] Adam Setzer “Google Penguin 2013: How to evolve link building into a real SEO” Search Engine Watch May 23, 2013. Accessed Oct 28, 2013 http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2269998/Google-Penguin-2013-How-to-Evolve-Link-Building-into-Real-SEO
[22] Ben Eltham and Marcus Westbury “Cultural Policy in Australia” in More than Luck: Ideas Australia Needs Now, ed by M Davis and M Lyons (Melbourne: Centre for Policy Development Ltd), 89
[23] Greg Fong et al. K Hole #3 The Brand Anxiety Matrix, (New York: K-Hole, 2013) 27
[24] Collin Rhodes, Outsider Art: Spontaneous Alternatives (London: Thames & Hudson, 2000) 20
[25] Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985) 141
[26] Ibid, 134
[27] “Sean Sandusky Does Prince’s Greatest Hits” Accessed October 24, 2013. http://worldofwumme.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/sean-sandusky-does-princes-greatest.html
[28] Cyber PR. “Are you Guilty – 4 Ways Indie Musicians are Killing Social Media. Accessed October 28, 2013. http://cyberprmusic.com/2013/08/15/are-you-guilty-4-ways-indie-musicians-are-killing-social-media/
[29] Greg Fong et al. K Hole #2 Prolasticity, (New York: K-Hole, 2013) 46-48
[30] Attali, 134.
[31] K-Hole and Box 1824 “Youth Mode: What it means to be Free” (paper presented at 89 Plus Marathon at Serpentine Gallery, London, UK  8 October 2013).
[32] Murphy, Falcuck & Brennan, Glee TV Series, 20th Century Fox Television, Hollywood, 2009-present.