Subversive culture always manages to reach that inevitable paradox of self-destruction. It happens when things gain a following in a world where the aim is to make money. Being (courageously) different might get you spotted, but eventually it’ll be swallowed up and churned out as part of the status quo.
I’ve been reading Maria Raha’s book Cinderella’s Big Score, which in 300 pages or less, highlights some often overlooked female players in the punk, post-punk and indie rock in the last 30 years. Even worse than finding out X-Ray Spex singer, Poly Styrene left the scene to become a life-long devotee to Hari Krishna is that after reading the invigorating history of the rise of punk and its sister genres in the 1970s, I land on the chapter where the Reagan Years spelled a return to pop culture boredom and palatable safety. Despite the women credit get for exiting kitchens and hitching a commuter train to someplace where they could establish themselves as independent, professional successes, there was a huge demand to… tame the shrew? Hell, even Diane Keaton’s character J. C. Wyatt settles down in the country with a baby (and really, really popular baby food company) at the end of Baby Boom.
I don’t really need to continue reading (this is the part where I was born, I lived it) to know that that kind of ferocious energy doesn’t really exist anymore. Like film, and fashion, and other elements of pop culture, music has become considerably tame. Even indie music, which had once been broken down to it’s pure elements so that anyone could play, has returned to a certain inaccessibility. There’s not many small venues that host a sort of rowdy, half-assed startup. Even after watching a subtle band like the Arctic Monkeys, you could tell that the Rock God is re-emerging even among those still relatively considered to be among the independents. It just arrives in a more polite form like everything else these days.
The weird thing is that we do have the communication channels available — all this decentralizing technology at our fingertips — for a self-sustaining movement. Something to development completely with the mainstream ennui at their backs. Unless everything is too fragmented to get it going?
I’m not trashing the music, and I’ll drop a dueling glove if ever anyone whines that there isn’t good music anymore. Not all the great stuff comes with the stamp of a record label’s approval. There are still bands that can amaze me and quickly turn me into the fervent fan eager to find more tracks. But, I tend to be a fan of technique these days rather than message, only because nothing has come along yet that might really make me doubt that the champions are all gone (although Merrill Garbus may be an exception).
Speaking of interesting bands, The Other AC turned me on to this track a while ago — The Valleys by a band called Electrelane (one of the girls in the band co-edited the recently published book, The Art of Touring). This may be their most interesting track and I was sort of disappointed to find out that Electrelane was not composed of a multi-member choir.