Friday, February 26, 2010

The Future of Music

I read with interest the piece entitled "The Vanishing Gatekeeper" in the LA Weekly (Feb. 12-18, 2010 - Vol. 32/No. 12) by Paul Rogers describing changes in the marketing of music today. The article was both a lament for the music industry that is passing, the breakdown of music distribution and artist representation, and an acknowledgement of the part the Internet has played in creating this new world of music. The revolution that opened a whole new way to obtain music. That it happened just at the turn of the 21st century is, historically, amazingly coincidental, significant and will make it easy for future historians to pinpoint.

Now, the corporate middle men, who oversaw the relationship between artists and a label; signing up talent, plotting their career arc, supervising their recordings, and keeping them in line, have been squeezed out of the equation along with the labels themselves by the crashing sales of recorded music. Oh sure, there is still a huge corporate run mainstream music machine but the article states that there are only four labels left. That's due to America's weird and damaging embrace of consolidation-mania over the last 30 years. Look where that's led us.

Mr. Rogers stops short of acknowledging the creative tidal wave it has unleashed, but does talk about how anyone with access to the Internet can promote their band, release their music, do merchandising, build a fan base, etc. while others can actively track and follow bands, discuss them online and help draw attention to an act. That's where I come in. There never was an instant in my life when I ever dared dream of pursuing my passion for music. Now, with the Internet, it not only has become possible, it has become necessary. And it has been life-altering.

Nowadays ordinary people go on the Internet to look for music, not to look for some band they think will sell big, but to find music they like. And they share it with friends. It's a new dynamic for the promotion of new music. And not controlled by any giant corporate entity. Sure, in the past, people had the power to buy records, then CDs, but what was available had already been pre-selected by the powers-that-be.

The very nature of success as a musician is changing. Without corporate sponsorship, bands are left to invent new ways of being heard, and much of the movement is fueled by the art of the live performance. Time after time I've heard bands say it's the live show that they live for and the connection to the audience that keeps them going. That was a primary factor in my embrace of the local music scene. The electricity I experienced in the air every time I went to Spaceland or The Echo or Pehrspace was so appealing I dove in and have barely come up for air in three years. (photo above is from a Henry Clay People shindig at Spaceland last year) I saw a lot of live performance as a kid with my family and as I grew older I realized the live shows I had seen were my most vivid memories, that never dimmed with time. So I became insatiably hungry for live performance. And I'm not nearly full yet.

So people and journalists can moan about the metamorphosis of the music industry, but for me, for the first time in history, it represents the complete and total freedom for an artist to express oneself any way one wants to, free from any restrictions except those of one's own imagination. Just listen to the music it has produced.

Making a living from it has become challenging, and the promise of stardom seems distant, but one never knows how the market will alter again. But the musicians I know would make music no matter what they had to do, because they make music because they have to.

When I first got back into rock and roll, five years ago this August, I had to start a list of the bands that intrigued me, also so I would remember to research them, as I videotaped their music videos on "Refused TV" or "Subterranean" on MTV2. A song would lead to an album, would lead to another album and another band and on and on and on until the list was 375 bands strong. I stopped keeping the list about 2 years ago so it's probably 500 bands by now. And these few years later I'm able to say I count many, many of these bands as friends. I feel incredibly lucky.

When Brand X came out this week, Feb. 24, 2010 (Vol. 1, No. 46) with Shadow Shadow Shade (formerly: Afternoons, photo below by Sterling Andrews) on the cover and heavily featured in an article entitled "Music - Beyond Labels" by Geoff Boucher, I decided to write this column and record my observations as an outsider who's been swept into local music. It was great to read a specific band's take on these new dynamics and they're remarkably sanguine about it.

Realizing they're forging new frontiers, there is no game plan or already set path to follow, so they will make it up as they go along and that's part of what makes it so exciting. And as Steven Scott, of the band says, it isn't just the music, but the fusion of "art, fashion and live performance are the things that help us connect now" and people connecting in person in this isolationist digital age makes the whole scene vibrate.

The future of music appears up for grabs, and watching over the next few years will prove a most interesting and stimulating study.


Monday, February 15, 2010

February Ramblings

While not as frantic as January, February, so far, provides some concert high points and also sets up lots of upcoming shows that are filling my calendar for months to come. Feb. 2, I saw a fine
perfor- mance by The Living Sisters which I reviewed at Radio Free Silver Lake (here), and on Feb. 9 I left half my brains splattered over the walls of El Rey after St. Vincent (thanks to BVas for photo above) expanded my head until it exploded...reviewed (here).

This weekend alone (Feb. 14 - 14) was the Web In Front hosted debut of the renamed Afternoons, re: Shadow Shadow Shade at Spaceland Friday night. Then on Saturday, another mind-blower, The Album Leaf appearing at El Rey with a four piece Magik*Magik String Quartet, becoming a band of 11 players and delivering an orchestral concert that was more than a little overpowering. I'll be reviewing it over at Radio Free Silver Lake on Thursday.

Openers, Sea Wolf, who I've seen about a dozen times, delivered one of the best sets I've ever heard from them. Hearing so much orchestral music from rock bands is hammering home the point that so much of my passion for current indie rock is rooted, not only in my connection to '60's rock, but equally in my love for classical music.

The set by Marvelous Toy at the Shadow Shadow Shade show was a real treat, seeing how performing with The Henry Clay People has unleashed Jordan Huddock's inner demon and now his voice has a gnarled power I hadn't heard before. Wonderful. The evening's host, Travis Woods, said to me it's unlocked his inner Neil Diamond, and I could hear the resemblance. Already familiar songs took on new impact and meaning. Photo at right is from a show at The Echo last year.

I'm looking forward to seeing Jordan play with The Henry Clay People again on Tuesday, Feb. 16 at The Troubadour where they open for the Dios record release party celebrating We Are Dios.

Another show I neglected to say anything about was the "Help Haiti" Benefit held on January 30 in Hollywood at CineSpace, headlined by The Pity Party, Pocahaunted and Letting Up Despite Great Faults. Despite the low turnout (it was a highly competitive Saturday night and it rained like hell) the bands delivered some dynamic sets.

The Pity Party held the audience in rapt attention with their intense, blistering music that surprised the uninitiated. How can anyone be prepared for the ambidextrous, multi-instrumentally gifted Heisenflei, wailing away in every direction at once. It was an impressive end to a musically diverse evening.

I had arrived at the venue, near Vine St. on Hollywood Blvd early because I wanted to catch Letting Up... for a second time as I'd seen them once before, at The French Semester residency in early Jan., bought their CD and was becoming a fan. The room came alive as soon as they began their special brand of lush, dense alt/pop, and my suspicions were confirmed, this is a terrific band.

Pocahaunted has been eluding me for a while so I was determined to see this show and they did not disappoint. A swirling, woozy blend of psychedelia and post-punk delivered a pretty heady punch. Two female lead singers twist and undulate vocally and visually, one dressed in a dark robe, resembled a black flame. A dark, brooding quality, like music coming from a crypt, lulls you into a haunted reverie that doesn't let go until the music stops. I'd love to hear this music at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Coming up just this week is some club-hopping on Thursday, Feb 18 to see Avi Buffalo, opening for Imaad Wasif at Spaceland, if it's early enough, and then run up the street to Sunset to catch a bus out to Echo Curio for the not-to-be-missed record release show for Schoenberg Knife Fight Ensemble.

Looking forward to Radars To the Sky and One Trick Pony at Spaceland on Friday, Feb. 19, Seasons and George Glass on Saturday at Pehrspace and The World Record at King King on Sunday, rounding out a pretty full week.

And look at this...

I've been trying to see Fishtank Ensemble ever since I first heard about them. Being a big fan of the Balkan/Gypsy sounds of bands like Gogol Bordello, Devotchka, O'Death or Beirut, I know this will be great. In fact the whole event at Bordello in February 25 sounds fun.

Off on the horizon is a show I'm really thrilled about. A band slid in sideways under my skin the other day and I'm completely obsessed. Field Music first came into my vision when I saw a music video for "In Context" a few years ago. I videotaped it and watched it over and over, but failed to pick up the album the song came from. Looking back through show listings I learned I had missed them in town (I think they played Spaceland in early '07) and since they were an English band I figured it would be a while before I got the chance. In those circumstances I tend to let a band go if I know I will not be able to see them up close, sooner rather than later. Living in Los Angeles, you figure you can get to see and know so many bands, you have to draw the line somewhere.

Anyway, a show has been announced for Bootleg Theatre on Saturday, March 27 and to prepare I went and picked up their 2007 CD, Tones of Town. Wow! What a great album. Full of energy and spirit. Seeing that they know The Futureheads, I can hear the connection, though I don't know if I would have seen that myself. Field MusicBold can do potent power pop, like them, but there's also occasional honky tonk and even a more pensive, orchestral side to them. Their cited musical influences of The Beatles and Lindsay Buckingham are quite evident. I'm hooked on this record and as luck would have it, they have a brand new CD, Measure, out tomorrow (Tuesday, February 16)


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A New Fruit Bats Review

I was putting together a review of the great Fruit Bats (photo by Annie Beedy) show at Echoplex last Thursday, January 28 for the blog, but Radio Free Silver Lake put out a call for help to cover Tuesday, so I whipped together the write up last night and it's over here if you care to take a look.

It's also a comprehensive history of my appreciation of this band and Eric D. Johnson in particular.