29 June 2009

Long May You Wavves

Pitchfork: It's kind of a Lindsay Lohan thing where you get more famous for going out drunk than for making Mean Girls.

NW: Well, yeah. It's like the fucking indie TMZ or something. It's like all that I've done now up to this point is condensed into YouTube video that shows me soundchecking. I thought it was blown out of proportion.

Frankly, I completely buy Nathan Williams' a.k.a. Wavves explanation for his breakdown at the Primavera Festival - going from playing Little Rock w/ 25 people in the crowd to playing Euro festivals with thousands would probably put the zap on a lot of people, especially in today's internet-fueled era of fame-cycle hypertelescoping. Indeed, I'm shocked that more of these scuzz rock bandits don't go psycho when they hit the medium-time. Just listen to the music: its lo-fi production values no longer signify as we-couldn't-afford-it DIY; fuck, if you've got a MacBook you've got your hands on the means of production to make a semi-professional-sounding recording. Rather, lo-fi is an aesthetic that appears to symbolize intimacy - the ideal is playing basement shows and having your own little slice of the world, and that value system is deeply embedded within the music these bands make. If it's punk - a term so elastic that it no longer has descriptive value, in my book - it's punk in the way that people who make and sell handicrafts at the Artists & Fleas market are punk. Most of these bands (there are counterexamples, e.g., Times New Viking) seem to be opting out, or more precisely, they're opting in by opting out, consciously forming a subculture whose insularity is not a gesture of defiance, but perhaps not a gesture at all. Thus, while anybody who plays music for a living would be inclined to grab for that brass ring of (relative) fame and (relative) fortune, it's not a given that these bands are fundamentally equipped to make the leap. A lot of this music oxidizes upon emerging from the basement. That its practitioners, many cocooned in climate-controlled scenes until someone starts circulating ripped mp3s of their demo cassette, should go a little batshit when confronted with playing to massive crowds of the yet-to-be-converted, if not actively hostile, should not be particularly surprising. The following exchanges say it all:

Pitchfork: If you had your way, would you prefer to be playing warehouse parties instead of big festivals?

NW: Yeah! But then again, it's not that I don't want to play festivals or do stuff like that. It's just, I think, the realization of how big it is maybe overwhelmed me, and I needed to take a step back and see what was in front of me and try and figure it out. Also, I was extremely fucked up and made a series of really bad decisions.

Pitchfork: Did you ever consider doing Wavves as something where you just recorded and didn't play live?

NW: In the beginning, that's all it was. And everything happened so fast. Ryan came out to play drums a month before I started touring, or a month before we started touring. And then until the day of Barcelona, we were just touring nonstop. So we practiced for three weeks, me and Ryan, and then we went on tour nonstop, so there was never really any time for me to like transfer the songs from recordings to how they would pan out live. And I still haven't had the chance to do that. It was just kind of: "OK, this is how the songs go. Let's just go play them and have fun." And that's when it was the most fun. It just got kind of... I don't know what it got.

I don't blame Pitchfork for becoming "the fucking indie TMZ," (a bit of an overstatement) much like I don't blame Marlo Stanfield for killing people and putting them in vacant houses; after all, the game's the game. It's not like Williams' breakdown wasn't what passes for news at the just-above-the-gutter indie rock level - what was Pitchfork going to do, not report on it? Turning around and lending a sympathetic ear is all in the game, too, a symbiotic exercise in public self-laceration that presumably benefits not only Pitchfork, which gets to reinforce its image as a leading news source (indeed, we are informed that this interview represents Williams "breaking his silence," as though he were Deep Throat or some shit) while giving Williams a chance to promote his modest career by flogging an upcoming tour and quasi-announcing a new record. Everybody benefits, even when you suspect, especially from Williams' frail, overawed demeanor, they don't.

26 June 2009

1000 Times Nay

Watched Christopher Weingarten's much tweeted (as opposed to bruited?)-about presentation at some Web 2.0 shitstorm wherein everybody tells you how much better your life will or will not be because of social media technologies that, in reality, only a very small, but very self-important segment of the population (myself included) abuse regularly. Basically Weingarten traces the devolution of music criticism from elite critics getting coke and vacations from record labels (his hyperbole, not mine), to the Web 1.0 era wherein young folk writing for Pitchfork and the sainted, departed Stylus became the outlet through which bands were broken, to today, when, because of leak culture, "All the review does now...is reinforce the opinion someone already has." This is bad because "crowds have terrible taste" thus enabling the rise of Fleet Foxes (about whom Weingarten and I are simpatico) in an NPR echo chamber because the "link economy" requires outlets to report on not what they want to report on but "trending topics" like Phish at Bonnaroo and so on and so forth. The general thrust is the oft-whispered (usually) refrain that bottom-up cultural consensus is bad because popular taste always regresses to some sort of mushy gray mean and that top-down outlets (like those that employ Weingarten, who is an outstanding critic, and certainly deserves to be employed by said outlets) are required to...I don't know...mediate popular taste? Validate it? Are we even talking about popular taste here? After all, Weingarten saves his invective for indie rock bands and the outlets who cover them; his example of the deleterious impact of "crowdsourcing" is Fleet Foxes – cited immediately after he bemoans the fact that his indie rock-fan friends are so self-segregated that they haven't heard of Lady Gaga, the present epitome of American popular taste.

Really, Weingarten's presentation was a grade-A rant, seeming more like a string of tweets at points than a coherent argument. "Crowdsourcing killed punk rock" is a wonderful bon mot, but what the fuck it actually means, I have no idea. Couple that with Weingarten's counterintuitive embrace of Twitter, which would seem to be the present epicenter of mediocrity and genre stratification, and you can reduce his speech to "things suck. Things will continue to suck. We will all be unemployed. Without gatekeepers, everything will sound like Fleet Foxes. In the absence of editors, a 140 character limit is a boon; anything worth saying can be said in 140 characters. I have a Twitter account. Make your tweets interesting." At the very least, though, it was certainly entertaining, and one detects that Weingarten has gotten at a core emotional truth: that those of us who enjoy reading rock criticism, and want it to have meant something, will have to do without in the future as crit is commoditized down into what Liz Colville aptly termed "the WHAT." Thus I cannot deny having derived great pleasure from watching Weingarten eulogize the dodo all the while staging a dance on its grave and hawking the very gun that wiped it out.

You can follow Christopher Weingarten @1000timesyes on Twitter, where he is the midst of reviewing 1000 new albums this year in 140 characters or less, and thus far has remained true to his own creed.

25 June 2009