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March 14, 2009

What’s the next big music scene?

Filed under: General,Music Rant,Perspective — Tags: , , , , — Bryan @ 10:14 am

I have a rather extensive music collection that I’ve built up over the years. In the 80’s I was one of those guys out scouring the stores looking for obscure 12″ remix’s from the Art of Noise or buying German imports of Tangerine Dream on CDs since they hadn’t been released in the U.S. yet. I was always willing to buy new music sight unseen based anything from trivial things like album cover art to information on who contributed to the release (I checked out a number of albums solely because Jeff Lynn or Trevor Horn produced them) or even the consistancy/quality of other releases distributed by the label (ZTT, Mute, etc…)

In short, I’m a fan of just about every kind of music except most Pop-Country (singing about the dead dog, cheating wife, broken pick-up truck, ugh!) and some elements of Jazz Fusion (songs that make me tense?!? That’s a whole article in and of itself).

So anyways, every decade or so it seems various forms of music bubble up into the mainstream consciousness. In the 60’s you had lounge acts and what we now consider classic rock bands, 70’s folk music disco and punk, 80’s metal and dance, 90’s techno, grunge and rap… and all through this good old rock and roll and R&B. I’m not saying these various styles started in the decades listed above, but they clearly had popularity peaks and visible evolutions of their forms during their peaks. This is from a U.S. perspective of course.

One of the things that added to the mix in my opinion was commercial marketing and limitations on exposure due to the cost barrier to both consume and create in the medium. Let me explain. Up until the late 80’s only place you could hear new music was through the local radio station. This limited you’re exposure to diverse music forms (both old and new) to pretty much what the local radio station was promoting or had a preference to play (the station format). In fact, even up through the 80’s your best bet to hear something new and innovative was to hunt down a college radio station where DJs were mingling the music from their hometowns and had rare restrictions on experimenting (short of not violating local obscenity laws… and even then…). This dynamic also caused these stations to get lots of music submissions from artists trying to break into the industry since there was a greater chance of airplay there.

The first big hit to this dynamic came through cable television and ultimately channels like MTV which suddenly allowed someone to hear music that they would have never heard outside the local college circuit. For instance in the early 80’s the USA network would run a show overnight called Night Flight that would feature music videos from bands like Cabaret Voltaire, Bauhaus, etc… In my opinion that this and other programming like it helped drive awareness of the early generations of electronic artists that, in part, helped seed the Techno/Industrial scene of the 90’s. In fact one of the most culturally significant bands for both Rap and Electronic forms music might have never been heard if not for MTV. That would be The Art of Noise.

The next big evolution came in the 90’s with new distribution methods. Instead of trading tapes, you used the Internet to trade. This not only changed the scale of things by giving the average user an easier way to share and consume but also eliminated the last big boundary of physical geography. One of the interesting things that was observed during the peak of Napster in the 90’s was that when people suddenly had the world of music to explore not only were sales increasing (contrary to the music execs yelling “fire”), but people were buying music outside of the typical genres they would normally have lived within because experimentation had no tangible cost aside from the time involved in downloading and listening to the song. Ease of use and no financial penalty encouraged experimentation.

Now, coming into the end of the first decade accessibility has now created a level space where any given listener can be exposed to any style or genre of music from any era. Games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band have introduced teenagers to both 30 year old dinosaur bands and underground fringe groups alike and it’s all new. In fact the only true new revolutionary sounds that I’ve been hearing have been out of the mashup communities who are re-purposing a century of music into a new art form. You can see examples of this from early pioneers of the style such asĀ  the Evolution Control Committee, to the Bootie sessions or most recently the Kutiman’s ThruYOU mini video series that I mentioned in my last post. Granted these are natural extensions of the DJ remix scene from the last 20 years.

Of course you would have to say that the very dynamic nature of the mashup scene which relies on unlicensed music is a train wreck waiting to happen and I suppose my own gut feeling that a commercialized mashup scene would be the death of it only reinforces my notion that this may be the next evolution point of music. As with any music form that faces a potential break out there is always the concern that constraints introduced by the marketing side of the house will limit creativity, but the reality is that frequently, limitations are what drive true creativity (look at British censorship via the BBC in the 70’s).

This is all very cool, but is this the next big thing? If not what?

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5 Comments

  1. Bryan-

    I don’t know what is next, that is the fun of the future. However, I am looking forward to your entire article on “songs that make me tense.”

    One venue in the ’80s for discovering new music that you didn’t touch on was music magazines and fanzines. The internet has reduced the usefulness of print and taken its toll on some good magazines and the ones at are still around aren’t exactly thriving (Terrorizer, Decibel) That said, I still buy releases “site-unheard”, often from the used bin at the local record store, based on reviews that I have read.

    Living in a college town had some advantages in the fact that we had several really good campus record stores (and a good one on the east side, Record Connection) that stocked basically everything. In fact, Magnolia Thunderpussy is still around and doesn’t suck for the genre that I love. I buy mostly CDs, but this place still stocks a variety of vinyl. Nothing like the days when it was basically the only format other than cassettes.

    I am certainly not the first to observe the fact that physical media and the places that distribute it are going away. I think that the next genre will be one that takes advantage of the not needing physical media or physical presence, perhaps a global ongoing concert that you can tune into passively or take part of yourself. Thousands of monkeys hammering on Garageband at one time. I welcome the cacophonous future, except how the hell do you collect the ephemeral? Time to find a different hobby.

    Comment by TheEnigma — March 15, 2009 @ 12:06 pm

  2. Songs that make me tense… it’s mostly stuff by Brand X off the top of my head when I try to think of a poster child for Jazz Fusion. Try and try and try as I might, i just can’t stand that band.

    The reason I left off magazines and fanzines is that I was trying to focus more on learning about new music by hearing it. Which has always been the most common way to learn of a new song for most people.

    As a fellow archivist I feel for your delima about collecting though and contemplate these issues myself.

    Comment by Bryan — March 16, 2009 @ 8:00 pm

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