Thursday, August 18, 2011

Livin' in the 1990s

Slate Culture Gabfest, which should be in my sidebar but I suck as a human being, and the New York Times had a discussion about nostalgia for the 1990s. The Times had this fascinating quote from Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, “[We] were so freaked out about documentation then . . . that people were going to misrepresent you . . . we didn’t really honor what we did very much.”

I remember things slightly differently, everyone and their sister seemed to photograph shows or write a zine about them. I guess zines weren't really supposed to last very long, but any self respecting punker had at least a shoe box full of zines stashed under their bed. I had several half rack boxes of zines. I still have one.

Anyway, the part I do agree with Kathleen about is that we thought there was some corporate spy hanging out to steal our culture. So what would they do with the youth culture? We knew they would misrepresent us, but what we were really worried about was being co-opted. We didn't want our own culture watered down and sold back to us ala Hot Topic, the stupid Emo fad thing, Warp Tour, and on and on.

If you flip through an old issue of Maximum Rock N Roll, by old I mean when Tim was still alive, you'll see endless discussions about the co-opting of our culture (I'm sure those arguments are still going on but frankly if MRR didn't become completely unreadable after Tim, you must have been a Heart Attack reader). We worried endlessly about selling out. When Jawbreaker "sold out", i.e. toured with Nirvana and signed to DGC, I about went apeshit.

One interesting contrast between then and now is that there no longer seems to be amy concern about selling out. Just about every band I like has a song in a commercial. That would have been unthinkable in the 90's. Converse has a series of summer songs that are almost always wonderful. The latest, by Matt & Kim with Andrew W.K. and Souljah Boy, is super fun.

I was thinking about what's changed since then. One thing is, we used to think the big music labels were evil masterminds. They basically fucked over anyone they could. Steve Albini wrote this great opinion piece that was basic reading for music fans for my generation. The big labels were evil. You could watch them ruin a band in a single record cough Dear You cough.

Now, after watching the labels basically eff up every opportunity they had during the conversion to digital formats, we know that the labels are run by idiots. They complain about how expensive it is to promote a new band, and what we all know is that a good band will promote themselves. We know that the labels can't choose good bands, thus Ke$ha has a youtube channel with a bunch of her videos. The labels are so poor at running their business they have to constantly lobby congress and bully people with stupid lawsuits to try and keep their crappy business model running. WooHoo for free markets.

But the latest music generation has watched this failure of imagination, business sense, and ability from the major labels. It's pretty clear that the major labels are not evil genius. They're not even evil sort-of-bright guys. So who cares if the Born Ruffians get paid to plug a credit card or the New Pornographers are in a phone commercial? They can't co-opt the culture b/c they can't navigate social media. Making a good facebook site is above most of their ken, let alone co-opt it.