Classical music may be the “highest” genre -speaking in terms of music as an art form- but Pop, accessible to all, with a simple, easily digested structure uniquely conducive to the concise and pleasurable expression of Man’s everyday struggles and triumphs, holds its own prominence in the form. This is doubly true for young people like myself, whose craving for excitement and a quick pace of life not mired by introspection or worldly strife is mirrored in the glossy, four-minute Pop song. That assumes though, that Pop is listenable.
I celebrated my second birthday ten days before the alleged suicide of Kurt Cobain. In the eyes of many, Cobain’s was not the only noteworthy death of the day. The end of Kurt came to represent the end of popular music as anything resembling a legitimate art form. Like most kids, I began to search for my own music around the age of ten. I didn’t like what I found. In those days, and unfortunately still today to some extent, wild Britney Spears’ crouched in waiting behind park benches. Armies of Backstreet Boys marched the main streets. “Jam” bands launched vicious assaults through car stereos at stoplights. No one was safe. So I retreated. I went home and observed my father’s record collection. I was not yet ready to fully appreciate his Classical or even Jazz fare, but I adopted his Folk and Rock into my personal taste.
I grew to wonder what went on behind Clapton’s spectacles. I rejoiced in discovering the gritty Hamburg and Liverpool roots of the Beatles, and took heart in seeing that, perhaps the most important Pop/Rock band of all time, they were not afraid of experimentation. But I couldn’t hide in my father’s stacks forever.
Music was increasingly becoming a source of connection between peers, and I took on the task of finding a musical common ground with other kids, following the schoolyard logic that if people didn’t like the same things, they couldn’t like each other.
I was cautious in entering the world of contemporary Pop, hoping to tour the grounds without buying the property. I wanted to understand Pop, which held moral and intellectual dangers for a youngster, without committing to it. At the age of fourteen, I left home and my father’s stereo for Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Manhattan dominated by Dominicans and Jews, located a few blocks above Harlem. In the Heights, an extremely diverse environment away from home, I developed the distinct feeling that my identity, and therefore my tastes as well, were malleable. I began to toy with the idea that if I didn’t want to be confined to the life of a white boy from New Jersey, I didn’t have to be. Intellectually processing through, and maneuvering past deep rooted, self-adhered personal bindings, new music became one of the things I was able to, and felt exhilaration in exploring.
Free but still timid, a prisoner blinded in darkness, I ventured into the bright world of contemporary music slowly. My first inroads were passed almost exclusively with a computer.
Music, as evidenced by PS Tracks itself, has found a comfortable home on the Internet. Through laptop speakers, I conducted recon missions into a landscape I longed increasingly to traverse in person. The computer allowed me to stand atop the valley that is the music industry, and survey to my hearts content. With ease, I began to draw fascinating connections between artists, genres, social changes and historical events.
But in the end, the myriad data available on the internet will only render the escapee closed off from the music once again, eyes glazed over in reflection of the LED-illuminated, malevolent, binary pushers that live under an overpass on the information superhighway. After eight months negotiating parole with Officer Keyboard, I went to my first show, and boy, did I feel like a cool kid.
NYU’s student-run radio station, WNYU, held its twenty-fifth anniversary show at the Knitting Factory (when it was still housed in Manhattan, below Canal Street in a grimy, four-story, multi-bar behemoth). A completely eclectic, ten-act bill, the anniversary show was my perfect first date with Contemporary music, the mysterious, sexy girl from the city that just moved to town. Shoegaze, Freak Folk, Dubstep, and Glo-Fi are some genres attached to artists that played that night. I was the youngest by far of a young crowd, and I wandered the lofty expanses of the Knit gritting my teeth to compose and present a disaffected, casual demeanor. In actuality, I was excited as could be. After years spent walking a tightrope across the sea of mass-produced, commercialized inanity that is the Popular music industry, I had finally reached the benevolent shores of musical safe haven.
Pop music is beginning to benefit from a resurgence of creativity that is intelligent, colorful, and rebellious. Unfortunately, the term “new wave” has lost any impact in its many false connotations and clichés, but it is the proper label for a large, cohesive, commercially and intellectually independent community creating music that is based in experimentation and collaboration. Outsider genres like Folk, Punk, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Electronic, and 60’s/70’s revivalist Pop have shared a similar ethos all along. Upon hitting a creative wall toward the end of the millennium, young artists and musicians began to draw from these outside sounds that had amassed a wealth of quality music over the last fifty years. They shared their science projects with extremely isolated communities in major American cities, and with the advent of social networking and digital compression software, built a rich creative culture removed from all mainstream input. In the year 2011, Warner, Columbia, and Viacom cannot ignore the presence of the independent, DIY (Do-it-Yourself) movement and its power among the youth.
We’ve spent twenty years rebuilding, and the returns of our labor have only in the last five years begun to take any cohesive shape. Like all true innovation, the best music of the growing independent community is fragile. It is most certainly not for everyone. Artists who lack the funds to produce records in any way other than alone with the aid of third-rate equipment produce most of the important new sounds. “Lo-Fi Rock” has become its own genre. Without knowledge of context, background, and production technique, this first batch of independent music sounds like crap. There is a Frankenstein monster of potential Pop cresting our musical horizon. And we need to be prepared, because though he’s strong, he’s inexperienced and will need strict guidance in order to facilitate a smooth transition into society.
Here are some samples of music that started very contained and is now gaining mainstream credibility: