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Thoughts from Portus

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The below is a batch of disjointed thoughts that flow in a similar vein. As I said before, ideas are still gestating, but I just had an interesting idea pop into my head and I’d like to get it down before it gestates into nothingness.

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A year or two ago a friend of mine was comparing her younger days in the late 70s and early 80s traveling up and down the east coast going to sci-fi cons to some of our friend’s experiences at about the same time, traveling around following the Grateful Dead. She noted several similarities, but did allow for one major difference. As she put it, they “had better music.”

Now, at the end of not only my first Potter conference, but my first con of any sort, I’m not sure that the new generation of fandom will end up suffering from the same fate.

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Random thought that keeps popping up in my head after seeing the Wizard Rockumentary;

“Wizard Rock kids are the brats of fandom. They are undoubtedly the future of fandom, but they aren’t willing to just sit around and talk about it. They also want to sing and dance. They aren’t just happy with being who they are, they want to celebrate it.”

The average age of any event at Portus dropped 5 – 10 years (may be more) when the event was WRock.

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Young fans have no history of festivals, but they do know cons.

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And now, the idea that prompted this garble of thought:

What if we jettisoned the festival model and instead used cons as the driving model? A weekend. A hotel. A crap load of music. Workshops and classes on recording, distributing, doing shows, booking tours, song writing, using software tools, all kinds of other stuff. Not just let people dance and sing, but show them the tools and then teach them how to use those tools, so that they can take part instead of just watching.

Big events for the “stars”, but also smaller events for up and coming artists. Open mic sessions.

Let folks rent out conference rooms for shows. The FL kids, as an example, could pool money to rent one room for their performances. Boss Fight or Nerdy South could rent another room to showcase their artists.

Maybe even expand outside of just music. A theater running vids and fan movies. Fan fic workshops.

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It is a thought, you have to give me that.

Credit for my ah ha moment needs to go to The Blibbering Humdingers, Fred Lives, and House of Black, who were responsible for this scene that I found when I showed up at the Post-Portus Dance Party

Blibbering Humdingers

Fred Lives and House of Black

Written by Matt

July 13th, 2008 at 11:29 pm

Posted in Thoughts

New Traditions

without comments

As we have seen across the book, convergence culture is highly generative: some ideas spread top down, starting with commercial media and being adopted and appropriated by a range of different publics as they spread outward across the culture. Others emerge bottom up from various sites of participatory culture and getting pulled into the mainstream if the media industries see some way of profiting from it. The power of the grassroots media is that it diversifies; the power of broadcast media is that it amplifies. That’s why we should be concerned with the flow between the two: expanding the potentials for participation represents the greatest opportunity for cultural diversity. Throw away the powers of broadcasting and one has only cultural fragmentation. The power of participation comes not from destroying commercial culture but from writing over it, modding it, amending it, expanding it, adding greater diversity of perspective, and then recirculating it, feeding it back into the mainstream

The above quote is from the end of Henry Jenkins‘ book Convergence Culture. Earlier in the book he discusses the folk qualities of what he refers to as “convergence culture” in a section where he talks about fan videos. I read this piece and understood it from an abstract point of view and understood the potential for it, but I was unable to connect it with anything concrete in my interactions with geek culture. I’ve always seen the potential there, but I’ve been unable to directly tie that potential with my experiences with the traditional music scene in the mid 90s. Tonight, that changed.

Tonight was the first of two local shows on the Accio Bodyguard tour, featuring Lauren of the Moaning Myrtles and Lena of the Butterbeer Experience. The show was in Reisterstown, MD, at Constellation Books, a small indie bookstore that is set up in an old house. The girls played in a little corner, which would have been the house’s front hall. The audience for the show was small. There were four of us (including a store employee) at the start and may be 15 later in the evening. By the end of the night, we were down to five of us who were actively paying attention to the show. Given the small attendance and the fact that the girls were nearing the end of their first extended tour and were starting to show some wear, the show was played kind of loose. A fact that paradoxically tends to lead to great shows (general rule of thumb. The best shows tend to either be the band’s last show, or when the band is playing for a small, but attentive audience).

Adding to the situation was the fact that the girls had been hired to play for three hours, even though they usually only play about a 90 minute set. The extended show and loose atmosphere resulted in the girls doing a standard set of their own WRock songs and then following it with a set of random songs that the girls decided to play on the spot. The second set ranged from covers of songs from other WRock groups, covers from artists as diverse as The Hold Steady, Kelly Clarkson, The Dixie Chicks, and Pink, to broadway show tunes, to songs that consisted of Lena improvising lyrics while riffing on the keyboard. The latter category resulted in two epic moments, including the night’s finale which snaked through a variety of diverse songs and betrayed more then a little innate talent.

The review of this show is unfortunately brief. This is not because it wasn’t a fun show, but because what made it a fun show is not something that can be readily described in words. It was something that needed to be experienced to be understood. This is because it wasn’t a real “show” in a traditional sense, which brings us back to the opening quote of this essay.

It was near the end of the show, when the girls were playing a song from Rent, with two audience members (Grace from Snidget and another young woman whose name escaped me) not just singing along, but actively doing parts of the arrangement, that I had my little epiphany.

Last August, I attended my first WRock show, featuring Snidget, The Whomping Willows, and The Remus Lupins. That show was a rock show. It was a celebration and embracing of what it means to be young and a fan. It was about dancing and having fun and not worrying about the troubles that awaited us when the show was over. This evening’s performance was not that, though it represented something that is as intrinsically a part of the WRock movement as what the previous show represented. This was an evening where a group of friends got together to play music and laugh and just have fun. It was devoid of the spectacle which defines the modern rock show. Instead it had a certain purity of intent that I have only ever come across in traditional music circles. In short, this was modern traditional music.

I separate the terms “folk music” from “traditional music” for a reason. The term folk music is a marketing term that was invented in the 50s to market a certain type of acoustic music to a given market. Much in the same way that the term “new wave” was invented to market early punk music in the 70s. Traditional music though is simply the expression, in music, of a given culture. Traditional music sometimes intersects with the corporate world, but that is not the primary intent and the majority of traditional musicians have no expectations of ever being able to pay their rent with their music. They perform simply because of the enjoyment that it brings them and out of a love for the music that they perform.

My epiphany this evening was the realization that this definition of traditional music could very well be used to describe the WRock scene. Few, if any, of the people involved in the WRock scene have any expectations of making a living at it. A few do pay their rent with shows, but even these artists give the impression of viewing that fact as a pleasant surprise, not as an expectation that they entered the scene with. They do not play WRock to pay their bills, but instead have made the decision to devote their entire lives to the scene.

I have long seen geeky music less as a genre, then as a new tradition. A modern form of traditional music which expresses itself using the musical vocabulary of today. When I have spoken of this though it has always been an issue of potential, of what the future may bring. Tonight I realized that the future is now. WRock is only a part of this new tradition, but it is possibly the most pure in its intent and expectations.

For this epiphany, I thank Lauren and Lena, but I also thank Grace and the other people who were in attendance this evening. Traditional music is not a form of music that lends itself to the typical artist/audience dichotomy. The audience is as much a part of the equation as the artist. Especially, since the only thing that separates the two is a willingness to perform.

The last 40+ years have been defined, culturally, by the increasing domination of broadcast media. While there has always been a counter movement to this growth, it has increasingly be defined in opposition to broadcast media. Over the last 10 years though we have started to truly see the pendulum shift as a new form of traditional music has begun to reclaim its place in culture. WRock is squarely part of that correction. As the scene grows and evolves, it shows great promise. And with musicians like Lena and Lauren, that promise will surely be realized.

Written by Matt

June 7th, 2008 at 12:20 am

Posted in Thoughts,Wizard Rock

Questions answered

without comments

I had intended to spend this weekend, the first non-working weekend I’ve had since January, writing up a big music/culture post, but then Jason posted a couple of questions to clarify my thoughts on my response to his post and they were such cool questions that I couldn’t help by respond right away.

The questions are as follows,

1. If I read this correctly, the implication here is that geek culture can also represent a viable alternative as long as we don’t embarrass ourselves by trying to look too desperate for mainstream approval. Would this make geek culture part of the overarching group of “underground cultures”? If not, what sets it apart?

2. You write that if geek culture can orient itself such that it represents another viable alternative to mainstream culture, “we will be in a better situation to achieve the goals that Jason outlines in his post.” So, just to consider some hypothetical examples…

a) What might we consider the road to this? Should we reject media producers’ marketing efforts like the “graphic novel”? Or is this just a matter of being aware of how we think about these sorts of things?

b) What’s the practical upshot? In other words, how does whatever gets suggested in response to (a) above translate into being in “a better position”?

Let’s take them in order.

1) I’ve actually been chewing on this question for awhile. There are several loose threads here that I’m still trying to tie up. In short, though, I see geek culture as a “third way”.

Wow, I just did a quick search on that phrase and realized how widely it has been used. I guess I’ll have to be a little more verbose in my response.

Let’s back up a bit. American culture, at the very least, has largely been defined, in modern times, by a yin yang type relationship between various cultures which can be lumped into one of two larger cultures, the mainstream and the underground. The two cultures can be looked at as two points connected by a line. Things are defined by where on that line they exist. The closer something is to one point, the more likely it is to be associated with that culture. Similarly, as things move on the line, they move farther from one pole at the same time that they move closer to the other pole. In layman’s terms, the more associated something becomes with the mainstream, the less likely it is to be associated with the underground.

This example has become some what muddled over the last 10 years or so, but not quite as bad as some would believe. We are now seeing the underground associate with elements of popular mainstream culture, but it is usually done so in a way that is different then the way these things are associated with the mainstream proper. Hipsters, as much as they can still be associated with the underground, may associate themselves with something in an ironic manner or with a post-modern sense of self awareness (liking pop music, but viewing it in a way that is fully cognizant of its marketing angle, for instance).

As an example, over the past couple of years, my friend Courtney, a member of the indiepop underground, has begun to rekindle her teenage love for the New Kids On The Block. She’s related to me on a couple of occasions her frustration when people automatically assume that she is doing this in some kind of ironic way. That there is no way that her appreciation of the group is something that she is serious about.

I see this as a significant departure with the way that geeks tend to relate to mainstream culture. One would be unlikely to find underground equivalents to Jason’s story of handing out “comics you should read” fliers at his college. One of the main factors that defines underground culture is that it is not mainstream culture. Geek culture does not have this limitation and actually tends to synthesize elements from both the mainstream and the underground. Given this tendency to freely associate with elements of both cultures, I do not see how one can associate the geek culture with the underground exclusively. There are, and will continue to be, overlaps between the two cultures, but I don’t see these as requiring geek culture to identify with the underground. Especially since these overlaps do, and will continue to, exist with the mainstream.

I realize that there are significant issues with this theory, as I said, it is still something that I’m working on, but I feel that the issues will likely be dealt with through a refining of my definitions, and not lead to a rejection of the concept.

2) To be honest, the real answer to this questions is *shurg*. I threw that out there as a carrot to try and entice people to stop playing that game (the only way to win the game, is to not play). I do see validity in the statement though. So, I’ll try to respond to your hypothetical examples.

a) Personally, I’m of the opinion that any plans that involve the phrase “don’t do this” are best avoided on principle alone. I would like to see a focus on developing our own mechanisms to support our culture. The best example of this would be the systems that the underground have developed to support themselves. Independent labels, publishers, promoters, media, etc. A lot of this work has been done, and even more of it is currently going on, but there can always be room for healthy growth and refinement. My basic idea though is to focus on developing a system that will allow artists to create art as they see fit. Remove the argument that an artist can not support themselves if they do not cater to either the mainstream or underground cultures. Once that argument is removed (note that I said support themselves, I did not say make a shit load of money) then the choice is best left up to the individual artist.

I think once we are able to support our artists we will be likely to see more of our artists catering to us. You can see an example of this in the indie comic book scene. In the past comics were dominated by super hero books because it was only through super hero books that you could pay your rent. Aspiring comic book artists and writers either had to work with super hero titles, or had to find jobs doing something else. As the indie comic book market has expanded it has been better able to allow aspiring comic book artists and writers to pay their rent telling the types of stories that they want to tell. Because of this the breadth of the medium has expanded and the medium has grown in acceptance outside of just the geek world. If we can support other geek artists in a similar manner, then I believe we will see a similar growth in the breadth of the types of art that are created. Geeks are a diverse bunch and it only stands to reason that if given the chance, we will create diverse types of art (we already do).

b) The central issue here is the diversity with in the actual geek culture, as opposed to the perceived geek culture.

Geeks are largely perceived by both the underground and the mainstream to be social misfits who are unable to properly interact with either of the two dominant cultures. We both know that this is in fact a false statement. The issue here is not that we are all social misfits who are unable to interact with other cultures, but instead that those of us who are able to interact with other cultures either do not have any cultural signifiers to identify ourselves as geeks or are unwilling to allow ourselves to be identified as geeks, lest we be assumed to be social misfits who are unable to interact with other cultures.

By creating a self sustaining culture of our own we are better able to address these two issues. First, by providing the cultural signifiers that we need to identify ourselves (this is already happening). And second by demonstrating the diversity among geeks. In this second situation, focus moves to those artists (because cultures tend to be defined by the art that it creates) who exist on the fringes between geek culture and the other two cultures. These artists are capable to creating art (literature, music, painting, video games, whatever) which explains the geek mindset in a manner that can be understood by other cultures, while not becoming separated from the geek mindset that they are trying to capture. In other words, these artists become the ambassadors of geek culture.

Geek culture is not something that needs to be created. It is something that already exists. It does need to be nurtured though. Allowing it to be nurtured in an environment where it is allowed to grow organically into something that properly reflects us, will allow us an opportunity to better express ourselves and communicate who and what we are. Trying to force it though into a place that is currently acceptable by either of the dominant cultures, will stunt it and will leave us with something that neither properly represents who and what we are, nor something that allows us to explain who and what we are to the other cultures. To organically create a culture that properly expresses who and what we are, we must first accept who and what we are.

Hopefully, all of this better explains what I’m getting at. Jason, or anyone else for that matter, should feel free to ask for any other explanations that they need.

Written by Matt

April 4th, 2008 at 9:27 pm

Posted in Thoughts

It’s the culture, stupid!

with 6 comments

For those who haven’t been playing along at home, the below is a response, to a response, to a response.

It all begins here, with a post from Jason. I then responded here. Jason then fired back with some very insightful things here. If you haven’t already, I suggest giving the whole thing a read through.

Before I get into my response, I’d like to point out that some will undoubtedly notice a shift in my argument. In the past several days, I’ve picked up a copy of Henry Jenkins’ book Convergence Culture and have begun reading through it. The book, in conjunction with Jason’s last post, has caused me to reevaluate how I am perceiving geek culture in this discussion. Specifically, it has caused me to stop looking at the surface things and instead focus more on the underlying reasons that I see geek culture as a separate and distinct entity from either mainstream or underground cultures. Hopefully, my shift in perception will lead to a more interesting discussion. One that has more substance that can transposed onto other areas of discussion.

To begin my response, I’d like to take a little detour. Trust me, it will make sense once I get to where I’m going.

There is a belief among some geeks that we are currently entering the mythic age that most of us have dreamed about at one point or another, where the geek mindset will infect the other cultures and mutate them into our culture. That period where we are vindicated for our eccentricities and find ourselves held up as an exemplar of what people should be like. In short, we are entering into an era, that when finished, will finally allow us to sit at the cool kids table and lead to us no longer being persecuted for being different.

As evidence that we have now entered this mythic age, its proponents hold up examples such as the popularization of the internet and the success of franchises like Star Wars, Halo, and Harry Potter.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I am not a believer. As my own evidence, I ask four simple questions:

1) Does using the internet make someone a computer geek?

2) Does enjoying Star Wars make someone a sci-fi geek?

3) Does enjoying the Potter series make someone a fantasy geek?

4) Does playing Halo make someone a gamer?

I respond to all four questions with a ‘no’. I do not deny that these cultural touchstones are shared across various cultures, but how we react to and interact with these touchstones is vastly, and fundamentally, different. It is these differences that make us geeks. And it is because of these differences that we continue to sit at the edges of the cultural lunch room, even while we exert a surprising amount of influence over the directions in which other cultures grow.

The crucial point in all of this is to understand that in our hands something like Harry Potter is geeky. We write fan fic and create vids and go off to start things like Wizard Rock. In their hand’s though, the geeky elements are devalued to such a level that they do not even need to be explained away. For them, they are books which tell an entertaining story. They may discuss these stories with friends and family and coworkers, but they are just stories.

For anything; be it a medium, a genre, or whatever, to make the move from being perceived as geeky, to being accepted and validated by other cultures, it must first allow the individual from those other cultures a mechanism by which they can do away with the geeky elements. For Potter, this was accomplished by the fact that the series was originally cast as a children’s book. For Star Wars, the story was told in the medium of film, where audience members were already used to seeing fantastical stories told.

We are already seeing elements of this reach into the comic book market. The stories, at least in the indie market, have already shifted from the stereotyped geeky stories of super heros, into more traditional styles of stories. The indie market has also been moving away from the old serialized format and has made wider and wider use of the graphic novel format. Distribution channels have also started to shift with more and more book stores carrying these indie graphic novels. Most importantly, the indie market has cultivated a healthy distain for its geeky older brother, super hero comics. Some latitude is occasionally given to older comics, but the indie market is usually quick to join in in bashing the current super hero books.

While one might still run into resistance with comics with in mainstream culture, the medium is well on its way to full acceptance with in the underground. And history tells us that once full acceptance has been accomplished in the underground, it will only be a matter of time before the mainstream follows suit. As long as it continues to distance itself from its geeky past.

The title of Jason’s post, which started this whole discussion, was the question, “Will [insert geeky medium] ever grow up?” My response now is to say yes, when it successfully learns how to properly devalue those elements of itself that cause people to see it as geeky.

In Jason’s second post he put out there three different reasons why someone would want to see medium X gain a certain sense of legitimacy. The final reason was one that I found interesting,

And the personal reason (just to throw out one more term) is that people don’t want to have to feel embarrassed about admitting to liking things they really care about.

Now I can fully identify with this sentiment. I think most geeks, especially adult geeks, have found themselves in this situation on at least one occasion.

I do think though that this feeling, and even more so addressing this feeling in this manner, is counter productive. I’ve argued above that geeky things can not achieve acceptance outside of geek culture unless they learn to distance themselves from that which makes them geeky. Even once indie comics have achieved a full state of acceptance, there will still be a stigma with buying super hero comics. The success of the Harry Potter series did not dissuade a book store clerk from automatically thinking that I was a teacher when I bought a different YA novel. Nor did it lessen the look of surprise on his face when I admitted that no, I was in fact buying the book for myself so that I could enjoy it.

Acceptance will only be granted to those things that are deemed acceptable. We can not assume to leverage the success of a small fraction of franchises that have made the difficult journey to being accepted in multiple cultures, to bring our entire culture into acceptance.

We instead are better served by focusing our attention on our culture in and of itself and helping to instill a sense of geek pride in ourselves. Paradoxically, it is this geek pride, that offers us the greatest chance at acceptance.

The relationship between geek culture and other cultures, where by acceptance is only granted when geekiness can be distanced, is not something that is unique to geek culture. A similar relationship exists between the mainstream and the underground. Elements of underground culture are only able to gain acceptance with in the mainstream when those things that make it intrinsically underground, are devalued. Similarly, for something to move from the mainstream into the underground, it must first see a decline in popularity, which allows this thing to be distanced from what made it intrinsically a mainstream thing.

The difference is that the underground has cultivated a certain degree of acceptance of this relationship. They do not seek validation from the mainstream. Because of this, they have achieved a relationship with the mainstream that allows them to be a viable alternative. Those members of mainstream culture who do not fit in or are simply bored with the mainstream, view the underground as another space for them to occupy. Either another possible place to gain acceptance, or simply a place to find adventure.

By begging for validation though, we rob ourselves of this relationship. We create a situation where we are subservient to other cultures. By, accepting our relationship with the other cultures and instead focusing on developing pride in who and what we are, we free ourselves from this subservient relationship. We also increase the possibility that we will eventually achieve the same relationship with the mainstream and the underground that the mainstream and underground currently share. And through this relationship, we will be in a better situation to achieve the goals that Jason outlines in his post.

The above should not be construed as me promoting some kind of cultural isolationism though. Nor should it be seen as an argument against the promotion tactics that Jason mentions in his post. I am all in favor of spreading the gospel far in wide. The message should be spread though with pride, instead of a desperate attempt at acceptance. There is no reason for us to beg for scraps.

Written by Matt

March 30th, 2008 at 6:39 pm

Posted in Thoughts

Real Art

with 4 comments

Jason over at Geek Studies threw up a post awhile ago with the title, Will [insert geeky medium] ever grow up?. As always, I suggest giving the entire piece a read through, but here is the opening to give you a feel.

Kotaku recently compiled a bunch of articles and quotes from critics in a debate about whether games would ever “grow up.” To summarize, some arguments include:

1. Comics and games are “infantilized” because artsy content is the exception, with most of these media targeted to teenage boys;
2. But games “have more to achieve” as a medium, and some creators are pushing for that;
3. Moreover, dominance of the low-brow “isn’t inherent” to these media, but actually is common across all entertainment media;
4. And in the meantime, part of the problem is that consumers “expect too little” of games (as evidenced by Bioshock, which is not nearly as sophisticated as its reception might have suggested).

My response to this is sort of a follow-up to recent posts addressing the perceived immaturity or unmasculinity of geeky pursuits like games and comics. In short, I agree with just about all of these to some extent, but I’d contend that these stereotypes can be escaped through creative and marketing efforts. Just look at the “graphic novel.”

While I understand where Jason is coming from, I’m reluctant to agree with him. Before getting into my thoughts, it is worth while to provide a little context.

I am all for artists attempting to push a given medium into new and interesting areas. To work with Jason’s reference to comics, while I am a fan of super hero comics, I am also a fan of many indie comic creators as well. I’d easily hold up something like Joe Sacco’s recent journalist style comics (Palestine, Safe Area Gorazde, War’s End, The Fixer) as some of the most important, forward thinking, work done in the medium in recent memory.

My issue with Jason’s statements is one of motivation. Attempts to expand the pallet of a given medium is something that I applaud, and celebrate when it succeeds. Attempts to “legitimize” a given medium I think are fool hearty and potentially detrimental to the medium itself. Any medium that places a focus on being legitimate, is destined to be irrelevant long before gaining any actual legitimacy.

As an example, I offer up Jazz. Jazz’s roots are populace. It was a form of music that reveled in the emotions and celebrations of the communities where it was being born. Over the years, the genre has moved further and further away from its populace roots and embraced a more high brow approach. Yes, the genre has created some amazing music while pursuing these lofty goals, but the fact of the matter is that the biggest artistic challenge facing the genre today is relevance. Most people don’t care about Jazz. In fact, many view it as little more then a haven for music snobs that has completely lost touch with its roots. The exceptions to this, tend to be nostalgia acts, who are trying to recreate an era when the music was relevant, or artists who are trying to merge it with other genres which are more populace in nature.

The thing to understand when discussing whether a given genre is legitimate is to realize that the discussion is always misrepresented. The idea that a medium’s validity is to be measured by its ability to create high art and the frequency with which it creates that art, is an idea that is held only by a small minority of people. The vast majority of people tie the validity of a medium with its ability to entertain and express emotions/ideas/etc that they can identify with. In short, for the vast majority of people, validity is tied to whether what is being done in the medium is relevant to their lives.

The whole discussion about whether a medium is legitimate is a trap, since the vast majority of the time the discussion is held between two distinct camps. One, which already sees the medium as legitimate and the other that will never see the medium as legitimate. The much more important discussion, in my opinion at least, is whether the medium is relevant? This is a subjective discussion of course, as is the “legitimate” discussion. A medium may be very relevant to one group and completely irrelevant to another group.

Since we are discussing geek culture, I feel it is safe to rephrase the question as ‘is the medium relevant to geeks?’ For things like video games and comic books, I think we can all safely assume that the answer is a resounding, ‘Yes’.

Now, you can recontextualize Jason’s statements as a response to the question of relevance, especially if you are considering the relevance of these mediums outside of the geek mind set. And I wouldn’t have any real issue with his statements in that regard. I do find myself wondering why I should care though?

OK, so there are very real implications to the question of the relevance of these mediums outside of the geek mindset. Especially as they pertain to the economics of keeping the companies working in these mediums afloat. The horrible state of the comic industry is probably the most obvious example. Let’s put that aside for a minute though, since the question is more an economic one then a cultural one.

The questions of relevance outside of geek culture is also a perfectly valid question for individuals who are operating in those cultures. And I have no qualms with these people using mediums which are predominately geeky in nature to express themselves. As I said in the Geek Culture Manifesto,

If it inspires you to create your own thing, then fine. The thing that you create though is not the thing we have created. Do not pretend otherwise.

Geek culture is ours. It is us expressing who we are and what we care about. Why should I care if someone who is not one of us groks what it is that we’re doing? Further more, why should I change how I express myself to conform to the will and whim of people who are not part of this culture?

To put this another way, they wouldn’t let us play with them when we were kids. And so we went off and created our own games and played amongst ourselves. Why should we give up our games, to go play theirs, now? I prefer our games. I find their games boring.

Written by Matt

March 15th, 2008 at 9:30 pm

Posted in Thoughts

Giving It Away

with 2 comments

My mind tends to wonder when I’m driving back and forth to work. Sometimes I think about things I need to do. Sometimes I just have random thoughts about random things. And sometimes I end up thinking about things I’ve done. Tonight’s drive home involved the latter, though it left me wondering about the future.

Tonight’s memory went back to 1996, and the HORDE tour for that year. By 1996, the original HORDE bands had moved on to headlining bigger venues. In their wake though, a scene was beginning to form. Resulting in a plethora of groups slugging it out in the clubs all over the US. At the time, I was a pretty big fan of this scene and the bands around which the scene grew. So, in 1996 I hatched a plan.

Prior to the show I bought a half dozen 9X6 manilla envelopes. In these envelopes I put a flier for The Fantastic Voyage, a zine that was covering this kind of music and who had printed a couple of my reviews; a catalog for the Homegrown Music Network, a distribution company that was created to support these kinds of groups; and I probably also wrote a short letter describing what I was doing and why, and which likely included subscription information for the horde.net and homegrown lists, two email-based communities for fans of this kind of music. The center piece of this care package though was a tape of a live performance by one of the groups I was trying to support.

The idea was that here was a group of people who were quite likely to enjoy this kind of music, since they were at the HORDE festival, but who may not have actually heard of any of these groups. Who, may not even realize that there were groups like this playing small clubs. I wanted to help spread the word to these people and turn them onto what was happening. What better way then to physically put the music in their hands?

So, what does this have to do with the future?

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, promoting geek culture is something that I’m interested in. And so I wonder how many geeks are out there who would really dig something like this, but have never heard of it? As I see it, those are the people that I’m trying to reach. When this memory surfaced, I found myself wondering if something like that would work with the geek culture movement?

The idea would work something like this.

Put together a mix tape of your favorite geeky tracks. You can either focus on a single scene, or create something that goes across all the scenes. Include tracks that you love, but also make sure to make room for tracks that may not scratch your itch anymore, but have a tendency to be big hits with a wide variety of people. The idea here isn’t to show off your flawless taste in music, but to hook people on this movement.

Once you have a tape put together (I’m saying tape here because I’m old and I remember when mix tapes actually involved tapes, CDs would probably be a better medium) make several copies of it. Really as many as you can handle/afford and feel confident that you can give away.

After the tapes/cds are created, put a little packaging together for them. Feel free to show your artistic side, but make sure to get in some key information.

(1) A short description of what the music is. If you focused on a single scene, do a short (sentence or two) description of what that scene is. For instance, “the music on this CD is by Wizard Rock (WRock) bands. WRock is a music scene were people write/play songs about/inspired by the Harry Potter books.” If you’re cutting across scenes, then you may want to write something about geek music in general (may I suggest Z’s amazingly brilliant description of “nerd” music).

(2) A listing of the bands on the mix, the names of the songs, and a way that people can find out more info about the group (myspace links are probably the best option here).

(3) Information on where people can find more information about the scene. Links to popular web sites (WizRocklopedia, WizardRock.org, Hipster, please!, Game Music 4 All, etc.) are probably a good thing to use for this.

(4) If some of the groups on the tape are playing a show in the area soon, it may also be worth while to include that info with the packaging for a couple of the CDs.

Once you’ve got your package together, then comes the hard part, figuring out how to give it away.

Randomly handing them to people on the street may have a fun sort of surrealist quality to it, but may not be terribly effective. I would suggest finding some near by place or event where people like you may be gathering, and focus on that. Bonus points if it is a place that you already have a relationship with. Where the people working there at least recognize your face as a regular.

So, say you’re tape is made up of mostly VGM artists. May be there’s a local game store that might be willing to let you leave a couple of CDs on the counter for people to take? Or, if you’re doing a WRock comp, may be a book store or a library? Comic shops are another option. Make sure to ask permission before dropping things off though and be sure to stress that these are completely free and that you are not being paid to do this, but instead are just a fan. You’ll also want to be ready to explain what this music is about and exactly why you are doing this. If you’re leaving your CDs in a place where children will have access to them, you’ll also probably want to keep the music free of swear words.

One other thing. It isn’t uncommon for stores to have a designated place where free stuff (usually newspapers or fliers) gets placed. If you end up putting your CDs in a place like this, you’ll probably want to mark them in someway that let’s people know that they can take one and what it is. Some people, seeing a CD or a package lying unattended, will automatically think someone left it there and so won’t take it unless they are told that they can.

If you do end up dropping your CDs off at a store or library, go back a week or two later and see what the reaction has been like. Has the store heard from anyone who picked a CD up? Did they like it? Would said store perhaps be interested in either hosting a show or helping you promote one? :)

What ever the reaction, this is good information to have. Either to plan your next move or to pass on to a band in hopes of convincing them to come play your hometown.

Either way, it gets the word out and lets those of us who have yet to join us, know that we are here waiting to welcome them to the party.

Written by Matt

March 14th, 2008 at 7:47 pm

‘Nerd’ Music Definition

without comments

Z just posted this over at Hipster, Please,

Nerdy music is many things to many people. Or, more specifically, it is what you need it to be.

Within the framework of the greater culture, nerdy music can take a myriad of forms, from hip-hop to punk rock to smooth jazz to chirpy electronica. Each of these styles may lyrically center on anything from video games to television and movies to personal, slice-of-life recollections to wholly romantic declarations to nothing in particular.

Its artists are doctors and dropouts, saints and criminals of all ages and colors and persuasions, and their instruments are computers, Gameboys, guitars, accordions, microphones, and turntables.

They are classically trained and ruthlessly amateurish. They are world-renowned and complete unknowns. They are performers and wallflowers. They are totally serious and just fuckin’ around.

Their songs are benign and malevolent. Accessible and oblique. Proudly dorky and subversively vague.

But most importantly, nerd music is functional.

Whether you want to let your geek flag fly or simply mock your dorkier predilections, it entertains your fancies. Like all art, it invites you to make of it what you will. It permits you to bend it to your desires.

It’s just like any other music, except for the fact that it’s ours. Whoever we decide to be.

I recommend reading the whole thing, but that right there is poetry in my book.

Written by Matt

February 28th, 2008 at 10:51 pm

Posted in Thoughts

WRock and Rambles about taping

with one comment

I keep this up and I’m going to have to rename this blog the Liz Appreciation Society or something just as silly. Because you see Liz has pulled a reverse Samson in that she has actually increased her awesomeness by sheering off her red locks. She increased her awesomeness by first hosting one of the evenings of the current Whomp The House Tour (featuring The Whomping Willows, Catchlove, Justin Finch-Fletchley, and, for this part of the tour, The Remus Lupins). Then adding to an already amazing bill by including The Mudbloods. And to make it all even more awesome, she’s posted video and audio of the Mudbloods set. (one day I will teach her how to separate tracks for her recordings, and then she will rule the world as a benevolent dictator.)

You can also catch some normal YouTube video of the night here and see Lizz (in her cute new haircut) talking about the evening here.

Anyways, this actually brought up two things that I’ve been wondering about regarding the over all geek music scene.

1) Why no one seems to have set up a Netlabel with Archive.org? You can find the netlabel page at archive here. I’m not sure what the requirements are to get listed at archive.org, so may be there’s a reason for that. I would have gone ahead and done it myself, but I don’t actually know any bands anymore, so that’s kind of stood in my way. If someone’s interested, but needs someone to handle day to day crap, feel free to drop me a line.

2) Why there isn’t more taping in the geek music scene, given the number of artists who freely give away their music?

For those who aren’t sure what I mean by taping, the practice started (as near as I can tell) in traditional music circles (and in this sense, I’m including Jazz and Blues as traditional forms of music). People would go to shows with a mic and a reel to reel machine (this was before tapes) and record the show live. If you listen to Jazz, Blues, or various forms of traditional music, you’ve likely heard a live album that was created from one of these recordings.

Probably the most famous taper friendly band was the Grateful Dead. Jerry Garcia’s background in traditional music and his fondness for these recordings, lead to the band turning a blind eye at first to people recording their shows and later to expressly allow it, even setting up a special “taper’s section,” behind the soundboard, where people could set up mic stands. While the dead are the most famous for allowing taping of their shows, tapes of different band’s from that era are not hard to find, if you know where to look.

The practice has, of course, grown considerably. Just check out the Live Music Archive at archive.org (and WRockers will want to specifically check out this site and this site).

So, given the number of geek groups that give away free music, why isn’t there more taping in the scene? Of course, cost is a real issue here. A good set of mics can set you back. And there’s the hassle of doing it (lugging gear, setting up, dealing with venues, watching your gear during the show, etc). That said, I’ve seen tapers at shows where they weren’t recording and they just didn’t know what to do with themselves. It is a geeky pursuit for sure. The people who do it are obsessed with it. The people that don’t, don’t understand it.

It is still kind of interesting that the Potters and the Malfoys are the only groups who are listed at the LMA. WRock seems like a perfect scene for live taping, given the off the cuff nature of the shows. I’m not as sure about the other scenes, but I imagine there are at least a couple of artists who could benefit from it.

And think about it for a minute.

For the tapers themselves, there is a pay off for doing it. For one, if that does scratch your geek itch, then it is something you can throw yourself into entirely. It gives you an in with artists (you can always let ‘can I tape?’ be your opening line) and it basically turns you into a god with fellow fans.

For artists, it is a great tool to use with grassroots level marketing. Especially if you’re an artist who has a strong live show.

It isn’t something for everyone, but it is still kind of surprising that more groups don’t do it.

May be I should start a netlabel doing live albums? There’s an idea that won’t look nearly as good in the morning.

Anyways, those are some random thoughts for the evening.

Written by Matt

February 20th, 2008 at 10:50 pm

Posted in Thoughts,Wizard Rock

The Music Industry

without comments

This is a fascinating article from David Byrne about a possible future for the recording industry and what it means for the artists. Anyone who is the least bit curious about the industry really needs to give this one a read. I’d easily put up there with Steve Albini’s legendary essay Some of Your Friends are Already This Fucked as far as pieces that any musician would be completely brain dead not to read before signing anything.

One of the things that gets on my nerves is the whole “we’re seeing the end of the recording industry” doom and gloomers. The whole idea is bullshit of the first water and generally exposes, not only the individual’s complete lack of ability when it comes to forecasting trends, but usually an anti-pop bias in their musical tastes. What really gets me though is that the doom and gloom premonitions are generally based in their own idea that big budget pop music isn’t “real” music and the people who listen to it aren’t “real” fans. To put it another way, those who don’t agree with them are wrong, simple because they do not agree with them. They see themselves as cultural prophets, and if the rest of us would simply surrender our free will to them, things would be better.

OK, sorry there, I got off on a side tangent.

The interesting thing that Byrne does is that he presents six different business models for the industry that the artist can choose from. These range from the stereotyped major label deal, which offers the chance at a high short term return, but invariably leads to diminishing long range returns. To a full DIY model which offers a greater amount of artistic freedom and a larger percentage of the money that is generated, but will almost invariably result in less actual net gains.

I have some minor quibbles with Byrne, for one I’m not a believer in the idea that music distribution will ever be completely digital, but over all I’m really loving the ideas that he puts forward here. They’re pragmatic in their approach and built on actual facts and history, as opposed to the dart board approach so many other seem to be taking. The ideas themselves are not revolutionary, each is presented with real world examples and short snippets from people who are engaged in these models, but they are presented in a wonderful manner.

Definitely give it a read.

And yes, I’m aware of the irony of me suggesting someone should go read an article at Wired. I hope who ever got handed this story (because I’m sure it didn’t come from internally) played the lotto that day.

Written by Matt

December 19th, 2007 at 9:13 pm

Posted in Thoughts

Be Safe Bella

with 5 comments

Devin, of the WRock group The Owl Post, has a new project called Be Safe Bella. The project isn’t a WRock group, but it also isn’t a traditional “muggle” rock group either. Instead the project is inspired by the YA book series The Twilight Saga. It is a little early to say exactly where this project is going (the tracks are just demos thrown up to get feedback). I’m guessing though that the idea is to do something like WRock, but with a different series. I’m not sure if any other WRock groups have played around with this idea yet. And obviously she isn’t the first person to mine literary works outside of the Potter series for musical inspiration. I am curious about this development though.

I’ve been wondering now for several months about the future of WRock. The book series is over, and the movies have only 2 more years left. What happens to the scene after that? While WRock does seem to have only just hit its stride now that the series is over, with more bands then ever. It only stands to reason that it has either just now reached its peak, or soon will. With no new source material, unless JK goes back on her word or let’s other writers play in her playground, the fandom will surely begin to contract in size to something that is a bit more manageable from a social standpoint. And that decrease in size of the overall fandom, will likely have an effect on the WRock scene as well.

I doubt WRock will vanish completely. There will likely always be a handful or so groups that occasionally release material and will probably play at conventions and the like. The “scene” though is likely to be a little more fragile. Will the scene continue, or will it dwindle until it is a group of fans following the surviving bands? Not that there is anything wrong with this, but it does change the dynamics some.

Which is why I’m curious about Devin’s new project. There is the seed of an idea here that I think could bear some very interesting fruit. The idea, as I envision it at least, is that the WRock scene blossoms into something much larger and more expansive. Abandoning the limitations of music inspired just by the Potter series, the scene grows to incorporate a wide variety of books and literary series. Bands could exist that focus on a single series, like WRock is currently. Other groups may decide to branch out even further, covering a variety of books and series.

This idea would be a lovely expansion on WRock’s core idea of encouraging people to read, introducing people to new books and authors through songs. When I saw Devin’s announcement about the project one of the first things I did after listening to the music was to go looking for the series on Amazon.

The idea also gives WRock an existence that does not come with a time table. One that embraces its diversity in styles and genres, but also gives it a central theme around which to grow and evolve. It keeps the scene’s quirky sense of purpose and its unique approach to the geek identity, but also gives it room to grow and expand.

I’m not sure where Devin’s new project is going, but hopefully it does go somewhere. And hopefully it does not go there alone.

Written by Matt

December 6th, 2007 at 8:26 pm

Posted in Thoughts,Wizard Rock