When we talk of bands being good we often are unable to define even loosely what that entails above and beyond a simple (and valid) “i like it”.
As i’ve hinted at in the opening section of the review of day one i don’t think a scene can be defined by a singular band or record but by an individual’s responses to the culture and artefacts produced by the scene in question. To me art by necessity should provoke an individual experience that has the art object (i.e. music) at its centre.
With this in mind i feel strongly that genre bands absolutely must subscribe to and understand their traditions thoroughly. The primary function of most underground bands as far as i’m concerned should be to strengthen their genre of choice. A type of musical eugenics if you will.
Bands that stand out merely via gimmick and superfluous baggage receive too much focus and rarely add anything positive to the culture that spawns them. Obviously there are exceptions to this that i don’t consider gimmick bands; Man is the Bastard, Sigh and Ulver (i like all periods of Ulver if not every release) instantly spring to my mind.
First and foremost bands that are spawned by specific underground cultures should have being the best damn band of their chosen genre that they can be as their main priority. Being the fastest/ slowest/ loudest/ most offensive or whatever other meaningless window dressing people get caught up in is fruitless. I guess that the short of it is that i have a problem with what has been coined the is of identity when it’s applied to music.
And intrinsically linked to the above are the following qualities that i personally use to judge underground music with:
- It needs to be honest.
- With that honesty ideally there should be a sense of an internal process being somehow externalised by the performer.
- It needs to be both immanent and transcendent. Bands that are only immanent leave no lasting effect when the experience leaves. Think of how many records you own that you think are great when you listen to them but you’ll never reach for them again this year (or how many great records you’ve listened to three times then filed away). Bands that are only transcendent are generally boring and academic and lack the visceral passion necessary to be noticed (and in my experience frequntly consider themselves ‘above’ the genre that spawned them). Bands that have neither of these qualities are abundant in every city and fill up most shows you can attend.
- As discussed in the review of day one that transformative aspect (on performer and audience) is the goal that we should be reaching for. Though this is rarely successful we should still be striving for this. And importantly the transformative aspect can’t be mere nostalgia.
And just some random observations that the weekend made me think about:
I ignored vast sections of the noise (i’ll intentionally not define the term so i don’t get bogged down in micro-genres) world for a long time and upon re-immersing myself back in it over the last two or three years i’m pleased by some of the evolutions that a lot of north American noise has undergone.
In the mid-late 1990s i felt that north American noise often came from a place i had no time for (there were some major exceptions though) . It was brash and loud and garish and often had little to no soul beyond a weird moronic post-death metal obsession with brutality for brutality’s sake. And hell, nothing says brutal less than an army of boring twits armed solely with tape hiss and Rat distortion pedals.
Essentially i felt that it was all celebrating nothing. Now i find a lot of the artists are celebrating nothingness (there’s a difference) and i welcome that change.
The whole ‘is noise the new punk?’ question i’ve seen a lot of over the last few years is bullshit and needs to fuck off; it’s a complete dead end. Is Thelema the new Freemasonry? Is living in the industrialised world the new living in an agricultural society?
Not all music is for all people and i dispute the idea that elitism is necessarily a bad thing. Elitism and wilful obscurism have been a part of underground culture since day one. The attempt in some quarters to remove this idea (and they conveniently tied it to a business model, capitalism never dies) all but killed vast sections of hardcore punk in the 1990s. Proclamations of musical open mindedness are often just code for an inability to rank the value of experience (and there’s room for both Magma and Bizarre Uproar in my life).
Personally i have no need for the current Scion style sponsorship of underground culture lite, but it’s not the end of the world, i know my place and why i continue to be involved with underground culture. It isn’t a threat to me. Consequently if the people whose only involvement is to go to some Rockstar Energy Drink Extreme Mayhem Summer Slam Fest, spend $30 on some bullshit CD from HMV and occasionally turn up at something that means a little more to people like me then that’s fine too. Some people will never get that elusive ‘it’, so there’s no point in even bothering with the discussion as to why someone’s scraping a metal sculpture across a table (or why black metal production sounds like ‘that’) or why some releases aren’t on CD (or even why cassette tapes are still a perfectly valid format).
To bring this back to the weekend again. I feel that the whole event largely captured my criteria for musical value as outlined above. I go to and play a lot of shows and most of them don’t encapsulate the above. I still have fun at them but they’re nothing more than a single point in my life with about the same value as drinking a good beer after a hard day at work.
I’m also not deluded into thinking that the course of events was anything other than the same as a good beer after a bad day to most attendees; therein lies the root of perception.
I feel that Trauma Tone fest managed celebrate a distinct sense of ‘now’, something i feel hardcore punk is currently unable to do most of the time. Hardcore punk often appears to self-consciously use a current lens of perception to compare present events with events of almost thirty years ago and the disconnect is at times crippling*
A minor playlist of sorts:
Current 93 – Aleph at Hallucinatory Mountain
Death - ...For the Whole World to See
My Dying Bride – Like Gods of the Sun
Wadge – Double Take Hawaiian Style
Body Collector/ Task Master split
Contagium – 7”
Incriminated – Death Noize