Monday, 3 December 2012

Another letter to the poor sods at Uncool magazine...

Mumford & Sons - Grammys

Mumford & Sons’ singular importance in rock’s current moment cannot be underestimated,” is not a sentence I ever imagined I’d read.

Especially not in the debut article deployed by a potential music webzine as a Kickstarter carrot, and especially not one which trumpets itself as offering A NEW KIND OF MUSIC JOURNALISM.

And extra especially doubly definitely not in one which has just come under articulate fire for its lack of diversity/ambition.

Mumford & Sons! Seriously?

Look, here’s the thing, Uncool: Mumford & Sons have become the embodiment of the kind of privilege-blindness you’ve just been accused of; why on Earth would you write a feature focusing on their apparently glorious, genre-spawning ascent at all, let alone this week?

Maybe it didn’t cross the water, all the righteous furore about them and their nu-folk compadres, the privately-educated kids with guitars hijacking rock’s avant cool and using their boorish mass to de-claw its fury at the exact same point in history when the working class is being battered by cuts and joblessness. (Here's an overview of the debate; unfortunately Simon Price's fantastic article in The Word which sparked it off is not available online.) Maybe it hasn’t bitten the blogging rock writers of America how fucking frustrating it is that people who are top of the heap privilege-wise (I’m thinking specifically of the frontman of M&S pals Noah And The Whale, Charlie "I don't think where we come from really comes into it Fink) can dismiss class as way of analysing music. Or that they can refute so easily the idea that someone’s sociocultural location might contribute to the content/sound/reception of their music in ways worth dissecting. Maybe this particular Brit-crit seethe, the reason why the band is referred to the length and breadth of Facebook GB as Bumford & Cunts, has escaped the editors of Uncool?
Which, OK. Whatever. You’re missing it because they’re missing it because you’re both from the same particular dominant demographic in the indierockverse. As Dorian Lynskey says in his perceptive blog post on rich kids in rock, it’s not a coincidence. That’s the way the kyriarchy works. (He also says this: “Entitlement and complacency – the sense of going through life without touching the sides – are the enemy of good art, and I hear them in a lot of young bands” which is a crucial consideration if you’re not just going to be slagging off posh boys for being posh boys, fun though that might be.)

If kyriarchy’s a new one on you, I’d advise you to stop what you’re doing, click and learn and come back when you know what the hell I’m talking about. You’re welcome; here to help. It’s all about who you are (in terms of your race, sexuality, gender, physical ability, age, financial security, cisbodiedness, education, class etc) and how where you’re caught in those complex intersectional webs of dominance/oppression affect what you understand of the world and what you project out into it.

You’ve just projected Mumford & Sons. This see above is not a coincidence.
So when people respectfully suggest that you take a long hard look at the way your own privilege and sense of entitlement gives you cultural and political tunnel vision the last thing I’d suggest you do is run your first article about a band infamous for epitomising just that.

And, furthermore, don’t use that old chestnut, the Death of Rock, as leverage to give your new-minted genre oomph. Because if you think “festivalcore’s ascent has sacrificed some nuances upon the altar of mass appeal” and then go on to say, “So be it: let them die so rock may live on among EDM and hip-hop and pop” then that’s its appeal stone cold dead for me. (Dampening nuance for mass appeal is meant to be a good thing?! Since when where those things necessarily at odds anyway? Who the hell are you writing for? And why?)

Plus, of course, anyone who says, “And it might be the last hope for the future of rock music” about ANYTHING, even the most sparky, eccentric, outsider strain of pots’n’pans girlcore gloriousness, let alone heard-it-all-before, happy clappy nu-folk waistcoatery, has not a single clue about history. We have no idea at all what marvels will unfold before us but the ever-mutating, ever-evolving, curve-ball-chucking glittershow that is rock music keeps on rolling on. (Lord help us if its only salvation were really in the kind of meh music even the author of the piece says doesn’t move him unless he’s watching it at sunset with his mates at Coachella. Fucksake. The only people who think rock’s dead are those who are mourning the death of their own youth. Rock does not belong to one generation. Write that out a hundred times and go listen to some Micachu.)

Which brings me to (yet) another gripe; this festivalcore you want to get instated as newbie genre on the block seems to me to be very clearly more a consequence of timeplacedrugsfriends than the particular music being played.

Festivals are big business; yes, there’re all those American beardy anthemic dudes hanging about the place but I’d say that their presence is due more to the play-it-safe bookings policy of the US indie-centric festival managers or the cultural preferences and influence of a certain tranche of the music world who go to and report on those events than the birth of a specific kind of music that comes into its own outdoors, at dusk and in front of a sea of thousands of sun-pink smiley faces. Any kind of big music suits festivals, and new(ish) bands booked to play a good early evening slot who tap into the hand-wavy feel-good vibe can find their star ascendant, but to focus only on the bands which fulfil those criteria within the already narrow milieu of indie rock and then dub them festivalcore is missing the rest of the picture. All the other non-indie bands who play rousing sets at festivals and all the other non-indie-focused festivals, for a start. The electronica-heads, the jit jivers, the big beats boys, the riot grrls, the rappers, the multi-platinum mega popstars, the punks, the taiko drummers, the old dogs game for a second chance, all of the virtual roof-raisers of festivals around the world... how come they're not festivalcore too? Why they don't count?

My festival-going this year has mostly been limited to party festivals with solidly rabble-rousing DJs at night and the kind of hybrid gypsy-folk-ska-funk-hip-hop that can get a mashed crowd jigging happily but aren’t necessarily known outside the circuit (there’s a surprising number of them; I’d coin a genre to accommodate this fact if I could be arsed). But I can tell you that last year at Bestival – perhaps UK’s closest equivalent to Coachella? – the acts which stood out by creating a storm of communal up-rush were none of them beardy nor white boy nor bland. I saw Bjork with her finely (ahem) nuanced polyrhthymic confections, extraordinary custom-made instruments, dancers, choirs and head-spinning visuals. I saw PJ Harvey sending shivers down massed spines with her dark, pretty, disconcerting, despairing meditations on war and nationhood. I saw Public Enemy - 20 years on from their heyday as a fiercely political, ragingly zeitgeisty proposition - light up a hillside with the force and thrill of their music; thousands of fists raised en masse, a whole valley of bouncing monied middle-class kids (never mind the false eyelashes, the glitter or the tiger onesies) shouting along. FIGHT THE POWER! FIGHT THE POWER! (You are the fucking power, you twats. Party on.)

I saw The Village People too. They were fucking phenomenal.

Here's a nice quote from an article from last year about the UK version of the phenomenon:
The historical trajectory of British pop's bourgeoisification can be traced most clearly in what Karl Marx sadly never got around to calling "the UK power-ballad nexus". Picture yourself in a series of large Glastonbury crowds over the 10 years from 1994 onwards, singing along to a wilfully vague lyric cunningly designed to promote sensations of mass emotional uplift. Now look at the stage and note the incremental increase in poshness from Oasis to Embrace to Travis to Coldplay to Keane.
This isn't just about Coachella and beards.

So the idea that Mumford & Sons are the start of something new, are the saviours of rock, are significant in any way other than as a happy glow in the avaricious mind of the music industry’s end-of-year financial reports or in the bellies of a bunch of kids who’ve timed their drop to bring them up as the sun goes down is both repellent and nonsensical. They don’t fit in any grand narrative I can be bothered with. I do not see the outsider allure you refer to: M&S mainline mainstream. They’re about as counter-cultural as a Bourbon biscuit. They wouldn’t know outsider art if it shat in their nice cup of tea.

Look, if you’re gonna coin a genre, make it one you LOVE! (Or HATE to the bone.) Where is the passion in this flagship piece? You’ve set up your premise and you’ve pushed it off into the choppy chippy waters of the internet but you’ve forgotten the wind to puff out its sails. Bangs - as my overwrought editor is fond of saying and with good fucking reason - wept. Seriously, who gives a fuck about “singular importance” if there’s nothing special about the music that a pill and an open sky couldn’t do for any band? You could (they did) put the bloody Wurzels on at Glastonbury and you’d get people claiming epiphanic moments and heartlifting bliss.

These things matter. Music matters. Critical thinking matters. Yes, M&S are the easiest targets on the wall, and yes, this is about much wider issues than a promising new music magazine (and yesyesyes, before you say it, I'm probably just jealous). On one level this is horribly unfair to you. I love the idea of a music journal publishing think pieces and paying its writers, I really do. Best of luck with that. I liked your point about rock being moulded by its means of dissemination: a material analysis of the industry is fine by me. Observing then describing a new genre: all good stuff. Please take this as constructive criticism because if Uncool pulls off uploading one decent, articulate, captivating, debate-generating article about music a week that would be a truly marvellous thing. This just may not be the most judicious starting point. On this showing, anyone interested in a new kind of music journalism is going to have to look elsewhere. Luckily the musical world is chock full of amaze right at this minute and there are a thousand reasons to make a stand for the innovative and the exciting. And, while you're at it, have a hand in dismantling the soul-destroying establishment.




(Note for the fuming webby hordes: check your privilege before you start frothing at the mouth. Don’t be offended if you’re in the demographic I’m calling out for entitlement-blindness or if you love M&S; just consider that where you stand might be affecting who you are and how you read the world, which bands you listen to, which writing you approve of. This is not an attack on you personally, this is a critique of a phenomenon. Man up.)

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