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#6: embrace the multitude
After the first iTunes there hasn't been an audio player or streaming service I liked. Yet.
Maybe it was the combination with the iPod. Streaming music in the early 2000s wasn't really a thing. But, since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, wifi slowly appeared everywhere, 3G, 4G, 5G, and having millions of songs with you all the time became a standard.
Streaming didn't kill vinyl or cd or cassette tapes, but it has become the new normal of music consumption. In 2012 the discussion about streaming and music in the cloud focussed on the massive illegal downloading of music. Although the Dutch research group TNO found out in 2009 that (illegal) file-sharing of music, movies, and games does not impact the revenues in the music industry. I wrote about this in the article The Kids Are Alright (link). It's in Dutch, but Google Translate is your friend.
In the same year (2012), I wrote Indie is Dood, Leve Neoindie! (Indie dead, Long Live Neo-indie! link), also for FRNKFRT. The term indie has been problematic since the demise of underground music culture in the 1990s. Still, in his master thesis Cyber Indie: Digital Culture and The Changing Music Industry (2008), Maarten Brinkerink suggests a third indie revolution (after the rise of punk in the 1970s and alternative music in the 1980s). He sees digital technology and especially the internet, as the driving force of the revolution.
In essence, change is never (only) about technology. It is about new ways of thinking, acting, and doing that change society (the social use of technology). We are still in the middle of the third revolution Brinkerink wrote about. Compared to 2012, illegal downloading isn't a relevant factor anymore. Streaming music has become easy, cheap, and widely available. Comfort always beats price.
On the other hand, the music industry still seems to be this hierarchal impenetrable moloch. And yes, most revenues are earned by a small group of big multinationals (records companies, agencies, event organizations, and tech companies). Still, it has definitely become easier to earn money as an artist or group of artists. Platforms like Bandcamp show that independent artists can earn a living by making and releasing music.
New platforms like Resonate, a music-sharing platform owned by the community, could kickstart the indie revolution. The same goes for using DAOs (Decentralized Autonomous Organizations) and the tokens they work with (NFTs, for instance). It is not about these technologies. They work and can create a whole new playing field that is much more horizontal. It even could give advantages to small units.
The point is that these new technologies need a different way of thinking to succeed. This is classic Marshall McLuhan: we shape our tools, and our tools shape us. Unfortunately, we are not really good at doing the latter. We tend to put our tools back into the box, serving the already existing world, instead of using them to create the new world they were invented for in the first place.
This is not only a problem in the music industry. You can see the same pattern in dealing with climate change or inequalities. Without a fundamental shift in our value system, new technologies will serve old masters.
I still use Spotify. But I am in love with Bandcamp and Resonate. Both have their flaws. Bandcamp still does not have a self-curated playlist option, and the options to build a community are limited, but I like the DIY approach. Resonate is new and needs to make a more extensive community, but it is definitely the future. Especially compared to Spotify's reinventing the old-fashioned hierarchal music industry over again.
The first step, which is an important one, is to see the music industry not as one entity but as a patchwork of cultures that sometimes overlap. A change of perspective leads to a totally different view. Flora Shoppe by Macintosh Plus is one of the most-streamed albums ever, but it is missing in every chart and isn't even available on most paid streaming services.
Let's embrace the multitude and a super diverse music ecology.
How do you listen to and buy your music? Let me know!
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In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I often danced to Front Line Assembly. The Canadian outfit's militant Electronic Body Music (EBM) was always in the deejay sets at parties like De Inrichting in Amsterdam or Input in Heerlen. Later I lost track of them, although I checked out new music by related acts like Noise Unit, Intermix and Synæsthesia. Co-founder Rhys Fulber worked as a producer with metal acts like Fear Factory and Paradise Lost. As Conjure One, he blends industrial, EBM and techno. Lately, he is also working under his own name.
Brutal Nature is his fifth solo album since 2018, and it's a macabre blend of EBM and dark techno that gives you the chills. In 'Pressure', for example, the metallic breakbeat and atmospheric synths play a frightening dance that reminds me of how we try to fight the flexible covid19 virus with our fixed modernistic industrial system. In other moments the slowish industrial techno of Andy Stott comes to mind. Brutal Nature doesn't end well for humanity. The album closes with the ambient techno of 'Nature Reclaims' and the brutal EBM of 'Stare at the Sun'. This is precisely what dancing to Front Line Assembly once felt like: there is no hope.
Brutal Nature by Rhys Fulber was released by FR Recordings. Listen here: https://rhysfulber.bandcamp.com/album/brutal-nature
BACK TO THE FUTURE
More 1990s vibes with Spectacular Diagnostics. Aka Chicago-based Robert Krums, who works as a designer and artist and used to be active as a producer under the moniker Earmint. After two albums, Krums returned to his art and design work. Until he reappeared as Spectacular Diagnostics in 2018, earlier this year, he released Natural Mechanics - a mostly easy-going album with short, jazzy hiphop tracks and excellent use of (vocal) samples.
Now, just a couple of months later, there is Ancient Methods. Same vibe, another recipe. Kums uses samples of old records, sci-fi movies, and traditional Bollywood soundtracks and blends them into two-minute hiphop power tracks. Sampling vinyl records makes Kums feel like a dinosaur (hence the album title) but is actually extremely trendy, with all the kids named DJ Shadow's Entroducing their favourite album.
This album is headz at its finest: every sample fits, is chosen carefully, and creates an atmosphere of laidback coolness. On the back sleeve of the vinyl, media archaeologist and poet Brian Michael Murphy wrote short stories inspired by the music. Another layer of coolness. An essential record for every headz lover.
Ancient Methods by Spectacular Diagnostics is released by Rucksack Records and can be listened to here: https://spectacular-diagnostics.bandcamp.com/album/ancient-methods
Natural Mechanics by Spectacular Diagnostics is released by Group BraCil and can be listened to here: https://spectacular-diagnostics.bandcamp.com/album/natural-mechanics
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After the 2016 Brexit referendum, the Pound crashed. Pro-Brexit campaigner and former commodities broker Nigel Farage leaked false information about the polls two times before the closing of the referendum. Some hedge funds made millions of profit using this information. It's still unclear what exactly happened. Artist DMSTFCTN directed a 20-minute audiovisual performance about the (possible) events. ECHO FX, a book published by Krisis, collects further written and visual contributions, including a digital download of the performance. http://www.krisispublishing.com/prodotto/echo-fx/
Another one by The Analog Journal: Haseeb Iqbal plays his favourite Dub, Roots and Lovers Rock. https://youtu.be/55fixYqBXhk
One of my all-time favourite bands is Zea, since 2008 the solo project of Arnold de Boer. The new album Witst noch dat d'r Neat Wie is a raw, minimalistic (De Boer's guitar with some side instruments) interpretation of experimental poems in Frisian. The booklet that goes with the album has translations of the lyrics in Dutch, English, and other languages. To be honest, Zea sounds best in Frisian. https://zeamusic.bandcamp.com/album/witst-noch-dat-dr-neat-wie
Most reviews of Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, the latest album by Little Simz weren't positive. Don't believe the MSM (hehe): this is definitely her best work. The album is honest, open, experimental, and playful. The videos that go with her singles are brilliant. And now there is this supercool short film for 'I Love You, I Hate You'. Magic. https://youtu.be/gXK0aCbdW0c
The Netherlands is in a cultural lockdown again. Cultural venues close at 5pm. So no legal parties anymore. Let's things be better in April: the Rewire festival program in The Hague program is awesome! Also, check out Polarity: Jon Hopkins playing the grand piano at the Amare theatre. https://www.rewirefestival.nl