Sunday, August 31, 2008

Negative Community
Of course, you could easily argue that it's too early to start talking about Vancouver's weird-punk/harsh noise scene having problems. The scene is constantly growing stronger as an artistic community. Shows, releases and events of various kinds are happening more and more frequently. There's every reason to believe that artists like Twin Crystals and Sick Buildings will produce world class albums within the next couple of years. And - aside from anything else - everyone involved with the scene is really really nice.

Still, it seems very possible that if these folks aren't willing or able to avoid some (perhaps rather obvious) pitfalls that will confront them over the coming months and years, they're going to risk stagnation and/or self-caricature. If you're involved in a musical movement of any kind, you have to stay alert and critical about what's going on around you. Any scene's strengths can easily become liabilities, especially when dogma starts to set in.

The main strength/liability that a real music scene faces is that it is a community. This can be a great thing for musicians - community makes things psychologically and logistically possible. But communities can easily become gangs or cliques. Communities are founded on exclusion of the Other and they're maintained by suppression of the incompatible. If a scene wants to stay vibrant, it must do the unthinkable: recognize elements from the outside the community and let them in. This risks destroying the community but not taking this risk guarantees destroying what makes the community worthwhile.

So, while some people involved with this particular scene have made it clear that they want nothing to do with electronic dance music, there are plenty of weird-punks and harsh noiseniks who do, in fact, know their minimal techno from their dubstep. If these heretical influences are allowed to infect the scene, we're going to hear some pretty startling and original music. Imagine a Villalobos remix of Twin Crystals' "No Clinics".

The main reason someone like Villalobos is so alien to this scene is that his work is primarily focused on hedonism, whereas weird-punk/harsh noise is relentlessly, self-consciously negative. The scene's "harsh music for a harsh environment" approach is all well and good but it only tells half the story. The music really does express something important about the horrific economic inequality that blights Vancouver life. But its aesthetic doesn't propose any viable Utopian alternative and - at its worst - goes as far as glamourising poverty and squalor.

This goes back to the old problem of musical styles that try to evoke urban reality. They inevitably end up buying into the capitalist lie that this reality is some immovable state of nature, rather than the result of a very particular set of socio-economic circumstances. Vancouver could be a wonderful place to live. Unfortunately our collective spirit is being crushed by forces that want to use the city as an experiment in how far neoliberal economics can be allowed to run before total chaos sets in.

We're all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the mountains.

4 comments:

josh said...

oh how heavy regret sets in. i'm feeling rather disappointed in myself for letting my comments in an e-mail pleading to discuss and take things further than a convenient quote, become just that. misunderstood, or maybe just not made clear at that.

i will point out, in my defence, that i make sure to emphasize the lack of REAL(as opposed to perceived) negativity see-"almost never misanthropic", and machismo of our unfortunately dubbed, in my own words: "harsh music for a harsh environment"

my comment was instead intended to point out that although the sound may be HARSH, and to someone not really willing or interested in investigating further, "negative" that the intent and the content is almost never malicious, or even mean-spirited. that's part of what sets Vancouver's real movers aside: their positivity, their activity. that's what has brought these people together for the most part in the first place, like any "community".

i feel that for the most part anger, negativity, and misanthropy play the least important parts of a scene/community that at it's core is pretty goofy and more interested in things like cathartic expression, freedom (in the spiritual sense, and the literal sense) even occasionally some seriously cerebral abstraction, not to mention a very healthy interest in having a good time.

josh said...

oh boy...

i think the scene's aesthetic, activities and it's very existance might in fact propose and at times even LIVE(?) a very viable "utopian alternative" to the strife gripping vancouver; in the form of the temporary autonomous zone, or at the very least, a parrallel economy of sorts.

klumdecides said...

ugh. could you get any more self-aware?
painful.

Biggie Samuels said...

Basically, I agree with everything Josh says.

Also, I actually regret suggesting that the scene is anti-hedonistic. Ridiculous, given the fact that I've often complained about Vancouver's experimental music scene becoming too enamoured of Wolf Eyes' party-hard schtick!

As for Klumdecides, I'm a little perplexed. Is (s)he referring to Josh's comments or mine? And is it really so bad to be self-aware? At best, a lack of self-awareness makes a person accept the dominate ideology as natural, at worst it becomes an excuse for immorality.

The sense I've got from recent discussions of the Vancouver noise scene is that the scene's participants are refreshingly willing to:

(i) accept the fact that the scene exists - that it really is a scene;

(ii) be constructively critical of the scene's aesthetic and cautious about its future direction (because they care).

I should also point out that:

(i) I am only personally involved with this scene in a very peripheral way;

(ii) starting a sentence with the phrase "could you be any more..." is likely to give people the impression that you're not terribly bright.

No pain, no gain.