Saturday, November 24, 2012

Is the Internet the New Punk or is it all a Swindle?

In the late 70s a group of kids from London were handpicked by a London store owner named Malcolm McLaren to form a debauched, wild teen band  whom he dubbed, alarmingly, The Sex Pistols. The movement was called Punk. As in S-punk. McLaren’s punk group may have only lasted a little over two years, but they remain the icons of everything punk represents: obnoxious, working class, unpretentious, and ironically, the instigators of a lasting legacy of DIY mentality that still exists today. Punk’s DIY extended beyond the music, where kids with little talent but much swagger were encouraged to get up and play, but toward fashion, zines, independent labels and mentality. In short, the success of The Sex Pistols, The Ramones and The Clash proved that DIY created endless possibilities where theoretically, the musician can be the creator of his career, and sidestepped middlemen.

And for a long while afterward, DIY was reserved for the underground movement; cool indie bands who made little real money and survived in a niche hipster paradise. The big money and fame was still reserved for Madonna, U2 and Duran Duran, and most DIY bands remained the stars of their own small scene, and localised rather than globalised.

But then came the internet.

In the 2000s bands became ‘hot new things’ based on a tastemaker website. Coolist tastometer blog Pitchfork is the new Rolling Stone. Blogs and zines are seeing a level of distribution never before seen in their hardcopy forms. To think of music lovers reading from as far afield as the US, Russia or Borneo seems incredible but is quickly becoming a reality. And music videos, once solely the monopoly of MTV are now seeing viral capacities via the web. Young kids are becoming stars based on Youtube accounts - think Bieber or Rebecca Black. And for the musician, the internet is fast becoming the greatest tool to distribute music to fans who would never have heard you without it.

But, is it all a sham?

In the modern internet world the lines of fandom and business have been blurred, and the tastemakers are being bought and bartered regardless of quality. When Lana Del Rey’s DIY clip Video Games reached a million views, suspicious ears were piqued. With some research Del Rey’s American trailer trash turned Hollywood songstress myth was debunked, for she had been bankrolled by middlemen and her image, name and entire output chosen by committee. Lana Del Rey is of course, a very carefully constructed swindle, and the internet lends itself perfectly to the illusion.

Bands can now distribute to almost anybody in the world, but does it help shift more units or mp3s? Is the internet actually working against the musician now, simply churning out songs to a market still cornered by money and publicity budgets and image?

Well, yes. The internet has the potential to be a great tool, but the capabilities have barely been fully utilised, even by the bigwigs. The greatest problem of the internet age is it actually promotes the ability to turn off, and destroys the personal contact that the DIY punk bands thrived on in the 70s and 80s. In fact, the internet has promoted such a global focus that bands are avoiding the local market, about the power of live shows and building up a fan base at home with heavy gigging and networking. The internet is not the saviour of modern music, nor is it the enemy. It’s simply a swindle, a distraction from the real life connections that music truly represents.

Monday, July 23, 2012

America: An Anthropological Study Part II

New York

Everything about New York hits your senses the moment you step off the subway. The experience is more or less the same as I imagine meeting Mickey Rooney in a small space would be: intimately overwhelming. Some dude is hitting a bunch of pots and pans and upturned water bottles in a rhythmic dance, and though he’s very skilled, it’s slightly…shattering. And everybody’s walking into you and over you and through you and you don’t know that you have to walk on the right down the tunnel, it’s one of those unwritten rules, and the ticket machine only takes dollar bills but you only have a twenty and everybody speaks some sort of indecipherable version of English and all you want to do is go home, curl up into the foetal position and hope it all goes away. But of course you can’t, you’re going to have to face it and figure it out and find out how the fuck you get to Brooklyn. Luckily, Tasman is all very good at this sort of thing when he gets going, and we get to our apartment and crawl up the stairs and breathe again.
Manhattan is like every clichĂ© in the book. It’s like, literally, walking through a Woody Allen film, or living out Jerry Seinfeld’s paradigm, because everybody shouts in nasal intonations and beeps car horns and bustles past you like they’re really too busy for any of your shit, but you know they’re probably just on their way to Starbucks to use the WiFi. In fact, watching Seinfeld just isn’t funny in New York, it’s just grating, because everybody is a Jerry, and far too many people are a Kramer.
We arrive in the middle of a heatwave. Ninety degree heat in New York is unbearable. It works you down and pulls you back and dips you in a jar of tar and rolls you on the sidewalk. When we first go into Manhattan, getting out at Rockefeller Plaza because we like 30 Rock, we walk a while and hit Times Square. We almost go straight through it, and it’s only because of the tourists oohing and aahing and taking snaps of Coca Cola billboards that we realise that actually, this is virtually a monument. A bizarre, glowing, facile monument where, actually, nothing is monumental, except the TV screen is pretty big. And the M&Ms store has a surprising four stories of inspired merchandise. The tourists are the fuckers here, which of course means us as much as anyone. Always stopping and starting in the middle of the sidewalk and clogging up the streets while angry cab drivers beep them and threaten to run them down. New York is a city in which you constantly look up, because that’s where all the action is - all those perilously tall buildings and attention seeking billboards and ridiculously big bridges - but really people should be looking straight, because it’s next to them and around them and in between them that the real buzz is, in short, the New Yorkers. They’re funny and loud and can be horribly aggressive and impolite and also quite nice and gracious when it comes upon them. They’ll not be afraid of talking shit, but not like Canadians (who are so self aware and constant nice guys that they don’t really have much to talk about except the weather and Macys and anything that is unlikely to offend anyone). New Yorkers will talk shit all day, but they’re terribly funny.
Brooklyn is another matter from Manhattan. It’s a community in Brooklyn. It’s still, thankfully, a real stoop culture, and with the heatwave everybody sits out of their stuffy little apartments at every chance, and talk to neighbours and walk dogs and watch the world passing. It’s slower and Suburban and there’s not many chain shops, just a bunch of liquor stores and bagel shops and grocers and newsagents. The nearby park is filled with families playing after work and school and shooting one another with waterguns rather than Glocks, and kids are jumping under fire hydrants. There’s a real mix too, of Jews and Hispanics and blacks and whites, hipsters and grandmas and Mexicanos and Rabbis. There’s Queens and Harlem too, and of course The Bronx, which every good kid knows, that under no circumstances should they venture there alone, or even at all.
Of course, Manhattan is where all the action is, where all the kapow and tinsel and fireworks are, and we head there almost daily. Central Park is enormous and lovely and awfully unusual for something so big and green and violently peaceful to be smack-bang in the middle of such a large concrete labyrinth. And there are roads!! Roads through the park, with joggers and cyclists and skateboarders screaming down them in their hundreds, on one big exercise marathon. But even in such a big park there is the constant whir of cars and voices and car horns and marching bands and refrigerators and televisions and cyclists and scooters. The buzz, I suppose, of the modern world turning round. Perhaps two hundred years ago there would have been something closer to silence, where you might hear your own footsteps. But in modern New York you will never hear yourself…you walk and breathe and sometimes you even talk, but you may as well be miming, because the din will overwhelm and smother whatever you do. And in the end, you realise that New York is like those perpetual motion toys that executives have on mahogany desks to suggest intelligence, those four little silver balls that will hit one another forever, in one endless cycle. Clickety-clack, clickety-clack. Probably those little silver balls are desperately wishing it would all stop, that somehow there would be a break and one of them can make roll for it, but it’s always going to be perpetual motion. Equal and opposite reactions are what New York is all about.

Lucy Campbell

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

America: An Anthropological Study Part I

Los Angeles

When we arrive in LA, the first thing you notice is the dust and the pollution. It’s summer, heat hangs in the air as the plane passes over the city, smothering the low, vast suburbs that spread out below. LA is really very odd. I noticed how odd it was as soon as we arrived, and our cab zoomed between cars on the clogged veins of LA’s livelihood - America’s livelihood really - the Highway. Highways under each other, over each other, twisting around neighbourhoods and buildings and other highways with perplexing regularity. Cars pile up on either side of us, some sleek and new and driven by people with Bluetooth headsets, and others battered and old and bruised and driven by people with all their belongings in the backseat. In America your car says a lot about you. 

Our apartment room is mid-town, and our cab driver doesn’t have much to say about the area. Instead, he just points out a distant hill. “See that white blur, that’s the Hollywood sign.”

Our apartment is in a compound near Wilshire and Vermont, a cheap wire fence like the type you see on old tennis courts enclosing it, and the area is hot and bare and poor. We’re the only white people around, and we’re the whitest people we could be. We’re almost blue. I’m sure the Lonely Planet Guide would recommend we stay away from it, but if you were only guided by Lonely Planet you’d be broke in a week, and you’d think Rodeo Drive is what LA is all about, which of course, it isn’t.

It’s around this time I discover a few things about LA. The first is that the Hispanics have midtown as their own.  Most everything is in Spanish. Shops sell tacos and burritos and odd cans of indecipherable Spanish fare, and buildings are low and dusty and falling apart. In the heat of the afternoon, I suppose the traditional siesta, men and women and children lean on shady stoops and huddle near air conditioned shops.  The homeless shelter under makeshift tents in corners of car parks, road train style trolleys beside them. Many, many people are shouldering their lives in garbage bags. As the afternoon becomes cooler what sounds like a hundred children play ball in the compound beside us. 

The next day the band heads to Venice Beach, where Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet played out their Malibu tragedy, and where the men rollerblade  and the women bake in the sun. Everybody’s a little eccentric, but it isn’t glamorous. Muscle Beach is about as seedy as it sounds and, like everywhere in LA, everybody’s selling something. Friendly black guys accost you with rap CDs and dudes on segues try to sell medicinal marijuana. A woman in the square is selling TV audience tickets for some comedian whilst break-dancing and occasionally bursting out into song. It’s a kind of American thing, a total blind self-confidence in one’s self. Nobody fears anything in the slightest, nobody feels embarrassment and it seems, anything is possible. LA’s kind of like an entire city with Aspergers. But, like midtown, people are clutching trolleys and living on the grassy island between beach and tourist footpath. As a Hollywood native will tell us, “The City of LA is poor as shit. Half a billion dollars in debt. The City of Beverly Hills is rich as hell.”

He’s right. When Clair and I decide to do the LA thing and head out on a star homes tour, it’s like a total reversal. The pull of celebrity in LA is immense. If Highways are the life blood of LA then celebrity is brawn and muscle and sheer fucking power. Going on a star homes tour is like going on a disconnection of reality. You don’t like the idea of it, you don’t even like the reality of it, but somehow, some little piece of you is fascinated by Oprah Winfrey’s gates, Madonna’s letterbox and Michael Jackson’s old driveway. The Tour Guide, a vaguely desperate fast-talking dude, makes his dough from these gates, letterboxes and driveways. He’s a part-time paparazzi so he spend a lot of time outside them. He literally lives off these people. As we climb the half carefully manicured, half wild greenery of Beverly Hills, we pass Taylor Lautner on his afternoon jog. The Tour Guide beeps, Taylor grimaces. There’s a weird relationship between celebrity and those who make money, indirectly, from them. Later in the day, when we stand beside a couple veteran autograph hunters and paps for a film premiere, there’s an unspoken set of rules between celebrity and pap. Mary J Blige is a ‘biatch,’ Alec Baldwin an ‘asshole’, Tom Cruise ‘adorable.’ When a celebrity refuses to make his or her way over, the hunters are vicious in their dissemination of their hair, their outfit and their face. It seems unfair, but  I see their point. Celebrities aren’t really people, they are business. All the pretence in the world can’t dissuade us from seeing them as weirdo zoo animals, eating and scratching behind the glass walls of public fascination.  They are herded animals, sheparded from car to red carpet, house to party. Microcosms of people rely on them for income – from the guy in the Iron Man suit on Hollywood Boulevard, to the guy setting up the film camera by the red carpet, to the girl serving fries in Hard Rock CafĂ©. Celebrities are an entire enterprise, not an individual.  Some of them recognise it. When Catherine Zeta Jones passes us, she recognises the autograph hunters and smiles, judiciously autographs their pristine copies of Empire and Rolling Stone in just the right place and they all nod. They wouldn’t exist without one another, and they know it.

Beverly Hills is gated and guarded and private and I understand why. When we pass the Wilshire Hotel our Tour Guide beeps at the bus boy. “That’s George,” he explains. “I pay him a lotta money to tell me what celebrities check in.” Because you see, celebrites are surrounded by these mini armies of paps, autograph hunters, informants, manipulators and leeches who will happily destroy them at a moments notice. Even us, the loyal masses, will cut them down. So they hide away in the hills, like hunted animals, sheltered in gigantuous mansions and ridiculously extravagant compounds and create their own worlds made with their unjustly large paychecks because quite honestly, the real world is not their friend. 

When we stop by Tom Cruise’s compound we’re informed that if the flag is flying, Tom is home. Tom’s the King of Beverly Hills. So when we see Tom Cruise at the film premiere, it feels unreal. Because Tom Cruise, the man standing directly in front of us, isn’t real. He looks like the guy in the cinema, but I know he isn’t real. Because he’s so good at this celebrity thing now, he’s such a pro, that he’s groomed himself to look like Tom Cruise from every angle. His smile is perfect. His face perfectly symmetrical. His manner pleasant, genuinely interested, constantly enthusiastic. If somebody was told to pretend to be Tom Cruise, they would be just like this fellow. He’s a nice guy. He arrives an hour before his co-stars because he judiciously greets every fan, signs everything, takes every photo demanded and is always, always, smiling. After the premiere, the King Of Beverly Hills is herded back into a tinted jeep and taken to the after party, where he will grin and shake hands and pose for photographs and look like Tom Cruise from every angle yet again. Because he understands the fundamental deal with the devil; when you are famous you will always be at the mercy of others. His power is his and our illusion, and he knows it. Celebrities only last as long as those in the real business – not show biz per se, more like mega fame biz - want them to, and the poor guy can only look over his shoulder and bury his mind in a fake religion and buy time with surgery and an all-too-neat hairline.
Winding back down through Beverly Hills and onto Rodeo Drive (where we slow at cafes to ‘spot the celebrities’ as though they are wild mongoose on a safari), we pass the mansions of the rich. And in almost every garden are a small army of Hispanic men and women trimming hedges, weeding and watering impossibly green grass. They’re the men and women of our area, mid-town, and this is where they get up at 5am every morning and carpool in battered old wagons to earn their money from the celebrities and super-rich. And they’re sweating it out under the horrible sun and aching backs and you begin to understand that if Tom Cruise lost his job as King of Beverly Hills, a bunch of hardworking individuals would also lose theirs. So like them or hate them, celebrities aren’t just useless wastes of exorbitant sums of money - though some are – they are the back on which LA rests. The film industry isn’t just a money industry, it’s an industry of the soul. Films are our meter, our gauge and our social sphere. We watch movies about people and lives we will never lead, illusions of reality, voyeurs of some far out world that is never our own, no matter how similar it seems. We compare ourselves to celebrities, some devote themselves to them; to all intents and purposes they are the better looking, more successful, cooler and highly desirable versions of ourselves, and likewise their films. And the celebrities hidden away in their alternate universes of high gates, tinted windows and compounds, feel the weight of expectation hardest. We’re pulling them down as much as we’re pushing them up.

When we leave LA through LAX the smog over the city is unbearable, like the city is choking itself into submission. 

Lucy Campbell

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Stuff That Is Happening To Us

It's been a while, folks. But now we heard social media is all the deal so we're getting onto this shit while it's still hot. Maybe we'll get a Tumblr? I don't even know what that is. I read recently that most bands make their money through social media - selling tickets, videos, merchandise, songs and so on - and they do it themselves, so I guess that makes Facebook the new punk, right?
Anyway, here are some updates.
Our next shows are scattered all around, literally, the world. Which is simultaneously exciting, terrifying and really overwhelming. The circus is getting into gear and will be lifting off in May with a little East Coast Tour for our EP 'Panic.' We'll be kicking it all off on Saturday May 5 supporting Damn Terran here in Adelaide at the Grace, then we'll be piling into Clair's automobile and shooting up to Wollongong to play Yours and Owls. I think it'll be good, we're playing with a cool dude Jack Reilly and some Sydney warmongers The Maze. Then we're playing two gigs in Sydney - one at the Lansdowne Hotel and the other, which we're well excited about, at the World Bar with the MUM club night. Then down to Melbourne to play two gigs in one night (18th May) at Gasometer supporting Peep Tempel and then a sneaky 2am slot at Pony. Apparently Pony is really cool and your feet stick to the floor, so that'll be lovely.
We finish it all off with a going away party at Worldsend in Adelaide June 1, cos we're going to Canada and the USA for a couple months! We're playing NXNE in Toronto, then having a holiday in America! That's kinda cool, hope we don't get shot or anything. I heard they have guns over there.