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.