Sunday, 16 June 2013

Pattern Recognition: The Evolving Architecture of the Underground

The second instalment of my new monthly column for Electronic Beats, Pattern Recognition, is on the changed and changing nature of 'the new music underground', along with how and why to keep up with it (click here to read).

"Understanding new music as it arrives every month, delivered straight from the most inventive, passionate, and least commercially-motivated musicians out there, is a profound form of stimulation and exercise for the ear, mind, intellect, and emotions. Following—and participating in—new music culture has been appreciated by its supporters as everything from a hobby to a professional concern to something approaching the meaning of life... It takes work and imagination to engage with fresh and different sounds at their very source like this, but the reward is in learning new methods of listening and thinking...

"The new music underground is an ongoing debate about the possibilities of music, typically conducted at some remove from big commerce. Ideally, it represents an infinite space of possibilities and developments with a coherent, roaming, collective focus acting upon it, like a democratically organized nomadic tribe made up of artists, scientists, and philosophers constantly wandering the universe with disaffected and infinitely open minds, always learning but never settling or capitalizing. In reality, the new music underground is a messy semi-anarchy of interests that make up the rules as they go along, don’t communicate with great efficiency, or move as one...

"In the late 20th century, following new underground music (more often called ‘indie’, ‘alternative’, or ‘non-commercial’ back then) was a more-or-less simple case of subscribing to magazine X, listening to radio show Y, and hanging out in record shop or venue Z. Today’s world is much more fluid, a continuum of ‘undergroundness’ that can be entered at any level. You can imagine this continuum having three main layers...

"With the frontline of new underground music (and the subcultures) potentially shifting onto places like Soundcloud and Bandcamp, some magazines are getting left behind by their near-total reliance on older industry structures such as press releases and PR contacts ...

"A particular focus of anxiety about the new forms of music distribution is how good listening practice is possible in the face of the online and computerized world. The worry goes that there’s too much stuff out there, it’s too easily accessible, and your choice and attention is stretched past breaking point, leaving you floundering in a meaningless chaos of ones and zeroes. It’s mostly unfounded, I think...

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