Tuesday, March 31, 2009

First Interview

I interviewed Sam Eilertsen, a 19-year-old participator in the Providence folk-scene from North Kingstown, RI. Talking with him, I realized just how tight-knit this scene seems to be, not only among the audience but also among the audience and the bands. He also discussed how "folk" may not be the best word to describe the scene because many of the bands incorporate so many different genres into their musical style. However, the general quality all of the bands and performers seemed to possess was a focus on lyricism--the very quality that, according to Sam, seems to draw most of the members to this scene. Here is an excerpt from our interview, followed by a link to a sound recording of the interview in full.

[after Sam describes his music taste, which includes blues, jazz, folk, rock, rap, and classical]
Me: Do you think that that's typical of members of this scene or do you think that everyone else has differing music tastes from that of yourself?
Sam: ...A lot of my friends who are into that scene have similar music tastes to myself... You refer to it as a "folk" scene, but most of the bands involved in it aren't strictly folk. They have rock influences, they have blues influences, they have country influences... there's even some metal influences in there sometimes. So, I would say that it generally would attract a crowd with a wide range of music tastes.

Me: Going on with that--you were saying how it had lots of different influences--can you try to describe at all the music itself, like what that sounds like? [Considering that there] is such a broad [range] of genres included in this one scene, is there any one quality that you think a band has to have to be a part of it?
Sam: It's kind of tricky... I would say that there is a sort of sound to it and it's kind of hard to describe a sound with words, but... for the most part it's definitely folk-inspired--a lot of focus on lyricism more than instrumentals... On the other hand, it's not traditional folk. It's mostly electric, mostly a full band with drums--although there are some performers who just have a guitar.

Me: Going more back towards the scene then, do you think you could describe a typical member of the scene?
Sam: Well, I'd say it's mostly high school and college kids with some older people, but it's very rare to find someone over thirty at one of these shows... a lot of general music aficionados, but also a lot of the intellectual types. But there's also a certain element of a kind of social rebellion involved in the whole thing... There's certain ways people into this scene often dress, like you always see them wearing flannel shirts, often tighter jeans then you normally see on men... a lot of facial hair.

[Later in the interview]

Me: Why do you think that people are attracted to indie-folk and folk-rock?
Sam: For me, it's always been a focus on the lyricism. A lot of rock songs...the lyrics don't really mean that much... Folk songs often are very poetic, following [the old folk tradition] and also some of the newer stuff like Bob Dylan, who really brought it into the mainstream... So it has that element which I think attracts definitely a more intellectual crowd. It's also more critical of society in a more thoughtful way I think than a lot of modern, mainstream music--rap or rock or whatever. It's kind of all cliche what they have to say, for the most part, whereas I think folk still has originality to it. I think the scene in Providence--the way the artists have blended a lot of different genres and the songs they have written I think have kind of a new sound to them... it has kind of a freshness to it that accompanies the creation of a new musical genre or subgenre.

audio recording

Monday, March 30, 2009

Deena Weinstein's Digging the Music: Proud Pariahs

I thought Weinstein's chapter gave great and in depth insight into the culture not only of the metal fans but also of the music itself. What I found most interesting about her article was the relationship between females and the music and, for that matter, with other members of this musical youth culture. Women were either viewed as objects of males or as "just one of the guys," adapting many of the style choices and attitudes of male metal fans. This might not be surprising considering that metal seems to have become intrinsically tied to masculinity. There seem to be very few instances, at least at the time this was written, that women were able to have a creative role in this scene and actually be subjects.

Discussion question: Since a similar issue with females' participation in scenes has come up before (especially during our I <3 Hip-Hop in Morocco discussion), can anyone suggest what steps should be taken to change this social norm, if indeed it should be changed?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Where Hipsters Go to Dance: A Night at a Folk Rock Show

Three friends and I arrive at the intersection which was described in an email one of them received earlier that week. We pass by the bar on the corner and knock on the door next to it. A large, somewhat-frightening man opens the door, ushering us inside quickly so that he can close it. We’re in near darkness as he asks us for a donation and ID’s if we’re drinking. After explaining that we won’t be drinking that night, we each give him two dollars and wander up a few flights of stairs until we arrive at the third floor. The stairwell opens up to a hallway filled with people. We eventually navigate towards a door we’ve seen a few people walking in and out of, and upon entering we notice a crowd of people surrounding the area where a band is setting up—we’ve found the site of the night’s show.

We came to see Deer Tick, a folk rock band hailing from Providence who decided to play a secret show in their hometown while in the midst of their semi-national tour. Though it’s already almost ten on a Wednesday night, the show has yet to start and there are still three acts to go before Deer Tick will take the stage.

While we wait for the first band to play, I take note of my surroundings. For whatever reason, tonight seems to have a mustache theme, with a giant mustache sign which reads “The Magical Mustache Machine” hanging on the wall a few feet away from a mustache kissing booth. A few people walking around are even wearing fake mustaches. Perhaps this reflects the mustache’s position as an ironic symbol of hipsterdom; perhaps these people are just avid facial hair enthusiasts. I was left with little time to ponder the back story of these quirky decorations, though, for within a few minutes of our arrival the first band of the night began playing.

The mustache theme was never explained.

The Gambees introduced themselves as “a high school band,” an unsurprising fact considering that most of the crowd seemed to be made up of sixteen to eighteen year-olds. A few older people (between the ages of 18 and about 24) hung around the outskirts of the crowd, allowing the younger kids to dance, smoke, and drink their hearts out to the band’s bluesy rock.

The second band, Brokedown Serenade, was somewhat similar to the first, though they were much more danceable and featured not only a female lead singer but also a female lead guitarist. While some of the crowd formed a small mosh pit in front of the area of the room designated as the stage, reveling in the band’s upbeat songs, others were less than enthused with the rough sound and kept calling out for the next band.

At the same time as this juxtaposition of opposing opinions was occurring, the crowd was beginning to change over from high school kids to an older, more “hipster” group. This crowd was marked by a prevalence of facial hair for the men (including beards, long sideburns, and, of course, mustaches); trendy haircuts for the girls (such as short pixie cuts, bobs, or side-swept bangs); and flannel clothing, tight jeans, and leather boots for both. Though they would never admit it, they all seemed to put some value into the subcultural capital of fashion; having been to shows with similar crowds before, I myself wore skinny jeans and a keffiyeh I borrowed from my roommate (I left a note on the door that said “borrowed your hipster scarf—will return with it later”) in order to fit in. The two kids wearing baggy jeans and Sean John t-shirts clearly seemed out of place, and I’m fairly sure they left just an hour or two into the show.

Flannel dominates.

Besides similarity in dress, I noticed that while the crowd was split pretty evenly between men and women it was almost exclusively white and, I’m assuming, middle to upper-middle class. This could be due to the fact that much of the crowd seemed to be drawn from Providence suburbs and colleges, both of which are predominantly white, but I wondered whether there was some deeper reason. In my experience, nearly all of the folk bands I’ve seen have been made up of white members, which could correlate with having white fans; however, most of these folk bands have had some association with artists influenced by blues, a genre often associated with African-Americans, at least in its beginnings. While the cause of the racial homogeneity may be unexplainable, it might reflect the possibility that the music does not appeal to other races in the same way as it does to whites. However, this seems like an unsatisfactory answer considering what happened during the sets of the next two acts, Chris Paddock and Deer Tick.

Chris Paddock, a short skinny guy with a funny mustache, took to the stage with just an acoustic guitar and began playing songs that sounded like punk played with a folk style. Some songs were funny, others were romantic, others insightful. Many people in the crowd seemed to be already familiar with his work, and I overheard someone mention that he had written one of Deer Tick’s most popular songs, “These Old Shoes.” The intended listener seemed surprised, but their shock could not come close to what I felt when, midway through his first song, Paddock began playing part of “Juicy” by Notorious B.I.G., which is not only my favorite hip-hop song but also one of my favorite songs ever written. At first I thought it was unusual to pair folk and hip-hop, two genres that seem quite opposite, but upon further reflection I realized that it’s not such an odd pairing: both genres have a heavy focus on lyrics and use the music as a way to get their message across. The music itself may be different, but the basic ideals are the same.

By the time Deer Tick took to the stage, the crowd had become restless. The room was filled nearly to capacity as people stood on amps and tables just to get a better view of the band. From the first song onward it was obvious that the band played much harder live than on their album, which is both quieter and folksier. The band, along with many males in the crowd, had ripped off their shirts by the time the second song began. Everyone was dancing—everyone—and most people were singing along to every word. If I could describe the whole event in one word it would be “passionate.” Even with the intensity and emotion of the lyrics of their songs, the band still maintained an air of fun. For their finale, they brought Paddock on stage and played “La Bamba,” followed by “Juicy” in its entirety (though, admittedly, a few lines were forgotten), as well as a final song that I was unfamiliar with. When the show ended, friends were invited to stay while everyone else had to “leave strategically” so as to not draw attention to the place. We wandered out the same way we came in, and as we left the man at the door asked us not to loiter around the entrance but instead move at least a block away if we wanted to stand around and talk. As it was cold and past 1 a.m., we simply walked home.

Photos courtesy of Dani Lopez Goicochea.

(Word Count: 1234)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hayes' "Fear of (and Fascination with) a Black Planet"

Hayes' article deals mostly with "relocation of rap by white non-urban youth," focusing on a mostly-white suburban town outside of Toronto. In the article's introduction, Hayes asks, "Who has the right to decide what rap looks and sounds like? Is it a specifically African-American form, impermeable to change, or is it up for grabs, a tabula rasa onto which anyone may inscribe his or her own desires, frustrations, fantasies of mobility and other concerns connected to one's specific place in the world?" This question seems to overshadow most of his article, but it is unclear whether a singular answer exists. Hayes seems to suggest that for both white suburban rap fans and black urban youths rap is inextricable from the notion of it being authentic black culture. The white fans who have little to no experience with urban settings seem to associate "authentic black culture" with what they hear in gangster rap songs--urban violence, crime, poverty, etc. They perceive rappers who ignore these “authentic” things as "sell-outs," even when their success has taken these artists out of poor urban areas and allowed them to live in huge mansions in Beverly Hills. What stood out most to me was how important perceptions of race seemed to be in rap music, whereas arguably "whiter" genres such as punk, classic rock, pop, and metal do not seem to be associated with a particular race nearly as much. Though rap music does still seem to have strong ties to race, Hayes seems to promote the idea that these associations, especially those that equate rap with urban violence, do not need to proliferate; however, he feels that they can be beneficial if people use rap music as a way to interact humanely with people of other races that they might not normally interact with and continue to break the racial barrier that still exists in our society.

Discussion question: Do you think that rap will continue to be dominated by black artists and listeners, or in the future will we see much more involvement by other races (especially white), like what has happened in rock music? Do you think white people might "take over" rap, leaving African-Americans to again create a new type of ground-breaking music that will exceedingly gain popularity?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Duncombe's "A Club of Our Own"

In this chapter from Duncombe's Notes from the Underground, Duncombe discusses how zines were vital to both individualistic and communicative aspects of punk culture. He noted that though most zines were produced by individuals, they often took in articles, art, letters, or advertisements from other people or music venues. By doing so, he claimed that they were creating "a new, albeit virtual, community of friends [the zinesters] can feel connected to" (47). This community helped connect the widely dispersed mini-Bohemias, those which were often not only in big cities but also in small towns. The article also discussed the importance of zines in the Riot Grrrl movement; zines allowed girls to write their own histories, write what's on their mind, write things that other girls should hear. Instead of continuing the typical role of consumer, these people are becoming producers, creating their own content to share and exchange with each other.

Discussion question: Though people still continue to make zines (check out your local record store), they seem to be losing relevance as people use blogs such as this as their outlet to the world. How do blogs compare to zines? What are some of the advantages/disadvantes?