The actual warriors are those honest-to-goodness, true-blooded Real Musicians. Right?
Musicians suck. They’re terrible people with a mean streak. They’re sanctimonious, self-aggrandising pricks prone to relentless bullying, with not so much as a fleck of guilt on their conscience. It’s angst stemming from sadness that stems, quite often, from failure/ineptitude. Pointless, misdirected angst. In India, the victims of that rage usually range from their mothers, event organisers, audiences, the government. And, particularly and excessively, DJs and all electronic musicians — the laptop army. Those poor fellows are bullied and belittled and dismissed and rubbished all the time. I have done it. You have done it. We all have. Let’s not even pretend otherwise.
These DJ types can have all the money they want, all the success and accompanying fame. All the groupies. The coolness and the attention. Maybe even something resembling actual happiness. They can invest lakhs of rupees in buying equipment and work their bottoms off to understand the nuances of sound, production, mixing, and scratching (both head and vinyl) and become better at their craft. They can headline Sunburn and that other new festival that happens at the same time at the same place three years in a row. But they shall never get the respect they crave more than anything else. They’ll never get our approval.
It’s unfortunate, really. On the face of it, DJs totally deserve it. All they really do, at a supposedly live gig, is press the spacebar key and then press it again when the song is over. They put glow-in-the-dark stickers on their MacBooks because, hey, they’re really cool. And they wear sunglasses in the dark and generally act like the messiah doing us a favour by ‘playing’ their ‘music’ for us. Bah.
But posturing is only part of the reason why DJs and electronic musicians are flatly told that what they do is not music but an elaborate fraud, by a small but very vocal community of musicians and rockists and jaded fuddy-duddies. I have a theory why. It goes something like this: a large percentage of musicians are anti-technology, resistant to any sort of change. They suffer from deep-rooted persecution and a fear that change will eventually make their existence obsolete. (That’s why you still have blues bands. They sing about the pain and suffering that accompanies the process of jailbreaking an iPhone.) It’s a small outburst symptomatic of a larger fear — that robots will one day rule the world. But the insecurities are cleverly masked under irrational and distracting chatter about Authenticity.
Look at the guitar. It hasn’t changed in like a thousand years. The classic Fender models still look exactly like they did half a century ago, same with the Gibsons and all the other major, popular companies. You probably have respected scientists holed up in stuffy rooms researching ways to improve the quality of belt loops on a pair of pants, so how does the guitar not evolve? Any deviation from the status quo — like, for instance, those hideous guitars that don’t have a headstock so the tuning keys are hidden somewhere at the back and that connect digitally — is shouted down and rejected or treated like some ironic sort of novelty. People will spend thousands of dollars on ‘Vintage’ guitars and ‘Vintage’ pedals (because that’s where it’s at, man). The older the piano, the bigger your head will swell with pride and glee. The drum set has gotten bigger, but there has really been very little innovation in the way that your ‘classic’ instruments are set up. Any and all technology is eyed with a paranoid suspicion.
I was recently watching this very interesting documentary, called Sound City, about an iconic studio shutting down. It was made by Dave Grohl — ah, Dave Grohl, the voice of all that is virtuous and holy and rock ‘n’ roll, fighting the good fight. An entire section of the film was dedicated to how the shift from analogue recording to digital recording was a terrible thing because music lost so much of its charm, so much of its soul. Old farts whining about simpler times.
Because of course digital audio has no soul, but analogue audio — especially stuff recorded on tape using Real Instruments played by Real Musicians over and over again until they get it right — has so much soul. Why finish a job in an hour when you can spend three days doing the same thing repeatedly, while at the same time banging your head against the huge analogue recording console which has all those faders and all those wires. And all that soul.
Photo Credit: Paulo Guereta from Såo Paulo (Expomusic2014)
If you can distance yourself from it, it’s actually a ridiculous point of view, about the frivolity of the digital age. That it’s somehow impure just because it’s easier and newer. The anger that DJs and electronic producers face is, at the end of the day, an argument that is an extension of this dated notion of ‘hard work’ and ‘paying your dues’, without which you’re not a real musician.
These rockist tendencies, that condescending disregard of the form, is indicative of a subtle kind of elitist totalitarianism in art. It’s not as widespread as the early 20th century, sure, but it does seem like a more restrained and less widespread callback to the arguments made by the classicists in response to the irreverence of modernist music, which challenged many of the supposedly sacrosanct parameters defining what music could or could not do. (Let’s spend some time talking about Andy Warhol. Or not.)
I agree that a lot of digitally processed music lacks the depth that, in strictly my own not very original opinion, the ‘human element’ brings to live music. It can be mimicked, and sort of replicated, but replacing it altogether seems a stretch. So electronic music, for ears that can tell the difference, can potentially come with its limitations. And DJs do stretch the limitations of decency by just existing and doing what they do. It’s infuriating, but that’s OK. All this writer is suggesting is we steer clear of absolutism and what is or is not music. It’s all music, often total shit, but nevertheless.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com
By Akhil Sood
Cover Photo Credit: Barber Cristian – Courtesy of Red Light Management, Wikimedia Commons