The Strange Resonance of Chloe Lum's Requiem For a Scene

"I've been in bands since I was 17 and I'm now 34. My self image is that of a jammer. A scroungy jammer. If I don't have a band and don't play shows, am I still a jammer? If not a jammer then where do I fit in?"

That's a quote from Chloe Lum's recent piece about her time in Montreal trio AIDS Wolf, titled "On the End of an Era," which has stuck with me since I read it a couple weeks back. It's already been dissected by other publications and blogs, and she's not the first person to question whether devoting a good chunk of your life to playing in a band is worth it. Still, I found myself revisiting it, her words rattling around in my brain like one of those plastic balls you put a hamster in.

I suppose it struck a chord because the era she's talking about, especially the early Aughts, is one I feel intense kinship with. AIDS Wolf is a band I saw several times. They were a difficult, noisy band that made up their own genres, like "abstract rock." Lum approaches the piece in stages, reconstructed stages of grief, and touches on every high and low a band could have: playing empty rooms, playing for the indifferent, finding like-minded fans and bands, struggling to make a living off your art and, as a female singer, dealing with harassment. One passage in particular hit me square:

"We were getting older and so were our friends and what's marginal at 20-something becomes much more so at 30-something or 40-something. But beyond many of our cohorts moving on, there were significant changes in what was deemed 'underground,' what could get booked where and under what circumstances. It seemed a bunch of 30-somethings in an extended van full of big amps and a loud as hell P.A. had become an anachronism."

In the days after its publication, I noticed the article was being shared quite a bit by musicians I knew in Dallas and Austin, acts who had spent just as many years getting in the van, possibly playing to no one. Some relished the non-attention they'd gotten, and found it only strengthened their music.Those bands I endured sweaty basements and dingy clubs to see, the bands that challenged and engaged a decade ago, well, none of them are around anymore.

Is the Internet the underground now? You can certainly shape your image more easily, as bands increasingly find different ways to market and and share their music, without the help of a major label or invisible PR hand.There is a stratum of the Internet where the challenging and experimental can flourish, and there are a handful of labels and blogs catering to that set. Another telling passage:

"All of the sudden bands doing ads for soft drink companies or department stores were considered 'underground.' So where did this leave the actual underground, the one that couldn't sell cars/soda/computers even if it wanted to?"

This isn't meant to be a "let's save the underground" screed. That movement happens naturally. If muscle memory serves right, we're due for another wave soon, maybe via the musicians who were inspired by a band like AIDS Wolf. And that underground will look completely different.

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Maybe a lil bitter
Maybe a lil bitter

 There are all kinds of levels to this. I've beenthinking about this same thing. If people like to get together and play music that’sgreat. Some of those people like to play music in bars where they hang out tothe people who hang out in those bars. On the other hand there were the bands who try to tour in the national scene. Most of this seems to come from thepost-hardcore scene of the mid-90 where kids in their late teens would formbands and tour in scenes. I did that. I played music from 15-34. I moved to NYC in 1994 and toured that scene. Then you had the scenes that had thosesame kinds of people grow up and create underground music in bars, ala DC and Seattle.I use to live in DC and saw how Delta 72 or Jonathan Fire Eater of Fugazi changed and evolved their tastes and music from the emo/hardcore they originally startedmaking, or in the case of JFE, ska. Post-grunge post-hardcore became either Garage rock or Indie.  Now a day it seems like the upper middleclass early 20 something’s are the only ones forming bands who have theresources to crossover into that "underground" of doing commercials.MGMT, Arcade Fire, Death Cab for Cutie, etc... All were getting degrees in niceschools. The indie verse is music made by these placid, boring people. And thatis what the beardos yuppie hipsters dig. That or whatever the equal up andcoming equivalent is. So, people who all look like they are out of an Apple adlisten to that music. Some of them go see their friends bands play in the localbars they hang out in. And sometimes, their friend’s band gets to open forthose cool indie bands. The national "scene" was born of thepost-hardcore scene. The only remnants is the dirty dude filled scene are the"garage" bands from In the Red and Goner, which are so flippant andvacuous as to act as if they are on purpose, like they are in on some insidejoke. They can tour in scenes where dudes who can afford ironic or sailor jerry tats can see them. People do not go to bars to see  bands anymore. People do not go out as much anymore. They get their fix on facebook or youtube. Or they move to Austin or Brooklyn and become bartenders because they got too many tattoos. Being 30 plus and trying to get people who hang out at their local and their friends to like you is a beating. Plus yr old because most of them are in their mid-20's and yr music is irrelevant because of whatever trend thats going around that makes it irrelevant. No laptop, not ripping off the the black lips enough etc... There will never be another scenario like it was ever again. Video games have firmly replaced the need. Studies show that kids are delaying their drivers licenses because of the social outlet they get from xbox. The mesh of live nation and ticket master and the monopoly of itunes have destroyed the industry as much or more than file sharing. I can go on. But I won't. Gotta mow the grass and finish my degree which I luckily started in 2007 when I started to see this huge shift. Get certified in a tech program at yr local community college. Cheap and effective way to be relevant in this new economy. Then you can buy the new records made by the children of the boring people you have become. Have fun out there playing music for yourself and your friends. That's the only honorable way to reflect on why your playing your music


 Very bitter indeed! Though there are many valid points of this post, being the changes in the "music industry" that can be seemingly self destructive, its only destructive to the way the whole system worked prior. I'm not an advocating for whatever new bands are coming up with, but wouldn't you say that all of the points you made about a regressing culture (i.e from the commercials to video games) could be just a clouding of what the vanguard of today actually is? Isn't that one of the main goals of alienated youth is to outsmart us "older" people? :)

Its all evolution, I've noticed that one revolt of the whole online pirating is bands accepting this fact and selling physical copies that are at a fair price since directly from the band, and express DIY ethics more than ever with releases and shows. You could argue that this could be a whole poser paradox in itself, but the fact that these small scenes are based off of very positive values and can function. If anything, the internet should be viewed as a tool to find bands to your taste and realize how there cant be a dull era due to the fact that there is ALWAYS so much going on around the world, that or you're too lazy to look and get pessimistic about the whole damn thing (look at all of those nostalgic comments on youtube that say "why aren't there bands like this anymore?" "what happened to music?" "music sucks now", and they're usually written by 14 year olds who just learned about Mr. Bungle from their rebellious uncles)

And that brings me to Chloe's article, that made me think a whole lot about things. One of them being sad about AW disbanding, from Lovers LP that I remember playing non stop when it came out, to MVBAG that I only got in the mail a couple months ago (and everything in between) It has all been a very great listening experience. A band that you really have to self interpret the expression and motive, either gets you off and makes your brain swell or sounds like complete and utter garbage, in my case they evoked a whole world of imagery. That and seeing them live a few times (nearly playing with them on a couple occasions) made them a very well respected band in my book.

When she stated her motives, a joke/experiment, it makes me wonder what she expected the outcome of being in such a challenging band would be after almost a decade of existence would be. I mean, I never felt like the industry was pushing away any of the bands I was in. I knew and realized that things were evolving where I lived and could mean that getting gigs would be harder. I was always in bands for my self, honestly could care less if we played out or released anything. Things get more and more selfish as you get into sub-sub-sub-genres or challenging music vs pop and what you see on commercials, because instead of being a scene pleaser its only done to please/express yourself.

Suppose I just don't see why things would automatically change as an era ends, or even state it as an end to an era. Kids will always suffer through highschool and feel the need to express. What is the most relevant and accessible shouldn't be seen as representative of a whole generation. Be optimistic for those kids dude!


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