As a fellow part-time hipster, I found a lot to like in William Brafford’s meditation on DIY indie rock and localism:
Here’s the application to politics. DIY never sought to replace the major labels; it just did without them whenever possible. It was in part technology that made DIY possible, especially cheaper home recording equipment, and the independent labels ended up striking distribution deals with larger companies, but it’s the way that DIY created its own definitions of success and integrity that really counts. Similarly, agrarians and localists might not have much immediate hope of dismantling the larger system, but they can and should live with integrity in its shadow, so that the rest of the world can see.
Incidentally, the rise of downloading has put the majors in a tough spot; it’s getting harder and harder to sell a hundred thousand albums. And so the indie business model of ten thousand albums starts to look better and better. Durham’s independent Merge Records had two top-ten albums in 2007 (Spoon’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and The Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible).
I could extend this analogy further, comparing the Internet downloading craze – a development that has left most indie labels intact while the majors crumble – to the impending economic/environmental collapse some localists pine for. Much like our industrial economy after the crash, the mass-market appeal of pop acts is lost in a world of free online distribution. Independent bands’ smaller audiences, on the other hand, wear their tribal loyalties on their sleeves, continuing to fork over cash for shows, LPs, and the occasional t-shirt.
OK, so that’s a pretty silly analogy. But independent music aficionados are, in many respects, the sonic equivalent of home-grown agrarians. As anyone who’s ever been to a local battle of the bands will tell you, a scene is more than music – it’s the satisfaction of experiencing a band’s connection to the audience and the venue. I had the pleasure of seeing Middle Distance Runner live last weekend in Arlington, the band’s proverbial home turf. The music was pretty fantastic, but the group’s affection for the venue really made the show special. It’s tough not to sing along at the top of your lungs when the hometown heroes are having such a great time.
If I was feeling adventurous, I could argue that some of my favorite indie heroes reached the peak of their musical careers when they “sold out” and went corporate, which might suggest that some permutation of localism and the status quo is indeed possible, even desirable. But I’m not that clever, so I’ll leave you with a choice track: