Between Spooky's Sound Unbound, Kode9's Sonic Warfare, and both Wax Poetics anthologies, the last few weeks have seen me reading more pseudo-intellectual garbage on the topic of post-modern music than I think healthy. But, as an aspiring psuedo-intellectual myself, I can't help but bring you my thoughts on DJ Shadow's recent essay concerning the post-everything musical landscape of 2010.

To recap: Shadow thinks financial success, the oft-ignored dynamo of all artistic production, is near-impossible in a world where the public has supplanted the record label with itself, via the internet.

Paradoxically, the rise of MTV and the major labels in the 1990s obscured the basic fact that something concrete, be it fame, fortune or fucking, must always motivate production. Sony, UMG and others took the idea of patronage to the extreme, repulsing those who sought music for the very intangible pleasure of listening. We forgot that money and art go hand-in-hand.

Inspired by lofty ideals like 'liberation' and anti-consumerism (and let's not forget the ever-present impulse to get something for nothing), we recklessly moved to free music from the 'evil' shackles of commodification. We shifted seat of power from corporate label to internet jury. Lemme hear you say / fight the power.

But in doing so, society has critically damaged the very foundation of the arts. Shadow calls the internet age "passionless, listless, hollowed-out," alluding to a Bradburian world where art reduces to vapid shock-value. There's no money, nothing concrete, at the base of this new pyramid. It's all just mastication. The labels, with all their interesting characters, cutthroat politics and, yes, glaring flaws, were infinitely more capable of fueling artistry than the bland 'internet community.' Sure, they may been self-interested and malintentioned, but at least they were invested.


Alex said...

Shadow claims the age of the internet is "passionless, listless, hollowed-out," yet this produces some interesting results. The dark world of dubstep, particularly burial's music, is, I think, indicative of this. Artists are ever reflecting their times, and burial's music is full of a haunting emptiness, a white noise at the edge of our comprehension, that produces beauty out of nothingness.

Nick said...

That's very well put. It's interesting that if there's one person I would put on the same dingy, post-apocalyptic plane as Burial it would have to be Shadow himself. The big difference, of course, is his emphasis on sampling to achieve that mood. He gives us modern reinterpretations of the past, still clinging to the passion in those old soul/funk recordings...maybe that's one of his motives: to bring forward the contrast between old soulful samples and his relatively sterile, modern production.
So Shadow himself might agree when you say 'haunting emptiness' can be beautiful in its own right. Still, we might be concerned that things (i.e. the zeitgeist, art) have moved in that direction. What's taking the passion and intimacy out of music? The internet seems a likely culprit.