Home » Columns » Do Androids Dream of Drum Machines?

Do Androids Dream of Drum Machines?

August 3, 2013 9:54 am by: Category: Columns, God Kiss'd The Anarchist 7 Comments

 anarchist

I am a relatively old man prone to not so relative old man rants. I can wax geriatric about bands like Grizzly Bear, Beirut, and These New Puritans and how their music actively upsets me and how this is all Radiohead’s fault because they somehow decided to masturbate their way through their career after 1997, convincing young people that constipated rock is way cooler than actual rock, which makes me want to play The Wedding Present’s “Take Me!” at an obnoxious volume, because this is indie music and not your skinny-jeans version of indie, and that your social media is ridiculous and your entire generation is going to digital hell.

No. I don’t actually say all those things. My heart, which is always drunk and doesn’t know what it’s actually saying, tends to still believe that Beirut, et al are a joke, but my brain knows better. Intellectually, I’m aware that pop music history is an ongoing journey where the images in the rearview mirror inevitably recede to the horizon and the place that came before keeps changing until it doesn’t really matter anymore. The Wedding Present may sound lame to 70s punks, who may seem lame to fans of The New York Dolls and The Stooges, which may sound lame to fans of The Velvet Underground. We can’t even go back to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones as our ground zero because they bastardized Chuck Berry, who learned from Johnnie Johnson, who was influenced by Muddy Waters, who co-opted the authentic chanting of plantation workers in the South for the mainstream. So I guess slavery is the true original rock n’ roll.

Where was I?

Oh yeah: I’m old. Not really Lacoste-shirt-tucked-in-khaki-pants old, but more like I-can’t-believe-4AD-is-carrying-Bon-fucking-Iver kind of old. While my heart may hate a lot of these new artists, my brain doesn’t deny their right to exist because somewhere in its innermost folds where tolerance resides, it assumes that the kids must be right. The kids are always right.

My heart is also confused as hell. Right now, it’s infatuated by the new EDM-infused Pinoy indie scene, with its dream-pop soul dressed up in synth-pop and dance-pop garb. I like Outerhope, Eyedress, Love in Athens, Skymarines, and even Moonwlk (whose new album I recently reviewed for this website), which has no traces of shoegaze whatsoever.

Eyedress

Eyedress

Yet, this infatuation feels strangely empty.

I officially became a teenager in 1991, “the year punk broke,” according to that Nirvana-led concert documentary, and grew consciousness during the grunge and metal era as an adolescent who hated grunge and metal. I was a new wave kid, so I gravitated more towards indie and shoegaze, while all of my friends liked noise and sludge. Two decades later, with hipsters rendering noise and sludge obsolete, I should feel more at home. But I don’t.

Electronica has become so widespread that I can’t keep up anymore; it’s like I woke up and found myself in an alternate 1980s, where Biff Tannen has become a millionaire and synth-pop knows all the secrets of the future. Everything looks familiar but feels strange.

Not only is time travel easier these days; it’s become the norm. Old and new music are consumed the same way, through the same technologies, and now co-exist in the same era – Depeche Mode and Chvrches; Mark Kozelek and Kurt Vile live together forever in the internet. In the Pinoy indie universe, however, time is less fluid and more linear, constantly moving forward, with the past left behind and reduced to a mirage in the scene’s rearview mirror. We don’t have torrents of the entire discography of Bad Days For Mary, or Feet Like Fins, or Tribal Fish or even a music journalism tradition that canonizes these bands, the way the U.S. music press immortalized otherwise forgotten pioneers like the Minutemen and Mission of Burma. Our local scene still exists in a music limbo, the fraying influences of the Eraserheads and Rivermaya notwithstanding, and everyone works from a clean slate.

This is fine, of course, because we import all our drawing materials from the west anyway; materials that have increasingly become sleeker, more hi-tech, and more user-friendly. I’m sure there are still kids out there churning out noise in garages, with their crude guitar effects and drums that sound like tin cans, but there are probably even more of them cooped up in their bedrooms with their laptops and drum machines, making bleeps and bloops and new vocal filters, each hazier than the next. I guess the spirit is still very much punk, only with the steely edges softened by blankets and pillows (I think I just coined a new stupid label: “bedroom punk”).

And they sound fantastic. Remember how shitty those 80s Pinoy punk recordings were? Today’s indie “bands” are as polished as fucking Air and Radio Dept. It’s absolutely mind-blowing that start-up bands can sound amazing right away and it’s also kind of disappointing. The whole indie amateurish charm is now gone, and they try to make up for its loss by consciously trying to affect a lo-fi sound to music that, by definition, should sound perfect, which is like Starbucks maintaining a chalkboard menu to maintain a tiny-coffee-shop vibe that no one’s buying anyway.

The indie sound is now a simulation, which I’m not sure is necessarily a bad thing, especially since it was bound to happen all along. But it leaves me cold. It’s easier to appreciate the facsimile if you weren’t around to see the original copy, time, and context. But if you’ve been around long enough to witness the process of dilution, the norm will inevitably seem strange. This may sound like the height of snobbery and angry-old-man crankiness, but it’s just an outcome as natural as today’s music trends. It’s also a sensation as fake as the notion of music purity itself.

Club 8

Club 8

Skymarines – one of the few new tolerable local indie artists doing electronica, synth-wave, chillwave, electrogaze, or whatever the hell they call it these days – recently did a cover of Club 8’s “Baby I’m Not Sure If This Is Love”, which I, predictably, found a bit disappointing. I thought they sapped the song of all its sugary warmth, and propped up an icy spectre in its stead. Of course I was clinging to this thought, sitting on my high horse, conveniently forgetting that I was once heartbroken by Club 8’s full embrace of electronica in Spring Came, Rain Fell, which I thought was a betrayal of their brilliant twee pop in Nouvelle. And of course I always thought that it was still a cheap version of The Field Mice circa “Emma’s House”, which I long considered as the paragon of indie prettiness, but that was before I heard “London Weekend” by Another Sunny Day. But I’ll stop right now because it’s really getting old.

Comments (7)

  • F. Maria

    Hey Alex! Long time listener, first time caller. Regarding the whole idea of bedroom punk, the point is a little lost on me (on an ideological level, I mean). Not literally the bedroom punk joke, but the idea that indie rock (by virtue of the punk assholes before it) has a license to suck whether by lack of skill or utterly shit recordings. Disclaimer: I am about to rant about something your article just reminded me of. Let me just rant about production.

    “…and they sound fantastic.”

    I kind of have a bias toward the idea that punk rock (and indie) should be progressive. The whole lo-fi/DIY approach to recording is wholly aesthetic at this point save for instance if the bands/artists recording are shit poor and don’t know anyone they could borrow gear from (or plead to record with). Whereas your article points to the loss of amateurish charm in indie rock in terms of form (with “better” production value), I’d like to think it just shows how sterile many of these acts actually are. Raw is in the writing. The production either stifles it or lets it shine through. Godcity Studios/Deathwish Inc., Amphetamine Reptile, Steve Austin/Today is the Day etc all prove that point.

    We’re at a point where making relatively “better” music has never been easier (software is easy to pirate, information is also quite free) but people stick to the idea that it’s okay to sound like shit because it’s an easy way to stay cool and not have to work very hard. The Twisted Red Cross tapes from the 80s might not be to today’s tastes but I’d say they were recorded quite well for their time and punk as a form hasn’t blossomed yet as it did from the late 80s to the early 90s with the advent of post-hardcore if you’re wondering where the “shittiness” comes from. Listening to half the bands mentioned on this site, I’m not entirely confident in the state of music in the country from a production standpoint.

    Yes, we have synth acts a dime a dozen now. Their production sounds like shit. But hey, they can get away with it because certain standards don’t apply to people “doing it for themselves.” Like okay, have the cute wispy vocals somewhere in the mix. No one will ever notice how the bass drum is fucking clipping or how no one bothers to tame unwanted resonance/frequencies in their mixes. I mean shit, do they bother to master the shit even? For a generation spent indoors/on the internet, you would’ve figured someone would’ve gotten their sound straightened out. It’s not like they don’t even have a point of reference. The most popular acts in that approximate auditory spectrum are really well produced regardless if they’re “gritty” or “lo-fi”. Then again, the kids might not be entirely aware of what sounding like shit is and the critics might not be doing their job by telling them the production sucks but that’s a different story.

    Spazzkid is on the top of that list by far. Very organic, but also a very full/fulfilling listen that doesn’t get in the way of the actual writing. Nights of Rizal has pretty good production value as well. Mark comes from a really strong punk background. After years of working under the Cocolulu moniker, Mark changed his artist name to Spazzkid. Literally a kid who happens to be a Spazz fan (his words). Migi of Nights of Rizal/Kereta probably has one of the most minimal live electro setups I’ve seen. One laptop, that’s it. Not even a controller. He’s self taught, too. Bottom line is, there is no excuse except if you’re doing it on purpose. It pisses me off further to think that this is a high point in the quality of Philippine production. Active, yes. Good sounding, no. Spazzkid could be as polished as Air or the Radio Dept. I can’t think of much else. Either you have ears like Migi’s or could learn and adapt like Mark did.

    The punks either got old or lazy and could for one reason or another no longer afford to spend time or money on their music. With the social demographic taken in by most of indie rock, I have yet to find an excuse to let something you’re supposed to care about (in this case, your music) go down the shitter.

    Whatever, I’m talking out of my ass at 3:00am.

    • Alex Almario

      Hey man, thanks for the comment. These are fascinating stuff, especially coming from someone who’s part of the scene and know what’s going on musically. I agree that some of these acts do have lazy production and you’re definitely more qualified to pinpoint the exact areas where they screw up. Like you said, I think writing is the key. Production doesn’t really bother me that much, especially in the case of electronica, where the holes might not be as apparent to untrained ears like mine. I think what I’m looking for more is a kind of energy that comes with all those shiny new sounds.

      The reason I bring up all those shitty punk recordings is that they had great energy. I know that sounds cliche and a billion books about punk have already mentioned it, but the punk ethic, at least to me, is all about honesty. It sounded great because it was the sound of freedom, of catharsis. But here’s the thing: punk (especially hardcore) became really stale in the 80s because everyone sounded the same and began to adhere to a formula, which was so anti-punk. The honesty was gone and it became all about trying to sound a certain way. I’m afraid your current scene is dangerously close to reaching that point. And your “have the cute wispy vocals somewhere in the mix” comment makes me think you feel the same way.

      Anyway, thanks for your insights. We wish more local artists would voice out their opinions here and critique the critics for a change.

      • F. Maria

        Sorry for the word vomit, but I really do enjoy conversations in any way related to punk and the idea of community. The subject is close to my heart and has been since I was much younger.

        Anyway, certain sounds are bound to be celebrated in their respective cultural pockets, so a worst case scenario involving rehashed cultural caricatures is bound to take place sooner or later. It happened to punk, it happened to DCHC, it WILL happen here.

        Back in the 80s however, you DID have bands who pushed the envelope as far as punk was concerned (maybe not in this country but whatevs, some local bands might’ve tried) and with bands that took punk rock out of context (Mission of Burma, Sonic Youth, Husker Du) to bands from the hardcore scene who built and rebuilt the definition of punk itself by way of post-hardcore (Fugazi, Moss Icon, just about all of Dischord). This continued all throughout the 90s.

        The musical topography of the punk scene is somewhat skewed. For some reason, punk in the Philippines seemed to stay close to more straightfoward forms. Youth crew, powerviolence, crust punk, grindcore, etc. That grew and through several shifts in hardcore trends, we’re left with jaded positive hardcore kids sticking to their well-worn guns and a bunch of meatheads who don’t know who the fuck Motmot Matibag or Mic Nuestro are. Singapore and Malaysia caught whiff of the more angular stuff and I guess more of our neighbors took to the challenge of less-conventional hardcore with early bands such as The Jhai-Alai etc. Of course we had people who listened to these kinds of bands out here but I guess the environment wasn’t suited to the noise bands of the sort were making. The context wasn’t ripe for the mindset that comes with that sound. Maybe it was the subject matter? Maybe it was the challenge of breaking apart with an auditory spectrum people stuck with because of its culturally empowering familiarity? Economic disparity in the ASEAN region? DID EVERYONE JUST HATE SCREAMO/POST-HARDCORE FOR THE PAST 15 YEARS?

        As for the “my scene” thing, I really don’t identify with this whole “Pinoy EDM” scene and if I wasn’t on Number Line I don’t think anyone would lump me in there either. I’ve only ever been in hardcore punk and I can’t play guitar well enough to play instruments in a live band so all of my solo shit is rotting in a hard drive somewhere. I’ve been pretending to be the Sisters of Mercy since I was 16 apart from the hardcore bands I played in back in Davao. Okay, maybe I wanted to be Bobby Wratten at age 18 while in the previously stated hardcore bands but that’s besides the point. That’s where I come from. A punk kid who got into electronica in the 90s (by way of Atari Teenage Riot, the Chemical Brothers, Orbital, etc) and new wave/post-punk and hardcore in his teens.

        The blogosphere has an interesting way of making mountains out of molehills and the fact that no one has ever mentioned my involvement with the hardcore scene (I’m not hard to find) in any Athens-related text just makes it appear that people are more interested in farming the country for Chaz Bundick b-sides instead of showing their readership WHY anyone should be taking local music seriously.

        Whereas I do enjoy this site and revel in how active Filipino music is (albeit with shit production a lot of the time), I do think the whole passive hypebeast “Listen to this shit because it’s local/cool/dreamy/catchphrase!” thing it seems to promote (at least that’s my impression carried over from Vandals’ previous incarnation, with the exception of you) is in a position where it may do more harm than good by praising form instead of substance and product over process/context. I perceive this as a reflection of what today’s musical climate might be like for most.

        • Alex Almario

          Attitudes towards music have completely changed. The idea of “indie”, “alternative”, “underground” or whatever, have always operated within the punk and post-punk tradition, which is an amorphous thing to point out to begin with, but you just know it when you hear it. People like you know it when they hear it. Every single “indie” movement has always been an offshoot of post punk: new wave, 80s synth-pop, c86, Madchester, shoegaze, grunge, britpop, even the late 90s electronica that you mention, your Orbital and Aphex Twin, all come from a punk tradition. Hell, even alt-country like The New Pornographers and Uncle Tupelo come from a punk background.

          But 2010s (whatever you call this decade) electronica is really the first non-mainstream movement that has absolutely no links to punk whatsoever. And this makes sense if you consider that there is no “non-mainstream” anymore, nor is there a “movement”. All we have is the loose, convenient, lazy anarchy (oh how punk! just kidding) of the internet.

          And it makes sense that EDM is the big thing now. Most of these “indie” kids were all listening to Beyonce and the Pussycat Dolls just a few years ago before they heard about Death Cab For Cutie in The O.C. and The Shins in Garden State and became hipsters overnight and these people multiplied by the millions because they discovered an ear-friendly kind of “underground” they could relate to, which brings us to now where there’s really no “indie” anymore and hipsters embrace Kanye and Justin Timberlake and Carly Rae Jepsen, not because they’re being ironic or anti-ironic, but because this is precisely the kind of music they were listening to before they downloaded the entire discography of The Smiths from isohunt.com.

          So I really understand where you’re coming from. People would accuse someone of snobbery if one were to point to the old days when you really have to burrow your way through the wilderness just to discover bands like Felt and Stereolab and Shelleyan Orphan (or in your case Bad Brains and Minor Threat and…sorry, not that well-versed in DC hardcore). But I’d like to think that that’s some sort of badge of honor, still. It just wasn’t easy then. There wasn’t youtube that could point you to “related artists” or wikipedia where you can learn everything about a band in an instant. There was a love you developed then from saving all your lunch money for a tape or a three-month old issue of Alternative Press or staying up until 1 in the morning to watch 120 minutes on MTV or wasting hours of your life trying to put together mixtapes from your friends’ other mixtapes. Everything’s just so insanely EASY now and this ease, this laziness is something you can actually hear from today’s music: the lack of sweat of palpable pain and love. There’s just too much cool, that it’s starting to actually sound more cold, like sub-zero cold.

          That’s what we lost when we cut off all links to punk. And I’m sorry, because just when I thought I was done sounding like a grumpy old man, here I go again.

          About this site, I can’t speak for everyone here, but I think its function as a bulletin board for new releases will always be there and is, at least to me, important. If it’s chronicling a scene that I just described above, so be it. It has no choice but to tell people what’s out there. However, as it transitions from a blog to a full-blown website, the site has incorporated more forums for opinion; like the reviews section and the individual columns. I can only speak for my column, which I hope would be thoughtful, fair, and also honest.

          Anway, thanks for the word vomit. This exchange has been really enlightening.

          • F. Maria

            Well, in that case, I’m glad to have spoken with you. Others should too. I’m liking this version of the site a lot better.

  • KLMBRNG

    The lawn. Get off it.

    http://i633.photobucket.com/albums/uu57/sharistuff/McCainPhoto.jpg

    • F. Maria

      HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAA

Leave a Comment

scroll to top