Wait a moment. I may need your help to understand.
I know that what I am about to writing will expose me to the accuse of being a grumpy old man (at best). Too grown up to understand the new generations. Fair enough. Let me tell you where my skepticism comes from, first.
I have been following most of rock music scene of the last decade (and before) with few exceptions. One is Nu-Metal (never into the “old” as well), the other being Emo. This is not a conscious choice, nevertheless it is choice.
To fill up my curiosity, I opted to go, check (and shoot) Alkaline Trio. They came all the way from chilly Chicago to catch up the snow in UK.
Once at the venue I realize I could be the father of 90% of the teenagers present. Which is a scary statement on its own.
The 10% left were the real dads who came with their sons. Some with the pretence of protecting them from the “Emo screams” about drug, depression and death. Few more, worse, pretending they are still young enough to drink a pint and experience the show together.
I felt involved personally, professionally and psychologically with the situation.
Professionally because I wanted to fill my emo ignorance gap. It is useless to highlight that my profession is miles away from the music industry. Details, I am also a music photographer in the end.
Personally, I was on my own and I wanted a night out. They were playing close so, why not?
Well, because it was freezing? Because I had to work at a million of other pictures? Because I need to clean up the house and also need some quality sleep? Details, I needed something fresh photo to put online. Excuse.
Psychologically? Question is always there…do I go to teens’ concerts because I can’t accept to enjoy music sitting comfortably on a sofa watching Sky art? Details. Blame me if you think The Queen live at Milton Keynes can be remotely interesting.
I went, me and my cameras, at least 15 years away from having a son frequenting a rock concert.
I photographed the first three songs, then stepped back and stayed until the end to listen to “the show”. I always have the hope something interesting can happen sooner or later. Tonight it did, but in a different way.
Walking out, back in the freezing cold, I found myself repeating the “frustrated dads invective” that goes something like: “When I was young, you don’t know what I was listening…and bla bla bla”
I am convinced I have good reason. Follow me.
Alkaline Trio are a trio from Chicago. They are emo. This imply black dresses, black logos, black eyeliner.
Emo as music genre, a friend few months ago explained to me, is a mixture of harsh guitar and relentless drums kindly offered by the hardcore scene (already blossoming a quarter of a century ago) mixed with EMOtional lyrics about love, desperation, misery and all those things affecting one youngster in two when they are between 15 and 20.
Instead of the masculinity and the rants of primal hardcore, the short, direct, radical songs are here fullfilled with deep meaning.
Hang on a minute.
If these are the bases, Rites of Spring, Minor Threat in the eighties, Fugazi in the nineties, together with 80% of Dischord production, have been Emo for two decades without knowing their name.
I have a look online in search of more info: “…emo is a direct descendant of hardcore’s preoccupations with authenticity and anti-commercialism; it grew out of the conviction that commercially oriented music was too artificial and calculated to express any genuine emotion…”
Erm, even worse.
Dischord (just to name one) was and still is one of the most radical label in the world. Producing and distributing every record without any sort of help by the “capitalist” side of the musical distribution. Low prices, from the producer to the listener. Uncompromising in any passage. Dischord is pivotal of Hardcore scene of Washington DC.
“This is a potentially huge market” some clever CEO from a record major must have pointed out at a company brainstorming.
That was the end. The moment this philosophy got named: emo (short for emotional), it became a commercial trend (and brand). The first generation of emo bands, which didn’t know to be called like that, naturally dissolved.
Fugazi stopped recording music exactly a minute before the entire emo phenomenon exploded in all its pop facet. Coincidence doesn’t exist.
Todays biggest emo acts occupy the glossy pop-magazines and fill arenas. The majors’ machine works well and each major label has on their catalogue a bestselling EMO band.
Jimmy Eat the World are with Interscope (Universal).
My Chemical Romance with Warner
Fall Out Boy on Island.
Alkaline Trio are with Epic (Sony).
The scene is ready for the contradiction that generates my grumpy-old-man rant.
How to be at the same time inspired to hardcore philosophy, publish with Sony, and remain convincing to fans? (The basis of alternative music).
An easy answer could be found in a contortionist’s exercise that genius marketing have created.
But it is not only that. Their creative department would have never appealed to a hardcore (literally) fan.
It is the fragility and the lack of knowledge of the ones receiving the message that allow the message to be accepted without seeing the incongruence.
Those kids around me are in the middle of adolescence hormonal unbalance, true, but it has happened to teens any era since the industrial revolution.
Why out of the entire punk-hardcore philosophy, of all the ideas and impulses that moved rock music (and society) a step ahead, the only left is just the outburst of energy arising from hormonal unbalance?
Because today’s teenager (I advised you were going to think I am an old man!) has no notion of the “anti”-culture at the bases of the birth of this music (and social awareness). So anaware of what anarchism, anti-capitalism, selling-out is to completely miss the point.
It’s not a perception, you can see them. From the make-up to the digital cameras. How they are seduced by the friends’ new i-phone. They go to “punk-hardcore” concert in O2 sponsored venues e-mailing with a blackberry during the songs.
They don’t remotely imagine where this music was originally played, who was following it and why?
Time and society has erased these notions as well as the historic sound of hardcore. So visceral, so inflexible.
Everyone is so unaware that it can now be outrageously flipped upside down, infiltrated of pop chorus by this emo stars and become so fake to break into MTV pop market. Nevertheless it sells.
I wanted a test. I asked the audience at the end of the concert about Guy Picciotto or Ian McKaye. Then about Fugazi, Minor Threat and Rites of Spring? The answer unanimously: “We never heard of them, great gig ain’t it?
I am the outsider.
On a black stage three guys attempt a corporate-punk-rock show with black eyeliner, tattoos and a skull hanging out a flipped star on the bass drum.
Empty songs hidden behind a harsh guitar sound. A powerful drum to impress without being impressive.
Alkaline Trio don’t lack the skill to play hardcore punk (not a great deal, though), they lack the commitment. The devotion that was everything.
They don’t give the impression to care about their music more than a banker of going to his branch every morning. They are not sympathetic with their fans as individuals. They care about their fans as customers. They sell the album the T-Shirts and the ticket from the stage as a shop assistant sells you a pair of trousers. $+$+$. They care about money.
So do the managers, the major label, the magazines, the venues and even O2 who sponsors the venue to sell more i-phones to its guests. Circle squared.
In front of the stage those unaware kids. Dancing their hormones out, videoing the songs on the newest gadget to show-off their (virtual) facebook friends how cool was the night, “shame on you didn’t come”. Digital jealousy.
Is it me or this is the most strident contrast ever appeared into the alternative rock scene?
A reactionary revolution. The final crash between what a movement was supposed to be and how it has been screwed up.
Activism is dead for the lack of participants. The principles of activism hijacked by consumerism into a pop phenomenon that transfers money into CEOs pockets.
Punk-rock new stars are built up buy businessmen in fake meeting rooms. Fans are middle class posh teenagers unaware of anything.
My Chemical Romance are nothing different than Take That. Alkaline Trio are just the equivalent of Maroon 5 for the miserable.
The results are in front of your eyes. Depression, recession. Crunch, crash.
Before I get too depressed myself, I appeal to Ian McKaye.
Please mate, leave the Evens to history, bring Fugazi back to life.
It is the moment, not only because Washington DC has a new inhabitant that comes from Alkaline Trio‘s city.
It’s the moment because the world isn’t sustaining this system anymore.
Time to show these emo kids the real power of music as my grandmother showed me the flavor of real pasta.
Not that plastic, tasteless microwaveable blob.
From a photographic point of view I hate the microphone. A microphone covering the face of the singer or casting its shadow onto him is the cause of at least half of the pictures I reject from each concert set. A huge waste for such a small object!
I can tolerate a singer that detach it from the pole and bring it around. I don’t know why but that retain a sort of acceptable shape to my composition aesthetic, but a microphone hanging on its pole it is the singer instrument but the photographer’s nightmare. Just a nuisance of no interest.
Assuming asking the band to not use it is impossible, to avoid it I devised some useful tricks.
The most important is to keep an ear on the song. A key tip for concert photography.
When a singer doesn’t have to sing, moves away from the mic, especially if he plays some other instrument. Knowing the song, or just following the song structure, helps to know when is the right moment to leave the bass player in peace and jump back on the frontman.
The other suggestion is to move aside from the front as much as you can, don’t jump on stage, though! If you are on a side, unless you are photographing Liam Gallagher the singer is often detached enough by the mic to have his face free.
On a “don’t do that” aspect, focusing on the mic to be prepared to shot is not advised. You’ll click when he/she moves away far enough to give an out-of-focus shot.
Sometimes instead it is useful to put a wider angle lens on and shoot without looking in the viewfinder sticking out the camera closer to the artist (and away from the mic). The new digital SLR with live view option will definitely bring some fresh air to concert photography, allowing new (controlled) alternative angles…and more photographers will be kicked out of the pit by the security for being too intrusive. Be cautious!