Nowadays, from politics to art reviews, there is a change on the general approach to produce media content.
It is probably driven by the ‘Like’ generation, born in need of social (networks) recognition. It is easy to browse the internet, it is easy to get the general mood and it is easy, less risky and much simpler to feed the ‘trending’ mood with appropriate food instead of putting together a personal opinion. Lazy times of a lazy era.
Society moved from giving ideas to people (in the case of politicians) or opinions (in the case of journalists) towards a situation where the tactic has been U-turned.
The politician goes online, seeks what are people demands and puts those demands in a list of his or her electoral campaign promises.
The music reviewer (I’ll stuck to the topic of this blog) follows the right hashtag on Twitter, perceives the buzz around an artist or an album release, and writes the review appropriately. It will be succesful, it will be approved, it will get ‘likes’ and will be ‘retweeted’.
The latest and louder example is My Bloody Valentine first album in twenty(two) years. It came out on a saturday night. The most faithful fans in a generation rushed to listen to and instantly it looked it was ‘approved’. The whole internet sprang in excitement most reviewers waited for this sign and review the album accordingly.
It’s a safe mechanism. It fills the need of recognition of the reader because, especially today, we all want to be right, we all want to be able to say… “you see? I told you it was great”. The self-confidence thermometer goes up.
Some time ago I read that when we read books that offer a kind of help, from “raising your child” to “dealing with your weight”, we tend to agree with the ones telling us to do what we would have done anyway. On the contrary, we reject and criticize as bullshit all the ones that offer an alternative that it is less pleasing to our radicated opinion.
Does your baby love to suck a dummy? You’ll love the books saying dummy is the greatest invention since the wheel and reject the ones suggesting dummy are not doing good to the future of his teeth.
Back to music. The solution that reviewers, journos and editors would not tell you, is to ignore the reviews. Simple and not crazy at all.
If music criticism made perfect sense in a word where access to music was either a matter of getting to the record shop and spending money to buy a LP or to spend afternoons on the radio hoping your favourite station aired that song, since 2005 (yes, youtube did not exist before that year) you can listen to the music you need before and without reading a single word about it. Try.
All music is promptly available online, really everything. If the debate on the audio quality is open and well worth, the music is still there, free for everyone with a web access. Get your personal opinion.
What’s that irresistible urge to read someone’s opinion to know if an album is good or not instead or straight listen to the album and decide for yourself? I tell you, it’s fear. Fear to be different, fear to be left out of a community we feel to belong if we disagree.
The future of professional music criticism is as open as that of professional music photographers.
The horizon ahead is dark the increase of offer overwhelming the demand makes life hard. This is why journalists, newspapers, webzines have to be very careful before disappointing their public (which is their customer and the customer of their advs).
The safest way is to give readers the content they want to read. With easy access to the general opinion it’s straightforward. Call it the hashtag revolution.
The downward spiral I see is that music magazines and music journalists are becoming predictable and readers select the ones who will satisfy their opinions. Controversy is a rare luxury.
Too often I predict albums’ mark without listening a single note of the record, just knowing which webzine or paper.
If it is Scandinavian synth pop it’d be a great one to The Line Of Best Fit, if it is a Brooklyn Collective it would be Best New Music for Pitchfork, if it is electro beat it’s gonna be a Quietus pick.
And yes, when it comes to My Bloody Valentine it’s going to be awesome for the entire blogsphere, as much as the next Coldplay or Mumford and Sons would be slated regardless.
Dinosaur Jr don’t seem to care, which is one of the reasons why I care of them.
They lead and stormed the American college underground scene at the end of the eighties to come to the natural unpleasant end that generally followed as soon as their music got closer to mainstream. J Mascis broke up with Lou Barlow, they departed, the first kept the name, the second put together that great thing A.K.A. Sebadoh. You know the whole story.
Dinosaur Jr 1.0 happened to be in the second half of the 80s, 1985 to Bug, out in 1988.
Dinosaur Jr 2.0 reunited to the general surprise with the original J Mascis, Lou Barlow, Murph line up in 2005. I though it was a one off thing and I rushed to the Forum in London to see one of those early come back shows. I remember I brought my film camera (without having a photopass) and after an argument with the security guy that consider it too professional compared to the digitals around. (still the cameraphone was a unknown gadget) and confiscated my Contax. I enjoyed the gig and got the camera back with only a couple of frames. My camera got its revenge and shot Dinosaur Jr at Koko a couple of year after that.
I was very wrong. Since then Dinosaur Jr recorded a first new album, Beyond, then a second, Farm, and latest is last year I Bet On Sky. Three LPs in phase 1 now matched by three in phase 2.
As if 17 years (and 17 million bands and 17 million records) never passed, Dinosaurs’ world didn’t change. It’s still about layers of loud guitars, visceral bass lines and thundering drumming. J Mascis indulges in guitar solos and riffs as good as they have never been. One of the few guys in the circus that can solo without looking a wanker. Something considered “classic rock”. And Classic rock indeed it is, in the positive meaning of ‘classic’. Not old and out of time, but immortal and destined to stay.
My third (or fourth, can’t remember) Dinosaur Jr show since the reunion is at the Electric Ballroom. It follows the amazing solo album by J Mascis, Several Shades of Why, that peaked high in my list of best of 2011 albums.
Reinvigorated by that melodic and intimate experience, with Lou Barlow who had some time to play few Sebadoh dates, I Bet The Sky came out late last year. And it is a hell of a record.
It’s 100% Dinosaur Jr but it sounds plenty of ideas and in the end of great, fresch songs.
It has one of their best songs ever, Watch The Corner. It doesn’t happen often to find a memorable riff. If anything, I would have come to Camden Town just to listen to that song live. With the endless solo at the end it was worth all the journey.
There was more, though. Murph is in incredible form and Lou Barlow at his most cheerful peak. J Mascis guitar suck all is nerd’s ego which culminates wildly in a storming rendition of their famous cover of Cure‘s Just Like Heaven.
Mosh pit was wild as you’d expect. Many teenage surfcrowders followed the solos while the thirty something nostalgics built the right waves.
Dinosaur Jr are one of the very few bands that joined two generations of fans and managed to keep unite the reviewers. That is why they also are the only band I can think of to have recorded three good albums since the comeback.
One of the most iconic venues in London. Few steps away from Camden Town tube station, I can’t even recall how many gigs I covered at the Electric Ballroom.
By heart on my film days, No Age, Soulsavers or the very early days of The Horrors then more recently White Denim, Thurston Moore or the amazing and so much missed Girls, on digital.
It is roughly made of three main zones. One, just after the entrance, has a bar, a merchandise stand, an old flipper that I don’t think works anymore. There’s no view to the stage so it’s quiet during the show. The large rectangular area, wooden floored, has the stage at the end. A classy balcony with some red sofas and retro lights maintain a laid back attitude for the ones who go to gigs on a guest-list and don’t care as much about the music but to be noticed. They chat, network and drink during the show waiting for the aftershow party when they’ll go to the changing room to tell the band how great it was a gig they haven’t listened to a single song.
More relevant to concert photographers are the bits about the pit and the stage.
Yes, there is a pit. Get there early if it is busy to not fight to get through the crowd. There is also a ‘secret’ shortcut going up to the balcony then down past the bar, walk outside in the smoking area and then inside again. A bit of a maze, but it is useful to get out after the three songs if you need a fast edit and can’t stay for the whole show.
The stage is very high, one of the highest in London for a venue of this size. Not the best thing to photograph a band, which is usually very close to the edge. Most photos suffer of the tilted framing which is pretty much unavoidable unless you are a basketball player or you raise your arms and liveview. (If you do, please be sensitive to the other photographer and be careful your camera doesn’t get in the way).
Lights, I’ll never stop saying, lighting it is not a venue thing but a band’s demand. If you get to a place that is a bit bigger than a pub backroom any venue could lit the stage up. I managed to get some good shots here so I don’t complain. It is a pretty standard situation.
The security is generally friendly and will let you stay after the three songs slot with your photopass if you want to see the show.
This exxcluding the guy that, at this Dinosaur Jr gig, was in need to show his (only) power and pretended to stand at the centre of the stage. The only passage available (to about 12 photographers) to take some shots without the monitors in the way. Irritating, yet it’s concert photographer’s life. To complain is useless, we got to make the best of harsh situations. We know, we always do.