Why aren’t I down with the kids anymore?
Over the past couple of days I’ve discovered the musical wonders of a certain Kurt Vile. If it wasn’t for my rather belated embrace of Spotify, I probably would have never listened to a note of his, convinced that he was a snotty post-modern punk playing pre-war German songs. Which, thinking about it, would probably sound quite good. But, I digress. Once upon a time, I’d have heard him, heard about him, and formed a fully-fledged opinion on his oeuvre. What went wrong? Why aren’t I down with the kids anymore?
My first excuse is the decline and fall of the music press. From Christmas 1992 to the end of the decade I bought Melody Maker religiously every Wednesday. I’d pore over the news, features and record reviews and eventually develop a pretty encyclopaedic knowledge of Alternative Music, for want of a better phrase (there must be a better phrase, right?).
Then, Melody Maker went glossy, tried for a more mainstream approach, and died. I tried NME, but found it to be pretty awful. Also, as a staunch Melody Maker loyalist, it felt like treachery buying its rival.
Many of Melody Maker’s staff, along with a former editor, had decamped to the monthly magazine, Uncut. And from the late nineties until a few years ago, that provided by main route to new music. Yet, eventually I tied of yet another feature on Dylan/Young/Springsteen/Beatles, and gave up my subscription.
I tried Plan B magazine. Plan B died. I tried a few American magazines, but they either died (Harp), or were impossible to get hold of (Under the Radar). I pick up the Wire magazine infrequently, which is two parts fascinating to one part infuriating.
The internet is awash with reviews and new music, obviously. But where is the one-stop shop for me? Pitchfork is OK, but I tend to skip the pseudo-intellectual reviews and just look at the ratings. I read a few blogs here and there, but they haven’t filled the gap.
I don’t listen to as much radio as I did in the past. I’ve yet to find a great new music podcast. If I do listen to a music podcast it is likely to be the WFMU old soul and gospel efforts, rather than anything showcasing new and shiny stuff.
Also, so many record shops have closed down. These were always a great place to hear new music and to try something new. Online shopping or downloading just isn’t geared towards finding new discoveries. Spotify is a start, though.
Or maybe, just maybe, I’m just getting old. Maybe I like listening to my old albums, or new albums from old acts I’ve grown up (and old) with. Maybe, deep down, I don’t like the idea of listening to acts ten years younger than me. Maybe they aren’t pitching their act at settled-down guys in their thirties, either.
But I’m not going to give up just yet. However, any pointers would be welcome.
I don’t think I was ever down with the kids but there is a music podcast I really enjoy. NPR’s “All Songs Considered” isn’t exclusively new music, but it covers a range of things. My favourite episodes are the one’s that give the host and regular contributors a chance to sit and discuss selections they have made to meet some preset criterion. It really can be like listening to some entertaining and knowledgeable people who are also friends have a discussion about music. The John Lydon episode was also very entertaining.
Thanks for the suggestion! I used to listen to NPR’s Soundcheck now and again, but will definitely check out All Songs Considered. In fact, I really ought to listen to more NPR stuff generally. This American Life is on my ‘to listen’ list, and I need to catch up with the most recent episodes of Radiolab…
The kids were never down with me so I’m damned if I’m going to try and be down with them 😀
I went through similar stages to you with the magazines. I was the fortunate enough to review gigs and new releases for a few different, smaller rags so even into my late 30s I was still keeping my eye in, as it were. Now I am happy to like what I stumble across (or loathe it – not sure the world really needed a Brandon Flowers solo album, especially when it offers nothing that a Killers album couldn’t have done). 6Music continues to be my only real act of plugging into to the kids as I find it’s like the retro-lovers I knew at university: a great mix of classics from Cash and Dylan and Stones and Byrds etc all the way through Punk, New Wave, Two-Tone, that bit in the 80s when The SMiths were the only antidote to Duran Duran’s coke-fuelled excesses, that bit at the end of the 80s when both acid house and guitar bands struck a chord with so many people, grunge, Britpop (still a cringeworthy term), and on to the seemingly less fertile ground of the last decade. I think there’s a slight resurgence. Record labels no longer have as much power because of losing market share courtesy of internet streaming and all that malarky. Which means bands are sometimes brave enough to stick to their guns at present and make the albums THEY want to make, not what the record company executives pressure them into making. Hence Villagers, Smoke Fairies, Black Mountain, and – oh joy – Belle and Sebastian all bringing out great new albums in recent times.
“Record labels no longer have as much power because of losing market share courtesy of internet streaming and all that malarky.”
Too true. Same could be said for the mainstream music press and radio. I guess what makes the current climate so interesting, is that while it potentially frees up creativity and distribution, it also makes it so overwhelming for the audience. Time was, you listened to Radio 1, read the NME, and got a pretty good perspective on things. Now there is so much out there, with music production and criticism democratised, that it can be hard wading through it all to find the good stuff.
The rewards are there like never before, if you hunt them out. That’s not so great for lazy people like me! Bringing down the ‘filters’ of A&R men and music hacks has its obvious benefits, but I’m not sure it is a complete win-win just yet.