two articles i came across the same day struck me and made a connection of sorts. pitchfork media, in a review of a collection by the "shoegazer" band slowdive, asked, "is this what we're doing now: packing up the 90's for posterity? and why should finality be a grave?"
i can understand this reaction. for one reason, it hardly seems like the 90's have been gone for very long. and yet, as each decade turns, the media races to define it and put a distance between the present and the past. the aim, whether conscious or not, seems to be to reduce a period of time to a few hollow signifiers, pre-fabricated for sound-bites and the inevitable marketing campaigns that rise up when everything old can be new again. but of course, as the article allows, "some reappraisal is necessary", and i agree. this can introduce artists and sounds to audiences that missed them the first time around, because generally, the window of opportunity to discover music is fairly small. but the effect of it being a re-appraisal is an automatic assessment that it is in fact "dead." this is like freezing a certain state of development, after which there can be influence and replication, but no further growth.
as this was rattling around in my head, by chance i found an old post on the excellent contemporary music blog beepsnort that asks, is experimental music today really experimental?. echoing my thoughts on the pitchfork article, the writer paraphrases an old prediction that "a dead end would be reached in experimentalism and that musical styles would freeze".
if this is the case, we've brought this on ourselves with our willingness to build steel walls between genres and eras of music. i can understand the need for names of different types of music, in order to point people towards something they might be interested in. but these days, each genre and micro-genre springs up so easily and completely, with a whole set of cultural rules to be followed. you can almost imagine the retrospective magazine articles, the documentary, and the digitally-remastered box set from the moment a freshly-coined term becomes common knowledge in any musical community. even more tragically, there doesn't seem to be a lot of difference between some of these styles, much less the artists that rigidly follow them, adding to the cookie-cutter musical releases that litter the musical landscape.
further compounding the problem of lack of real growth is our post-post-post-modern culture. to paraphrase one of the best lines in ghost world, we live in a mental space where things are so new, they've swung all the way around back to old. for many, the excitement over new approaches has been worn out and replaced by the expectation of such discoveries. we're left with the sensation, as the beepsnort article suggests, that "the experiments have all been performed."
going back to the first article, one way out of this quagmire is buried between the lines of praise: "these days we all know that, in the end, slowdive were hardly shoegazers at all. that didn't stop them from recording some of the classics of the genre, but still: there's something in this work -- from the earliest singles to the beyond-rock of their last album -- that's just singularly theirs, something that's made them as influential to today's electronic music artists (or, hell, to goths) as they have been for rock kids."
the people who make really special music aren't concerned about what genre they fit into, they just make the music. the most innovative of these end up coming up with something truly new, or at the very least something that turns an old trick on its head and makes it seem fresh.
the title of this post comes from a song inspired by slowdive on the excellent blue skied an' clear tribute compilation released by morr music.