We don’t have any real friends: Money vs Art

I’ve been trying for the last decade to explain the problem of money vs art, or audience vs product and that bastard Aaron Funk as well as creating some amazing music during that time nails it in ONE interview:.

Fuck that whole game of what music is supposed to be right now. It’s so fucked up even listening to what sounds like people trying to get super good at a video game or something. It doesn’t even sound anything like self-expression, it’s like… I’m awesome within these predefined parameters that are presented to me. Which I guess most artists feel is what’s exciting about a genre. They see a few people doing a similar thing and then everyone just jumps on it and goes, “I’m this now!” It’s like if a bunch of people wore the same fucking outfit from the Gap, you know? What is the difference between that and being awesome at World of Warcraft or something? Not much. It’s almost the same thing if you think about it.

Interviewer: Self-expression seems to be the one thing that drives you, and it’s a hard one to discuss because it is ultimately about you.

Pretty much. And I’ve been doing this my whole life. If only that was how the world worked, people really expressing themselves. It feels quite alienating a lot of the time. Especially when I release something or I have to talk to someone like you and be self-aware that I’m presenting music out into the world, where it’s perceived more in the confines of what I was mentioning, everyone working within the same aesthetic and form as each other.

Why are you expected to be a poser these days? You realise that this idea of the new fashionable thing being the best thing is fed to you by big business, since the days of your grandparents? It’s a business model to sell you units. Or streams or whatever the fuck it is today. Your outlook, this outlook you believe you’ve chosen for yourself, is rooted in nothing more than a business plan. Way to go.

Interviewer: As a writer, my industry doesn’t always fill me with a lot of happy thoughts either.

I bet. That outlook which leaves you believing you’ve formed these ideas for yourself, it’s nothing more than a business plan. And then someone else in that review went on about my stuff being out of style. Someone said it gave them an anxiety spell. Boo hoo! Should music only evoke safe feelings within yourself? I hope your greatest fear is fire and you burn in fire. Fucking insane. And of course music is about more than the sounds contained within it. People are approaching it… they’re not listening to something for what it is, they’re listening to it for “how can this be compatible with my personal views?” They’re listening for what they want to hear rather than what’s being presented to them.

The longtime audience of Radio Clash, the few still clinging onto the sinking life raft would know I always struggled with these things. The problem of product, audience expectation, production ‘values’ driven by gatekeepers of mainstream media and those flogging shiny things, and specifically consumption. Interesting term that, consumption – not only do you consume something so nothing is left, it also eats you up from the inside – an appropriate metaphor for capitalism. It’s how I felt about the podcast after a while, and now mashups – it’s fun to play with media and ‘artistic products’ like pop music, that can be subversive like Adbusters and Negativland and their ilk – the danger is you get caught into that hype cycle, the industry shit, the prison of those values. They become your own. The adage that you become who you mock or pretend to be is very true.

It seems such ideas against money and commodity fetishism (turning everything into a product basically) entering the creative realm are seen as an ivory tower, as about as current as the press and Blairite faceless slithey toves see Jeremy Corbyn, but that doesn’t mean the problem was solved. In fact those artists who don’t see it as an issue, who have swallowed the Serota tendency, the ‘everyone sells out’ rhetoric, the business classes for artists at Goldsmiths – are probably not that good as artists. It’s an eternal conflict, and will ALWAYS contradict, however the soft Tories, centrists abnd marketers spin it. Currently in this world the marketers have won, the social media dream rather than the San Franciso and yippie/hippie utopia has become a nightmare. Money is the root of all evil, but it corrupts subtly, a slow slide into ‘Umm I guess that might be OK?’.

And then you have the gamification of friendships via social media, and all bets are off. As an artist – and I even feel a fraud or get challenged when I say I am, but fuck it, I have an art degree, I create stuff – why should whether it has a price tag define me? – breaking those walls of expectation, genre, mainstream media crap is hard. Even for me it’s hard to listen to music or look at art with absolutely no reference point…in fact the stock in trade of a lot of my work IS cultural reference. But at some point these things become a panopticon, a prison where you are trapped in your own semantic and creative games, watched by the world – more recently social media, the state and corporations. Breaking down those walls with culture and corporate products that helped build them, well it’s probably nigh-on impossible.

A good example of this is Soundcloud – a haven for DJs and mashup/bedroom remixers, it built it’s current position with those people, is now biting them, and even removing their own music. The funny thing is the Woe Is Me cry from the EDM types, the signed DJs and those who looked down on the mashup community, or just too young to know what happened 5-10 years ago – well I did warn you over the last decade or more. Happened again and again, from Napster and Audiogalaxy to Multiply to Rapidshare and those sites and now Soundcloud. They came for the bootleggers first, and I was not a bootlegger…In fact that the wheel is going backwards, with the repeal of the recent frankly mild format-shifting law in the UK despite the said Copyright law amendments (Orphan works and all that) acknowledging the creative vitality of transformative works, sampling, and the fact that ripping CDs was rife anyway.

And while we’re here, as well as those grooming social media with their Keep Up With The Joneses capitalistic humble brags, I have to give a middle finger to their ironic sibling, the false self-deprecation. It’s sadly rife amongst the older mashup/internet set who mock the shiny Instagram avarice of a younger generation (with good reason: I don’t want to see your food or your selfies) but then hypocritically push their own stuff with a ‘It’s not bad’ or ‘It’s shit but here it is’. Here’s a task for you: next time someone does that, agree with them. You’ll see the fur fly, because it’s disingenous, they hate people being open about thinking themselves as having an talent, but actually secretly think they are a god. In these terms, give me the open arrogance anyday, at least you know where you stand. It’s a Tall Poppy syndrome…when these people think their shit smells like, err, poppies…but mock those who given their cheesy bling are being more honest than them.

But in the end of the day, open or otherwise it’s all about chasing that ambulance of value, likes, attention, love, money, success – it all seems like a Children’s Crusade. Completely and utterly pointless, and eventually fatal. It won’t make you happy…it will build you a network of false friends to tweet #hashtag #outrage and push things to though (yes it can apply to the LGBTQ community and politics too, I recently realised much to my depression).

Image credit: Mall culture jakarta36” by Jonathan McIntoshOwn work. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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