"People put too much emphasis on scenes. Just because there happens to be a town with a few really good bands in it, I mean… big deal! It's happened all over the place: in Minneapolis, LA, New York. It's really no big deal. I don't understand this community patriotism that everyone's boasting about in Seattle. They all say 'we finally put Seattle on the map,' but it's like… what map? We had Jimi Hendrix! Heck!" -Kurt Cobain, 1991.
I've been a musician in New York for about ten years. One of the best things about living here is that there are a shit-ton of bands around. Because of this, I don't have to humiliate myself with some phony "scene" affiliation to play a fun show here and there.
I'm so sick of hearing people droning on and on about music scenes. Can't humans just play music without affiliating themselves with a regional or aesthetic "movement?" And critics talk about scenes so much it seems like a pre-condition to playing music. Scene-praising articles are written every week, like this one, where Rolling Stone dubs Nashville the country's "Best Music Scene," justifying the distinction by stating that Jack White, the Kings of Leon, Ke$ha, and Taylor Swift have all moved there for the daytime boozing, fried avocados, and vintage stores that sell skinny jeans. Cool scene, bro.
I obviously see all the positive elements. People come together, bands let other bands open for them, the kids have a place to go. But here are all the things about music scenes that make me want to burn down my local punk house.
EVERYONE'S HAD SEX WITH EACH OTHER
Not counting the celibate fringes of the straight edge community, scenes exist for one reason: for nerds to have sex with each other. Outcasted dinguses who couldn't get laid in high school figure they can boost their bone chances by affiliating themselves with a bunch of other desperate choads, and practice their jiminy-stick-it to a hip soundtrack.
This works at first. But once you're in a scene for more than six months, you've usually exhausted all potential prospects, and it becomes impossible to start a band without remembering the time you and the keyboardist did the horizontal mambo and superglue. Look to Austin and Minneapolis for examples of this phenomena.
99% OF THE BANDS SUCK
…Except for the one band that everyone else is copying. This is because scenes are made up of friends, and no one can ever judge their friends' bands. When you only play for your friends, you end up as a big inside joke with a band name like Brian Porter's Dog. Which brings us to our next point.
Every scene starts the same way: with one good band. Let's call them Band A. Band A does something original, which results in its members attracting individuals to have sex with. When Joe Blow the Concertgoer sees this happening, he thinks to himself "Now there's a good idea! If I play music like Band A, I too will be up to my armpits in pole and hole!"
This results in about three or four bands ripping off Band A, a state that continues for approximately eight months until someone says "Hey! Fuck Band A!" Then that guy picks another band to ape, which is generally the worst of the Band A rip-offs. Once this happens a few times, you've got Band D copying the political views of band B, naming themselves after Band A's rare seven-inches and mimicking their hairstyles, and finally you've got kids born in 1990 singing songs about Reagan.
PUBLICISTS INVENT SCENES TO SELL RECORDS
If you're one of les miserables who receives press releases on a regular basis, you already know what I'm talking about. PR flacks and stringers are always ranting about "the latest export from Vancouver's avant-bleak scene," or how a band comes "thundering out of the basements of the Minneapolis basement scene." I wrote that last one about Gay Beast, and I'm extremely embarrassed, so I know what I'm talking about. Managers and publicists are always looking for ways to present a band's story fully formed, which is why they always throw them into some made up cool kids club.
Every time someone recommends a band to me, it's always something like "yeah, they're cool! They're part of this really neat scrote-wave scene down in Decatur right now. There's a bunch of kids living out of a house and they all throw shows for each other and blah blah blah why did you just fall asleep?" Next time your publicist buddy talks about a scene, ask him what he means: where do the bands play? Are they all friends? Do they release records together? Are they supportive of each other's bands? Your friend won't know what he's talking about and you can feel smart.
YOU WILL BECOME AN ALCOHOLIC
As I said earlier, scenes exist for nerds to have sex with each other. But what happens when you're riddled with venereal disease, you hate all the bands, but you can't leave "the scene" because you've ditched all your other friends?
That's when you turn to alcohol to deal with how boring your life has become. I've seen more monstrously drunk idiots at sceney house parties than almost anywhere else. The scene becomes a systemic network of nihilistic enablers, and you lose a lot of jobs and girlfriends because you keep sleeping through your alarm and smell like whatever local beer you drink.
YOUR KIDS WILL HATE YOU
Anyone who's been involved with a now-dead scene (New York post-punk, Seattle grunge) will constantly tell you that things were better back then, that there was a flash in the pan of the best music ever, and that everything sucks now. It's hard to remember, but you should always keep in mind that there has been a set percentage of idiots on the planet at any given time for the entirety of history: one fourth. That means that nothing was better when you were younger. It's really hard for baby-boomers to remember this, but that doesn't mean you need to fall into the same trap.
SCENES KEEP YOUR BAND UNSUCCESSFUL
Remember how angry all those kids from the Boston suburbs got when Piebald stop playing wussy hardcore and started playing wussy emo? It's sad, but true: Scene affiliation may score you cool points, but it ends up stunting your band's growth as you struggle to conform to the rules and regulations set forth by the local scene elders.
If your band is going to remain cool, it must "stay true to the scene." This means never growing up, and remaining as navel-facing as humanly possible. For example, you are forced to plaster your local town with stickers, but think to yourself: Have you ever seen a successful band with a sticker? I'm not saying that success makes a great band, but I am saying that no band with a sticker in the local coffee shop's crapper has ever become successful. Ever seen an Arcade Fire sticker? Or a fucking Madonna sticker? No, you haven't, but you've seen a shit ton of Outernational! stickers I bet. I rest my case.
Follow Ben on Twitter - @b_shap
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