Don't Criticise. Don't Analyse. Just Sell.
A non-staged publicity shot.
The response from you negative/critical creeps has been pretty interesting over the last 6 months as we've delved into the meat packing district of Australian music industry criticism. We've tackled some of your stock standard cornerstones of the Australian music bizz, and the comments sections' have not only taken a blow out across the board, but they have moreover displayed the in-depth and often constructively critical opinions that you lot have regarding Australian music and the powers at play in our industry.
Some people have written essays as long or longer than the articles themselves.
Others have given completely opposing and equally valid opinions to mine, Jonny's, or Rav's.
And others are just plain stupid — @TNA.
Point being, it's clear that a lot of people care about the state of things and, as such; why aren't there more streams of criticism out there given that the state of things is pretty fuckin woeful?
This isn't suggesting that there isn't great music in this country as there definitely is, what it's meant to highlight is that the highly publicised music in this country which flies under banners like 'indie' or 'alternative' etc etc. is for the most part painfully mediocre, and more importantly with regard to the theme of this article - it largely exists exempt from criticism. In this writer's opinion all this serves to do is perpetuate a cycle within the music industry that is focussed on replication rather than innovation, and complacency rather than creativity.
For example, if we are to focus on two of the biggest Australian bands doing the rounds at the moment — Art Vs Science and Boy & Bear. Honestly, is there any artistic validity to either of these acts when you really think about it? It's not even a question of taste. You put on the 'highly acclaimed' Boy & Bear album Moonfire (which I sat through for PoA review purposes but couldn't be arsed putting pen to paper in the end), and if you have ever listened to either of the first two Fleet Foxes albums you can't really deny that what you're hearing with Boy & Bear is nothing more than a watered down version of the original. The voice is uncannily similar, but where these tunes are really amazing is in the lyric — "I promise you when the time does come, we'll be down the river with my loaded gun".
Whaley: What's that got to with anything you've ever experienced in your life? Nothing really, right?
Boy: The Americana/pastoral/Marcus Mumford/old muskets/folk thing is huge right now and I just really believe in it. I just really love akookstic instruments.
Bear: Playing the banjo is a way of life and it's just about taking on these characters in our songs and really understanding what it's like to hunt rabbits in a river full of milk and sticks whilst waiting for a cup o' soup on the feeding line you know?
Whaley: Sure. You'd look weird in a river holding a gun I reckon.
So yeah, pretty terrible record with no eye for originality. Just a couple of dudes in waistcoats with some chords and some ripped off feelings. But hold on, this record has been nominated for the amp prize, the J award, it's just won 200 arias; my ears mustn't work.
Nah mate, my ears work fine.
The problem is that for the most part this industry of ours is not really listening to records such as this one and basing their judgements solely on the music, they are instead handing out awards based on the word of the majority and on the publicity machines behind these bands that will ensure their prominence in the undiscerning music fan's eye for the next record cycle to come.
It would hence seem that this whole notion has been lost somewhere in this country: An award given out for 'Best Album' should be given to the best album, not to the one that the most fans have called up and requested throughout the year, or to the one that has received the most publicity due to marketing spend.
In discussing this it's hard not to look at Triple J's role in contributing towards this problem of flattery without constructive criticism and analysis, given the enormous part they play in the industry, and in this case it can be done so by looking at a recent interview Richard Kingsmill gave that pretty much served as a response to our recent Triple J Unearthed bashing. He talks about being part of a team and about his desire to further develop and enrich Australian culture through fulfilling Triple J's brief as part of the ABC.
"Australian culture is just such a huge part of everything that runs through the ABC".
I 100% agree that this should be Triple J's role, and if it was what they were indeed doing then I would have absolutely no problem with it. However, this is simply not the case. If you take their role in enriching Australian music culture to mean that they make music programming decisions based on the opinions of those who can be bothered calling the request line or voting in the Hottest 100 then this is the case. If you take it to mean that their role should be in making decisions based upon artistic merit across a range of genres, then they most certainly are not fulfilling this and Richard Kingsmill is testament to this in himself.
Kingsmill's personal top 10 album poll for 2011 included killer albums from, Total Control, Jay Z & Kanye, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, SBTRKT, and Wilco, which suggests that the man has decent taste. However, J play stats for bands like Total control and Wilco are absolutely through the floor compared to your Art Vs Science's and Eskimo Joe's etc. Why is this the case given that the head programmer loves Total Control and artists like Jack Ladder, and as such it'd be pretty safe to assume that he thinks AVS's Bumblebee ain't one of the best songs ever put on wax? It is the case because programming decisions are based on public opinion and not on decisions made by those who are actively seeking to simply develop and embrace quality music.
Fair enough you might say. It's a public/government station and hence the public voice should be heard and heeded. Yeah sure. However, this should not be done by completely neglecting quality control, as is the case currently, and as such acting to the detriment of Australian music culture, especially when your supposed overriding goal and the guise under which you operate is to uphold this and build upon it. Furthermore, isn't this the exact function of commercial radio, to rotate songs based entirely upon popularity?
How can it really be argued that quality control is out the window in terms of Triple J programming really? And that the voice really being heard is that of the super requesting public and not that of the 'team' who's goal is to develop Australian music culture? Just look at Zan Rowe's top 10 2010 album poll list below and then tell me that she gets up in the morning and can't wait to go to work and play some Boy & Bear:
- Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
- LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
- Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
- Wavves - King Of The Beach
- Tame Impala - Innerspeaker
- Sufjan Stevens - The Age Of Adz
- Eddy Current Suppression Ring - Rush To Relax
- Gold Panda - Lucky Shiner
- Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
- Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me
It would be naive to say that Triple J should not listen to the voice of the public with regard to programming decisions. However, it's not foolish to say that they should not be basing their programming decisions purely on this, and that these decisions should be first and foremost made on the basis of artistic integrity and in line with what will indeed push and further enrich the quality of Australian music, and in this writer's opinion, Richard Kingsmill could not look someone in the eye given the quality of his personal music taste, and honestly say that the majority of frankly embarrassing Australian bands that hit high rotation on Triple J are indeed living up to this ethos.
This issue does not start and end with Triple J though, it's prevalent throughout much of the music covering media in this country. You only need to look as far as the street press down at your local pub to find a picture of that legend from Eskimo Joe on the cover. Then turn inside and you'll find a glowing article about the Eski boys and how they're rockin' around the country promoting their new single called, Mashalia oh no I spilled red wine down my silk scarf and now I'm crying like the sea.
Notice how none of these bands rarely tour overseas? Can you imagine Eskimo Tony playing at the Bowery Ballroom in New York the night before Deerhunter and the night after Drake? Nope.
Before you close the magazine though be sure to flick back a few pages to the full page Eskimo advert for their new single/tour and then let the penny drop. The front page spread, the glowing article, and the review are all in the magazine based on the ad spend the band and/or their label have made in the publication. Don't for one second let yourself believe that the interviewer actually likes Eskimo Joe. Obviously there are occasions where these magazines et. have articles on good bands or bands they actually like, however the point is that they are not discerning. If you've got the bucks behind you, you can buy yourself the front cover and pretty much write the article yourself.
The list could go on all day, but the point has been made. So many people would say that this is naive, this is a business. Nah, fuck you. Don't write something, play something, or get right up there behind something under a headline saying, 'we love this', when in reality you are either being paid to like it or promote it, or you are simply being an indecisively weak filter for the majority's voice in a side of the industry that instead requires people of power to be foresightful, constructively critical, and to stand by their convictions.
It's common to read out there on the interweb that the peeps at Polaroids of Androids are a negative bunch of Sydney lovin' hipsters who just really wanna to boof Royal Headache, but that just ain't the truth. We love bands like Royal Headache because they make great music and we hate on bands like Art Vs Science because they're shit, and we've been dismissed by the industry as negative pricks because we are and always will be willing to do so.