Let’s play a game. You pick a name and I’ll pick a name. Then you pick a thing to do, it doesn’t matter what it is – this is the la-la world of music writing, don’t let it bring you down that you’re not making sense – and, finally, I’ll pick a place, the more unworldly the better. And when we’re done, we’re going to club it all together, find a group, attribute all of this to them, and call it a review. Got it?
So: “Animal Collective sound like Rosie Banks and Joan of Arc arm-wrestling in the monkey cage.”
See? Fun for the family! Just like Cluedo! Maybe they’ll even pay you!
The alt-culture media are a state. When they’re not dropping names, they’re going up each others’ arses doing long-winded potheaded babble-pieces only other alt-culture media people will read; when they’re not being potheaded they’re being patronising; when they’re not being patronising, they’re being dry till your eyes glaze over, trying to pigeonhole perfectly decent pop records into genres (“a dash of post-funk and psychedelic with a trip-hop touch”, why-o-why) and doing other very boring music journo things that are no good to man or beast.
And that’s just the writing.
Then there’s the fact that the wretches at the helm won’t do any of the other important things they might be expected to do.
To not be reduced to a niche conceit, the pop media need to succeed on three fronts. The first is the reportage, of course: being a source of information, what’s on tonight and where, that sort of thing. Our media certainly do that. So, well done, the media.
The second is to seek out new audiences and new talent in equal measure, and to connect the two. Passively existing on the internet won’t help, the media need to hunt for potential readers who don’t already know what’s going on, but might be interested. Otherwise it’ll be preaching to the converted.
Finally, our writers and editors need to take it upon their collective head to drive tastes and interest by promoting dissent and discussion, by pitting opinions against one another. We do magazines and blogs by the score: and yet, there isn’t a single message board I’ve found with genuine, thriving debate about any angle you choose to come at the Indian pop-world from, either the venues or the groups. A scene in which nobody’s talking and nobody’s arguing is a scene in which omnivorous audiences are swallowing whatever’s dished out, a scene in which nobody cares.
Until the media do all of this, they’re little more than another face of the cosy incestuousness which marks small scenes.
What do the media owe us? The truth, for one. It’s good to know that India isn’t a wasteland; equally, it’s good to also be reminded, now and then, that “alt-culture” is still pretty fucking “alt” and that the woman who comes to do the dishes would probably have never heard of the NH7 Weekender and, what’s more, couldn’t begin to care. And, instead of pointing that white elephant out, every magazine and site you’ll come across will talk about how India’s cities are “rocking”. Bollocks: the last time I looked, the cities were a mess and the bands were broke. What gives?
That some of our cool little bands are very cool indeed cannot be overstated. But the scene continues to be driven by income rather than impetus; it only exists in small, expensive enclaves in about five cities, a sobering thought if ever there was one, and one which restores perspective quickly.
The sort of optimistic distortion our presses go for is the journalistic equivalent of a cheerful quickie; lasting commitment requires a longer, harder look.