21 November 2007

Denver Music Matters

No, Denver is not the next Seattle, because no place is, but damn, saying it gets people talking. Really, it's an impossible task to analyze a scene and call it about to become national. But people sure get excited thinking about the possibility.

I have friends who moved their band to Seattle in 1986 and everybody was like, Seattle? Why Seattle? When one of my friends moved back to Kentucky a couple years later he said it was a surprise to see people wearing t-shirts of one of his favorite old "local bands" in Seattle, Mudhoney. (Fun little article here about an earlier sparsely attended Lexington Mudhoney show at Babylon Babylon.) I gather it really wasn't obvious then that Seattle was about to become what it did.

I've heard a number of different people who listen to Denver's local music and have been listening here for a while say that it feels like something special is going on here right now. And that's very cool. The Denver artists I consistently make the effort to see perform, I really truly love. What gets me out there is that when I listen, I feel like it matters. It sounds sophomoric opining to say it, but when you first hear music that matters, the world is irretrievably changed. It feels extraordinary. It feels great. And you never want it to end.

So when all these people living in Denver who listen to the music talk and write about it, word travels. Denver gets some looks and listens from people who don't live here, people looking for good music. They listen and hear excellent music being crafted here and they also get excited. There are always discerning music listeners who will search the best stuff out, and then there are those who are always looking for stuff they can package and sell. Some people do happen to be both. We could make a Venn diagram showing the little intersection of quality music and marketable music. There's overlap, definitely, but don't forget the two attributes are not correlative.

The only other thing that gets people as agitated as bandying about "the next Seattle" is saying there is such a thing as "the Denver Sound." I think even people who say it know better. There are so many people creating so many different sounds in Denver that one person couldn't keep up with it all (though I know a couple who make a good effort at it) much less have it contained in one descriptor. For instance, some of the many Denver bands I love to see like Porlolo, Cowboy Curse, Bright Channel, Tarmints, Nathan & Stephen, Overcasters, Bela Karoli, Munly & the Lee Lewis Harlots, George & Caplin, Bad Weather California, just to name a very few, don't sound anything like the others. There are circles that cooperate and collaborate with each other, but they can not honestly be grouped into one.

I understand the marketing value of being reductive, but when it comes to a music scene, it positively makes me cringe to hear about a place having one sound. What happens is that it starves everything and everyone that doesn't fit in the "sound" by feeding that and those which does. When the grunge wave got to tidal proportions there were many other talented Seattle artists who didn't sound like the others who were left cold in its shadow. Not to mention some who gained the most distance from the wave only ended up drowning in it.

Even so, no place can be the next Seattle for a number of reasons. One, it was unique, but also things are not like they were in the 80s. The music industry is just not like it was 20 years ago. I can't imagine major labels have many bulging suitcases of money to hand out for the "next big thing" because, I think, there really isn't going to be a "next big thing" more than there are going to be more a number of " next pretty big things to this group or that group sort of things."

My unsolicited advice: If you are in a position to be wringing your hands over whether you want major label attention or not, keep sight on what you are making your music for in the first place. If you want to make money running a music-making business, think about bringing someone in who knows how to run music-making businesses to help you. If you want to make music and definitely don't want to make a business out if it, don't. But either way you must pay attention to the music first, the incidentals last. That's the only way any of it will continue to matter.

1 comment:

Claudia said...

Great piece Linda.

I get a little stuck on this: if art is about communication, then somewhere in the mix is the number of people you communicate to. I would think it would matter to a band.

But as you said, I guess it depends on why you are doing music in the first place.