Sound Nation's editor on The Internet, Profile Sites and Viral Marketing
Chances are, you're a member of one or more profile sites. There's Myspace, Friendster, Profilenation and many, many more, each offering slightly different features for its members, but each providing a platform for people to expose themselves and their chosen personalities to the world wide web.
Look through the posing wannabe suicidegirls, the self-pitying teen-angst self-abusers, the millions of emokids and there's a huge, fantastic, marketing opportunity for bands and the underground music industry. Already myspace has a dedicated section for bands to register, and through surfing their pages, it's possible to locate these bands, find out their news, upcoming gigs, links and other friends. Don't be surprised to hear of couples marrying after chatting on myspace after finding each other on the Funeral For A Friend pages...
Seriously though, the internet and its low-level interaction builds up into a huge, powerful and incredibly fast-moving tool for the dissemination of information and the discussion of bands. In the same way that kids from the Seventies to the Nineties had fanzines to talk about their favourite bands and tie their flag to the mast, these days they utilise profile sites and the chat areas in them.
For underground bands, small labels, unsigned acts and low-level promoters, it's an amazing tool, getting information as directly as possible to the people who are most likely to get something from it. But is it becoming just as insidious a marketing tool as Woolworths marketing McFly on kids' TV? Record companies are known to tell their employees and 'street teamers' to go onto chat sites and profile and engage people in conversation about particular bands on their rosters, but too make sure that it doesn't appear like spam or artificial, in order to maintain cool. All these companies realise that word-of-mouth is the coolest thing you can get for their bands, but they are trying to induce word-of-mouth through underhand marketing tactics.
But one thing is true of profile and chat sites - the people who use them see through bullshit and will go their own happy way through the musical landscape the same as they would do if the internet didn't exist: by listening to NME and Kerrang! See, marketing is marketing wherever it comes from, and we always fall for it...
James checks out this year's blinding Welsh Festivals
I've just managed to blag my way into Reading Festival this year, thanks to a very kind press company and my capacity as a journalist of limited standing... First time in four years that I'll have been to the holy grail of UK rock festivals, so I will be sure to pack lots of plastic bottles to fill with piss and throw at the Libertines (Reading Festival tradition which reached its apotheosis in the late 80s with an appearance by Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler - ask your dad).
But here in Wales this summer, there's a veritable cornucopia of homegrown festivals to suit a range of tastes, but I'll keep to the rock / indie / alternative side of things...
Here in the capital there's the annual Big Weekend free festival, with 250,000 people attending over its three days, July 30 - August 1. The middle day is the most auspicious for rock fans (unless the unremitting shitness of Chas n' Dave the previous night is your bag) with The Fun Lovin' Criminals, The Delays, Zoot Woman, Speedway and Cardiff's own loungecore stylists Dynamo Dresden. Not bad for a freebie, plus there's a huge funfair effort there too.
One of the most interesting fixtures of the Welsh summer is the fantastic alt.folk festival The Green Man, run by excellent weird folkers Its Jo And Danny. Held at Baskerville Hall near Hay On Wye, it's two days of chilled enjoyment of the likes of Four Tet, Brave Captain, James Yorkston, Aidan Smith, and Alisdair Roberts.
Want to get inside Welsh-language music? Maes-B is the national Eisteddfod's modern music arm, and is always a barometer of the health of the indigenous scene. 2004's Newport Maes-B is shaping up to be something of a vintage year then: Zabrinski (SFA tour partners), Kentucky AFC, Llwybr Llaethog, MC Saizmundo and Anweledig are all playing (trust me, you won't know them, but they're ace), plus there's a DJ set from Goldie Lookin' Chain.
For most relevance to your average RockMidgets reader, though, there's the perenially fun Compass Point shindig, behind Cardiff Castle in Cooper's Field. This year (Friday 6 August - Saturday 7 August) there's Biffy Clyro, supported by the amazing local acts Mclusky, Adequate Seven, Jarcrew The Take, TheNextNineYears, Trip and Dopamine.
From a more indie side of things, the second stage holds My Red Cell, Kentucky AFC, Zabrinski, The Caves, The Hot Puppies, Ipsofacto, This Motion Picture Jack Union and Stroy. Five pounds gets you all this, can't be bad...
Sound Nation's Editor waxes lyrical on his pet peeve: Battle Of The Bands
I hate Battle Of The Bands events. I do. Nothing quite inspires my ire quite as much as these things - except maybe the holocaust, and the fact that toast always falls butter-side-down. Flippancy aside, my point remains. Bands continuously ring me up, or email me, to tell me about their upcoming appearance, or victory, in Battle Of The Bands across South Wales. They include said victory, or even second or third place, in their press packs and literature to show just how damn good they are.
Why? Think about this for a second... A live music pub or small venue needs people in its bar, buying beer, so what better way than to organise six local bands to play an event which relies on 'audience response' to guarantee a good placing? The onus is on the bands appearing to bully and cajole their mates into coming down, getting rowdy and cheering like hell when said band rings out their last chord. Or you get the opposite end of the spectrum, in which local music grandees are appointed to a judging panel, marking to a set of criteria such as 'technical ability', 'showmanship', 'appearance' and, yes, 'audience reaction'.
Let's take the first scenario. A band wins a crate of beer and a meaningless accolade because it has the ability to persuade the greatest amount of people to the gig. End result? A meaningless farce.
The second scenario. A band impresses an ageing local face with merit in a series of criteria which leaves no room for the real thing which makes gigs good the indefinable 'je ne sais quoi' which elevates the mundane to the great. Some of the best bands couldn't really play their instruments, while some of the worst are virtuosos. Some of the most exciting, vital, real music I have ever seen has been played to two barstaff, some other bands and a dog, and would score zero on the majority of those criteria. So this MO of Battle Of The Bands is also a meaningless farce.
And what do you have at the end of this? Does anyone really think that a promoter or record label A&R man, an agent or a manager gives a f**k about a band winning an event like this? Of course they don't. They care about bands being great, slogging it out on the road, gaining fans, not manipulating their mates. Battle Of The Bands contests have no place on the ladder of the music business, and those who think they do are sadly deluded...
Sound Nation's editor examines whether a DIY music seminar is a misnomer or not...
My magazine recently launched a forum section on its website. The idea behind the Sound Nation forums is to give people the opportunity to discuss musical issues arising from the magazine or more general musical themes - and that aim has in the past few weeks been more than fulfilled.
A publicly-funded organisation in Wales recently staged a seminar on the music business, labelling it as a DIY / punk rock guide to the music industry, and featuring panellists such as Undertones frontman Fergal Sharkey, The Damned's Captain Sensible and record label types. No great shakes you'd think, but to say this opened a can of worms would be a significant understatement.
South Wales has a strong tradition of DIY punk rock, in terms of self-sufficient labels, fanzines, promoters, bands, venues and audiences who take their inspiration and practises from the musical underground, forced into creating their own networks and support systems to circumvent the 'conventional' industry. There are numerus books and websites out there which explain this. Read 'Our Band Could Be Your Life' by Michael Azzerad or 'Dance Of Days' by Mark Andersen and Mark Jenkins for easy-to-read introductions to some of the bands and people who solidified this method of doing business in the Eighties.
Understandably, people whose livelihoods, creative or financial, depend on the health of this underground scene are deeply passionate about the relevance of their methods and terminology. Hence, the use of the term 'DIY' has been judged in some quarters to be a missapropriation and a misuse. They argue that DIY is diametrically-opposed to the 'industry' slant of the seminar, a problem which is compounded by deep suspicion of the publicly-funded sector. Monk Dave, editor of the sadly-missed Fracture and owner of Newest Industry records, is vehement in his dismissal of the appropriation of 'punk' styles, sounds and attitudes by what he sees as the cynical, money-led, marketing man-driven industry.
But on the flipside, people have argued that holding and espousing such views indicates a lack of willingness to allow pragmatism. They argue that people should be allowed to play ball with the 'industry' while still retaining a degree of autonomy and creative control. Marcus from Poisoned Whiskey Records, on the panel for the seminar, explained his decision to be a part of it by likening it to having a chat with a kid at a gig and encouraging them to set up their own label, only with a greater audience. No pretence to know a lot about the industry, he said, just good and bad personal experience of doing business by himself.
It can be argued that this merely comes down to semantics; what someone views as 'DIY' may not be what someone else as 'DIY'. But there lies a deeper issue here. The conventional industry is coming under more and more pressure, and the major labels are downsizing, cutting jobs and expense accounts, and becoming gradually less powerful. Meanwhile more and more indies are being created and developing relationships with the media, venues, promoters and audiences. Of course the majors and their cash still hold sway, and always will, but what is happening is that the entire musical spectrum is getting closer together.
An independent label like Newest Industry would once have been so far off Kerrang or Sony's radar they'd have needed Hubbel to see each other now that's no longer the case. The Industry has wisened up to the commercial expedience of including 'punk' bands etc. This is why bands whose sound until ten years ago, would have precluded them ever getting on the same label as Michael Bolton, are now being courted by suit-wearing execs.
While this is the detestable, cynical, corporate, bullshit side-effect of the growth of 'punk rock' (and let's not forget this bandwagon-jumping happened with every new musical revolution since the Fifties), it has had a good side effect too. It means the pragmatists of this world can set up the labels they've dreamed of doing (because these people are music fans in my experience) and have a good chance of getting into the media and venues that to a large extent they need to sell their records. Kerrang, Rock Sound, Metal Hammer etc - all published by major capitalist companies - have featured records released by South Walian independent record labels, including Newest Industry.
The entire music scene is changing and everyone is unavoidably affected. This seminar was simply an indication of the change. There were mistakes made in the labelling and marketing of the seminar I believe, and as Pete from Staunch Records posted, there should have been a more representative presence from the DIY scene for it to have more local relevance and expertise.
But these days, the punk underground needs to understand the pragmatic DIY of the new breed of labels etc. At the same time, it understandably needs to reclaim the words which guarantee its autonomy. This is a delicate balancing act that I don't think is easily achieved. However, amongst the bullshit of this new musical landscape, there are opportunities for people who Do It Themselves. Surely that's no bad thing?
Sound Nation's editor focuses on Poisoned Whiskey
Record labels are funny things - started by music fans to put out music they love, to get it to a wider audience and to, maybe, make a bit of money. Of course when they start getting involved in the nitty-gritty of the machinations of the music business, it's never that easy. Bands who split up, or go AWOL; distributors who won't take them on, or if they do, don't pay; press who don't pick up on the bands; disagreements over financial or contractual obligations; whatever... the list can be endless. Which means that record labels that last more than a couple of releases can be proud - it's a minefield out there.
One of my favourite labels of recent times, who have battled against the odds, and come up with the goods, is Poisoned Whiskey, based in the Rhondda Valley in South Wales. Run by all-round scene dude Marcus Lawry, it's been picking up on some of the area's most promising young talent, and showcasing for months the bands that Metal Hammer last month gave massive exposure to. The release that is garnering most attention at the moment is the compilation, Sick Of Silence. This record was a Sound Nation Album Of The Month with very good reason it was simply the best local compilation I've yet come across.
With regular Poisoned Whiskey bands like Panel (Quicksand-like post-hardcore) and Flailing Wail (metallic, bruising, punk) alongside some of the cream of the crop like Bedford Falls, The Take, Douglas, Midasuno, Dopamine and The Next Nine Years, it's a beast of a record. Fashionistas these guys aren't, just real, down-to-earth, rock fans.
With this, their previous compilation The Consequences Of Our Actions (an anti-war release), and EPs from Panel (Along The Divide) and Flailing Wail (May The Officers Fall First), Poisoned Whiskey have a solid base to work from, are getting press, and with cooperation with other local labels Probation and Cascade either current or imminent, they'll only go forward. Ones to watch? Yes, for definite - and watch the UK media realise this too.