“You say words I wish to hold and bold and underline.”

I’ve never been one to focus on the passage of time, though this is almost certainly a defense mechanism to avoid reckoning with the reality that we are all living in some finite time. The COVID-19 pandemic confounds my ability to ignore time, even though time was fuzzy. Was it almost three years ago that I had a great time seeing old friends and colleagues at a conference in New Orleans before getting an email on the train ride back that there were confirmed cases of a virus that few had been paying much attention to at the conference and diving immediately into quarantine, a few weeks before the city where I was living shut down (for some) in ways that were complicated and unequal? How many months was it into the pandemic when I watched young people march down South Side streets lined by a phalanx of police? How do you talk about something that is different, that is no longer novel but is often not passed?

I’m not entirely how much I’ve changed as a result of the pandemic, or how much of that change is moving to a new city, changing jobs twice or just the passage of time, period. The last few years have been ones of tremendous, sometimes brutal, sometimes transformational change in many people’s lives. I don’t really know how profound that has been for me, but one of the more intimate and recognizable changes was that I really started listening to music again.

Listening to music had always brought a pang of anxiety about how I wasn’t seriously making it myself. While I know the pandemic was a creatively generative space, for me, it brought permission to really pay attention to music for the pleasure of it, or to try to feel something when the whole world felt like it was oscillating between emotional acuity and the absence of it or to just try to understand the world I was living so strangely in.

As we collectively learned more about the virus, live shows felt like a space where there was a real and careful conversation about how to balance the need for communion, the economic needs of artists and people who’s livelihoods are connected to them and everyone’s safety, and at least in some spaces, some concrete examples of putting that balance of concerns into practice. Before I moved away from Chicago, I want to a couple of really amazing generator shows. I hope they’ll continue to happen after the spring thaw. In Phoenix, I watched as young people (you can tell because , despite Arizona’s “wild west” mythology and the decades-long attempts to erode regulation in many sectors, at music venues, those under drinking age must be separated from older audience members by a physical barrier) danced as a band played, seemingly uninhibited by wearing masks. It felt like such a failure of public health messaging that this simultaneous exercise of abandon and care was not the center of how people were living during the pandemic and that maintaining even the modest level of concern over the pandemic was somehow living in the depths of privation.

Which is all to say that listening to music, and seeing it performed has been something that has brought me a lot of joy in a time of great change. That’s the context for the place in which I find myself listening to a lot of music and these are some of the random things I’ve been listening at the turning of the year. The list of songs and bands begins with a show I didn’t go to and ends with one I did.

Stuck played in Phoenix in the not so distant past. I didn’t go, but their latest EP, “Content That Makes You Feel Good” resonates with some of the fatigue I’ve felt, and that I’ve heard so many others articulate. 

One song, “City of Police” vividly reflects the police response to protests calling for an end to police violence and for racial justice that I witnessed in Chicago (Stucks’s hometown) in 2020:

Protecting the protectors,
answering to no one,
they’re kettling in
those pushed to the fringes
when their march of reforms
meets their upturned drawbridges.
I know there’s a fear hiding behind all that rage,
you can see it in their eyes.

I’ve always liked hearing music because it’s just around, and Tik-Tok’s pairing of images and songs makes music ubiquitous in a way that generates meaning that feels more like a sample or a karaoke interpretation than top 40 radio. This is all to say that “Anti-Hero” and its very relatable chorus has been stuck in my head for weeks. I really love how the cadence of the first half of the verse and the second half shifts. And you know a song has some fundamental quality when it lends itself to mashups like with this radio ska classic.

Thinking more about music that feels ubiquitous, when I lived on the Northwest Side of Chicago, I would often hear music in Spanish blaring from garages throughout the alleys in my neighborhood. It was so common, that I was eventually able to recognize the occasional Los Tigres del Norte song.

In Phoenix, at least where I live, I don’t hear songs coming from alleys, but as part of understanding the city where I now live, I’ve been trying to feel out what is the music that underlies this place. I don’t know if this is exactly representative of the musical vibe as a whole, but I’ve been thinking of the more cumbia-inspired numbers performed by the band that closed out the city’s Dia de los Muertos celebration. The band shared members, or at least played songs from this release by Orkesta Mendoza. I went on a solo camping trip to the Superstition Mountains to spend the turning of the year in solitude, so I missed Pijama Piyama perform their psychadelic, somewhat silly cumbia on new years eve, but I did listen to this Code Switch episode that gets at the idea of cumbia as a sort of musical platform on the drive back. Throwing back to the idea of mashups, the episode closes with tracks from this Screwmbia record that gestures to the ways in which hip-hop producers in Houston and cumbia-obsessed youth in Monterrey, Mexico created distinct versions and cultures around their respective music by slowing down and warping the elements of the genre.

You can hear elements of cumbia in Conjunto Primitivo’s “Morir y Renacer” but also a lot of other musical references that swirl around in the dark rhythms of the record. It’s the last release from Chicago label Chicago Research, and if there’s a stylistic desert cousin to the label, it might be Arizona’s Total Peace. I really enjoy listening to the kind of electronic music that a label that also puts out hardcore bands releases, like this Deadbeat Pleasure tape.

The end of the year always brings best of lists, which have traditionally been something that brought me anxiety as a marker of all that I was missing as my attention was pulled in very different directions. This year, I’ve been able to appreciate the opportunity to hear things that I hadn’t listened to when they first dropped. Among them is the Anteloper record “Pink Dolphins”. Sadly, one of the groups principles, Jaimie Branch, died in 2022. It’s eerie to watch powerful videos of live performances that feel so vital and recent but are ultimately a permanent document rather than a living one.

I’ve been obsessed with the groove on the track Earthlings that runs subtly through the entire track before being joined with this swirl of trumpets at the end.

Another record that took me until the end of the year to really spend some time with, but that sticks with me is Gladie’s “Don’t Know What You’re In Until You’re Out”. I thought this story offered a compelling look at the context for the record, including the inspiration for the anthemic cry of “I wanna love you in the way that you still feel free” in the chorus of “Hit the Ground Running”. The lyrics of the songs are so amazing and they hit with both a strangeness while instantly evoking a specific feeling or struggle. I was listening to a poetry podcast in the shower where the host was lamenting how it’s easier to be stuck on heartbreak than to celebrate love for one’s friends or community. I don’t know if “Don’t Know What You’re In Until You’re Out” fully hits as a praise poem, but to listen to the record feels hopeful while simultaneously recognizing how hard it can feel to live.

But, as the Gladie record’s title suggests having perspective takes moving through some darker moments, and sometimes you just have to sit in that place. I think that Phoenix must be a tough place to be young and to want to create things. The physical environment as a record of creation so often reflects a perfectly engineered blandness or the hubris of destruction. I’ve never lived there, but I’ve spent enough time there to imagine that Houston could feel the same way. I saw some bands from Houston passing through on tour that really reflected the chaotic energy of living within growth that defies humanity that resonates between Houston and The Valley. This scene report, in Houston’s mainstream paper no less, tracks with the sliver of it that I saw. Mexican Coke has just a perfect band name and you can pretty much get what they’re about from this video:

They were on tour with JOHNNASCUS, whose amp started spewing smoke pretty early on in the set. I just really love it when artists with a different aesthetic but whose music is similarly resonant tour together, and I’m happy that digital hardcore as a genre is really vibrant right now. It’s the perfect soundtrack to sinking into a mundane dystopia.

That might be the best part of being a music listener – you don’t have to choose between recognizing what is hopeful, or what is nightmarish – you can hear the way that music that evokes these themes connects with a recognizable reality and reply, “true, true.”

Week in review

What I’ve been doing this week – on and offline.

Getting older

I went to see Paul Baribeau this week.  It was one of the more crowded house shows I’ve been to in Chicago.  The feeling between Baribeau and the audience as pretty strange.  He writes songs that are explicitly personal, so it’s strange to hear a whole room singing along (not to mention singing along slightly off-time and off-key).  Maybe it speaks to the real need that people have to understand or process the kind of things Baribeau writes about: relationships and growing into adulthood.  There was this one guy in front who kept demanding certain songs and he and Baribeau got into this kind of weird, mostly-joking but strangely confrontational back-and-forth.  Though I love the participatory aspect of DIY punk, it’s frustrating when it seems like the show means more about you singing along to a song you love than listening to what someone else has to say or how he says it.  At best, I think it’s a compromise between these things, a perfect balance arrived upon organically by the performer and the crowd.  But, there’s a distinct difference between having a collective experience with music and a room full of individual experiences.  Maybe the show felt like more of the latter because people didn’t really know each other. It seemed like the crowd was a mixture of people from Chicago, the suburbs and folks from out of town and people from the suburbs.  Everyone seemed pretty young which might have contributed to the dynamic as well.  Chiara referenced research about “millenials” being more selfish than past generations.

Being off of school (mostly, I’ve still got some loose ends to tie up with my independent study) is great.  For one, I finally had time to go to the library.  I picked up Harvey Pekar’s Best of American Splendor and I feel like I have a different reading of it a few years after the last time I read some of Pekar’s comics.  Pekar writes about his life making underground media in a really unglamorous way, which is refreshing.  You can’t dispute that he loves what he does or makes compelling and at times really beautiful work, but there’s nothing glamorous about working for decades as a file clerk or the anxiety of failing health or trying to figure out how to make ends meet.  As I get older, I’m less interested in finding optimistic ideas to buoy me through tough times and more interested in how people persist, even through tough questions or challenges.

Pekar is also pretty unapologetic about his mercenary intentions with his art, which is also refreshing.  DIY punk spends so much time demonizing making money, or rationalizing it, but doesn’t provide a lot of examples of working-class people finding complex, sustainable lives while still basing what they do on some core values.  A few weeks ago I read an interview I liked with the hip hop group Das Racist that touched on authenticity, punk and class:

Suri: That’s the whole thing. Punk bands have never had the question of authenticity because authenticity was about how broke you were. The whole break between punk and hip-hop in the 80s was because hip-hop kids were like, I will rap about having money because I grew up with none of it. White kids were like, I will not sing songs about having money.

Vazquez: I think it’s complicated in both circles. There was like broke punk kids and rich kids and broke rappers and rich rappers.

Suri: But a lot of punk kids choose to be broke and rap kids, we don’t choose to be broke. I grew up wanting to make money at every opportunity to. I wouldn’t shun my money. I’d buy a $200 pair of sneakers.

Kondabolu: And my mom wouldn’t let me go to vintage clothing stores. She’d be like, “Why are you going to buy someone’s old clothes?”

Vazquez: It’s also easier—you know, the idea of rejecting privilege comes with the fact that you have it in the first place.

I also went to Quimby’s, the first time I made it there since I’ve been a Chicago resident, and in a total impulse buy, I picked up Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs: A Midterm Report on My Generation and the Future of Our Super Movement Again, as I get older, I’m interested in how people iterate their ideas and reconcile them with new experiences.



Pekar and Joe Sacco also have a nice comic about gentrification in the American Splendor compilation. I like how, in just a few frames it captures the ambivalence around neighborhood change. There’s the fear of people getting pushed out, some hope for seeing resources come into a neglected neighborhood and folks just having other concerns.

I went to dinner one night this week at a good, but slightly fancy place in Logan Square. Driving north on Kedzie from Humboldt Park, you could see a demarcation between different neighborhood residents as we got closer to the square.  Teenage Latino girls with these fabulous neon hoop earrings gave way to 20-30-year-old white people walking their dogs.  The restaurant was pretty terrific, but the patrons didn’t look like the neighborhood as a whole, which is always a little disarming.  It’s a good reality check though, to recognize where I stand, despite a consciousness of issues that affect communities in Chicago.

Restoring dialog

The “Restoring Honor” Rally was big news and a big site for meta-analysis this week.  I heard this segment on WBEZ’s Worldview and thought commentator Frank Schaeffer did a pretty good job of pinpointing the way that some Americans responded in the wake of Obama’s election.  They looked around and realized the country they lived in and realized it wasn’t the country they thought it was and freaked out.  But Schaeffer also articulates a certain contempt for people who react fearfully to a changing country and to feelings of using power in the culture.  I’d like to see someone speak frankly about this fear and across the divide of those who feel more comfortable in a country perceived as less homogeneous and those who fear it.  I felt like some of this was going on during Obama’s campaign, but once he was elected it sort of dropped off and we’re all left with crazy polarization and taking potshots across the divide.  I don’t agree with the rhetoric or the values of those like Glenn Beck but I think the fear they exploit is a pretty human response that has to be taken seriously and acknowledged, even while trying to move away from that fear.

Fixed width layout widths

I’ve been working on a cleaner version of The Max Levine Ensemble website and a basic theme for Toby Foster’s website.  Because of the artwork that David and Nick gave me, I have to use a fixed-width design.  I was curious what a good width for modern browsers/users should be, and the best example I found was in this  2-Column, Center-aligned Fixed Width Layout with CSS tutorial.  The tutorial author says:

I’m adding a wrapper division around the entire body html we have so far, and in the CSS, I’m giving this wrapper division a background color just for demonstration purposes – and a width. The width is based on current trends per W3Schools Browser Trends. According to this information, the vast majority of all surfers views at resolutions of 1280 or higher, so I’ll shoot for 1280px. To allow room for the scroll bar and a bit of the (white) body background to show, I’ll set the width of my wrapper at 1200px.

Mike Gibson of Love Has No Logic had this to say:

I usually work with a 960 grid. And set up the following column groupings inside it that’ll float around and shift.
3 columns of 300 px with 30 px padding between them.
2 columns of 465 px with 30 px padding (sometimes I’ll altar this to 450 px columns with 60 px padding to let the larger columns breathe)
3 columns with the outer columns both being 200px and the inner column being 500px, 30 px padding, though this is also nice with 45 px padding between each and a 470px middle column
4 columns of 140px with 40px padding
With those basic column constructs I can pretty much start working with any sort of modular design I need.


I’ve been listening to a lot of the bands we’ll be playing with on the upcoming Defiance, Ohio tour.  In particular, I’ve been into The Sidekicks from Cleveland who play melodic punk in the vein of Built to Spill.  I also gave Shellshag a good listen for the first time and I love how they’re poppy but also noisy and weird.

I feel like as I have less time to practice with Defiance, Ohio, I’m more self-conscious about how well we play.  I feel like how comfortable we are playing really effects the quality of the performance, so I decided to get my guitar set up.  I’ve always played acoustic guitars with pretty high action, but after playing Theo’s hollow-body electric guitar and realizing how much more easy and fun it is to play an instrument with lower action, I took it to a guitar tech.  He told me something interesting about acoustic guitars and action:  instrument makers usually leave the action high from the factory because they’re worried about the neck shifting, creating fret buzz in the showroom.

WordPress file uploads

I was setting up a new WordPress instance for Ryan Woods’ painting website, ryanwoods.org and he was having problems uploading files, getting a cryptic error message.  It turns out that the Network upload size limits were set to only 300 KB.  It took a while to find this limit, but it’s at Super Admin > Options in the left hand menus in the administration pages.  Then scroll all the way down and look for the Upload Settings section.

Cooking as consensus

Florence and Sushi

I’ve spent this week hanging out with Florence and Oona since Chiara had school and work all week and they don’t start school until next week.  One of the hardest things has been building consensus about how we’re going to spend our day.  Oona’s down to play music, but Florence doesn’t want to.  Florence likes the idea of riding bikes to the zoo, but Oona neither wants to ride bikes or go to the zoo.  Flash games on the internet seem mutually captivating, but the end-of-the-summer weather is too nice to spend completely indoors.  The consensus activity today was to think of something we want to eat, walk to the store to get the ingredients and make it.  We ended up making sushi and Dora-yaki (red bean pancakes), though the pancakes came out a little weird.

Link Roundup

GAMBIT Summer 2010 Prototype Games – I’ve disliked video games since I was young and didn’t have a console and had to spend hours watching other people play after I died quickly.  But some people are really doing some interesting things with games right now.  I was out of town playing a show when the 3G Summit went down, but from what I learned about it when I wrote a preview piece in the spring, it seemed pretty awesome.  These game prototypes from the Singapore-MIT Gambit Game Lab are all pretty interesting and have some interesting mechanics, visuals or ways of conveying information about the real world.

The Tummy Project – I only met Jamie recently when she offered to give me a ride back from Milwaukee that I ended up not needing, but I found out she has a blog that uses reader-contributed photos of tummies to think about body image.

2009 Illinois School Report Cards – The Tribune Apps Team made this useful news app to navigate Chicago schools and compare them by features like class size, ISAT scores and percent of students who receive free or reduced lunch.

How to Solder – If tour is a good way to lose equipment, playing individual shows is an even better way for me to lose stuff.  At least it gave me the impetus to fix a bunch of old instrument cables I had lying around.  I solder so infrequently that I didn’t realize I wasn’t tinning my wires properly.  This video helped.  Also, the number one tip I have for soldering things is to make a jig.  This video has one simple example, but I often just tape the wires to my desk so everything gets held where I need it.

Acoustic Guitar Amplification – This is the guide I’ve always been looking for.

nonlinear digital music narratives

As the start of my graduate program grows nearer.  I feel like I need to talk and think about what I want to do with journalism more concretely.  Last night in conversation, I mentioned that I was interested in exploring how the web and other new media could tell stories outside of the linear narrative structure of a news article or a video documentary.  How does the producer’s or audience’s bias get subverted when the audience can pick multiple paths through the narrative? , Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of any examples of this, but Josh referenced Hyperfiction as a way that this is done with creative writing and how it creates a different, intensly immersive experience for the reader.

Working on a mix tape lately, and getting my record player working again, I’ve been thinking about the linear path through which albums or mixes are constructed.  Sometimes this can be narrative like a concept album, for example Prince Paul’s Prince of Thieves, or it could be more subtle in a record like Springstein’s Nebraska.  While you could certainly play songs on an LP or CD in a different order, digital audio files make this even easier.  Unfortunately, it seems like much of the focus on the benefits of digital audio has been with regards to distribution instead of the possibilities for constructing sets of connected songs with multiple paths through them.  I often read something years later that makes me re-think a Defiance, Ohio song or the songs in relation to each other.  Also, the Allied Media Conference’s recent call for track proposals has made me think about grouping and connecting information.  I also think of the recommended EQ diagram in the In Utero liner notes.  I think it would be pretty cool to release an “album” of songs digitally, with separate recommended orders of the songs and liner notes that describe the different paths through the songs.

Photo by Great Beyond via Flickr.

Fest 8 Day 2: Kickball and Costumes

I started my second day at the fest playing kickball. I know that plenty of people have traumatic experiences with sports from their youth and that, even with punks, its easy for things to turn ugly, but I do love the feeling of big groups of people being involved in something together. As Bepstein was explaining the rules of kickball and basic baseball strategies, I realized that the rules of real sports are every bit as arbitrary as the ones that you make up for games as a kid.

After the game, I checked out a new Gainesville-based music streaming service that seemed to have a nice interface. I was disappointed that it didn’t really seem to offer anything new beyond the traditional promotional model of music. There has got to be a narrative for music that acknowledges that people get excited about it and that there is a need for artists to be supported by their work that doesn’t come off as soulless and cynical as “we offer to bands the ability to place themselves behind similar more established artists … Which means more loyal fans.”

I spent a lot of time eating and wandering around before we made plans to meet up back at the hotel for practice in the early evening. We decided that we would try to do costumes for our show so Bz, Theo, and I set out to find some thrift stores. I think I ended up having more fun checking out parts of Gainesville away from the campus and strip mall fashion stores (Citi Trends was amazing) than I would have rushing between venues or standing in lines. It was slim pickings for costumes for six, and we passed up soccer team for something that ended up being less Halloween costume and more Halloween-inspired frumpy-glam outfits. The core of the costumes were a set of holiday vests that you would remember from a few of your older elementary school teachers. Coupled with short-shorts that were definitely not sexy, I hope the goofiness of the costumes was a sort of antidote to all the skimpy Halloween costumes that have sadly become the standard. We bought purple lipstick that became face makeup at a liquor store, and the cashier there seemed to be enjoying himself at a job that could be really annoying. He even wrote happy Halloween messages on all the brown paper bags for the liquor purchases which was such a fun, sweet thing to do.

I feel like it’s hard to really watch a band when I have to get ready, but Good Luck seemed really energetic and like people were feeling it. Things sounded a little crazy, and the heat and lack of practice made playing a little challenging, but the show went pretty well. I got the sense the that for both us and the crowd, everything was a little muted from the heat of the venue and the long day. I could hear Bz’s violin parts really well which is nice. Rather than feeling vulnerable, play, in costume and makeup always makes me feel more natural so I think it was a good call. Good Luck looked really good in their matching postal worker outfits and I heard that the Max had awesome mad scientist costumes and an atomic bomb pinata. The Vena Cava looked good in costumes that I couldn’t really identify but made me think gang member from the “Beat It” video. In general, it didn’t really feel like Halloween (I really miss the Bloomington cover shows), but I’m glad that some bands made the effort.


I get to the hotel where we’re staying for the fest and start paging through the dense, brightly covered booklet that describes the bands playing and other events over the course of the weekend. Bz tells me, “just read the first sentence of the description,” and I do. It says, “Welcome one and all to the biggest punk rock, shirts off, stale beer smelling, bear hugging, cheap booze swillin’, high five greeting, coosie totin’, family reunion, holiday, circus of fools we lovingly embrace simply called THE FEST.” It’s cheesy and frankly, I have a hard time feeling myself in those words, but I’m here. Amidst the amped up party atmosphere, there are some great people, and their great bands. Playing fewer and fewer shows with Defiance, Ohio has made being together and the shows we do play seem more special, which is kind of exciting. It makes it feel like this year, the show we play will actually be special instead of the anticlimax that comes with it being just another show, albeit a hyped one.

It is really nice to see people. There is a comfort in being reminded of the things that you know deeply about people, but sort of forgot. The hotel room table is covered in stacks of books from various authors and I remember how hyper-literate my band mates are, yet we’re still able to indulge in America’s Next Top Model marathons. There’s the ability to be goofy as we take videos of our own top-model style commercials for the fest. We take turns making sultry eyes at the mobile phone camera and end with our best “I love to fest.” Whether it was the last-minute, homemade togas the last time we played in Bloomington or these videos, the ability to make weird, theatrical things for our own enjoyment has been one of the most pleasurable experiences with my friends over the years.

We heard that the Max Levine Ensemble was playing a house show, so we wandered around Gainesville for a while until we found the house. It’s easy to spend a lot of at the fest wandering around and getting lost, but the walk felt nice and I like not feeling stuck on University Avenue.

After The Max played, we saw the Hot New Mexicans who were really good. I’ve seen them play a lot, but since we haven’t played many shows this year, I feel like my attention span for shows is so much longer. It’s nice because it helps me really enjoy seeing bands, even ones I’ve seen before, and notice new things about their music.

When their set finished, Bz, Sherri, and I went over to see 7 Seconds. The last time I had seen them was at a Warped Tour when I was a teenager. Unlike Bz, they weren’t really a band that I listened to a lot when I got into punk, but the first time I heard them, I realized that they were a huge influence to so many of the local hardcore bands in my home town. As, I get older, I’m inspired by people much older than me continuing to play music. We have a narrative of people touring and playing music until they burn out and self destruct or dropping out into a more conventional life, but there are many people who have decided to have families, or maybe careers who struggle to strike a balance with still being involved in punk music and I think their stories often go unmentioned. Kevin Seconds is an engaging performer, and a good storyteller. After performing for a few decades, its obvious that telling stories or connecting an old song with current events comes more easily, but not without sincerity. It’s so important to me, and one of the things that drew me to punk initially, that the songs come from somewhere, that there is such a direct link from experience or perspective on the world to lyrics and performance. It was interesting to hear the story behind the classic song Walk Together. Apparently, it was written after a show was canceled due to fear of metalhead vs. punk violence. It’s nice that their response was to write a song celebrating unity rather than a call to kick some metal ass.

Punk can be so contradictory, at once macho and positive, crucially critical and irrelevantly divisive. Listening to the radio and reading Billboards, I realized how conservative Florida can be. There was one stretch where there was an anti-choice billboard with a giant fetus every few miles. After seeing the preserved fetuses at the You: The Experience exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, the billboard seemed even more manipulative because the fetus next to the text “My heart beats after 18 days didn’t look like the 18-day-old embryo that I saw at the museum. This is besides the point, though. For me, the debate isn’t really about what constitutes “life” at a certain stage of prenatal development, but about a consistent cultural desire to control the bodies and lives of women and a lack of support for health care for women and children as well as support for families that don’t fit the one mom, one dad, 2+ kids model. It’s just scary to think about all the energy and resources that went to put giant embryos beside the highway.

I also saw a billboard advertising the Fraternal Order of Police’s gun show and I just don’t see how encouraging people to buy guns helps ensure safety or order. The kicker was to hear a commercial for a conservative “Black Tie and Blue Jeans” event that said, “Conservatives, come eat MEAT while those liberals are eating their granola and driving their hybrids.” Note to progressive punks, snark and irony won’t change anything. The reality of talk-radio-style conservatism is so ridiculous that it will be more bizarre and gross than any parody. It really feels like there is a culture war, and I don’t want to fight in it. It feels like a test of faith, that there are enough people, coming from all different experiences, who want to be connected and empathetic to other people, who want to really solve problems, who want to base their perspective on things that are external to their experience on a careful, comprehensive discourse. I don’t want to “win” over people or organizations who promote ideas that I think are really harmful. I just want there to be a critical mass that makes them irrelevant.

HID + OSC + SooperLooper

I’ve always had trouble writing guitar leads, and lately, I’ve been having a horrible time writing lyrics.  I wanted to mess around with a software looper (I found that SooperLooper works well for my needs anyway, but found it was really great for my process as I could try different lyrics or guitar parts over a simple chord progression.  I found that I wanted pedal-like control over the looper, however, so I got a cheap USB game controller (Logitech Dual Action) and hacked together a PureData patch for controlling SooperLooper.  The patch doesn’t handle all the buttons on the controller and only controls the overdub and record functions of the looper, but that was all I needed for the moment.

The next step is to break the USB game controller out of it’s case and wire in more guitar-effects-style switches to make the controller into a performance-worthy tool.

Re: Your Music

Someone e-mailed Defiance, Ohio with some questions for a school project that produced this brain dump on the Britney Spears, the band, digital distribution, and media-based economies.
They wrote:

I know that big artists (for example Britney Spears??) are angry because of course they want the money, but I was wondering, do you think it’s more grey for less famous artists? Although maybe a smaller artist might miss each dollar more, do you think they mind less? Do you think the love for the music overcomes the ‘need’ in today’s world for the money? I know that sharing music without paying for it is a really great way to be heard, so what’s your opinion on that?

It’s hard to answer these questions directly, for Defiance, Ohio, and maybe for most artists, because I’m not sure if we have ever seen our options as starkly as “participate in the mainstream music scene or be an independent artist” or “have a larger fan base or make more money?” Certainly, some of the decisions we have made have had elements of those questions involved and some of the things we have done that didn’t feel like decisions have ended up having results that reflect on those stark questions.  However, to provide what feels like a complete and honest answer, I feel like I need to reframe the questions.

The first part of your question that I want to address is the idea of big artists, and Britney Spears in particular, being against file sharing and technologies like torrents.  I’m not sure if if Ms. Spears has ever spoken out specifically against file sharing, or if she even understands the technology, its implications, and the implications of enforcing copyright.  If she has made statements about it, it’s likely that she is articulating the standard response of many in the mainstream music industry that file sharing is harmful to artists and the industry, which, to a degree, is true since the music industry has been really slow to adapt to the reality of how people listen to, use, and produce music.

I think it’s important that we don’t get stuck in villifying big-name artists, even though they certainly have made choices, and make choices in terms of their music’s content and business choices that I wouldn’t make.  Simplifying the position of artists in the mainstream music industries as only being concerned about money has the a number of negative impacts.  First, I think that many artists, despite making very commercial content, are genuinely talented performers who love performing and making music and would likely be performing in some capacity (religious services, county fairs, amusement park shows, cruise ships, etc.) even if they weren’t as successful in the record industry.  Second, I think that it overlooks the fact that many artists come from backgrounds of limited economic mobility (certainly this was the case for Ms. Spears) and that their choice to participate in the mainstream music industry is a pragmatic decision given limited options.  Ms. Spears’ career, even from the time she was a young child, has been mediated by the mainstream, big-media industry and model of making music.  So, the choices that she makes in terms of things like file sharing, are largely dictated on her dependence on this industry.  Had she been a performer who didn’t fit as easily into the archetype of successful child performers and eventually female superstars, she may have instead chosen to work outside of the mainstream music industry to continue to perform and may have made different choices that would effect everything from the content of her music to her use or (dis)approval of file sharing.  Finally, defining the ethics and intentions of artists based solely on their orientation around mainstream corporate media is dangerous because it artificially inflates the ethics and intentions of artists who choose to participate in an subcultural, less corporate, or do-it-yourself music economy rather than examining their musical content and practices for what they are.

None of this has really answered your question, but I feel like it was important to talk about in order to develop a framework for answering your questions.  We need to move beyond the dichotomy of the greedy but soulless superstar vs. the starving but artistically vibrant independent artist that I’ve also been guilty of relying on.  In the case of Defiance, Ohio, I think that each of us will always make, play, or perform music in some way, for the rest of our lives, because we do love it.  However, I think that we would all love to be able to have the making of music be something that supports us financially rather than something that makes our lives more difficult or more stressful in terms of money.  I think we also want to do this in a way that supports our beliefs, ideas, friends and communities.  One of the biggest drawbacks to participating in the mainstream music industry is that money made from one’s music might go to support the release of records with homophobic lyrics, or artists who pressure working-class youth into joining the military.

Similarly, making our music widely available and available to people regardless of whether they have a good local independent record store that stocks less-well-known records or whether people have lots of money to buy records has and will continue to be important to us.  I also think it’s important for our music to be available for posterity.  Making music available as free downloads has helped serve all these needs.  However, it would be great if people recognize that making the songs that we release for free takes time, energy, money for instruments, time off work to record and practice, and lots of other resources.  As a culture, I think we’re struggling to assign costs to lots of things that reflect their complete value and hazards (electricity produced from coal, for instance).  Music is no different, so I think that Defiance, Ohio continues to struggle to assign a monetary value to our music, shows, and other “products” that strikes a balance between reflecting the resources that go into making them, not being greedy, and being realistic about what people are willing to pay.

Ultimately, I think it’s hard to say how free, digital distribution of our music has affected Defiance, Ohio since it’s something that we’ve always done.  We don’t have any data about whether most people heard about us through downloads or touring, word of mouth and mix tapes or through our releases on independent labels.  Also, we did it without too much forethought about the potential implications of using this method of distribution.  I’ve always liked emerging technologies, so when we started recording, I wanted to experiment with making our songs available through new media.  I think that when we started playing, we were also interested in sharing what we made with friends or like-minded people across the nation, and freely downloadable files helped make this possible.  Finally, I don’t think we imagined that there would ever be the possibility of assigning any kind of monetary value to our songs outside of the few dollars we charged for our demo CDR and first CD on our initial tours.  That said, I can’t deny that making our music widely available has helped us to have people become interested in our music enough to tour around the U.S. and the world and to have people willing to help put out our records or go to benefit shows or otherwise support projects we believe in.

Getting your music heard is pretty important to many artists for personal gratification, ideology, and financial success and file sharing or other methods of digital distribution are one tool that can be used to achieve this.  I don’t think it’s any more or less legitimate than other old and emerging methods.  I think the parallel music economy of hip hop mix tapes is really interesting as is the migration of these “tapes” to CD and now digital downloads.  I think that there’s still something awesome about the intimacy of music getting distributed between friends on mix tapes or CDRs (and probably now through social networking sites and peer-to-peer file sharing systems).  I think that community, college, and pirate radio are still important means of sharing music and that podcasts are a new medium for similar content.

In the end, the question of whether digital downloads and file sharing are good or bad for artists or music industries is becoming (has already become?) a moot point.  Alternative distribution methods are already being used by artists with varying degrees of success.  They are also destabilizing a mainstream music industry that has traditionally treated artists unfairly, ignored or fetishized cultural diversity, and been otherwise slow to change.  The important question is what do we want our media environment to look like?  How do continue to create vibrant culture while compensating makers for their work?  How do we make space for minority voices in media?  How do we connect across our different experiences and situations through media?  As traditional manufacturing jobs are disappearing from the economy and many youth have fewer and fewer opportunities to do work that offers them an interesting, dignified life , can we create new, media-based economies the give new economic mobility to communities facing economic depression?

monetizing music

The music industry is whack.  We all know this, but as a person making DIY punk music it’s always hard to reason about making money from making music.  Working a crappy (and moreover, undignified) job to support making records is something that is respected or revered.  With many folks making music coming from college-educated backgrounds or middle-class economic situations with lots of community and family support, the reality is that people could easily transition from a life where they live at income levels below the poverty line and make music to a life where they work a dignified, or at least lucrative, job to support themselves.  Are you flaunting your privelege by artificially living in poverty or by succumbing to an economic vision that doesn’t allow musicians to support themselves without all the cruft, exploitation, hype and wasteful promotion of the traditional record industry?

I don’t have the answers to this, but in his song Moment of Clarity, Jay-Z seems to have made his decision, at least in his completely different set of experiences in life and with the music industry:

The music business hate me
’cause the industry ain’t make me
Hustlers and boosters embrace me
And the music I be making
I dumb down for my audience
And double my dollars
They criticize me for it
Yet they all yell “Holla”
If skills sold
Truth be told
I’d probably be
Talib Kweli
I wanna rhyme like Common Sense
(But I did five Mil)
I ain’t been rhyming like Common since
When your sense got that much in common
And you been hosteling since
Your inception
Fuck perception
Go with what makes sense
I know what I’m up against
We as rappers must decide what’s most important
And I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them
So I got rich and gave back
To me that’s the win, win
The next time you see the homie and his rims spin
Just know my mind is working just like them
(The rims that is)

Rad 5 Fest

4/8 – Rad 5 Day I: Counts of Bounce, Ready T @ Bloomington Playwrights Project

4/9 – Rad 5 Day II: Flosstradamus, Action Jackson, Flufftronix @ Buskirk-Chumley Theater | $13 advance, $15 day of | Order tickets now!

4/10 – Rad 5 Day III: Fancy Footwork w/Action Jackson + Special Guest DJ Wushu @ The Cinemat | $5

4/11 – Rad 5 Day IV: Day: Bike Parade, meet at Sample Gates at 4PM. 11PM: Feist Afterparty @ Bloomington Playwrights Project w/DJ Pumpkin Patch, Totally Michael, Flufftronix, and Action Jackson | $5

4/12 – Rad 5 Day V: Closing Party! @ Secret Location TBA on rad5.info