This is a bad idea. I acknowledge that this is a bad idea. Don’t talk about sex, religion, politics, gender or race over the dinner table, children. Or breakfast bar. But, some moron on Pitchfork has written about issues of race in ‘indie and DIY underground‘, that bastion of stupidity, shit music, and dumbfuckery.
Now, what has got me about this is that it’s essentially an article full of straw men, of taking individual artists to represent the entire and total experience. No more-than-representational theory here, don’t worry – if you can be equated with white people, you’re bad.
Now, don’t get me wrong (or do. fuck you). I hardly read or care about any of the artists involved in that article. I saw Bats for Lashes once and thought it was sub-Bjork shoe-gazing mimicry, and couldn’t give a fuck after that. Music school rubbish. The pPtchfork article suggests that part of Bats of Arses success has been to not address her status as a person of non-white ethnicity.
The article mentions the Kanye West + Glastonbury hoohaa, saying it’s his non-whiteness that is a problem for these people. No, it’s his personality and music that is the problem. Furthermore, whatthefuckdoGlastonburyorKanyehavetodowithindiefuckingmusic? Excuse me, I meant: what the fuck do Glastonbury or Kanye West have to do with indie fucking music?
Diddly fucking squat, that’s what. If people had protested against him headlining Field Day, that’s more complicated.
So, where’s the DIY aspect of this article, at all? Let’s take MIA – she’s signed to Interscope, which includes Eminem, Madonna, Dr Dre, Maroon 5, No Doubt, etc. Vampire Weekend are admittedly signed to an indie label, XL – one of those massive ones, who has ‘worked with’ (as the Wikipedia entry goes) those nobodies The Prodigy, Radiohead, Beck, Adele, White Stripes.
The article also has a particular issue with feminist punk icon Kathleen Hanna, for her being white. I admit don’t get the swiping at Hanna – is it because she’s not black? Huh? Because she’s been vaguely successful at being confrontational and legitimately, for the most part, DIY (only 1 album on a major label with Le Tigre). She’s successful because she’s white, it would seem. That’s my interpretation of the article, anyway. So, the legendary-punk status of Poly Styrene is because she was white, too, even though she, err … wasn’t?
Huh? But, naming individual artists doesn’t really get us anywhere useful. Lets not talk about Bloc Party. (Please. They’re shit.) The fact of the matter is that it is true that non-white ethnicities are under represented in indie music circles. Although, no where does the article define what they mean by indie, simultaneously equating it with something like Glastonbury and something as limited at a Riot Grrl, Hanna, who arguably doesn’t have much name-recognition outside that scene, and is more to do with DIY punk scenes than Belle and Sebastian type ‘indie’.
Capitalism has issues with race, that is undeniable – but how the music industry has worked to divide peoples is never addressed in this article. Or mentioned. Instead, it sets the white indie scene up as an open democracy where the audience has elected white people, or people of non-white ethnicity who don’t address that whiteness, as the ambassadors. It completely ignores the complexity of the social and cultural scenes that these music stems from, and their relationships with capitalism and how capitalist organisations have long worked to divide music along racial lines.
‘Country’ music and what was called ‘race’ music where more or less the same thing, but they were segregated through and by the industry when it came time to exploit music for money.
And underground DIY cultures that preside on the more guitar-based end of things has problems with its lack of representation, that’s also undeniably true. But, while a vast majority of ‘rock’ (metal, punk, indie, etc.) music I listen to post-1950s is by white musicians, so most of the funk, hiphop and soul I listen to happens to be by black musicians.
So, while I don’t deny the problem the Pitchfork points towards, it’s analysis of it is blinkered. The problem isn’t just the scene, it’s everything. For a long while, women playing guitar wasn’t a very widely done thing in the DIY scenes, and it’s still not a norm, so whatever difference Riot Grrl has done to address this is a good thing. Plus, couldn’t a problem with MIA with her success to mainstream audiences is that she’s too punk or a bit too odd for ‘indie’ masses? The pushing of weird music is not that well recognised in mainstream culture. Plus, she’s now on a major label – get Rick Rubin (Yes, a white man … who is a hiphop and metal pioneer. Is his success because he’s white or just fucking brilliant at his job?) in and she’ll go far, I’m sure.
And so another issue arises with the pitchfork article … what do they mean by success?