The Politics of Lo-Fi

There’s a pretty interesting debate going on over at Tiny Mix Tapes about the political significance or lack thereof of the current crop of “lo-fi” bands/musicians.  It is sort of a spin-off of an argument that began with a Guardian piece that insinuated that all American lo-fi musicians were navel gazing pot-heads who wanted to stay forever in the warm embrace of childhood (there are links in the article to the original article and a response by Brooklyn-based blogger McGregor who runs Chocolate Bobka).

The comments following the TMT article are generally pretty interesting and thus far  it hasn’t descended into ad-hominem vitriol.  The participants in the initial debate all had a horse in the race (musician, blogger, friend of musician and blogger) so objectivity was a little lacking but I think the underlying issue is certainly interesting.

My personal feeling is that the last time music and politics intersected in a really meaningful way was probably the rise of rap and hip-hop culture in general in the late 80s and early 90s.  Calling lo-fi political is sort of a stretch, although I think there is something there.  If nothing else, the clear assurance that even with absolutely zero chance of making money, people will still set themselves to making a gigantic and ever-expanding spectrum of music in all fidelities is a very powerful statement of intent.  Music is there, industry or no industry.

Then there’s this article.

So, are we witnessing a splintering here?  Is “lo-fi” part of some sort of subconsciously calculated reaction to an otherwise toxic creative enivronment?  Are there two musics, one passive and one active?


7 Responses to “The Politics of Lo-Fi”

  1. 1 johuat
    February 17, 2010 at 1:27 am

    A very interesting read.

    Politics turns up in music when it’s part of the narrative of a musical culture that holds up the musician as an elevated/educated being. How could this fit into the lo-fi scene? “Blog-rock” is characterized by its equality and accessibility.

  2. 2 Luckycloud
    February 17, 2010 at 2:32 am

    I had a long response drafted, but I think it might work better as an independent post unto itself.

    That being said: I don’t think the issue is egalitarianism, as one commenter pointed out that tape gear is hard to find and releasing your stuff on records and cassettes is decidedly less than egalitarian. I think the greater issue at hand is the navigation of a complex of personal/cultural memory and its relation to commercial production.

    Though, I would like to ask what you mean exactly by passive and active music. There are a great deal of ways that dichotomy could be understood.

  3. 3 butttub
    February 17, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    what about massive and impactive music? I find definition by lapsus to be best whenever possible.

  4. 4 paisleyreich
    February 18, 2010 at 3:25 am

    Well, I’m interested about any interpretation of the active/passive question. The way I was thinking about it in relation to the two articles has really nothing to do with the substance of the music itself but instead how it is consumed. The Economist article seems to indicate that no matter what the music is, if it is the contemporary “hit” people will buy a lot of it to fill some sort of baseline desire for a relationship with music. Then on the other hand you have the “lo-fi” musicians (even if the fi isn’t lo, like Toro y Moi or something), who are almost all dyed in the wool DIYers who often are not only producing music but maintaining or contributing to blogs and communicating closely with the online music community. This is the “active” type, where, theoretically, they could record, produce, distribute, sell, review and generally manufacture the identity of their music. So, you could almost take away everything and you would still have a miniature version of the whole indie music industry except for the public performance aspect entirely contained within one person. The point is, these sorts of people working in concert are doing a lot to power the “blog rock” music scene and it’s really an active, conscious decision they’re making to do so, as opposed to the totally passive reception of the “Mamma Mia” soundtrack or whatever is top of the more traditional music metrics at the time.

  5. 5 paisleyreich
    February 18, 2010 at 3:25 am

    gah, “interested in”, not “interested about”

  6. 6 butttub
    February 20, 2010 at 12:26 am

    for me i think the biggest question re: politics and art is not the manifestly political content of the art but the conditions of production and distribution. i’d love to hold a panel on this at the GI Conference…

  7. 7 deweydecimal
    February 20, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    Jeff’s first comment got me thinking about this thing that I saw on twitter the other day, I forget where I saw this, but…the guy’s point was that something like Avatar or Dan Brown books, that are crazy popular like that does not come under the same sort of scrutiny that something more obscure does. The average Avatar viewer or Dan Brown reader, is part of that overwhelming majority of people that doesn’t see a lot of movies or read a lot of books. But people that are into things that aren’t as widely appreciated are more skeptical, more likely to judge things within the framework of other precedents in the same medium. Tangentially related I know…but just what I was thinking…

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