By now you've probably heard the news: MTV came to our city to record a segment entitled "Portland's Organic Music Scene." The bands they talked to ran the gamut from the big (Colin Meloy) to the small (Meth Teeth), and from pop music (Starfucker) to experimental (White Rainbow). And, well, to be honest, it was pretty impressive. Granted, some have complained about the lack of musical diversity (there was no punk, hiphop, or metal) and limited ethnicity of the subjects featured in the clip, but in all, the feature was surprisingly well balanced in its explanation of why this city is crammed with so much artistic expression (rain, basements, and cheap rent, mostly).
Of course, when people in the Pacific Northwest hear tales of MTV's loose lips threatening to sink our ships, it brings to mind a particular grunge-era Week in Rock MTV News segment on Seattle that featured a young Tabitha Soren singing the praises of the flannel revolution. Then again MTV has far less influence now than it did back then, and a few of the more youthful bands featured in the Portland report were barely even alive when the network stopped playing music fulltime and focused more on youth-oriented programs like the Real World and TRL, the forgettable street ragamuffin that was Jesse Camp, and the venereal disease free-for-all that is A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila.
To alleviate my fears on the issue I turned to the man behind the video, MTV segment producer Christopher Smith. "There's so much music going on everywhere across America these days," Smith says over email. "I think we're just chasing the white rabbit in terms of trying to nail it all down, but we can try—city by city—to give people a look at the diversity of American music."
Along with associate producer Matt Harper, Smith researched (this included help from the volunteers at PDX Pop Now!), filmed, interviewed, and handled nearly every element of the segment. But if all this newfound national attention directed at Portland leads to even more newcomers to our city, it wasn't their goal.
Says Smith, "There's never any intent on trying to blow up scenes; we're just merely turning on the spotlight—showcasing new music shimmering in the underground and trying to give potential visitors a small idea of what it's all about and where these artists are coming from."
And while Smith insists that their choice of featured bands was not influenced, he does admit there was a certain style of band they wanted. "We tried to stay away from the larger, more recent transplants like Modest Mouse or Spoon, partially because of larger discussions about what they contribute to the overall Portland scene."
Smith also mentions the bands on his wish list that he was unable to feature ("Parenthetical Girls, the Shaky Hands, and Dragging an Ox Through Water"), and puts to rest any nefarious actions that people might associate with the network. "I just knew there was a scene bursting at the seams, so we went to take a look and find out."
And while the hipster knee-jerk reaction is to criticize something like this, honestly, it's not a bad place to be: living in a city with an arts community that has captured the attention of the national media. Now if only we could get Tabitha Soren out here....