Wed July 20
Doug Fir Lounge
830 E Burnside
[Editor's Note: As former leader of both Nation of Ulysses and the Make-Up--two of the most visionary, conceptually complex bands in punk's history--Ian Svenonious has left an indelible mark on the face of contemporary independent music. With his Portland return this week as the frontman of Weird War, we thought it a perfect opportunity to continue our semi-regular series of guest music columnists. Take it away, Ian…]
As steward of the Fed, Alan Greenspan has set radically low interest rates in recent years, fueling gonzo speculation of real estate. The subsequent inflation has transformed cities across America and displaced millions of poor people. As a parallel, we have witnessed the rise of two paradigmatic indie music movements of the last five years: "Electro-Clash" and its successor, the semi-acoustic/psychedelic "folk" revival--movements based on the absence of space. While the two forms are distinct and even aesthetically in opposition to the other, they seem to share a common genealogy; these are the fraternal twins of Alan Greenspan.
This shift in form has been presented in music journalism as being the result of a new awareness of old traditions, but in reality, it's been one of market forces. The groups now--like the expansive rock groups of the suburban era--are a reaction to, and an expression of, the real estate market and the economy as a whole. Both of these forms advertise the dearth of insulated space--a new kind of living arrangement for most Americans--predicated by the abandonment of the suburbs by their traditional bourgeois inhabitants, who have now occupied and settled once abandoned cities. The new streamlined "folk" acts and the one-or-two person computer programmed "electro" aggregates are wed not only by a reduction in numbers of the performer (resulting in a larger number of total "groups") but principally--and most importantly--by the abandonment of the acoustic drum set.
Typically singular or small, the "folk" and "electros" can practice anywhere, and therefore do away with the need for the sound-proofed practice space, a hot commodity in any "gentrified" city. This stylistic transformation, besides exposing electro-clash's debt to Mr. Greenspan, reveals that the rock 'n' roll group has always been an expression of expansion and settlement; linked forever to property and real estate. "Punk Rock," for example, began in New York during a famous economic blight when space was readily available in the form of "lofts." It can be considered a form of homesteading, a call to colonization, especially considered alongside the later punk affinity for "squatting" in abandoned spaces and transforming fallow warehouses into clubs.
Like the terms "arena rock" and "bar band," the term "garage band" implies a relationship with space; in this case, ownership of a garage and hence a homestead. In fact, the term "garage band" is a euphemism as loaded as "inner-city youth," implying the rocker is the member of an atomic family with a suburban split-level and two-car hutch. In practice of course, the garage band can exist anywhere where there is available space or affordable property. The garage scene in America is now principally represented in blighted post-industrial centers such as Detroit, which resembles pre-"gentry" New York in a way.
The Rock band, therefore, in it's very essence, declares "I've got space." Whether its an invitation for settlement (like early punk) or an advertisement of affluence, the rock 'n' roll band cannot be divorced from the idea of real estate ownership and therefore, from conquest.
Like the orchestras that accompanied European imperialism, the rock 'n' roll band was the soundtrack to invasion and occupation. It's commonly known to historians that, more than Reagan and his arms race or the Polish Pope's revival of medieval reaction and bigotry, the Beatles and their ilk were actually responsible for the collapse of socialism in the East (hence the "Velvet Revolution"). But just as the rock group has been the most successful exponent of imperialism and capitalism overseas, it is also a key figure in real estate ventures inside the country.
These new types of micro-groups are an advertisement for a new way of living, a new serfdom to be tolerated as the class divide becomes intolerably large and the specter of home ownership and personal solvency becomes more absurd and unrealistic. They also point to the imperial reversal and the American decline. The only space in America now is cyber infinitude, to replace the ravaged "new world," hopelessly polluted after a few decades of mindless exploitation.