‘To push into other audiences.’
Know your enemy
In the final part of the Enough Records Manifesto series I’m pushing into what, to some, is the most contentious point of them all – ‘to push into other audiences’. As a general rule this one should garner fairly obvious approval – no one, no matter how in love with the intricacies and eccentricities of tiny hobbyist corners would deny at least some desire to spread the word of good music to ever more people and on that level this part of the manifesto doesn’t bear up to much scrutiny. That said though there are arguments brewing around it, not because more people listening can ever be considered a bad thing but because the source of those new listeners can always draw a line between two major schools of thought within the free music movement.
On the one hand you have those who look at the scene and, finding it to be a very good one, want it to exist in isolation from the rest of the cultural world – not isolated from new input and influences but very definitely not attempting to usurp existing models, the most notable of which is the commercial mainstream. For those in this camp the main message seems to be that what we’re doing is good, undeniably so, so why frame it in any relation to the opposition? Why even call the mainstream model ‘opposition’ in the first place when their existence and ours are so obviously juxtaposed? Even if business led systems garner more listeners and more influence in most peoples cultural lives our mere presense as an alternative, albeit an understated one, proves that there are other ways and that, vastly succesful or not, those other ways are always valid in their isolation. It’s an approach which I can understand and it’s certainly the more comfortable option as far as most aspects of what we do goes; it allows us to negate the demands of competition and focus solely on the music without worrying about the wider context it takes within society. We don’t have to proselytize, promote or compare ourselves to the work being pumped out by those whose main motivation is profit and through that we don’t have to compromise an inch in search of wider acceptance. That most people beyond our still very insular world will never hear much of the music which we love is a side note, in time those who want to hear something new will, perhaps, come across it on their own or by the actions of a self-sustaining movement without our having to move into enemy territory to spread the word. And it’s a belief which will always hold sway within the movement because, as ever, no one ideology can dictate the progress of such an incredibly diverse community of musicians, listeners, writers and miscellanious others. But – and there’s always a but – there’s at least one other school of thought working away on the issue. And it’s the school that I belong to.
For most of us our cultural life, be it musical, literary, visual, political, social or anything else; is dictated from birth by the financially minded behemoths of the mainstream. Billions are spent on advertising and marketing, not to mention the myriad auxiliary forces of indoctrination, which tell the majority of people what direction they should be following in their intellectual and cultural development. It’s only occasionally an aggressive force at work, indeed for the most part it presents itself as an acceptably innate influence in our lives. Certain things come to dominate the landscape because they supposedly hold the quality, or at least the mass appeal, to do so and to look beyond them is to step into an ‘alternative’ stream which, whilst rarely railed against, is perpetually viewed as the niche province of the semi-outsider in our local and global societies. Embrace the different by all means, but never suggest that it could hold a real audience because, were that the case, the forces which are mobilised to promote the mainstream would already have embraced it and to suggest anything to the contrary is to indulge in a cultural arrogance which is easily dismissed by most. That a cultural and economic elite generally do just that when they attempt to define and control each emergent trend is neither here nor there – their tools within the market and media seperate the individual from the message, thus validating the latter and freeing the former from criticism. The ‘market’ and its attachments are granted divine right in pretty much everything.
Of course there’s never a clear dividing line between what the mainstream, as represented by most commercial and media interests, will promote and what is created beyond their remit. Were the model that dictatorial it would face actual opposition but given its subtlety in assimilating the alternative it shows its true strength. New and original cultural streams can be brought into the fold with relative ease and the illusion of artistic freedom can be granted through that but there always remains the proviso that anything which is adopted must live up to basic commercial and socially acceptable edicts. Rock and Roll blossomed with the blessing of the right front men, Punk became tame and sanitised, Hip Hop was sold as a fantasy from an imagined Gangster reality – all de-clawed and stripped of the vitality which defined them before being allowed to enter the mainstream, with those who held to the original ideas and concepts held firmly down on the margins. Free music, or rather open culture, allows for no such moderations in the art. Here the audience is granted no cultural road map and sold no definite model of what is or isn’t good, the listeners simply pick up on whatever holds resonance with them. Which is why I, amongst others, do hold our scene to be in opposition to the traditional manifestations of art within our society. The intents driving the two approaches to art are violently contradictory and I take it as a fairly obvious if unpleasant truth that if we were to reach any measure of success with a mass of people the financially minded system would readily launch attacks on what we do.
Viva la Revolucion
Already rare cases of plagiarism circulate and already the public image of free music is being perpetuated as that of the inferior and the alternative. Music which we know to be amazing struggles under socially perceived truths of what the free model is capable of and whilst we’re still marginal enough not to merit any great attention the time will come where that changes and either cultural looting or negative propoganda will be used to re-inforce the truth that people, without proper guidance from the political, commercial and social establishment, are incapable of creating truly great art. It’s up to us to prove to new and alien audiences that that’s untrue, it’s up to us not to attempt to assert our own tastes but simply to prove that any individual can find a rich and valid cultural landscape without taking their cues from those with the most money and clout. Failing that we can only accept that the best of what we see, hear and read will forever be marginalised, appropriated or derided beyond the circled wagons of an insular scene.