By:Larm: a post modern crisis still engulfs the music industry
Scandinavia’s music industry is on the up. Thanks to oil money, government investment, and streaming services – the suits are smiling. But at the By:Larm conference in Oslo delegates and speakers are still depressed. We’ve been here before.
At Cannes in ‘82 Wim Wenders filmed Room 666, a documentary on the death of cinema. Then the film industry was in freefall with audiences departing for television. The documentary captures a dozen or so directors talking in a hotel room beneath the glow of a TV set. They were presented with questions on a sheet of paper, all with a post modern lean. One reads: “Cinema, is it an art about to get lost, an art about to die?”
Yilmaz Güney, a Turkish director who appears only in voice due to concerns of extradition from his homeland, speaks of a conflict at the heart of cinema. Drawing the battle lines between industrial cinema and artistic cinema.
Post modernism is rife with even Steven Spielberg calling for more modest investment in order to secure the longevity of Hollywood. “I’m one of the last who would argue…” But he does. The documentary is about how the golden age was dead. Cinema was dead.
In the By:Larm (pron. ‘bee larm’) newspaper the editorial ran with the headline, “Reports of the music industry’s death have been greatly exaggerated.” And remembering the directors sombrely argue this case for Wenders, perhaps creative industries are more susceptible to melodrama and morbid fascination.
Regardless, at the heart of this debate and at the heart of almost every conference/showcase/festival I’ve attended is the tension between the industrial and the artistic. In Room 666 Noël Simsolo argues that you’re either part of an industry that is dying or part an art form that is thriving. “It’s not Cinema that’s dead, it’s the people who make it die by making stupid films. It’s because they can’t make the films they want.”
The music industry has been in stagnation for years, 1977 was its commercial peak and it’s been downhill from there. Stagnation that bred conservatism. What industrial music has become is a dying, derivative embodiment of destructive forces. It has stolen the audience from the artists. It has made them out to be fools. It has suggested that music isn’t moving forward. That new, exciting sounds aren’t being discovered. And what has been created is a sub-culture buried under the weight of these commercial interests and values. Not a long tail but an outpost. A pocket where music continues to be explored, where artists continue to work at music’s future. Giving it life. Broadly creating a two tiered art form, torn between these parameters.
To listen to music at a conference is not to ask, whether it is good or not, but rather to think of it in terms of artistic or commercial merit. The industry would call for compromise. But that’s where we are. Artists crossing the picket line to get paid.
Although I disagree Anna von Hausswolff was the artist many By:Larm attendees would claim to have successfully navigated this polemic. Ich Bin Nintendo & Mats Gustafsson are brilliant despite existing at the artistic end of the spectrum. Neneh Cherry impressed as a collaborative project with Rocketnumbernine (an improv. duo from Walthamstow). On the comfier side of things Guðrið Hansdóttir from the Faeroe Islands matches laconic, easy going folk tunes with traditional throat singing and sweet melodies. And Valgeir Sigurðsson pairs electronic love for Éric Satie (see: Jóhann Jóhannsson, Ólafur Arnalds) with the Gothic. In all of these acts you can hear the tension. Achingly trying to cultivate their ideas into something acceptable.
If Godard were here I imagine he would be fearful that industrial pressures are purging music of its artistry. Dispelling Scandinavia for its well versed musicology and conservatism. However I’d be inclined to disagree, especially when more music is being made available today than ever before. The view from the conference floor is that artistry is purging music of its industry. An idea much cheerier than the groans that greet it. Avant Garde! Advance!Tagged in: By:Larm, music industry, Room 666, Steven Spielberg, Yilmaz Güney
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