Last night was the Grammy Awards, and like every year, the most shocking thing that happened was that my friends proved they actually watched the Grammys. Less shocking (as we discussed back on Thursday with St. Vincent) is that most of the discussion was purely based on fashion. It is easy to say music has changed, that it’s worse now, that it’s more fake, whatever stance we wish to go for, but we as humans don’t even know how to TALK about music as an art form. We know how to talk about celebrity and fame, but could we hold a conversation about the actual music? I can speak only from what I see, but the answer seems to not be in music’s favor.
I recently found myself in NYC, exploring a bit, seeing a concert, and crashing with TDS Editor Extraordinaire Matt Jackson, and realizing, as I always do in NYC, just what makes it special. Perhaps it’s the ability to walk 30+ blocks in the January cold, marveling at the architecture, the shops, the signs, and the people (and even the nature, if you cross Central Park), without flinching or tiring. Maybe it’s the diversity of the town, neighborhood by neighborhood, borough by borough. Maybe it’s the scent of food carts, creating that special potpourri of meat and spice and char along the roads. What really struck me this time around, though, was the busker scene. Talented musicians of all stripes found their way out to pepper the commute from station to station with their own soundtracks. It struck me, in terms of this site, because if we are here to seek truth in music, to discuss what music means to us, what music means to the world, eventually we need to break things down to their purest form: music that exists to be performed, and how being confronted by music in general makes us feel.
It got me thinking of Dub FX, who I hadn’t heard of until a cold, early winter day a month or two ago. A woman struck up a conversation as we both waited for the bus, and the topic came up of what we were listening to. She was currently on a Dub FX kick. This, of course, meant nothing to me, so I asked about him. It was a God-Bless-Technology moment: she instructed me to look up the video I present here. We listened together on our respective smartphones, exchanging what was a knowing grin and nod somewhere in between. It’s the code of the music listener that gets to show off what they love, and it was one of those magical unexpected shared moments we have with strangers. And quite literally, it couldn’t have happened at any other time.
For the street performer such as Dub FX, this decade is a godsend, simple as that. A passerby can record them unaware and post them to the internet. A friend can snag their iphone and get a video to post to a personal performer account. Recording is cheap and easy, and sites exist to sell work without needing hard copies. Dub FX clearly has something just a little more fancy going on, which isn’t surprising if you look at his collection of loopers and effect pedals. Watching this video proves this guy requires modern technology: ten years ago people like Andrew Bird were doing this, but it was not remotely in vogue. Still, watching this video still shows a street performer. He’s still down to earth enough to explain what he is doing, while proud enough to make sure the crowd knows he created the entire soundscape. People are still going about their business, but some are stopping to watch. It’s living, breathing entertainment, and there’s something far more honest about that than awarding Daft Punk a statue of a gramophone. With simply a voice and some technological help, Dub is creating a soundscape that is no less compelling while still sounding slick.
I’ll be touching on some busker heroes from this aforementioned trip later this week, but I feel this sets the stage. It’s arguable what it means to “make it” in music. It’s debatable whether a man with some digital effects and a decent voice is inherently making music or not. To be apart from the world of needing to be fashionable to have worth, however, is its own brand of making it. Can you imagine the Grammy crowd picking this performance apart? “I dunno, it’s OK, but he looks homeless.” “Camouflage pants are sooooo outdated!” In quite the opposite manner, it is impossible to discuss this song, even granted its topic of fame, without focusing on aspects of actual music creation. To be able to stun an audience based on one’s music? The chance to watch new potential fans stop in their tracks to witness your own music? That’s more “making it” than 5 minutes on national TV with the tackiest backup dancers money can buy will ever be.
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