Anonymous asked: In terms of historical dialectic: would you agree that the current “DIY on a computer” method of production is the reactionary antithesis of the preexisting thesis which required more formal/classical training?
no, i wouldn’t agree with that. i think that the current “DIY on a computer” method is pretty solidly in line with the tradition of all folk music ever in general since the dawn of humanity. i mean like, music existed before there was anything to get trained formally in, and it wouldn’t have ever existed at all if people didn’t create independently with the tools that are available to them. the basic concept of DIY is as old as music itself, so no, i don’t think someone making music by themselves on a computer represents a massive contradiction or rejection of what music was before there were computers or home recording tools."
— via Elite Gymanstics’ Tumblr, re: DIY music-making and the idea of laptop music as a modern kind of folk music. To be sure, this is a narrative we feel strongly about but can’t really cover here due to the scope of this project. Still, a thing to keep in mind.
We met Alynda and Yosi of Hurray for the Riff Raff on our New Orleans stop. It was the Day of the Dead, and they joined us on the levee in the Lower 9th Ward to play some music and talk about the culture and community of their adopted city before heading off to a parade to mourn friends lost in the past year. We’ll be posting the interview and a track from their upcoming album (due out May 1) soon, but until then, check out this gorgeous cover of Lucinda Williams’ “People Talkin’.”
There are interesting parallels between indie rock and the folk movement of the early Sixties. Both hinged on purism and authenticity, as well as idealism about the power of music within culture and society; both were a reaction to shallow, complacent times and their correspondingly shallow, complacent entertainment; both had populist roots but were eventually commandeered by white middle-class college kids.
Corporate rock was about living large; indie was about living realistically and being proud of it. Indie bands didn’t need million-dollar promotional budgets and multiple costume changes. All they needed was to believe in themselves and for a few other people to believe in them, too…
…You could take this particular approach to music and apply it to just about anything else you wanted to. You could be beholden only to yourself and the values and people you respected. You could take charge of your existence.
- Michael Azerrad, Our Band Could be Your Life
Azerrad was writing about indie rock as a rebellion against the materialistic, conservative Reagan-Bush era. Indie/punk/underground music was important because it was setting up an alternate system - your values are not our values, your lives are not our lives.
Twenty, thirty years later, the DIY underground ethic is thriving, but the climate is different. The music business is in crisis, the economy is in crisis, politics are a hot mess. If the anti-corporate underground started out as a bomb shelter, it’s become a sprawling metropolis - one that’s more than viable to submerge yourself in.
Azerrad’s underground was propelled by the violent sounds of punk and hardcore. Jamming econo, maximizing minimalism, encouraging musicians who didn’t have conventional “talent,” supporting communities over corporations - these were all set up as oppositional, and the music followed suit. But if hardcore was a revolution, folk is an embrace. Values born of defiance have become necessities and folk’s not looking to prove anything. Your values are our values, it’s saying. Come in, we’re all in this together.
Bon Iver is quite a ways out of our project’s league, in terms of both popularity and style, but his new self-titled album still bears mentioning. Justin Vernon’s demure acoustics, honest earnestness, lumberjack beard, audience sing-a-longs, and log-cabin mythos on For Emma, Forever Ago earned him indie-folk notoriety. Four years later, Vernon’s full-length follow-up is finally out, and currently streaming on NPR.
The earnestness is in full effect, but now it’s blanketed by hazy layers of dreamy auto-tune. The opening bars and electric guitar wisps on closer, “Beth/Rest” sound more like a Journey song than anything a Guthrie would touch with a ten foot pole. The beard and flannel are certainly still there, but are those the only things qualifying this as a folk album?
The idea of place has always been prominent in folk music. Fittingly, Bon Iver’s tracklist reads like a space age road map: Perth; Minnesota, WI; Michicant; Hinnom, TX; Wash.; Calgary; Lisbon, OH. Some names are incomplete or composite, some just straight-up don’t exist. Perth is all the way out in Western Australia.
We’ve been talking a lot about how the internet has freed people from inhabited geographic communities and enabled them to form communities along more intangible lines. People aren’t as tied to their physical places as they once were. So maybe this is appropriate. Spacey folk, spanning fictitious spaces.
“Folk music” conjures up many images, from campfire songs to outlaw songs to protest songs, from freight-hopping troubadours, guitars in hand, to young bohemians slumming around cities, singing in coffee shops or on street corners. It has given a voice to the freewheeling individual while creating an anchor for tight-knit communities. For all its nuances. folk music has always appealed to a wide variety of voices seeking genuine expression.
American folk has given rise to more than its fair share of legends. For some, “real” folk began and ended with heroes like Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, and the Carter Family. For others, the genre is immediately associated with the revival of the early 1960s - with Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, or the early days of the Newport Folk Festival. Throughout American history, folk has been applied as a blanket genre, drawing from genres as disparate as gospel, blues, soul, bluegrass, and country.
What it means now is something very different. Although folk music continues to be heavily influenced by its history, looking backwards is not enough to understand and track where it is today.
Contemporary folk incorporates not only traditional genres but also modern ones such as punk, noise, and psychedelic, to simultaneously explore its roots and create something new. It appears in multi-generational family festivals and DIY gatherings in backyards and crowded living rooms. For a new generation of artists, both the meaning and the sound of folk is continuously evolving.
To find out what this form of music means to our generation, we are setting out to speak to as many young artists contributing to the new folk order as possible. Through interviews, conversations, and recordings, we will document the current state of folk in America. Starting with New England and stretching out across the country, we want to hear the perspectives of those who currently call themselves folk musicians, both in words and song.
We aim to convey our findings as directly as possible. We will record each artist’s responses to a uniform set of interview questions, as well as record them playing one song of their choosing, so that the audience can get a sense of the artists’ relationships with folk music through performance.
Folk music is vested in storytelling. As a generation that has grown up with the internet as a public forum, we are used to countless disparate stories being broadcast at any given moment. Our mission is to use digital tools to allow artists tell their stories as they see fit, and thus tie their narratives to the larger narrative of folk music in America.
Although the ultimate project will feature the direct voices of the artists, this tumblr will be a kitchen sink for thoughts, words, photos, ideas, songs, and inspiration (ours, yours, anyway). Stay tuned.