On Tuesday evening, I attended a panel held in Kroch Library entitled Punk: An Aesthetic, which included esteemed panelists such as Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin (a professor of evolutionary biology here at Cornell) and the awesomely named author Jon Savage (the man behind England’s Dreaming, a book Sun columnist Peter Jacobs ’13 called “the definitive history of British punk”). Johan Kugelberg, an author and archivist, summed up punk’s allure in a beautifully succinct manner, stating that he is drawn to art made by people on the margins of society, uninfluenced by commercialism. It’s what lends the Sex Pistols’ music its fuck-all abandon, gives credence to the sloganeering of 80's hardcore and has allowed Odd Future (and, I’ll fight you on this, they are punk rock) to become a voice to be reckoned with. Punk and other marginalized arts — including hip-hop and metal, among scores of other genres — are about democratizing and un-commoditizing art.
What irks me about most of these conversations surrounding punk, though, is that they seemingly ignore or deemphasize the exciting possibilities created by the computer age (the above panel, being concerned with archivists and historical memorabilia, is granted forgiveness in this regard). Old codgers scoff at the MP3 medium and praise luddites like Jack White for their stubborn allegiances to tape recordings and vinyl pressings. While these efforts are all well and good for the preservation of rock’s original spirit and culture, what is even more amazing about today is that almost anyone with a computer can create music. Talk about democratizing art; with the (admittedly illegal) help of torrents and the seedy underbelly of the internet, the tools for artistic expression are as freely available as anything. MP3s created with programs like Garageband, Ableton and Pro Tools are introduced for free. From a business perspective this is all rather unfortunate, but for music fans willing to dig through the depths of the net are rewarded with the discovery of music that is as unchained as ever.
Modern DIY music is as varied as you get: some recall the punk rock and hip-hop of yesterday garnished with some little known spices while others defy categorization all together. Here, I provide you with some highlights of modern sonic rebellion to remind you that, while punk might have shifted its form significantly, it not only lives but thrives in the MP3 format.
Ardour by TeebsTeebs, who I discovered by — and I’m not shitting you — googling a local slang term my friends had coined for Taco Bell, may be an associate of critical darling and expert beat-wizard Flying Lotus, but his style is less jarring and more abstract. Taking cues from the organic-meets-electronic experimentations of Boards of Canada’s Music Has The Right To Children while remaining firmly rooted in trippy alternative hip-hop, Teebs creates the kind of beats that build slowly towards almost nothing, but this shouldn’t discourage the listener. What really matters is the mood of the music and the hazy, warm sounds that create as complete a sonic world as anything those geographically confused Scots ever constructed.
Aesthetica by LiturgySun contributor Paul Blank ’14, in a Test Spin of the latest record from black metal legends Enslaved, lamented that American critics were prone to shunning metal artists. Well, Liturgy is the exception that proves the rule. While nominally a black metal band, Liturgy is sort of an outcast from the traditional scene. Whether that’s because of frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s prickly persona — the Columbia grad once published a much-criticized creed pretentiously entitled Transcendental Black Metal — or because of the band’s profligacy for extreme repetition or simply because Pitchfork likes them is moot, because, as far as I’m concerned, this shit melts faces. “Generation” is absolutely relentless in its pummeling, chugging rhythms and “High Gold” exhibits the band’s ability to build something out of nothing. This is the type of band, like Sleigh Bells, for whom overly compressed MP3 is something of a godsend. Otherwise, all their fans would go deaf, albeit happily.
Replica by Oneohtrix Point NeverA favorite in the ambient electronic crowd, producer Daniel Lopatin’s project is about as meditative as you get. Loping piano loops, fridge buzzings and incidental noise flourish in recordings that are largely devoid of percussion. In another time, Oneohtrix Point Never might have been a high-minded concept only deemed fit for release by academic composers backed by grants from prestigious institutions. Instead, we get the enveloping work of a kid who majored in Library and Information Science. Undeniably influenced by the slowly evolving work of Phillip Glass, the largely repetitious collection of pieces on Replica — because music this obtuse and challenging can only be referred to as “pieces” — are a compelling and provocative listen.
New Brigade by iceageAnyone who has become familiar with my musical tastes knows one thing above all: scrappy punk rock tugs on my heartstrings more than any Arcade Fire anthem or Adele ballad (though I still occasionally tear up during “Someone Like You”). New Brigade is a definitive mission statement, for sure: pounding drums, flailing guitar strums and vocalizations that sacrifice comprehensibility for energy. The Copenhagen teens in iceage bring a vitality and immediacy to their music that is absolutely infectious. Most of all, though, I hope that they remind listeners that they too can participate in the ongoing musical dialogue. So go ahead and grab a guitar, acquire a copy of Logic Pro or invest in an old-school drum machine: these bands could be your life.