Archive for May, 2008


Restoring the balance

May 30, 2008

So it occurred to me, re-reading the last post, that it was awfully scholarly in tone (my day job is leaking through). To compensate, I present this:


OMG kittehs!!!!1!!!1 OMG Guitar Hero!!!!1!!!! [thanks, ICHC!]

We now return you to your regularly scheduled zed equals zee programming.

Previously: Play local: Harmonix


Read: Empire of Dirt

May 29, 2008

Wendy Fonarow is an anthropologist and lecturer at UCLA, and in Empire of Dirt: The Aesthetics and Rituals of British Indie Music, she turns her professional eye to the indie music subculture. It’s a scholarly work, and the nature and tone of the writing reflects that, but it’s nevertheless surprisingly readable. If ‘culture’ can be loosely defined as ‘all the things that you do that you don’t think about doing,’ part of the fun in reading this book is developing a self-awareness of indie culture by viewing it through the eyes of an ethnographer. For example, she talks about the central role of live music, and describes the existence of distinct ‘zones’, with zone 1 closest to the stage, zone 2 the intermediate region, and zone 3 near the back of the venue:

For the majority of zone one (the exception being the very front rows) participatory spectatorship is embodied in demonstrative physicality coordinated with the music and in following the proper etiquette associated with being near the stage. For zone two, participatory spectatorship is embodied in mental concentration on the music and a prolonged visual focus on performers onstage.

She goes on to describe the ‘proper etiquette’ for both regions (as well as for zone 3, the music industry zone), the demographics of the different zones, and how participants choose zones and transition between them.

Fonarow also makes an excellent case for using Puritanism as an analogy to understand indie culture: she contrasts indie music against the major labels (ie Catholicism), describes its ethos of simplicity, and compares their common emphasis on an unmediated experience of the ‘divine’:

I see a lot of the religious narrative of Puritanism in the indie music scene; the idea that, to have the pure divine experience, it has to be direct and unmediated. So the smaller and more intimate a show is, the ‘truer’ fans believe their experience was, compared to someone who saw them later on in a bigger venue. That’s why so many people claim to have seen the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club.

While Fonarow’s fieldwork was mostly in the British scene in 1993 and 1994, many of her observations still apply today, and to indie rock culture on both sides of the Atlantic. One exception is that she describes indie rock as defining itself in opposition to dance music (‘technophilia/technophobia; electronic drums/electric guitar; synthetic/organic; faceless/charismatic artists’). But this was before artists like Dan Deacon and Girl Talk, and the many other crossovers between indie and dance/electronica.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably immersed in indie rock culture to a greater or lesser extent. Empire of Dirt is a fascinating guide to thinking more deeply about what this culture is and what it means.

Popmatters review

More excerpts

website amazon


Buy a Freezepop synth, for charity

May 27, 2008

Nord 1 Synth

Kasson Crooker, of Freezepop, is selling a synth. The impetus for the sale is sad (our sympathies to his family):

i’m selling my nord lead 1 synth and donating the proceeds to charity. my dad has cancer and my grandmother died of it so i’m donating the money from this auction to the american cancer society. i’ve had this synth now for 8 years and it’s been through some amazing times with me. … i’ve used this synth on tons of recordings from splashdown to freezepop to symbion project. i’m leaving all my presets in it for you to use and you’ll probably recognize many from splashdown recordings. [more]

He’s throwing in a bunch of Splashdown, Freezepop, and Symbion Project goodies too. The auction ends on the evening of June 3rd. This is your chance to own a bit of music history, and it’s for a great cause  – bid high!

eBay link

[thanks, Erich!]


For Those Who Tried to Rock

May 26, 2008

If I post about a band here on zed equals zee, they have, in some sense, made it – they’ve gone beyond their circle of friends, and their high school Battle of the Bands, and are getting listening to by at least some members of the general (or at least indie-rock-obsessed) public. But for all the bands we listen to, there are scores of bands that never really got off the ground and are lost in obscurity – until now. For Those Who Tried to Rock is a blog-based project to document bands formed by every high-school student who dreamed of being a rock star. The photos and stories are funny, sure, but there also is a romance and poignancy to be found in these tales of enthusiasm (and if you’d like to see your high-school band immortalized, click here).

[via Boing Boing]


Threesome: mister mister

May 25, 2008

male icon

Three terrific songs with “Mr.” in the title. Liars and Clinic, from opposite sides of the Atlantic, are both a little more experimental but still compelling and listenable. The Liars track here, “Mr Your on Fire Mr” is from their first full-length, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top (2001). “Mr. Moonlight” is from Clinic’s brilliant second album, Walking With Thee (2001). In contrast, The National forgo experimentalism in favour of lyricism and emotion, although “Mr. November”, with its chorus of “I won’t fuck us over, I’m Mr. November” is one of the rawest and most intense National songs. The version here is from the Black Sessions, recorded in front of a live audience for a French radio station.

MP3: Liars – Mr Your On Fire Mr (more Liars)

MP3: Clinic – Mr. Moonlight (more Clinic)

MP3: The National – Mr. November (Black Sessions version) (more National)

Upcoming: Stay tuned for the XX version, of course.


Neophile: The First Time

May 24, 2008

Toronto-based The First Time are making a splash with their cover of “Sundown,” a mega-hit by iconic Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. This song, released in 1974, hit number one on the Billboard charts and cemented Lightfoot’s status as a major musician. I grew up listening to it, but it was always in the background – the kind of boring music your parents listened to. It wasn’t until I heard The First Time’s version that the song cracked open for me, and I realized that it was about infidelity, lust, addiction, and other decidedly grown-up themes. Like all great covers, it made me hear the original anew.

It’s late notice, but if you happen to be in Toronto, The First Time has a gig tonight at the Bovine Sex Club.

MP3: The First Time – Sundown [Gordon Lightfoot original here]

[I stole the image from TFT’s MySpace page, since I wasn’t enthusiastic about doing a Google Image search on the phrase ‘the first time’.]


Coverage: Emm Gryner, “For What Reason”

May 22, 2008

Emm Gryner

Guest blogger Scott says:

I’d call Emm Gryner the Canadian Tori Amos, except that Amos’s covers almost universally terrify me. Sure, it’s nice to have her there so you can actually understand the lyrics to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for a change, but her affectless approach to Eminem’s “’97 Bonnie and Clyde” or The Boomtown Rats’ “I Don’t Like Mondays” leaves me expecting her head to spin around and start vomiting cherries. Anyway, Gryner does a better job with Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” than with this. But you asked for indie, so indie you get.

[ed: Ozzy is cool with us, and we love the cover – stay tuned!]

Three fun facts about Emm Gryner: She toured with David Bowie (backup vocals and keyboards), including playing Glastonbury. She started her own record label, Dead Daisy, and signed In-Flight Safety. She was on the Mayor’s Honour List [pdf] of her hometown, Sarnia, in 2004.

MP3: Emm Gryner – For What Reason (Death Cab for Cutie cover)

More Emm Gryner: website myspace amazon

Previously: Coverage: Vampire Weekend, “Exit Music (for a Film)“; Coverage: I Hate Kate, “Major Tom”; Coverage: Self, “Ana Ng”