political in name only 🗳️

shows to fight winter blues, songs to indulge 'em, & a rant on "political bands"

this week’s newsletter is going to be extra beefy in the discourse section. I didn’t mean to send it out so late in the week, but it’s finals season for me so 🤷🏽‍♀️ but! I did want to talk about the UK election and apolitical “political” bands, and how dumb they must think we truly are when they use progressivism as an aesthetic for profit (you can find that in the discourse section!).

I’ll be sending out newsletters during the holiday season as well, but bear in mind that for a lot of venues (and artists) this time in winter is a slow season. I’ve got a lot of great shows though, including what may be Priests last play for a long time, and a record release for The Trash Bags that promises to cost as much as a subway swipe. Also, there are some stacked holiday and NYE parties this year, don’t miss out!

upcoming shows

12/19 | The Trash Bags Record Release w/ Gnarcissists and cumgirl8 @ TBA

12/28 | Death By Sheep Holiday Party ft. Deli Girls, Dreamcrusher, Grooming (Record Release), Fitnesss + more @ Trans-Pecos ~ all ages

12/30 | Godcaster / Fantasy / Bug Fight / Water From Your Eyes @ The Broadway ~ 21+

12/31 | Femme Fatale's Space Cowgirl NYE 2020 Party! @ Home Sweet Home ~ lineup TBA

12/31 | Priests w/ Russian Baths and Ani Ivry-Block (of Palberta) @ Rough Trade ~ 18+

1/15 | Thick w/ Gymshorts and Dropper @ Rough Trade ~ 18+

2/2 | Dr. Martens Presents: Phony Ppl @ The Sultan Room ~ 21+ (free)

2/6 | Stuyedeyed + Material Girls + Gift @ The Sultan Room ~ 21+

2/8 | Native Sun Release Show w/ Public Practice and Pure Adult @ The Dance ~ 18+

2/22 | Underground Zine Release Party with Poppies @ Alphaville ~ 18+

3/21 | Bambara @ Music Hall of Williamsburg ~ 18+

3/24 | White Reaper w/ Young Guv @ Music Hall of Williamsburg ~ 18+

4/2 | Surf Curse @ Warsaw ~ all ages

last minute tickets

12/19 | The Trash Bags Record Release w/ Gnarcissists and cumgirl8 @ TBA

12/19 | Christmas at Carmelo's w/ Coco Verde, DaPop, Ryan Laetari, Di Ivories & Gawn @ Carmelo’s ~ 21+

12/20 | Surfbort w/ Bodega and Weeping Icon @ Market Hotel ~ all ages

in my queue

it’s pretty solidly winter now (especially since New York City got hit with its first real snowfall) and during this time I tend to listen to slower tracks. think shoegaze, think sad (and S.A.D), think lo-fi. here are some tracks that are perfect for the winter blues:

you ever have those saturdays where you sleep in, but instead of feeling well-rested you feel strung out and reluctant to get out of bed, nevermind your home? this song is for those saturdays, when motivation escapes you and the day weighs on you. I like listening to this song on rainy days, when the foggy windows look as clouded as my head. also good for when everything is grey, from dirty slush to the stark, imposing image of the manhattan skyline. good for wallowing!

probably imo the most introspective and revealing track Turner has penned to date. It’s nostalgic, melancholic, and full of deep longing (and begrudging resignation) for relationships that have changed without us meaning them to. although I’m not one of the biggest rock acts of the 21st century, I can understand the desire for simpler times (i.e. when my parents fed and clothed me and I spent my entire day with my friends). honestly the holidays always puts me in a pensive mood, and this track (along with the entire album) is often on repeat.

want more sad tracks? I have a playlist for that

what i’ve read

This is What Insanity Sounds Like ~ by Eli Zegler

  • since the discourse™️ this week is about politics, imagine my delight when I came across this lovely piece about angry music that is politically empty! it’s all about post-grunge music, a genre I wasn’t entirely aware of in this sense, and I really liked reading more about it. it articulates why in my early years rock (or at least the rock I was exposed to) failed to connect with me; it wasn’t being made for me, it was for an angry, disaffected, conservative audience that wanted to victimize itself. because this article was so interesting I couldn’t pick just one quote! essential read:

  • “If anything, what makes post-grunge contemptible is that its hypermasculinity is so hysterically intense and over-the-top. Instead of depth or nuance, post-grunge singers rely on cliches: sweeping imagery and violent sentiments that communicate the frustration they feel towards vague, looming enemies.”

  • “…while white male rage and despair went on to define American domestic terrorism in the 2010s, post-grunge—a predominantly white genre—was celebrating these same emotions on the foremost rock and pop stations throughout the country. The problem was not that bands were vocalizing these emotions in the first place, but that rather than looking deeper into rage and despair, they romanticized their surface-level irrationality in one radio hit after another.”

  • “The perspective endemic to post-grunge—a white male vocalist whose troubles are too overwhelming for him to consider his interconnection to others experiencing the same—speaks to the political cynicism of a good deal of its listenership, one which could care less about systemic injustices since they’re going through too much personal shit themselves.”

  • keywords: machismo, hypermasculinity, apolitical, post-grunge, projection

The Batshit Album That Explains How 2019 Feels ~ by Eli Enis

  • really liked this piece despite the fact that I almost made it into the new decade without ever listening to 100 gecs (i had blissfully avoided it until a comedy show ruined my streak). while it’s not my taste, 100 gecs are a really interesting example of post-internet music by people who literally don’t know a world before social media. I like reading about the way this fact influences the music people make, and how referential and genuinely genre-slippery the music can be — much like how consumers aren’t beholden to a specific genre anymore, today’s acts seem to be equal-opportunity, unjudgmental samplers (in a bigger way than pre-internet). Also, in terms of the disputedly ‘bad’ acts they are inspired by, does this generation have enough distance from the bad music of the noughties to not only feel unashamed in indulging in it, but also reproduce it unironically?

  • “The musical palette they pull from is also wired with the boundary-breaking earnestness of the internet age. They borrow equally from cool indie kid and Hot Topic scene kid genres, blurring the line between deep irony and unflinching embrace until the separation appears to have never existed.”

  • keywords: earnestness, post-internet sensibility, democratization

Idle Threat: Who Are The True Champions Of DIY Rock In 2020? ~ by John Doran

  • there are two John Doran pieces in this newsletter, mostly because I like his rather irreverential way of writing. in this piece, he manages the impulse to categorize bands emerging out of London under one label, trying to avoid the pitfalls of the NME’s attempts to create a new genre. it’s meant to be a review of the Speedy Wunderground’s Year 4 Compilation but ends up a lot more than that. it’s interesting to see him tease out what makes these bands different than their older contemporaries (there are a fair amount of shots fired at IDLES). there is also a fair amount of reference to how much music has changed post-internet, so it acts as a good companion piece to the article above.

  • “If this vision of a mainstream band pretending to be underground so they can become even more mainstream is obviously anachronistic then this is thrown into sharp relief by these younger bands who, comparatively speaking, dgaf and make much more formally exciting, intellectually thrilling music while often embracing pop culture in an un-ironic manner…This is the first wave of rock music made by people who were born after pretty much everyone had the internet and, more importantly, the first generation to grow up with the reality of having a smartphone on them at all times.”

  • keywords: autofiction, genre, jouissance

Making Good Their Escape: Black Country New Road Interviewed ~ by John Doran

  • what a masterclass in pursuing an interview and wrestling with a tough interviewee. I also like how Doran isn’t afraid to admit he maybe had the wrong idea about black country, new road, (read the article above where he describes their music as “soul-searching, nerve jangling anxiety”) and I like how willing he was to allow the band to speak for ourselves. I think the hard part about interviewing is that you intellectualize a lot before and take artists a bit too seriously — sometimes they aren’t what you expect, and that’s alright (maybe better). also, I keep going back to this because I’m still not entirely sure what isaac wood said at some points? Why was he so evasive, and his responses, as Doran says, so impenetrable?

  • “Observing BC,NR in real life - a bunch of mates not long out of their teens, doing normal stuff, making fish burritos, talking about football, laughing about a cartoon alcoholic horse, cracking up at the way dads use stickies in text messages - I’m forced to admit that before I met them I was guilty of projecting onto them slightly. I had this idea of them being laureates of anxiety, simply because it fitted in neatly with some preconceived ideas I had about them being part of an emergent generation, with everything that implies.”

  • keywords: sprechgesang, literary narrative, Speedy Wunderground

the discourse

last week the UK went through one of the most important elections in its history, and there was a huge effort to push young people to the polls. it’s been quite a decade for people in the UK— and the US tbh — and a lot of young people who voted in this election spent some of their most formative years in an intensely politicized climate. 

bands have picked up on this political moment, coming out with songs that speak to it (think the 1975’s use of Greta Thunberg in a self-titled song). In fact, this year’s prestigious Mercury prize was called the “most political” in years. With all this going on, it’s not hard to see why young people in the UK expected musicians to speak out in favor of Labour during election season.

I don’t want to talk about this too much here, but I’m of the opinion (now) that it is impossible for a band to not be political. what they say and what they don’t say about the current moment aligns them with a side. I will say though bands who do (even if for just one song) make a political statement actively dislike being called political for that. they are making music that speaks to them, and would rather not be pigeon-holed as a “political band”, which happens a lot (especially to women artists, queer artists, and artists of color). but a lot of these artists recognize that the climate they are writing in undoubtedly has an effect on their music, whether that be explicit or not:

“I definitely do not go into songwriting with the purpose of being political, but it often just naturally comes out because feminism and other political issues are so prevalent in our lives. Most of my songs just kind of come out of what we talk about.” - Emma Roffey of (the now defunct) Hardly Boys for Impose Mag

I don’t think they necessarily have to sing about politics, as songwriting can be relatable in ways that aren’t over the top, but when an artist speaks to the frustration I’m feeling as a result of the political climate I am more likely to support them. some political songs can sound incredibly cheesy if forced - as a writer, if this is something you feel inspired to speak about, that shines through better. when artists force themselves to talk about politics in their music, however, in order to capitalize on this desire for connection without actually being politically engaged outside of that, it falls flat and gets rightfully called out:

I personally think that artists, especially those with a big platform, have a certain responsibility to speak in moments of crisis like this (you could chalk this up to fan entitlement, but I think an artist’s role in the public eye is a bit more complicated). just thinking back to the UK general election, when voter registration was about to close and grime artist stormzy’s call for young people to register actually led to a spike in voter registration forms.

when artists can have that kind of sway, neutrality becomes a political decision to be divorced from the urgency of our times — because the election won’t change things for the elite, they don’t care and would prefer to stay out of it. consider when the 2016 presidential election was underway and taylor swift, whose influence is so widely recognized that she was named billboard’s woman of the decade, refused to endorse a candidate and only “broke” her silence in order to, in the most divisive election in modern history, post the hugely depoliticized message “Today is the day. Go out and VOTE.” (joke below)

I can imagine how frustrated young people in the UK were when their generation’s biggest stars refused to take part in the political debate. Even though t swift isn’t my favorite, her continued refusal to pick sides revealed the immense amount of privilege she has, and perhaps called into question how much she cares about her fan-base outside of their spending power.

if artists are going to talk about politics at all, maintaining neutrality while profiting off of a “liberal aesthetic” signals to us that you are just doing this for clout. it’s literally bare minimum to say ‘vote’, there is nothing profound or radical about it (especially coming from white, middle-class artists)— it’s just self-serving. (also, the political scientist in me would like to note that a lot of the work in changing how society functions happens outside of elections)

here’s what I’ll say about artists like swift who don’t want to express political opinions for fear of alienating fans. why would you want fans who openly support a racist president? what message does this say to your fans who are endangered by the policies that the right espouse, that they are expendable to you? Neutrality and silence during these times, when fascism is on the rise worldwide, is not an option.

I think its also a moment when we, as consumers and perhaps as journalists, should step back and think about the implications of this new wave of apolitical “political” bands. Some bands are simply trading on the profitability of progressiveness, not actually devoted to a world order that would be more equal for everyone (especially if that means taxing them more). Is it our fault for making the assumption that what a band sings about is based on their personal experience/opinion? Journalist Sean O’Neill tweeted about it rather succinctly:

as companies and public figures realize that virtue-signaling (even if devoid of any real action) helps sell products, they absorb certain ideologies in flat ways. Think about corporate feminism, the pink-washing that occurs during pride month, and even green washing. I think that just as those shallow attempts at pandering to a liberal audience get called out, so are consumers becoming equally frustrated with the depoliticized “Go Vote” message from bands. Although the UK election is over, the 2020 US presidential election is still underway. It’ll be interesting to see how people in the music industry avoid/walk into the pitfalls of bands like the 1975 (and until closer to the election, Charlie XCX)

questions

okay so since a big discussion this newsletter was about political songs, this week’s question will focus on that:

What is your favorite political song, and how exactly is it political?

mine’s a secret, sorry (i can’t choose)

concluding notes

so I like sending this out weekly on Wednesdays, but I was thinking of trying to send it out more often during the holiday (December-January). Not necessarily for more shows, but because I always end up reading so much! the other option is I publish more reading guides on the site, and link back to them in the weekly newsletter for people who want more articles to read. I’ll figure it out and let you know in the next newsletter — also I cut the field report this week! maybe next time