Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Heaven forbid you dance

Reflections on Sasquatch, indie music and pretentiousness

I finally went to Sasquatch this year. I've been meaning to for the last couple of years, but life gets in the way - other plans, family visiting et al. It was an immensely enjoyable day out. Gorgeous weather and lots of great bands made for a vasool day of entertainment.

Seeing a bunch of upcoming and established bands - Beirut, Ozomatli, Crudo, Modest Mouse and R.E.M. was a great experience - even with the rain that graced the ending part of the day. The only bad note was M.I.A. - a lot of people loved her act, but I was left cold (literally and figuratively) by her dancehall/ reggae/ electronica mix.

The day reminded me of the site 'Stuff white people like' (Hat Tip: India Uncut). They have an entry for 'standing still at concerts'. I quote:

The problem is that most of the music that white people like isn’t really dance-friendly. More often the songs are about pain, or love, or breaking up with someone, or not being able to date someone, or death.

So when white people go to concerts at smaller venues, what to do they do? They stand still!

It struck me forcibly when Beirut and Ozomatli performed in quick succession.

Don't get me wrong. Beirut's music is gorgeous. Ukulele, trumpets and Balkan brass band sounds all come together and the music has texture. You can feel the layers in the music combine, making it more than the sum of its parts. What got to me was the somberness of it all. I mean, Zach Condon, the guy behind Beirut is all of twenty-two years old. He's been creating music since he was 15. Isn't that too young to be so dreary? As I say to a colleague at work (who's 22 incidentally). " Aren't you too young to be so bitter?"

It's something I've been feeling for a while now and reading the blog post on 'standing still at concerts' a month back made it stick. So much of the indie music I hear (not all, but enough to make it a trend) is goddamn downbeat. Death Cab for Cutie, Fleet Foxes, The New Pornographers (all performing at Sasquatch) fall into this category. So do that indie favorite, The Shins and many others I keep hearing being hyped up on indie radio. I stopped following recommendations on popular music sites and radio stations because it was all getting so pretentious and precious.

After Beirut left, Ozomatli came on stage and changed the mood of the crowd on a dime. This Latin rock/hip-hop group from L.A. really knows how to throw a party. They had the crowd rocking in no time to their infectious mix of Latin, hip-hop, rap, dub and general joyfulness. In the defense of M.I.A, her music throws political bombs but she manages to keep the party going while doing that.

Another new group I saw, Crudo ( Dan the Automator's side project) helped you let your hair down as well. They combined hip-hop, rock and some neat work on the turntable to put out a irresistible mix that you couldn't help dance to. These three turned out IMO to be the best showcases for going to a music festival to try new music. I was really impressed by R.E.M's set as with Modest Mouse, but they are the biggies. I wouldn't expect any less from them.

To kind of reinforce my point on how annoying and insular indie rock can get, I point you to KEXP's blog post on day 1 at Sasquatch. Not even a mention of one of the smaller bands (Ozomatli and M.I.A were both on the main stage). I rest my case.


Jim said...

Wow. You know, we had one guy able to do updates during the festival itself, but we had three other guys there shooting too. (You can now see there photos here.
We were severely limited in our access all around. Our coverage had nothing to do with being "insular". In fact, KEXP regularly plays and podcasts these so-called "smaller bands."

Ajay said...

Jim, thanks for stopping by!

I may be too harsh on KEXP specifically, but yes, that's how I feel about the indie 'scene' in general :).