A unified scene

March 31, 2008 at 3:56 pm | Posted in Music, Art, Etcetera | 1 Comment
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The Hold Steady 

Over at Popmatters, Eric Zimmerman goes on a road trip stalking The Hold Steady and muses about whether technology has stubbed-out the social function of rock’n’roll:

Technology has changed everything. Because the internet has replaced mainstream radio as a distribution medium, artists do not have to tailor their sound to a broad audience to get heard. The result is that artists no longer need to try to appeal to as broad a cross-section of fans through a broad range of influences. This has its benefits when it comes to artistic diversity. Many experimental indie bands have produced beautiful, aesthetically rich work. But what is lost is the unifying, social function of rock. As David Brooks wrote in this New York Times editorial from November 11, 2007, rock music used to serve as a “countervailing force” to commercial and social fragmentation.


If the indie scene is segmented, the Hold Steady represents a reintegration. They aspire for a musical common ground, a sound that can appeal to a broad cross section of indie and mainstream fans. “I always dream about a unified scene,” lead singer Craig Finn cries on “Sweet Payne”, from Almost Killed Me. And as I find out in my travels with the band, a Hold Steady tour is a search for that scene, both musically and socially. 

Attempting to unite egalitarian social values with a simple belief in the emotional power of music, the band fosters a sustained, mutual affection with their fans. They believe not only in the aesthetic beauty of popular music, but also in its social and redemptive potential, qualities, which are highlighted on tour. In short, they are on a crusade to put the “rock” back in indie rock. But that’s going to be easier said than done.

He overplays the extent to which the ‘indie scene’ has fragmented into people just listening to MP3s in their bedrooms, particularly at a time when live music is flourishing, but he’s correct that a great deal of modern indie music promotes form over feeling, aesthetic values over social and emotional ones. There’s value to both, of course, but my favourite artists have always managed to achieve a synthesis of the two.

Photo by Flickr user falcon170ct (Creative Commons)

Update: Here’s the band live in their home town of Minneapolis


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  1. […] post title comes from a Hold Steady tune. I’m nothing if not […]

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