Does any single person, single group, single field of recreation or study, ever truly know when it is in the midst of a genuine “new movement?” If yes, beyond basic awareness, do any of the aforementioned ever have the ability to truly take advantage of any massive changes – to their fullest potential – whilst said changes are occurring?
Recent events in some parts of the world, like the extension of marriage rights to the U.S. LGBTQ community, would translate to a yes for this pair of questions. Unlike such a topic of this socio-political nature, what about for an aspiration for change that isn’t necessarily rooted in something established through public acknowledgement? Music has long fallen into a category that can be described as,
“Field that could stand for change but, isn’t life, death or otherwise prompting immediate attention so, it can wait or, change really slowly.”
It’s an unfortunate, but understandable, truth. There have certainly been changes occurring in the music business that affect a large portion of the global population to be sure (e.g. the rise of more competitive streaming outlets like Apple Music, the modification of playback limitations on SoundCloud’s non-native players across numerous high-profile music blogs, etc.). However, many of these arising shifts have been centered around a bigger picture modification of the industry’s primary consumption model or pricing structure. A change not centered around business quotas or quantifiable measurements – something more akin to change in industry professional or consumer mindset – has been far less of a water cooler topic. (Save for a few acute subjects like misogyny in music or the rise of openly queer bands.)
That isn’t to say there is no one out there pounding away at the proverbial pavement, trying to get the ball rolling on more of the latter. One such individual is the Lonely Vagabond – a music blogger of local Canadian lore, based in Toronto. LV, as I will refer to him here, is a champion for the next movement of conceptual change for the music industry –one with a term of his own design: “No Pop” or, “Not Popular” in full. Basically, the philosophy is, as LV states in a manifesto he published earlier this year,
“rooted in the attitude that people should search for the music that moves them, away from the corporate machine and towards artists who haven’t lost their capacity to be creative, experimental or boundary-pushing.”
There absolutely is merit to be found in supporting the “No Pop” mindset. It speaks from a place of desiring authenticity, personal transparency and a purity unaffected by potentially blinding propellers of content like money, status or material objects, which often accompany the makers of music who function within the industry under the opposite of the “No Pop” umbrella. Desiring to maintain a layer of objective disclosure, it has to be said that there is no denying many a word has been written, by me, emphasizing that music largely exists as a business. Furthermore, for those interacting with it as such, some level of business savvy is going to be present. Supplementing this statement, I have also said the latter is part of where the difficulty lies with why my own desire for a dissolving of sub-culture stereotyping has yet to happen.
All of this being said, it would be – ironically – rather disingenuous of me to say I am completely in agreement with “No Pop.” The fact is that plenty of musicians, some of whom I know and some I don’t, go forth making music with their eyes wide open, aspiring to sustain a living from the making of music, wherein money, an inevitable need for growth and, yes, likely some larger company structure for business support, is involved.
LV may state that “Commercial and non-commercial is the new paradigm” but I respect these artists’ pursuits for making a living with music and don’t believe they need to strip themselves – take a vow of mainstream music business poverty if you will – or that their time has passed. Similarly, any fans of music from such artists’ shouldn’t feel shame for maintaining a connection to the artists or their music just because they may have a hand in the more bureaucratic sector of the field.
What I will say, that still speaks very intensely to the heart of LV’s “No Pop” movement, is that, encouragement of people to “search for the music that moves them” is a good thing. Personal resonance is easily a ubiquitous quality that anyone can tap into with music as a collective art form. In that regard, where I would agree that the industry could stand to loosen its market agenda driven grip, is in the corporate controlled restrictions that dismiss so much of the “creative, experimental [and] boundary-pushing” music being made out there. (Here’s another look at you, mainstream radio.) It’s fine, to me, if a young kid finds relatable enjoyment from a commercially successful artist. That artist might just happen to have a song out there that is speaking to someone during a particular point in their life and that emotional connection is going to strike whether the artist is signed to a major label or not. Moreover, it seems many want – now more than ever – for their favorite artists to attain the current definition of mainstream notice:
v amusing that culture has shifted from indie kids hating when their faves became stars to pop stans mad if their heroes don’t climb charts
— David Greenwald (@davidegreenwald) June 29, 2015
How I believe “No Pop” has a realistic chance in really taking off, (which I hope it does, hence why we’re talking about it here,) is not necessarily through a straightforward fight against the commercial sector’s strength and presence but instead, in redefining what it means to be commercial altogether. Ideally, the concept of “commercial” would expand so that the public’s exposure to, and perception of, what the average music listener associates with “mainstream material” is no longer rigidly keeping out that which is often otherwise deemed too obscure or lacking popularization potential based on non-musical components like one’s appearance.
In other words, yes, let’s ditch the “what’s popular model” and let’s start by keeping the focus on two things which can remain unaffected by monetary or corporate objectives:
The sound art itself
The reasons at a person’s very mental and emotional core, as to why they are drawn to one artist or band’s sounds in the first place.
Really, in thinking about it, my specific hope for less genre rooted judgement over what assortment of music a person likes, and LV’s hope for more appreciation of the underground, are two branches inching outward from the same tree that started from a simple seed that says, “Music is music and no one can tell you how or why to feel about it.” Past any additional details, it doesn’t need to get any more complicated than that.
Keep up with Lonely Vagabond and his quest for “No Pop” on Twitter @LonelyVagabond.