Horizons: What, if any, are the political values of “lo-fi” indie music?

2yjsro2Along with its fetching new face, Tiny Mix Tapes recently introduced a weekly debate feature in which writers drop a loaded question and readers respond with their two cents, the goal being to foster a public dialogue about music on the site itself. Editor Mr. P knows that Biomusicosophy‘s Elliott Sharp and I always get all riled up whenever music and politics are mentioned in the same breath, so he asked us craft the magazine’s second debate question, which concerns last week’s exchange between The Guardian‘s Ben Beaumont-Thomas and Chocolate Bobka‘s McGregor on the politics of “blog rock,” or American lo-fi.

Full Transcript of the debate question below. The idea is to get the public talking about music again (rather than just listening to us bloggers wax armchair philosophical all the time), so please respond with your thoughts on the TMT comment thread below.

In a recent post on The Guardian’s music blog, titled “Blog rock lacks a political edge,” Ben Beaumont-Thomas claimed that current, popular North American independent music is “set utterly outside the city, outside work, outside the America of healthcare debates and ongoing wars.” He cited lo-fi artists like Woods, Best Coast, Wavves, Surfer Blood, and Julian Lynch, alongside a few artists (Ducktails, James Ferraro) associated with the hypnagogic pop descriptor coined by David Keenan in the August 2009 edition of The Wire, as exemplifying apolitical and escapist values. By emphasizing pastoral escapism conjoined with nostalgia, these artists dangerously put aside the material world of political reality and choose to embrace a form of dreamlike, childhood fantasy that results in apathy and inaction.

Shortly thereafter, Mcgregor from Chocolate Bobka, a popular and resolutely grassroots independent music blog, delivered a heated retort arguing that American music’s so-called “retreat” into the past was not escapism at all, but rather a process of carving out an alternative psychic reality to the bourgeois economic and political value system. Lo-fi’s return to low-cost, outdated recording technologies, which Beaumont-Thomas decried as a “retro” fad, was in fact a move toward the democratization of the music-making process. And while it did not discuss politics directly, lo-fi and its nostalgia for the past constituted a critique of society’s failure to deliver the egalitarian future that technological progress once promised. “Why rage against the machine,” Mcgregor asked, “when you can organically build a ‘new world’ within America outside the status quo?”

Who do you agree with? Is American lo-fi an effective channel of political resistance or more like a political cop-out? Do not forget, of course, that there is another meta-question hiding inside this debate: as Julian Lynch pointed out in his own response to Beaumont’s article, can we even assume that music has political intentions in the first place?

Join the discussion here.

Words: Emilie Friedlander and Elliott Sharp
Image: Cover of CaboladiesCrowded Out Memory CDR.; Gneiss Things 2009

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