The music business is always shouting that it's in danger of going extinct. I've decided I'm all for it.
Any industry that responds to a technology shift by going to war against its own customers deserves what it gets.
We now look back with perverse nostalgia on the Mob-controlled trade in teenage flesh that was the music biz back before the multinationals. Those were the real music lovers, we sigh.
I may sound like a screeching polecat, but my main reasons to wish the industry the worst are hopeful ones. The death of the music industry might be what music needs.
Yes, albums would have to be lower-budget productions. We'd lose some cool slick sounds. Until an alternate model solidifies (quicker than we think, I bet), fewer musicians would be able to subsist on their art. But with today's technology, those cheap albums can sound just as good as the priciest major-label record 20 years ago -- just as you no longer need printing plants or broadcasting facilities to run a worthy news service. (Oops, did I say that?)
In fact, it would be good to de-professionalize music a bit. Pop stardom isn't an inalienable right, and it's distributed rather arbitrarily now. Imagine a world in which it's totally arbitrary instead -- an instant meritocracy where anyone can have a hit song for 15 minutes.
A grocer might become a star for a week, then go back to the deli counter. A good songwriter could assume different guises to keep up the novelty, as often happened in the early days of recording. And a great band would still break through, though it may have to earn more of its income on stage. A lot of indie artists make a good living that way now, with sales on the Web and gigs in bars and coffeehouses or on the jam-band caravan. It's only music-biz propaganda that says it can't be done.
Pop music, like politics, has grown short on mavericks and dedicated amateurism. On most Top 40 tunes, you can practically hear the spin control. I prefer the sound of even half-baked personal ingenuity, a human strain that's clear in a pack of Toronto-area releases this summer.
Take Big Eddy and the Trailer Park 5, a part-time band whose album Arrow Songs takes up that favoured fixation of the idle Canadian, the junked 1950s Avro Arrow airplane. The cycle sometimes recalls the twang-rock of Steve Earle, sometimes Aerosmith arena stomp. I much prefer the former, but this labour of love inspires tolerant appreciation.
Jack Breakfast , a familiar local presence, shows more dexterity on his new On Big Bridges. His voice, bouncing off fine folk-pop piano-guitar arrangements, has a casual, scribbles-in-a-notebook feel that confers intimacy. Again, I don't like every song. Again, I don't feel required to. (Breakfast plays tonight at Clinton's on Bloor Street.)
The four women of Pony Da Look -- Rebecca Mendoza, Amy Bowles, Temple Bates and Catherine Stockhausen -- reside in the visual-art scene at least as much as the music scene. This helps. Their energetic three-keyboard attack over martial drumbeats and theatrical female choruses draws on faded memories of early-1980s Brit bands like the Au Pairs and Flying Lizards (see the new Rough Trade Post Punk compilation), not to mention Kraftwerk and New Order. But there's also a generousrandomness that suits a band named after a phrase accidentally generated in a round of Boggle.
Like the art of their friends in Winnipeg's late Royal Art Lodge, Pony Da Look's gothic-robotic ditties seem like complex games played among friends, yet also the unedited notes from a heavy session of psychoanalysis. This produces some unevenness on new album The Forcefield Weakens, but few listeners will agree where.
I, for instance, have a hard time liking any song named Sorcerer -- a prejudice, but one that has always served me well. But give me a song in which people argue madly about who did what to whom without ever specifying what the what was, like Night Cat, and I'm set for days. Some listeners will find Pony Da Look intolerably mannered. That's just what I like. It's the kind of fun that requires heroic abandon. (Their next Toronto show is at the Rivoli on Aug. 20. Watch out for new splinter project Permafrown, which is more weirdly baroque, and maybe even better.)
The Sick Lipstick's new album Sting Sting Sting has nerve and debts to British post-punk too. But the Sick Lipstick is less New Order than the Fall, as well as later noise-politics bands such as Huggy Bear. The appeal here is in Lindsey Gillard's wild, squealy vocals -- which gradually reveal a set of sexual imperatives (I've seldom heard sperm sung about so often and so joyfully) -- as well as the band's split-seamed guitar-screech and rhythmic interplay. (The disc is on U.S. label Tigerstyle, so the group is on tour all summer. They return to Sneaky Dee's in Toronto on Aug. 18.) Six songs into the 12, it starts to seem like too many versions of one good thing, but so what? Put on something else.
The Barcelona Pavilion, for instance. Their two mini-CDs, with two and four songs respectively, never risk wearing thin, and such sparky efficiency is the hallmark of this fiercely farcial, electro-punk-dance assault squad -- undercut by mischief like the fact that the new EP, once opened, can never be closed again. Talk about a tribute to the temporary. Semiotic dilettantes of the best sort, the quartet goes into raptures over a New Materiology and domestic cleanliness ( Tidy Up Tidy Up), and luxuriates in German pessimism ( Die Welt Ist Schlecht).
They're on tour in Europe this summer, where among other pranks they will have the honour of a John Peel Session on the BBC, Aug. 18.
After the record companies collapse, perhaps all radio DJs will hijack their studios to produce great live albums, as Peel's done for decades.
The BP is one band certain to hail the news that the music industry as we know it turns out to have been a century-long historical blip.
As they put it in their must-shout-along-with anthem: How Are You People Going to Have Fun, If None of You People Ever Participate?