So, last week was interesting. The post about the state of electronic music in Ireland got a lot more attention and reaction than one would’ve expected. A lot of positives, a lot of negatives. Some valid points, some not so valid. The piece was far from exhaustive and it was meant to make things seem pretty bleak, though it might have been a bit too negative in places. Still, I stand by its main points.
One of the fundamental misunderstandings (and resulting focus in the comments) I’d like to clear up before going any further was the idea that there is no talent in the Irish electronic music scene. Which is not what I believe at all. I chose not to go into specifics about which acts, DJs and producers I do like because that would have made it all about personal taste when it seems more important to talk about the structures that are (or are not) in place. I believe there is serious potential talent here, but we lack the frameworks present in other countries to develop it. So, with that in mind, I’m going to elaborate on what I believe are the key points from the piece, with the added bonus of having had a lot of feedback from all sides. Hopefully over the next week or two we can get deeper into the concerns of the piece, one component issue at a time.
Today I’d like to look at the role of the press and criticism, something which is important and often misunderstood, as it was when I mentioned it last week. The generally held view, going on comments and emails I received after the piece, is that there is a complete lack of informed criticism in the Irish media. From blogs to newspapers, criticism is deemed unimportant because it doesn’t really connect to what is happening. On one hand, blogs have no real obligation to be critical unless they wish to define themselves that way. Bloggers usually refer to themselves as “curators” instead, where they only post what they like and few make any real attempt to explore why they like what they do. This is not to say there are no enjoyable blogs, but that their role is different. They are personal in the extreme, and unaccountable to anyone except themselves. The problem develops when importance is ascribed to them, when they become arbiters of taste without explaining or maybe even understanding anything about their own taste.
Newspapers and magazines are victims of changing expectations and economic pressures. There are good commissioning editors out there who do everything they can to include young voices and new talent that is a bit more off the radar, but those precious few are held back by the constraints of their position. There is pressure on them from all sides, it’s a business after all. As Jim Carroll pointed out yesterday, decisions will have been made somewhere along the line about what is “mainstream” and what is “niche”. Criticism – informed, developed, relevant cultural criticism – is decidedly niche and so “music journalism” has become more about re-enforcing already held beliefs than challenging them.
It is not simply stupid to complain about this though; it’s an actual problem with actual consequences. Between blogs not elaborating and exploring their own ideas and traditional music journalists churning out identikit, unquestioning interviews, we lack a place to publicly develop the conversation around the music we listen to. The criticism often labelled at critics is that anyone can be one. Which is as true to say as “anyone can be a musician”, but the role of good criticism is to investigate meaning in art, to locate a relevance, to intuit the spirit in the work, or the lack thereof. A good critic can open your ears to new sounds, help you to understand a body of work, open a door for you to explore new things yourself. Bad critics generally just say whether or not they like something.
What does this have to do with the article from last week? Well, where do you go in Ireland to read about house or techno or dubstep or whatever you’re into? Do any of the well-known blogs, websites or established print media in this country cover this music in any meaningful way? This is a self-perpetuating problem. People who are getting into this music, whether as fans or makers, have to rely on the critics and journalists of other countries to learn about it. Everything is at one remove because these critics aren’t at the same shows you’re going to and they aren’t aware of the same local acts that you might be. This isolation from criticism can rob communities here of important elements in their development; self-awareness, refinement, informed and objective ears. These may well lead to something that sparks interest from outside the group, which in turns opens the door to a wider musical narrative with international movements and communities. The internet has gone done some good in relieving this isolation, but it doesn’t solve the problem entirely. There is no replacement for being there.
The question is, how do we go about solving this particular problem? One solution would be for established media (with established audiences) to take an interest in “niche” music like club music. I wouldn’t be holding my breath waiting for this to happen. So it’s up to those on the ground to do it, if they feel the need of it. All you need is a WordPress and a couple of people who are up for writing thoughtfully about club music here, covering what’s happening in a passionate but objective way, who are interested in finding the links between what is going on in Dublin/Cork/Tuam/etc and what is happening elsewhere. Good heads with good ears. People who are interested in trying to locate points of interest and movements within the myriad clubs, parties, scenes and communities that make up club music here and making the effort to find the resonance with the outside world. Once you have that, all you have to do is write about it. Once you start, other people will come out of the woodwork, they always do. Ask for submissions, get reviews in, get opinion pieces in. Only publish the well-written ones. Be unafraid. Don’t focus on “new music”, don’t end up like FACT. It won’t be easy all the time but someone out there has the time, knowledge and energy to do it, maybe you know who they are?