this is a quote from a philip sherburne piece on spin dissembling all the rhetoric from daft punk and boards of canada and everyone else about the relationship between computers and electronic music lately. ultimately i don’t really want to get super into that because it feels like it’s kind of a false binary that’s encompassing a lot of smaller arguments that aren’t necessarily compatible with one another when you get down to brass tacks - boards of canada for example seem to be arguing that “emotional melodies” resonate with people more strongly than displays of technical wizardry and that kind of commentary can’t really be aimed at the same people daft punk’s rhetoric seems to be targeting, it’s just like, grunge or the early 00s “the” bands again, it’s PR, it doesn’t matter
i am glad that someone brought up money though just because that is something that as a result of my background or whatever i am constantly sort of preoccupied with. especially w/r/t daft punk’s specific ideological thrust in interviews surrounding RAM and the attendant thinkpieces there’s always kind of this irritating classist bent to the conversation when people start getting carried away (which i would argue that the members of daft punk themselves have done but whatever let’s not get into that right now)
like if you’re a listener or a consumer of music, an album that was recorded for $1,000 probably costs the same as an album that was recorded for $1,000,000. if you’re pirating music or listening to it on spotify or youtube or whatever, then maybe nothing costs anything to listen to. this guy nick sylvester who used to be mostly a writer but now does more musical stuff, used to argue a lot in his later music writing that the critical discourse around pop music was kind of a failure because so few musicians were taking part in it, or because it rarely ever contained any information about process, information that is useful to musicians or useful when trying to understand music from a musician’s perspective. he argued that many interesting and significant decisions musicians are making are going unnoticed and undiscussed by critics in favor of fluffier and less substantial talking points that are easier for non-musicians, i.e. critics and publicists to understand.
i always had mixed feelings about his point of view personally because i’ve always kind of felt like a lot of the types of process-y kind of stuff musicians are often wanting to discuss are genuinely not interesting and not even really valuable to me as a musician who fundamentally does care about how things are made. like, my eyes glaze over the second anyone starts talking about gear or their recent purchases or why this amp’s tone is so much better than this amp’s tone. i completely understand why critics and interviewers and publicists and whoever don’t want to get musicians started talking about that kind of stuff, why they would rather ask what the meaning of the band’s name is or how they all first met each other or what their favorite movies are. but i also can’t really deny how little it seems like anyone seems to know about how music is made, and how frustrating that can sometimes be as someone who like, makes music
like specifically the daft punk thing is frustrating because even if it’s not the artist or the interviewers who got access to the artists’ intention to frame the album as an “us vs. them” gesture against people who use computers to make music, the internet music critic telephone game ripple effect simplifies/degrades the nuances of the argument until it basically just becomes that, and then you’ve got a bunch of people who think they are saying FUCK COMPUTERS but are actually in substance kind of saying FUCK PEOPLE WHO DON’T HAVE $1,000,000 TO SPEND ON MAKING AN ALBUM - like in his review of RAM for pitchfork, mark richardson said something like “the message here is not that all music should be made like this, but that some music could” - like the fact that i use ableton and samples doesn’t mean i wouldn’t be hiring orchestras and nile rodgers and steve reich or whatever if i had the money to pay them. like, no argument from me on that point, you know? it’s just turned into this weird batman paradox - millionaire gadget enthusiasts beating up on poor people and getting massive crowds cheering them on because they have cool costumes. i guess as profiles of the duo have recently taken towards reminding us, guy-manuel de homem cristo is descended from portuguese royalty or whatever so maybe daft punk themselves were never in the position of being poor producers using samples as much as a function of necessity as an aesthetic decision, and maybe the name of the group itself was an exercise in irony way before they decided to make a prog record, but i mean like, my issue was never the idea that graduating from samples of nile rodgers to studio sessions with him is a shitty or invalid creative decision - i mean i can think of few more fitting or satisfying rewards for making something like “discovery” than to be able to actually go make an album like the ones that record was a monument to, you know?
what bothered me is the fixation on the tools, as if the tools are the thing that’s important, which is a point bangalter has explicitly tried to make in the press around the album. it’s similar to the way i feel when synth dudes or guitar dudes start going on about amps or tone or about how even different synthesizers that are the same model from the same year still have tiny barely perceptible differences. does anyone care about that kind of stuff? the lack of interest most interviewers and writers seem to have in discussing hardware specifications would seem to indicate that people do not, but i could be wrong, i don’t know. what’s interesting to me is the decisions that human beings make - i believe that a human being that is a great artist, who has great ideas could probably make great art with any tools. i mean i have to think that way, you know? the tools i have available to me are extremely limited, and much of the art that has been the most impactful on me, the most meaningful, has been art that was made by people with limited means. when pop culture’s focus drifts elsewhere - to the bloated budgets and technical indulgences of major label prog, or to the artifice of glam and hair metal, or to the proliferation of construction kit dance sonics and the weird workmanlike utilitarian ethic of dance music that occasionally leads its producers to become more concerned with functionality than art or emotion - there’s usually some kind of big collective course correction shifting focus back to the human element
but in this case it kind of got hijacked by two dudes who present themselves as robots, who crow about breathing life back into music while like, affecting lifelessness. there’s something weird and off about it - it’s like they actually believed that the production techniques and sample libraries that got raided and repurposed by well-meaning fans once personal computers started catching up to hardware setups were actually the thing that made them special and interesting, and that when they were forced to ask themselves the question of what they should do next, of what makes them special or worth listening to as artists, the answer was not “well, we’re great artists who’ve made some of the best pop music in history” but “well, we have a lot more money than all of these other guys”
bloggers dig up all the samples daft punk used on discovery, daft punk goes “fuck you we’re going to hire the dude who played on off the wall”. lcd soundsystem imagines a hypothetical situation where college radio kids use their budget to book daft punk for a concert instead of whatever k records bands they normally would have in the 90’s and makes a song called “daft punk is playing at my house” - daft punk, clad in silk robes and sipping ciroc martinis, react with horror and spend untold amounts of money on a giant pyramid that threatens to overpower even the nation’s largest music festivals, as if to say “no, daft punk is not playing at anyone’s fucking house”
anyway sorry i keep going on about this i even said i wasn’t going to get into it but i guess i got into it
originally what i was thinking about was swedish bands - me and claire talk about the tough alliance sometimes, and how on some level it seems kind of bizarre that they’re not more well known given how well produced their records are. i’m not sure what the grant situation in sweden is but i think i’ve read somewhere that it’s pretty easy to get a decent amount of money or access to recording studios and stuff there via government funding or assistance compared to most other countries. fans of the various strains of winning, hi-fi indie pop that sweden exports to the rest of the world often like to wonder aloud about what the secret to the swedish sound is, about whether they put something different in the water over there. the secret is almost certainly just money. i’ve always more or less been under the impression that the tough alliance and other bands in their orbit are the scrappy punk rockers of sweden, you just wouldn’t ever know it because the economic barriers that would separate that type of person from hi-fi pop sonics in the united states are much more permeable there. i think canada’s grant situation is less extreme than sweden’s but there’s still a lot more arts funding than in the US, and i don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many forays on the part of DIY musicians into more poppy or mainstream-friendly or at least not traditionally “punk” or “diy” sonics over the past couple of decades have been canadian in origin.
as a musician, this stuff matters to me. it bothers me that sometimes “lo-fi” is perceived as an aesthetic choice rather than an economic reality. it bothers me that the industry standard of what a professional, saleable musical recording sounds like is defined by the people who have the most money because i read news websites and i know who the people who have the most money are and like most of the rest of the citizens of the planet i am not super happy with those people or inclined to trust their opinions about anything, let alone art. i know that people without major label budgets or inheritances or whatever else have to work a lot harder to make an impact in this industry than people who do and i don’t know what that means or what anyone should do about it but i feel like it should mean something. i’m uncomfortable with the idea of culture speaking primarily with the voice of only the people who can afford the large initial investment required to participate in it. and i mean i’m not saying that from a place of total self-interest, you know? with all my heart i promise you that i would go start filling out job applications right now if it meant that the lineups of nearly every major music festival in the US would no longer be 95% populated by white guys
and i mean on some level maybe the arts funding situation confuses the issue for some people and makes the process of sorting out who’s paying for what even more difficult but also maybe it is interesting to see what would be possible if economic concerns weren’t so severe for many people that they take a plurality of creative options off the table before they can even get started. what if the quality of your recordings or the types of instruments you use or the relative accessibility of your music was always a creative decision and not an economic one? what happens if/when technology or society’s attitudes towards funding art or whatever else catches up to RAM-era daft punk the way that computers kinda caught up to homework and discovery-era daft punk? will they just jump off a bridge or something in despair? do you think the helmets float?