Why an underground

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November 21, 2010 –
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So there’s a bit of a flap because Scion/Toyota has sponsored a number of metal shows over the years, and because corporate sponsors have to be careful, they’ve rejected a number of bands on grounds of content. One metal musician opined:

So the other day I was on the phone with my buddy Wood of MITB/Bastard Noise and no sooner does he make a comment about INTEGRITY having a lack of… w/ their recent Scion showcase at the ROXY, I just happen to stumble upon Murder Construct’s new EP on Relapse coming packed with a “Scion presents” free MAGRUDERGRIND record! I was like dude what the fuck is going on here? MAGRUDERGRIND! Here’s a band that was too “punk” to give Relapse a record but is down to float a fuckin’ “SCION” logo on the front of their album cover. WTF?- Agoraphobic Nosebleed

Indeed it is painful, but not unexpected. After all, the underground is dead. When record distributors embraced the indie around 1996 or so, the small labels began appearing in record stores. They were often available on Amazon anyway. Where it used to be that Roadrunner was available in stores, but Earache, Century Media, Olympic and Peaceville were special issue, now all were present. This continued for about a decade before record stores collapsed.

Even more important is that the golden years of underground metal occurred in a little pocket. The cost of producing CDs fell, with desktop publishing and disc-pressing technology converging. The DIY labels of the seventies graduated from tapes and cassettes to CDs of a quality that could be sold in stores. Industry had none of the distribution channels ready, but thanks to the rising power of databases and automated ordering, soon the middlemen took over.

The underground disappeared in the 1995-1997 era as industry accepted it, and the rising interest in black metal propelled more fans to seek it out. The money opened new doors.

They offered us a deal, but what happened was they decided to sack the two main metal guys in the company who actually signed metal bands. It turned out they said “I’m sorry we don’t do this sort of music anymore.” Roadrunner not doing metal anymore is like my mom showing up at a show. Towards the end of our contract, all they were concentrating on were the bands that sold albums like Nickelback
. We were seriously suffering from them not paying any attention toward us. – The Gauntlet

Someone needs to explain the industry to the musicians. Use small words.

Industry operates on trends. This is because, all people being equal, few people have any idea what to do and nothing to seek except social approval.

As a result, they gather like grains of sand in the waves of time, eddying in currents — they do not move independently. They react, rather than act.

Industry as a result likes trends. Catch a trend early, and you buy it low and sell it high, and make a ton of profit. Then you’re the Christ genius individualist superstar.

The new metal audience wants the “cred” of metal, but they don’t want to leave what they know. So they want industry to take the same mainstream/indie/alternative/post-rock and dress it up as “extreme” metal. That’s how you get metalcore and nu-metal, which from a distance are one and the same.

And now that metal is “aboveground,” it’s no longer competing on quality. It’s competing on trend status. So alternative metal was big in 1997-2000, metalcore has been big 2001-2008, and now sludge, drone and indie-metal are huge for about another 18 months. Then what?

They don’t know.

If you make yourself a commodity, you will be bought and sold and the whims of the market — that is to say, the whims of the majority, a kind of economic democracy — will determine whether you succeed or fail.

If metal is to thrive on its own, it needs to step out of that rat race. Bring back the underground, where we aren’t cool, aren’t hip and make no one any money. We can do that simply by being true elitists and rejecting music that is of low quality, doesn’t understand the spirit of the metal art, is of compromised style or integrity, or simply is whoring pandering crap like Cradle of Filth.

What’s killing metal is the trend factor. People want to appear extreme, but they want it all delivered in a momentary burst. They don’t want a lead-in, or to have an attention span, or the kind of epic composition that truly makes epic music. They just want the same old crap with whatever sound seems “epic” this week. Last year it was Braveheart, maybe next year it will be the tribal thing Sepultura does again.

The underground was more than a place where we “could” get our music published. It was a place where we could publish music without the corruption of the world getting in the way. The happiest underground musicians made their art, then left it behind and went on to other careers, or made their art and stayed satisfied with a small but loyal fan-following. Metal can provide this like no other genre.

Instead of trying to be like everyone else and go for the gold, we should stay in the underground, and destroy anything that threatens it. That includes the false underground of people who reject any band that more than ten people have heard, or anything that does not rigidly conform to what they have heard before. All of these are dead paths as well.

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