Blank Dogs

I thought I’d kick all of this off with a bit of praise. It’s easy to start ranting about disposable pop music and marketing gimmicks, so let’s have a pat on the back for some of the ‘industry’. We’ve moved on at a heck of a rate over the past 20 years. For example, Indie music appears to be a genre in it’s own right. Be that as it may, the question is has it lost it’s roots? Well, indie used to refer to independence from the major record labels. Be that a release under a small label, or indeed DIY. In the 80s, it was quite commonplace for bands like Pop Will Eat Itself, to pay for their own work to be pressed onto vinyl and then go around record stores, begging them to stock it. Towards the end of the 80s and through the 90s, we lost that. Independent record stores started to retreat into the shadows like forestland in the Industrial Revolution, driven away by the might of massive record stores like HMV and Virgin, with their 3 for 2 offers and slightly cheaper prices. Even Our Price got swallowed by Virgin. The independent stores started to become boutiques catering more in vinyl and second hand than anything else. This is a massive over-generalisation of course. We lost that outlet for indie bands and manufactured pop and the big marketing machine took over. We saw the rise of boybands and girlbands (band being an amusing suffix) and europop. It wasn’t all bad though, we still had Britpop and grunge holding up the indie flag. However it was drowned in the mire of disposable textbook hits.

Enter: the internet. Not, initially, a particularly useful tool for musicians but with the advent of broadband and streaming media, the whole world is opened up for any artist. Sites like Myspace and cheap recording software like Garageband have meant that for a very small investment, anyone can get their tracks heard by, potentially, millions, maybe billions of people. This is a blessing and a curse however. My view of the current state of music is one of copycats and very little innovation. We have poster-boy bands that are thrust into the public eye, TV, Radio, Internet, whatever and they’re dressed up and marketed as a lifestyle rather that as musicians. An example is someone like the Kooks. Snapped up almost hours after recording a demo by Virgin records. Hardly do we hear about their musical prowess, to be honest, it takes second seat to how pretty and well-dressed they are. The music itself isn’t poor or offensive, they are all accomplished musicians. They produce catchy, guitar-driven pop tunes but to be honest, it’s all entirely forgettable. Also, music publications are starting to suffer for it as well. We’ve all questioned the credibility of the NME for years but nowadays, it’s starting to look like Smash Hits for the Topman crowd. Essentially, it’s now easy for you to get your music out there, but how about getting it heard? Well that could prove more difficult. There are well over 8 million artists on Myspace alone. How can you compete with them all? You can’t, you have to find your niche. The lack of originality on Myspace is quite astounding. The attitude of a lot of musicians as well is amazing; that they don’t get the attention they deserve even though they are on Myspace. The misguided belief that record deals should be handed to you on a plate on the strength of a demo you recorded in your bedroom on your mom’s Mac. All the soul, all the effort, all the blood sweat and tears have gone form these wannabe rock stars. I read a book called ‘The Eight Legged Atomic Dustbin will Eat Itself’, which describes the rise and fall of the ‘Stourbridge three’: The Wonderstuff, Pop will Eat Itself and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. In there Clint from PWEI was describing the months they spent driving up and down the country playing gigs every night for no money, sleeping in the van in utter squalor for the love of their music. I can’t imagine the Kooks doing that…

Despite that though, we occasionally find a little bit of valuable flotsam on the sea of mediocrity. I’m currently listening to Blank Dogs. A one-man project that still releases self-pressed 7″ records. Admittedly, I’m listening to them in MP3 format that I bought from eMusic (which I love by the way). In the same sort of vein as Sparklehorse and White Town, in it’s lo-fi, distorted vocals, with nods to early New Order or maybe Joy Division possibly. Last.fm has them tagged as ‘shitgaze’ amongst other things, which appears to be some sort of contraction of lo-fi shoegaze. To be honest, with almost no description, this phrase describes it perfectly. We have distorted, chorused, mostly unintelligable vocals mixed very low and nested in between fuzzy chords and distorted synths and almost out of tune plucked lead guitar and a drum machine that sounds like a Casio from the 80s. Very melancholy and introvert and absolutely wonderful. I suggest you listen to it to get the full effect. He (whoever he is) has now been signed to In The Red records, which if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and listen to some more of their releases. Enjoy!

4 thoughts on “Blank Dogs

  1. The thing is, it’s hard to decide what’s better: bands having to bleed money in order fort them to exist, or bands having to be lucky to get noticed. I’ll admit straight away that the majors and even lesser labels are not as courageous as they should be for every artist to have equal chances for luck, but it’s a long a tortured debate. The Internet being part of the problem as much as being part of the solution doesn’t make things easier for sure.

  2. I agree, I’ve been playing in bands and making music since I was about 15. Most of it has been rubbish, but some of it, I think at least had potential. I’d love for someone to like it enough to want to help me sell it to people. I don’t feel I’ve earned that yet though. I don’t think I’ve ever put enough effort in to get noticed in the first place. I don’t think either method is better than the other. Some amazing stuff has just been plucked up with little or no effort on the artist’s part, on the other hand, there are as many artist’s that deserved the recognition and got none. I’m sure the debate will continue until the end of time…

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