Trying to describe “music in New York” in 2011 is like trying to throw one’s arms around a wriggling, slippery, ever-expanding sentient object. The contours keep changing, and it’s tough to get a grip.
This is, of course, not a bad thing, though it sure as hell can be intimidating when trying to bestow superlatives. There are more come-ons for music journalists than a night of speed dating, requests for coverage of bands from the five boroughs and beyond who have come here to make their dreams come true, whether they’re playing the straightest of straightforward rock and roll or indulging their ability to take cues from other improvisational musicians. There are the crates from the U.S. Postal Service—they fill at a slightly slower rate than they might have five or 10 years ago, but they still bring tidings and one-sheets and albums on a daily basis. There are the phone calls, the run-ins at shows with people bearing recommendations.
It’s hard to not feel like there’s so much out there, and it’s even harder, while sorting through the press releases and downloadable records that cycle in and out of music obsessives’ consciousness like they’re on some sort of conveyor belt set to super-speed, to know that so much can be missed.
You obsessives might want to clone yourselves if you want to discover and soak in all that’s out there.
In a reflection of the glut, the way music is disseminated continues to take on more of an “I-want-it-all” sensibility, and boy is it dizzying. Free concerts pack the parks and piers. Just look at the past year: Any wide-open-enough spaces were given over to multi-band bills on the weekends, from the Voice-sponsored 4Knots Festival at Pier 17 to the All Tomorrow’s Parties I’ll Be Your Mirror three-day festival down the shore in Asbury Park. Even on the arena level, mega-acts paired up (Britney Spears and Nicki Minaj; New Kids On The Block and the Backstreet Boys) in order to ensure that attendees’ attention spans would be, if not stretched, then at least dazzled away from checking their smart phones with shiny outfits and the occasional pyrotechnic.
This scattering of attention, though, results in certain figures towering over the discourse, at least in the segment of the world that consumed and talked about music online.
Was 2011 the year that online music culture supplanted local music culture entirely? Not exactly.
The misogynist anonymous free-for-all that is the comment section of BrooklynVegan has been churning underneath the actual flesh-and-blood happenings of the city for years. But certainly the commenting hordes served to dictate more of what was happening in the real world than in years past. A not-insignificant number of this year’s slate of buzzed-about artists in indie and hip-hop (and the place where the two cross over) who played hot-ticket shows could have had “Comment Section” appended to their listings in the place where a concert announcement would normally put a city or state. And even BrooklynVegan—by dint of its name, the localest of all music blogs—expanded its purview, opening the awkwardly named BrooklynVegan Chicago in an effort to harness readers interested in scene reports and tastefully shot concert photography (not to mention hummus-obsessed trolls) from a time zone away.
New York, obviously, is the big place, one where people can coalesce in clubs that adjoin one another but only meet when they’re dealing with Mayor Bloomberg’s smoking ban outside.
The idea of a single unified “scene” is akin to calling everyone who lives in Brooklyn that overused h-word that rhymes with quipster. That’s not to say that the ones that do exist haven’t been collapsing into one another here and there, with new turks like ASAP Rocky being co-signed by hip-hop legends Dipset and the gutter-punk revivalists of Cerebral Ballzy sharing bills with the booty-shakers in the CSC Funk Band.
Then there are the seismic shifts happening within scenes, with the closing of artists’ hubs such as the DIY behemoth Monster Island and the concert-space-slash-crash-space Silent Barn and the imminent shuttering of Bruar Falls.
Still, though, with all that chaos comes excitement. Not to talk as if I’m sporting a giant pair of rose-colored glasses or anything, but this is a pretty incredible time to be a New Yorker who’s even vaguely interested in music. It can be intimidating as all get-out, and sometimes it can also result in coming across things that are infuriatingly bad or even more maddeningly overpraised. Meanwhile, sounds continue to be coaxed from the bedrooms and rehearsal spaces throughout the five boroughs.