"It's always been the same format. It's the casual amateur DJ night. It's become such a feature of the landscape, that it has almost replaced bands."
In an earlier essay I briefly lamented the rising influence of amateur DJs nights. After a recent trip to NYC with my band Ra Ra Rasputin, I've realized that that this is an even bigger problem than I thought.
I have a sort of love/hate relationship with the hipsters. I adore the fact trendy kids in New York, LA and London helped put straight leg jeans back on the shelves and took Limp Bizkit off the radio. But I abhor the bourgeois and blatantly commercial narcissism that has come to define the attitudes of so many young people in these circles, particularly in New York. Even more frightening is the fact that New York's status as a cultural capital, makes these attitudes incredibly appealing to all those seeking to emulate the looks and lexicon of "cool New York kids."
"Why do you pay them any mind? Why do you even care?"
Because I believe that the amateur DJ night is a step in the wrong direction for youth culture, particularly in New York City. I really take offense when people make snide comments like "DJ-ing is easy" or "You, like, don't even have to do anything, all you have to do is get some CDs or a computer and just play anything." So what if my opinions are a bit conservative; I am a firm believer in the idea that a DJ is an individual who can scratch, beatmatch and throw in a few surprises. This is why I prefer people who spin hip-hop, reggae or house. These individuals have to provide a continuous flow of music when they're behind the decks. Not just anybody can do it. It takes practice, dedication and a very good ear for detail.
Unsurprisingly, the arrival of the amateur has not democratized DJ-ing, it has bastardized the art form. These young men and women bring nothing new to the table. They are human jukeboxes whose sole purpose is to fuel the self-congratulatory nature of these useless nightlife events.
In cities up and down the East Coast, I keep reading about venues devoting fewer and fewer nights for bands and more nights for dance parties. It seems as though the hipsters throwing these parties are thoroughly uninterested in contributing to the artistic legacy of their generation. It could be argued that the punk/DIY ethics that created Anglo-American indie music have been tossed out the window. The after-party has become more important than the show! It's cooler to be photographed in front of the wall at Don Hill's on a Saturday night than to actually play in a group!
Therefore, it doesn't make much sense when you notice that people claim to yearn for the look and the feel of Lower Manhattan circa 1978-1982. People can't seem to find the time to pick up a paintbrush, a pen or a guitar. Today's hipsters are leaving nothing for tomorrow because they are too busy living for today. And in doing so, they have failed to set themselves apart from the khaki pants wearing crowd that they routinely bash.
So is there no hope left? Am I doomed to see my birthplace become as vapid Hollywood? Is DC next?
I'm a firm believer in the idea that new challenges create new opportunities. People have been hosting guerrilla gigs all over Brooklyn and Queens. There are still a number of small bars and clubs which still have the equipment and the dedication to promoting live music several times a week. Down here in DC, the hardcore punks and college kids are still putting on house shows. And all of these are positive developments. If people aren't constantly reminded that they are capable of creating music and performing it live, we are in danger of returning to the days when people thought that bands just fell out of the sky.
As for the hipsters? I'm all for fashion and looks. But when having the right look and being at the right places takes precedent over creativity, that's where I start asking questions. Why not create something that is both challenging and cool, rather than running around every night trying to be ironic and detached from a society whose values you've shamelessly co-opted?
Next week: How Q and Not U changed my life.