Most artists don’t like critics because critics critique rather than create. As an app created by a former music writer that transformed into a label which aims to put out important emergent music, we are certainly on the fence about the principles of so-called poptimism as well as it’s critics.
For one, there are a lot of small labels out there working in the ethos of punk or even Virgin in it’s infancy trying to bring important, more challenging popular music to a wider audience. We get very little press and in the necessity of chasing viral hits to generate advertising revenue, most of the indie blogosphere has become a simulacra of Rolling Stone.
Earyummy was launched as an app rather than a website because we believe — or perhaps believed — people would get sick of chasing the incrowd, which is what reading trending stuff, exclusively, actually is in terms of a ‘the world is a high school’ comparison.
Earyummy is also a critique of criticism itself because who needs a writer to go on an on about a song or an artist when the near-democratization via digitization of media allow critics to become curators. Someone took the chance on giving Earyummy distribution as a label because costs are greatly reduced and therefore, risk in the model is reduced so instead of writing, we curate and in the process, fight for independent artists to get paid so they can grow as musicians, stay in our lives.
In our advocacy of indie dance and synthpop, there is also something positive in poptimism. Rockists, as Saul Austerlitz called it in his New York Times piece, centered around music preferred by white, mostly Midwestern bred, males and it excluded certain musical forms out of racism, sexism and homophobia. In the 1990s, several influential white male music editors told me synth music is ‘for gays and women.’ This opinion by the same critics was also lent to bands like Everything But the Girl, a decidedly feminist band, and Prefab Sprout, two bands who defined the last great era of music before the present, the 1980s. These editors shall go unnamed out of the realization people evolve. I’m not about to be like a certain former elected official from Madison, Wisconsin who is currently crafting a blacklist of people he deems racist. Homey doesn’t play that political correctness nor engage in left-wing McCarthyism.
Poptimism is a reaction to the exclusion of editors who worshiped at the altar of Bruce Springstein while ignoring the African-American soul influences on the music of the E Street Band, particularly the drumming of Max Weinberg which gave Springstein’s band a distinctive throwback sound in the era of Rush and Tom Sawyer self-important drum solos, (in addition to shitty views on other people, Ayn Rand has been responsible for some brilliantly shitty-ass music.)
Poptimism is also driven, historically, by a very specific editor at Rolling Stone, Nathan Brackett who while at Musician Magazine, fought to give respect to hip-hop as an equal to rock, alongside the hybrid pop-oriented hip-hop which has always been part of the genre, long before Drake ever had a Drake-ism.
Naturally, the elasticity of culture stretches in the exact opposite direction as the thumb of zeitgeist pulls back our pop culture rubber band.
Earyummy was built upon the belief the viral culture, which gives birth to Poptimism, would eventually snap. This happened in the early 1990s when record labels realized sugar-coated überpop of that era was not creating any catalog works which could sell in perpetuity outside of the costly promotional mechanism. Now, even in the age of Katy Perry, Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins sell records.
Bands like FIDLR and Jeff the Brotherhood are bringing loud guitar back. Loud guitar is the natural reaction to EDM-driven music everywhere for kids who grew up listening to dad or mom’s grunge. This is why we signed Sros Lords, because they are part of the loud guitar backlash coming soon to a suburb or hipster neighborhood near you.
Popism is also a reaction to the trustfunder elitism of indie, the whole quick turning against a band once anyone else has heard of them which has become a Portlandia joke at this point. Indie lost some of the spirit of punk and I would have to blame one of the labels which views itself as egalitarian, Discord. Why Earyummy is influenced by Discord, the bands on the label were also part of turning punk into something for rich kids and creating a confusing rubric of cultural signaling which pushed out people who were there just to rock, with the politics slowly sinking in for later. Discord was also the first label for Pussy Galore and as it stands now, the family of front woman Julie Cafritz is the singular entity responsible for the disappearance of affordable housing in Washington DC as the Cafritz family development companies is building 50% of all housing in DC right now and none of it affordable housing.
Oh yeah, we’re moving out of DC to New York City in 2016 with other offices somewhere else we haven’t announced yet. The irony of New York real estate is you can still find cheap office space, especially in the garment district. Manhattan commercial for small offices has been getting room to breathe with the epicenter of New York City culture moving to Brooklyn. Yes, we’ll still be around in Chicago — hopefully in Fort Knox studios — but presence in New York is best for the small bands we aim to empower and for an app which is soon going to be social network for the music community.
We are, by the way, part of a larger tech company creating apps with social for narrowcasted interests but apps which aim to create both a physical and online community. Music, especially music in relation to countercultures, has always been driven by community. For 80s people, we’re sort of hoping Earyummy the app, by adding social in it’s next release, can become the Star Hits of the current music renaissance.
Poptimism without other types of challenging music is an insidious form of conformity counterintuitive to all genres after rock and soul creating social change. As much as it is a product of viral confirmation bias-driven conversations as well as a lack of historical perspective in music journalism, it is also a product of indie eschewing politics in the George Bush era where the quasi-royalty of Paris Hilton and inheritance over merit was celebrated, every music outlet believing politics no longer mattered and people with trustfunds taking over the counterculture. Parental subsidies in this period also sent rents skyrocketing and killing off any organic cultivation of urban enclaves where artists and musicians could make labor choices to work towards becoming a full time artist, to push society forward through culture. Detroit is a return to the normal of people looking for cheap rent and a part time job with expendable income and so are other places like Lexington, Kentucky.
Earyummy is a part of those places. We named our compilations Songs for a Punk Rock Prom Queen because punk was egalitarian. There was not one static sound but a melange, from three chord guitar to Jamaican ska to the psychedelia of Psychic TV to the otherworldly sounds of the 4AD label. The main thing was to not make self-important extended jams like Emerson Lake and Palmer, rock-out-with-your-cock out Bad Company rock or easy listening dreck.
Earyummy considers itself as part of a movement, another generation of musicians who choose bedroom recording equipment and instead of big label dreams, want to work with smaller labels which give them more royalties or the freedom to release things outside of official releases. The blossoming of music right now is not out of context. Income inequality is the political debate of the day and difficult economic times have always been the yellow brick road to great art. Even some of the crappiest pop music, in giving nods to popism, is way better than the same type of music released 20 years ago, which is completely unlistenable to anyone with developed taste, to foist a little punk rock snobbery.
Unlike the first and second waves of punk, this movement going on around us, whatever it is, does not have the distribution limitations or the high cost of producing physical product. Also, in terms of physical product, homecrafted cassettes are considered as actual product rather than a sorry excuse for getting out the music of a band with no label connections.
We’ll be writing more about the so-called poptimism vs. rockism debate but in the meantime, support the bands we support by purchasing their music. Become part of the new social community when the relaunch of the app happens in May.
We can sit around complaining or we can come together to create something with serious cultural impact.