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Woebot
02-11-2005, 10:49 AM
With increasing regularity at the moment I come upon this issue. Some colleagues find the idea that anything more than the sonic itself is no criteria for the evaluation of a piece of music. This person is mildly horrified that a journalist would seek to publicise something which they'd been given by a friend or a connection, even worse that a journalist would be kind about a record which they weren't wholly convinced of the quality of.

Music Journalists are supposed to live in this vacuum, to be entirely divorced from the culture they comment upon with a pristine analytical objectivity.

But what total bullshit!

Looking back in history, the best and most useful Journalists have been the ones absolutely integral to the culture itself. Think Lester Bangs, or Paul Morley, or Chris Bohn (why not?) or even our big chum Mr Reynolds. And in my opinion the least interesting, least exciting Journalists are the ones who disdain involvement under a pretence of objectivity.

When you write in the press or online with a certain amount of regularity and consistency of opinion you find people gravitate to you. You'll find people who think they can (in the best sense of the word) "use you", will approach you. The truth of the matter is that nine times out of ten they're like-minded individuals. OK, only a smaller percentage of those people will have something you truly feel is worth publicising, but in my opinion thats a wholly healthy relationship.

Of course, ever since the appalling payola corruption endemic in the industry in the fifties and sixties there's been an attitude of discomfort about this kind of relationship. But really how much has the mechanics of this industry really changed in those years? Its still precisely the same of course. Again ideas of journalistic ethics, particularly strong in the USA as I understand, make anything other than "objectivity" problematic, but I'd argue that while that may be a worthwhile tenet to uphold in Political Journalism (though I don't doubt for a second that precisely the same allegiances develop in that field) but in Music Journalism? Surely not?

Lots of the Journalists here, Blackdown, Stelfox, Fiddy, jwd, and me (and thats just off the top of my head) have made a fine art of cheerleading their own particular tastes and getting deeply involved in scenes that theoretically opens us up to the charge of Nepotism.

Speaking for myself there are loads of moments when I have to balance a broad political view in order to more generally get my point across. There's records I feel a duty to be decent about. There's bigging up people who are essentially good friends (as well as, i believe, profoundly talented). And of course in the great percentage of instances there will be no connection whatsoever- but even in those instances I'll have to answer to some kind of political bent, be it respecting the reviews editor's opinions or being careful not to lash out at people who at the end of the day do a good thing for little personal gain.

On the negative side I don't think this means what I do is "Advertorial", but I do think it's just plain naive to assume that these currents aren't there. More than that I'm sick of pretending that navigating them, making decisions at this level isn't as important as just purely considering the sound issuing from the speaker. More than that, denying the presence my own grassroots network of influence (sounds pompous, i'm sorry) would be such a weird and totally counter-productive thing to do. Maybe its a Rockism thing again?

Woebot
03-11-2005, 08:15 AM
ha! everyone fleeing from this one!

Diggedy Derek
03-11-2005, 05:04 PM
What your saying seems fairly reasonable to me. Does anyone really think music journalism should neccesarily be approached from a neutral and disinterested perspective?

Of course, the music has to stand or fall on it's own two feet, and also one has to be able to make a critical case for it.

I dunno, connections are there to be used aren't they? As long as they're used in a productive way.

qwerty south
03-11-2005, 06:23 PM
too many journalists / deejays are too close to labels.

a professional distance is arguably necessary.

i don't support compromised mags / labels etc ...

unperson
03-11-2005, 07:03 PM
I have some friends who are musicians, and whose work I like quite a bit. I don't make mention of it in the reviews, because I was an admirer of the work before seeking them out on a personal level. Generally I think it's possible to review a record by even a close friend honestly. The thing I disagree with is the idea of claiming a record is better than it actually is because "in the current aesthetic environment" the artist "deserves" to be better known. I've read reviews where the critic's position came down to "well, at least it's not nu-metal." That's horseshit, and a waste of both the reader's and the writer's time.

dominic
03-11-2005, 08:47 PM
i think there's something to be said for both approaches

i.e., the bedroom listener who reviews a new album based purely upon the sonics (as well as the press release that he likely read), and the scenester-qua-critic who tries to turn other people on to music that he's experienced live or in a club setting

the scenester-qua-critic will inevitably get to know the people who's music he's pushing b/c he's attracted to them as people -- i.e., b/c he likes their music/style/presence, he wants to be their friend, and they in turn want to be his friend b/c people like to be appreciated (flattered?)

and until a band hits the big time or has a widely disseminated album, it's the scenester-qua-critic who's best positioned to spread the word -- he's like the advance guard of criticism

the bedroom critic is the second guard -- and it's ultimately the bedroom critics who have the final say, b/c there's more bedroom critics than scenester critics, and b/c the bedroom critic is talking strictly about the finished product that others will consume

but i think that being attracted to certain music-makers, befriending them, etc, points to any number of X-factors about the music and scene -- it points to charisma, magnetism, allure -- it points to "like-mindedness," the sense that you agree with them about the most important things in culture and life -- and without the presence of these X-factors, you probably wouldn't want to know them better and you probably wouldn't be moved to take up their cause or write about them w/ any degree of passion

of course there's the exception here of the severe/cold/unapproachable figures, the figures that fascinate us even though we wouldn't want to know them in real life, or are too terrified to say anything to -- and so with these kinds of strange artists we might take up their cause despite never saying a single word to them . . . . but in the great run of cases, we will want to befriend the people whose music we like

and i don't see much downside to this kind of bias or personal interest -- b/c at the end of the day, you have to convince the second guard of critics that this band or musician is worthy, and b/c the second guard has no personal connection to the musicians or scene in question, their judgment will tend to be based more strictly on pure sonics, the finished product that is the single or album, though of course they'll bring their own allegiances and preconceptions to bear

Raw Patrick
08-11-2005, 01:10 AM
"And in my opinion the least interesting, least exciting Journalists are the ones who disdain involvement under a pretence of objectivity" - these are also, I think, the ones who are least objective and most likely to be swayed by other things (what they think they should say.) 'Reliable' old hack careerists. If you can't discern anyaesthetic bent from a person's writing why should you trust them. At least with Reynolds or even Keenan (who I can't stand) you can work out why they like/don't like something and then even a negative review can get you interested in things. (Or conversely, "Even they like this! Must be something happening.")

One of the big problems with record reviews I guess is that there are so many records and even if they are good they aren't necessarily going to stand out from each other. There's maybe an unconscious tendancy in reviewers to make things sound more interesting than they are - just to make their own reviews more interesting to read! No-one wants to produce dull prose.

If someone can write in fairly clear terms about what the records sounds like/contains then any good writing (which I think we do get from the critics who post here) (and on ILM) is a pleasant extra. It's just amazing how many reviews don't give any idea what a record sounds like or get it ridiculously wrong - the amount of folks that get compared to the Stooges, Nick Drake, Eno, Can etc. who have nothing in common w/them whatsoever is staggering. (I think it helps to assume that the reader is intelligent and eager to learn, an assumption which seems increasingly rare and then becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.)

Raw Patrick
08-11-2005, 01:11 AM
I don't know anything about the actual politics of music journalism though!

3underscore
08-11-2005, 05:28 PM
I don't know anything about the actual politics of music journalism though!

Music in Politics Journalism would be interesting, as a kind of spoonerism. What music do the likes of Simon Hoggart and Heffer listen to? I can see Kpunk with a music-political leaning strawman...

Buick6
09-11-2005, 11:13 AM
You missed Nick Cohn and Charles Shaar-Murray...

I just like music journalists that have fucking great taste, can position it in context of the HISTORY of rock or disco or whatver, and turn you onto the roots, offshoots etc...Ultimately they feel passionately enough about what the music evokes.

I have a problem with many of the young music 'journalists' of today, especially those that write for 'broad' culture magazines or non-music journals - they just don't have their roots down pat. Maybe its a symptom of todays saturated, post-modernist times with way too much choice?

I think another thing is many don't have the actual living 'experience' of rock or house or whatever - you know, getting yr head kicked in a moshpit, and then getting picked up, dancing for three hours on an E, getting hassled by bogens at an Ac/Cd concert, seeing Ice-T get his wife at the time flash her arse at the end of 'I'm yr pusher'. Fuck I'm sounding like DFA...But I don't read much 'danger' or 'risk' involved in today's music writers.

The political aspect, like any, comes from actually PARTAKING as a fan, witness, comrade whatever, EXPERIENCING what yr talking about, rather than pontificating like some smart-arse Phd shmendrick. Then great rock writing emerges, and then people who read it say, fuck this seems like the coolest fucken shit out, I wanna BE THERE (or buy that rekkid). But if you're talking about the politics too much, the reader will go, so 'yeah do they rock'..And most of the time they dont, unless you consider Rage against the Machine, but then, they only had about two *great* songs per album, so where does the politque get ya? I really like Byron Coley, I mean, how political is he? But he always writes really fucking well and poetically about totally left field music - I guess he doesn't NEED to be political.

Another thing is to be totally and utterly open-minded. And original.

polystyle desu
09-11-2005, 05:15 PM
Was recently hearing about Nik Cohn's forays into producing New Orleans bounce ,
for example ...
He went down there , immersed himself in it , made friends , made /paid for Studio
and is currently trying to find where all the people he was working with actually are now
in these post- Katrina daze

Diggedy Derek
09-11-2005, 06:04 PM
Been thinking about this, and I think I should qualify my support of Woebot a little. I think it's good for people to be immersed in scenes, to be connected- and furthermore it's perhaps impractical in life terms to be detached from everything.

Nevertheless, it occurs to me that if you're immersed in a scene, in a good review you should be trying to convert people outside the scene. As such, it can't just talk the language of the scene, if you know what I mean. A review of a laptop album can't just talk about software; a review of a grime artist can't just talk about what ends they're reppin'. I think this is where detachment can be a good thing- to be able to respect and relate one type of music to another area of musical discourse.

This is kind of obvious I guess, but there you go.

blissblogger
09-11-2005, 07:26 PM
" There's maybe an unconscious tendancy in reviewers to make things sound more interesting than they are - just to make their own reviews more interesting to read! No-one wants to produce dull prose.
.)

it can also work the other way though -- sometimes praise-type language (superlatives, gushy etc) can be kinda vague and samey, and slagging things off makes for better writing -- more vividly hateful! and a complex, nuanced, ambivalent piece can be a good read too

more seriously corrupting though is the fact that journalists obviously, getting paid by the word, look to get larger reviews and they're more likely to get more space for a rave -- so there is a subtle pressure to hype things up, overstate the excellent of a record.

in terms of getting close to bands, scenes... it can lead to people pulling their punches, cos they're mates with the artist. i think maybe i've unconsciously avoided being friendly with too many bands etc for fear of blunting my edge when it comes to reviewing their next album --

it's probably related to the difference between a journalist and a critic -- it can only help a journalist/reporter to be in the thick of the scene, getting a real feel for stuff and hearing all the gossip, getting the inside dirrt -- but a critic can perhaps benefit from a more insulated/isolated position... so for instance there was this cat in the sixties called Al Aronwitz, who was right in the heart of new york music, he introduced dylan to the beatles etc, a major journalist at that time... a mover-shaker instigator-catalyst as much as observer -- but he's not regarded as a great critic especially

there are those who combine both roles -- nik cohn, lester bangs, morley (who once started a piece with a whole thing on how he'd met Al aronwitz and how he was the modern Al!)

Buick6
09-11-2005, 11:25 PM
it can also work the other way though -- sometimes praise-type language (superlatives, gushy etc) can be kinda vague and samey, and slagging things off makes for better writing -- more vividly hateful! and a complex, nuanced, ambivalent piece can be a good read too

more seriously corrupting though is the fact that journalists obviously, getting paid by the word, look to get larger reviews and they're more likely to get more space for a rave -- so there is a subtle pressure to hype things up, overstate the excellent of a record.

in terms of getting close to bands, scenes... it can lead to people pulling their punches, cos they're mates with the artist. i think maybe i've unconsciously avoided being friendly with too many bands etc for fear of blunting my edge when it comes to reviewing their next album --

it's probably related to the difference between a journalist and a critic -- it can only help a journalist/reporter to be in the thick of the scene, getting a real feel for stuff and hearing all the gossip, getting the inside dirrt -- but a critic can perhaps benefit from a more insulated/isolated position... so for instance there was this cat in the sixties called Al Aronwitz, who was right in the heart of new york music, he introduced dylan to the beatles etc, a major journalist at that time... a mover-shaker instigator-catalyst as much as observer -- but he's not regarded as a great critic especially

there are those who combine both roles -- nik cohn, lester bangs, morley (who once started a piece with a whole thing on how he'd met Al aronwitz and how he was the modern Al!)

Funny you say that. I once dated Al's niece! I guess his actions spoke louder than his words. But yeah , being 'mates' with a band can cloud yr judgement. How do you tell them they're shit, and then say the same to yr audience? It just proves you can't like everything, nor agree with everything..