I have no desire for the only kinds of success that are available. The other day I heard the cruelest question I ever expect to hear. Two composers met at a music festival in the Berkshires last summer and one of them said to the other: ‘Calvin, why are we both failures?’ That’s more cruel than any other question I ever heard. The other one answered him in a hurry: ‘I’m not a failure’, he said, ‘I am not a failure because I never wanted to be a success’. That’s the way I feel too. Nevertheless the fact remains that practically everyone is unhappy. Now if the idea of love supplanted the ideas of success and failure, how joyous everyone might be! and how different the quality of life! (Delmore Schwartz, The world is a wedding)
Our Platform Could Be Your Home
In the last decades of the past century, the indie scene was a sort of second home for all those kids who didn’t feel comfortable with everyday life, family, school, job, neighbourhood; because that world was boring, dumb, meaningless, because “it says nothing to me about my life”.
But it was in the 90s that this search for an alternative reached full maturity: it was not the desire of liberation from a too conservative society, like in the 60’s, or the Barkhtinian carnivalesque reaction to the pretentious cultural and artistic scene of the 70’s, and not even the urge to fight against an unfair political system like in the 80’s, but simply the need to escape from a superficial dull reality derived from years of cocky yuppieness and entertainment-driven society. This time the new ‘transgression’ was a shameless slacker attitude, a sense of ennui, anomie, naivety, carelessness, disillusion. The new ‘movement’ was the lack of movement, as perfectly described by Douglas Coupland. The new laws of this generation X were: low profile, low fidelity; no hype, no fame.
As explained by Michael Azerrad in Our Band Could Be Your Life, the emergent indie scene of the 80’s, made by kids without access to the wellness of modern society, determined how to build a new parallel system from scratch: diy, networking and jam econo, but also stealing the tools and the know-how of the capitalist system and using them to your own advantage. Furthermore, constant relationships, exchanges, cooperation, support among the single local scenes contributed to develop a sense of community and self-confidence. Then, once political, social and economic motivations were exhausted, the idea of “alternative” had risen to a purely existential level.
1992, the year the ‘new punk’ broke the mainstream scene, revealed this alternative world to a larger number of kids looking for something more real. The alternative scene had won, as indie rock critic Gina Arnold enthusiastically announced, it had conquered the market and the popular culture, or at least that was the general feeling. But that victory was a double-edge sword. The dramatic fall of Cobain’s parable was a big lesson for everyone: do not get in bed with the mainstream. The reaction was, from one side, the return to the lowest forms of music, a new primitivism, and on the other the contamination of pop music with anti-pop genres, the so-called post-rock. Each local scene was stylistically peculiar and unique, but the attitude was the same: the search for new unsullied virgin lands, too weird to be attractive for the capitalistic market.
In this way, ‘Indie Scene’ became a totally alternative parallel dimension, a magical place where you could find all those unusual ideas, exciting sounds, weird stories, unlikely heroes you were looking for; but also a world that seemed much more real than the everyday reality, an entire planet where you could finally feel at home. In that proto-internet era, each object (a cassette tape, a cdr with photocopied cover, a fanzine, a pin, a sticker, a poster, a t-shirt) coming from that dreamy reality, especially for all those kids who lived in isolated country towns, was a sort of treasure, a talisman, a physical proof that out there, somewhere, that world existed for real. It was just a teenage dream, but that special power we used to find in those objects was something that defined that generation, the last one before the digital revolution.
Today, the Indie Scene seems in true peril, there is no more an alternative to a demeaning capitalism: it is a totalitarian all-embracing reality in which talking about alternatives seems so naïf and outdated. Today indie labels are simply acting as small majors; underground is not an attitude anymore, but just a financial status; ‘against’ is a meaningless word; ‘outsider’ means nothing but loser; ‘indie’ is just a trendy category for chain store shelves representing dummy fashion rock kids looking for fun and fame. The Scene has been fragmented in thousands of micro-scenes with no connection, lacking that common sense of living according to a shared attitude, so to cause the loss of that comfortable sense of identification in a larger community sharing the same problems, ambitions, feelings, in opposition to the fake reality of society of spectacle. Spotify gave us access to any kind of music, but it is hard to draw a distinction. Social media allows everyone to express his opinion, but his voice sounds so desperate. In this digitalized era, everything is flattened in one single big social system: appear or die.
YHIWYH wants to bring back that special feeling of physical connection with the Scene, a solid concrete stand against the maelstrom of flimsy appearances. The return to vinyl was of course part of that need, but the vinyl market has been already absorbed by the system: indie labels are nowadays struggling to have a minuscule space on the record store windows among the tons of vinyl reissues of mainstream pop and rock classics, and the record store day is by now …you know. In a sense, even the hipster phenomenon was an attempt to re-establish the importance of the relationship with real objects, to turn back on that enchanting power that the objects we love possess. That respect for well-done things was a form of respect for man’s ability to shape the world for the better. But once again the market, as a vampire, has devitalized that spirit, transforming the hipster into an embarrassing figurine for the sign of posh bars and hairdressers.
Original artworks made by true indie heroes are more than simple art objects: these are powerful magical madstones that can free you from an oppressive poisoned reality, protect you from the constant attacks of the media system, and let the Scene regain strength supporting those who keep it alive. It is a small tiny act, of course, but we think we have to begin from somewhere if we do not want to drown in the crippling shitstorm we are constantly exposed today.
a solid concrete stand against the maelstrom of flimsy appearances
they share a similar nature, that explains why music lovers are often also visual art passionates and collectors
in this material world, we need a physical connection that keeps us linked to that other world
What are these drawings?
Why did I do them?
Will they be of interest to anyone else?
Of any use?
Do they need to be useful?
With these questions David Byrne introduced his collection of enigmatic drawings of plant-like diagrams in the book Arboretum. We could ask ourselves the same questions as music lovers when we are attracted by visual art.
Byrne’s answer is that visual art acts as a kind of self-therapy that allows us to express with the hand what we cannot express verbally. This could explain for sure our desire to strengthen our connection with the world the music represents through non musical objects. This can justify the return of vinyl in the era of digital music: its large cover enriches, explains, completes or even completely distorts, giving it a whole new meaning to the music it holds inside. Visual elements are, in this sense, complementary to sound elements. But, as Adorno explained, this is true because they share a similar nature, that explains why music lovers are often also visual art enthusiasts and collectors: they are both non-denominative languages. Of course a song could tell a story, but its lyrics have different meaning or less power without the music; in the same way, a painting could of course represent a figure, a scene, a real event, but what makes it an ‘artwork’ is the constructive/expressive tension among the graphic elements, something not explicitly represented graphically. Both music and visual art are non-linguistic, non-subjective, extra-rational écriture that crackles like electricity. Adorno called them ‘seismographic writings’, because both contain, behind their communicative facade, a trembling mysterious energy that reveals something not explicable for the logical synthesizing ‘I’. What we are looking for, in music as well as in visual art, is indeed this exciting gooseflesh that breaks off the insignificant daily reality. Both music and art still today can open up that magical world in which we used to live in the Indie Scene. Any form of music or art without that seismographic effect, any writing that just expresses the reality, is simply, as Adorno put it, kitsch: “kitsch is nothing but mimesis rendered false by reification”, that is exactly what we feel when we experience most of the commercial products. Of course it doesn’t mean that all mainstream songs or works of art are garbage or that independent stuff is always great. There are so many great albums produced by majors and tons of ridiculous productions from thousands of indie bands. What we want to celebrate here is not the superficial idea of ‘music from independent labels’, but the attitude to be truly independent from the mechanism of the commercial music and art scene, a mechanism that we can reassume in the obsessive search of approval of the ego of the artist offering something easily recognizable for the public (another definition of kitsch). This subjugation to a common idea of beauty is what independent artists disavow. In this sense, independent music and art can be understood as part of the so-called art brut: ‘Art Brut stands in stark contrast to artistic processes oriented solely towards aesthetics, trapped in their cultural lineage’, we can read in the introduction of the marvelous ‘abcd, une collection d’art brut’ catalogue, ‘from the spectator’s perspective it points to the invasive, brutal and fascinating effect of disclosure produced by the works so named. From the creator’s perspective it speaks of authenticity and of the intimacy of the invented forms with a subterranean world that is usually obscured by the banal masks of everyday consciousness”. What we are looking for in the artworks we propose is that same thing we find in the music we love: a hint of the extra-ordinary.
But if it is true that music seems to have an alien essence, more purely spiritual, if only for its constitutive immateriality, it is undeniable how, in this material world, we need a physical connection that keeps us linked to that other world. In this sense, the art object has a higher power than music, because it allows us to keep that bond stable. And more immediate too: as Kandinsky said, “music has, at its disposal, the duration of time, while painting does not possess this advantage but presents to the spectator its entire message in one single instance, something music is incapable of doing” (“On The Spiritual In Art”). Not for nothing if we love an album, we feel the urge to possess a physical copy of it, so we can reignite the connection with it even when we do not have the time to listen to it, just with a quick glance at the album cover. Furthermore, in the age of digitalization, any piece of art is transformed in information and ‘information carries no special authority within itself’, said the art critic John Berger; artworks ‘have become ephemeral, ubiquitous, insubstantial, available, valueless, free’, while original physical art pieces are ‘silent and still in a sense that information never is’ (John Berger, The ways of seeing). For these reasons many older music lovers consider listening to vinyl as a sacred ritual, today more than ever. But the new generations, who have not experienced that way of listening to music, have understood that it doesn’t matter if you actually listen to the albums through the physical media. We may not even have the player for that particular medium: simply entering into contact with the physical object is sufficient to activate that magical process. When we find ourselves before a physical artwork the continuous noise of the infosphere is suspended and we enter in the contemporaneity, through ‘the immediacy of their testimony’, Berger says. The current scene that most keeps alive the spirit of the indie scene, the vaporwave, is known for producing its albums mainly on cassette, a medium for which almost no one has the player anymore; and going even further, some vaporwave artists have started producing albums on minidiscs, a medium for which almost nobody has ever had the player. This is because they understood before and more than others how much today, thanks to digitalization, the physical media has lost its facade as a mere means, a data container, and has revealed itself in its purest essence: a talisman, a magic key, a ring of power with which to reactivate the memory of a richer and deeper world, which everyday life tends to make us forget.
While music can give you the intense but temporary, elusive experience of the other world, the art object is a fixed alien presence within this world, a permanent obstacle, an element of continuous disturbance, an interference persistent in our everyday reality. The work of art is an irreverent servant; it is a vulgar guest who spoils your elegant dinner, an irritating killjoy. The work of art is punk in essence. We buy it, we take it home to decorate our wall, but there’s nothing to do, it is uncontrollable, unmanageable, indomitable. It disturbs, distracts, makes noise, derides us, embarrasses us, constantly attracts attention. It is a great pain in the ass, it is a stray cat that you have naively thought you could adopt, tame. If that picture that you hung in the living room does not cause all of this, then it is not a work of art, it is a product, a kitsch artifact, a piece of this world, banal but recognizable, peaceful, polite, that does its duty, which guarantees satisfaction to its owner. On the contrary, what we guarantee you with the works of the artists we want to present is, to quote Coum Transmissions, pure and total disappointment.
Culture Is Not Our Business
This is a small personal note. We would like to point out that this project was born in a very particular moment, the long lockdown period due to COVID19 global outbreak. At first, like many, we got caught up in a sense of despair, but also of anger, for the wasted months of work (as music agents, our work always begins many months before the actual realization of the project, be it a concert, a tour or a festival) and for future uncertainty (impossible to plan next events because of all the travel restrictions and the limitations for live performances inside the venues). Fortunately, living and operating in a state, Germany, and in a city, Berlin, where the welfare system is still solid and efficient, we have been able to ease the tension, and, by slightly rearranging the expenses of our daily life, transform this dramatic event in an unexpected holiday period. The more the days went by, the more we learned to enjoy the benefits of this forced break: more rest, less stress, more time dedicated to reading, watching movies and listening to new music. All this has allowed us to let our mind go with greater freedom towards considerations, ideas and projects inconceivable in times of normal activities. We are sure that many of you have experienced these same sensations. It is from this fruitful period of psycho-physical rest, cultural enrichment and open-mindedness that this project emerged. And even after having imagined and designed it, it would have been impossible to realize it, working for several months without having any immediate income, without the financial support to cover the basic expenses. If today this project has become a real cultural and commercial activity, it is only thanks to this condition of economic tranquility. This has led us to become aware of the fact that a city like Berlin, which professes to be a ‘cultural capital’, should always allow all artists and cultural producers to live and work with this state of mind. For a twofold reason: first of all because this would be a way to repay those thanks to whom that city can benefit from the image of cultural capital, otherwise it would only be a vile exploitation; but also because, as we have experienced, this economic support system will allow the city to have a significant increase in the cultural activities and productions on which it is based.
Then we thought: imagine how many other interesting, exciting, unthinkable, unpublished projects in each field could be realized if everyone was offered the opportunity to live their entire existence without the pressure of covering basic expenses, to ‘free ourselves from the muck of immediacy’, as xenofemminists propose. Of course, a lot of people would simply do nothing, many would produce mediocre ideas, and others would engage in projects that lead nowhere. But if from all these, just 0.001% of people were able to conceive and then, they or someone else inspired by them, to create a truly innovative, useful or simply beautiful project, a project that without that financial support would not have had the opportunity to be thought of and realized, then the general investment will have borne fruit. To allow this potential to be expressed only by those who have found themselves by chance in a favorable family, or in a working, economic condition, or by those who are willing to give up a dignified life to dedicate themselves to their dream (typical condition of many artists), is a gesture of mental obtuseness on the part of the rulers, but also of a real waste of human resources, and of ‘humanity’ whereby we mean the ability, unique in this world, to imagine the new and then to create it. Many years ago, during a post-concert chat with Bassholes’ Don Howland, he ended up like this: we all do a different job to live, this is the only way to be truly independent, that is to create music free from the constraints of the market. How many artists are or have been forced to limit, modify or abandon their creative disposition because of the bold need to simply cover their basic expenses?
An adequate universal basic income would be the simple condition to allow us all to be fully human, or at least give us the opportunity. We do not believe that basic income is just a right demanded by a soft and flawed civilization, but on the contrary a more reasonable, evolved, efficient social system: to use the energies of each individual and of society as a whole for greater objectives than simple survival, or, as Kiss’ Paul Stanley eloquently explained in The Decline of Western Civilization Part II, once you have money, you realize that it’s really not important; what money gives you the opportunity to do is to forget about money …and thus work on projects whose purpose is not merely immediate or direct economic returns.
In this sense, the Indie dream that we want to preserve and revitalize here, that is the possibility of imagining and creating independently of the economic profit, must be understood first of all as emancipation from an ancestral condition of slavery towards a principle of survival that still maintains us psychologically linked to an animal level, although humanity has long been in a position to meet these basic needs globally. Technology and culture are the sine qua non conditions for giving life to this new social system, but this system has precisely the aim of further developing these conditions. It is a perfect virtuous circle. Indeed, if today we can imagine taking this step, it is because society has already taken this path: it is the guarantee of basic public services (education, health, justice …) that has allowed the achievement of a cultural and scientific level such that we could now imagine the coverage of basic means of subsistence for all. The new system would be just a further step forward in the realization of the very idea of human society. Furthermore, only with this achieved emancipation we can reach the end of capitalism, which is nothing more than a perverse evolution of that same principle of animal survival on which our lives are programmed still today. Capitalism wants us to believe that it is the cause of the technological and cultural development and the consequent general improvement of human conditions, but the reality is that these achievements have been accomplished where the number of citizens with access to those basic services has been increased; indeed capitalism has been the brake on this development by reducing the people to mere consumers instead of creators. Chronic consumption of insignificant merchandise is a sclerotic and desperate version of the ancestral desire of protection. But what if we, as human society, would be able to offer to everyone that clean, well-lighted place we all need?
It seems almost incredible that after thousands of years of human history such a social system, the utility of which for the whole community is now completely obvious, has not yet been put in place; but we believe that this absurd global phenomenon that we are all experiencing today could be the opportunity we were waiting for to finally take a decisive step forward in our evolution. We can turn to our advantage the theory of the father of neoliberalism Milton Friedman who stated that only a crisis could produce a real change, we just have to be ready with a more favourable alternative to the existing policies. In ‘Inventing the Future’, the ‘accelerationists’ Srnicek and Williams explain how economic neoliberalism has imposed itself as a new hegemonic paradigm preparing the ground for long years, waiting for the socio-economic crisis that would have offered it the opportunity to present itself as the only valid solution ready for application. Today, the crisis following the COVID19 pandemic could be the opportunity to establish a new socio-economic paradigm, not only fairer, but more effective than neoliberalism. But the left has made the serious mistake of not working, in the past years, on the theoretical development of the new paradigm and the infiltration of its practical applications in all the fields of society (as the neoliberals did throughout the 1900s), instead limiting themselves to inconsistent and temporary protests or fragile islands of resistance. Reacting only through defensive politics, the left was the main supporter, albeit involuntarily, of the Thatcherian idea that there are no alternatives: both parties convinced us to live in the only possible reality.
The ‘indie dream’ that we support here does not want to be in any way a proposal of isolation and alienation as the only reasonable response to an invincible and irreplaceable socio-economic system: independency cannot mean detachment from reality, but emancipation from natural constrictions through the development of a social system that gives to everyone the means to create and so express his own humanity. This is a battle that, with any luck, we will win by the end of this century. It is a long journey, and probably we will not benefit from our conquests, but if we begin to accept that we can commit ourselves to something greater than our petty personal interest, we will have already struck the first fundamental blow to the capitalist system that is now prevailing.
Therefore, among the ruins of neoliberal society, which are above all mental ruins, we want to try to rekindle a flame that is now almost extinct, starting from our small private space, raped and devastated by years of capitalist nihilism. We think this is possible also through simply surrounding ourselves with small magical things created by artists who, with their example of life, remind us that an alternative is possible. Among them, what today seems impossible, a phantasy, can become inevitable. In this way can we create not an escape route towards a world of dreams, but the necessary physical and psychic ground within which the real battle can finally begin. If we have forgotten that an alternative is possible, how can we ever make that alternative come true?
(A big thanks to Tav Falco for editing the texts)
An adequate universal basic income would be the simple condition to allow us all to be fully human
by ‘humanity’ we mean the ability to imagine the new and then to create it
If we have forgotten that an alternative is possible, how can we ever make that alternative come true?