Surrendering to Spotify

itunes

Last Sunday I was in a good mood, a really good mood.  A mood good enough to purchase something stupid.  When the Urban Outfitters ‘sale’ section proved underwhelming I took out my CC and bought the next most illogical thing: Spotify Premium.

I fought the free version of Spotify for a while. I wasn’t ready to give up iTunes.  Yeah, the UX sucked and yeah it was so slow but we had been together through three different computers and four different illegal P2P softwares. I never understand people who are so eager to replace old platforms without a trial period. It took me way too long than I’d now like to admit to switch over from Safari to Chrome.

My hesitancy  with Spotify stemmed from my need to own the music, to store it on my HD. I realize how hypocritical this is as I’ve probably paid for less than 25 songs in my entire life but I was born in 1989 so sue me.  There is something awfully romantic about owning a piece of art, especially when it’s music. iTunes is the record crate of the aughts.

My iTunes library in 2005 was the most important thing I owned. Besides my Myspace ‘About Me’ there was nothing that better represented me to the rest of the world than my ‘brary.  I was proud of my eclectic live performances, acoustic rarities and the dirty version of Nellyville. There was no greater moment of judgement than handing over your iPod to a new friend, or in rare occurrences a girl. Points if she knew Bright Eyes.  What you had stored said it all, and in case you were missing the new Death Cab it was probably worth disclaiming that you had too many gigs on your iTunes to fit it all on your iPod.  Good save.

I’ve gotten worse at music discovery over the past year and in a sense, I blame it on Spotify.  For years, I was determined to find the best new music, and if I found something, an immediate download meant it could soon be mine, saved forever. Yeah, downloading the songs helped me remember which ones I liked, but it also added a sense of familiarity. There was something to opening a .mp3 file for the first time on iTunes, waiting to find out how much information the file held (in case I needed to add Artist or Album), and listening to the song as it played automatically. The songs always sounded different once they were on your hard drive; even the most off-genre tracks seemed easier to comprehend when the arrived in the iTunes library.

With Spotify, I now “star” the songs I would have downloaded. It’s such an easy process, anyone can do it — great. When I ‘star’ something it ends up in my”starred” playlist and now I listen to these same 80 songs on repeat until a year passes and I come up on a new 80. I appreciate that the process is easy and I spend a lot of time not having to translate french websites to find an .mp3 link but the files do not live on my computer, instead they are stored at some huge data center probably in some shitty place like Sacramento.

Maybe even more troubling though, is that I rely on Spotify for songs.  For a second there, Spotify didn’t have “Get Lucky” and I nearly died. When I want to listen to my favorite new 2 Chainz joint 28 times in a row I have to go to Soundcloud.  The music discovery aspect is great for older songs, but new singles, remixes and live sets — good luck.

I’ve migrated with the rest of my generation to Spotify and by purchasing the Premium version I am now surrendering to our new green music overlord, but let the record show that I really held out as long as possible.  May we forever be known as the iTunes generation who never bought a song on iTunes.

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Rubbing SXSW elbows with the stars

Southby is all about the secret shows. While it’s cool to check out new bands and catch big performers at the biggest stages, everyone’s real goal is to somehow find the underground, cocaine-fueled after party filled with spec scripts and celebrities from the AMC channel. I unfortunately did not find this hedonistic Texas playground, but did manage to elbow my way into a few parties I should not have gotten in to.

My girlfriend was visiting for the first few days of the festival and on Saturday night we met up with my friends downtown. We didn’t RSVP for a party at an art gallery so instead wandered toward a tent playing Clique. The tent was being hosted by an app called Yappum which we had to download in order to be let in.

We left the tent because a hula hoop competition was beginning and I checked Twitter from the sidewalk for something else to do. In the building behind us, a man left from a side-entrance door. My SXSW-veteran-friend tried the door to see if it was still open, which it was and we walked inside past security guards into a large-exposed brick hall with a bar on on side and monitors on the other.

Paul Rudd, fully fu-man-chu’d stood at the bar talking to pretty ladies and a short dude who I knew was famous (Emile Hirsch) walked my way. We looked back at the poor security guards, probably bussed in from San Antonio for a week, unsure if we were supposed to be there.  My girlfriend suggested we leave. It would have been really embarrassing to get kicked out in front of Paul Rudd and the other famous guy whose name I couldn’t place (Emile Hirsch).

The guards were especially bad and couldn’t even remember what my 6’3” red-headed friend looked like five minutes after spotting him.  We ventured into the party, which turned out to be the Samsung Galaxy Sound Stage. Band of Horses and The Roots were rumored to be performing.  A woman asked us to shoot a video and it ended up looking like this:

We were official.

In the back room you could print your own ¾ sleeve SXSW Samsung Unicorn Apocalypse shirts. We took seats outside and I was the only one in our group who recognized Judd Apatow who seemed as drunk as he was beardy. I went to the bathroom and when I returned Alex Karpovsky was standing near our table. My girlfriend and I had seen him before getting on a Brooklyn-bound L train at 3am, so we found his presence particularly funny.

I was in pure bliss when Rembert Browne from Grantland sat down with us after I recognized him standing alone near-by.  He confirmed that The Roots were in fact playing since he would be interviewing them post-performance. I could just die at this point.

Band of Horses is almost an emo band. Almost. I didn’t even watch because Paul Rudd was visible to my left and he was jamming the fuck out, slappin the bass with long hair and a fu-man-chu.

Between sets I met a dude who worked at the Hollywood reporter who said “the guys on Girls are the kind of guys that would have sex with Lena Dunham.” My girlfriend and I argued with him for a second didn’t really get the point. He gave me his card and told me girls from San Francisco are crazy.

While I got more free drinks an older guy approached my girlfriend. He was Gary Michael Walters, producer at Bold films, Jeopardy winner and friend of the stars. From the bar I saw him introduce my girlfriend to Joseph Gordon Levitt.

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Gary Michael Walters turned out to be a nice guy when my girlfriend revealed she wasn’t at the party stag. He suggested we hang out the next day so we took down his number. My girlfriend received a text the next day asking what are plans were. We tried to play it cool, hoping he had another VIP event to attend. He did.  The Spring Breakers premiere was happening and Gary wanted us to come to the after party.

At midnight we stood outside The Ranch Austin and met up with Gary. He walked us right in. This time we were prepared; our goal was to look like we could have been from something. Everyone at this party could have been from something. In attendance was the cast including Selena and Jimmy Franx. I wanted to talk to him about growing up on the peninsula but he seemed busy. Though Franco is pictured here with co-star Ashley Benson, I can report that she was not with him. In fact, I witnessed her go home hand-in-hand with a Pretty Little Liars co-star, as reported by my girlfriend. This is insider information.

Christopher Abbott who plays Charlie on Girls moped around the party in true Season 1 Charlie form.  Alex Karpovsky was at this party too, and I can also report that Charlie and Ray’s real life relationship seems as strained as their on screen one.

Nev Schulman from Catfish was having the most fun at the party. He danced on tables, kicked beach balls around and asked my girlfriend if she was in the film.

It’s totally silly to gawk at celebrities, and the superficial nature of stardom is hard to get past sometimes, yet this two-night experience was altogether very satisfying and full of excitement. If the SXSW dream is to see something out of the ordinary, I think we accomplished that.

It seems really cool to be a celebrity or even a non-celebrity who does celebrity-like things. It’s hard not to just stare at people you’re accustomed to seeing on the cover of magazines and webpages, and it must be really hard to be Ashley Benson who can’t walk around a private party without security guards standing nearby. I felt bad for Ashley, but mostly the security guards because the space was really tight.

Also, of note: the marketing team for the party hired some girls to dance in bikinis while wearing masks (apparently this has to do with the movie), and I scoffed at the body commodification happening IRL, which turned into a feminist debate with my girlfriend which lasted a week.  SPRAAAAANG BREAK!

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Art vs Entertainment in The Comedy

Last week I saw The Comedy, a new movie by Rick Alverson starring Tim Heidecker.  The movie follows Heidecker’s trust-fun character through a series of social interactions. We watched as the Brooklynite explored his world by feeling out the boundaries of the less fortunate.

It’s peppered-in moments of comedy were special but insignificant.   The movie stops abruptly as the character is splashing water on a little kid at a beach out in Brooklyn.

After the screening, Alverson and Heidecker, in attendance joined on the stage to answer questions.  Alverson noted that Americans want to leave a movie theater with answers, and this film was not intended to do that.  He made a point to mention that he didn’t care much about the audience when making the film.

My initial reaction to this is positive.  Film as an art form is something to be cherished.  I can appreciate that.

In my undergraduate creative writing courses, I’d often come with a story that ended in some mundane way.  “Signifying nothing!” I’d say.  My peers we’re unmoved.  They would tell me that as readers, they needed to be entertained, understood, talked to.  I would change my story to mean something a little more concrete, but I was never happy about it.

Being on the other side of this debate, I now see what my classmates we’re saying.  There needs to be a balance between art and audience.  Though I deeply admire “The Comedy” as an artistic piece on Brooklyn subculture in 2012 America, as a movie that an audience pays $12.99 to watch, its pretty shitty, really.  Though I know the ultra close-ups and long panning shots, are a stylistic, purposeful decision, for an audience it’s pretty miserable to watch.

This all pains me deeply to say, because goddammit I want art.  I want filmmakers to make what they are passionate about, and I want us as a society to pay $12.99 for art too.  But that’s just not the case, which sucks.  It sucks a lot.

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We are never getting back together

In the next few days, the NHL will end it’s lockout and all will be restored in the world for a lot of people like me.

But it will take a while.  The lockout’s bitter taste will linger on the tip of my tongue for the months to come.  As a scorned lover, I’m not ready to just welcome the league back into my arms (and wallet) at the first apology.  It’s going to take romance.  It’s not going to just walk back in without an explanation.  It’s going to be that “I hate that I love you” sort of situations.

As a semi-professional apologist, here are some recommendations for the NHL, on how to make this up to the fans:

1. Game 1 should be fan appreciation day.  I shouldn’t have to explain this. Concessions half off. Jerseys on sale.  Everyone gets to take a picture with their favorite player after the game.

2.  A player apology commercial.  The NHL is really bad at marketing, but one thing they do well is commercials.  I don’t care if its in French, I need someone without front teeth saying sorry to the real fans who are coming back though they know they shouldn’t.

3.  Acknowledge that it happened.  I follow the Twitter accounts of almost every team.  None of them have used the word lockout in the past 80 days.  It’s just ridiculous.  I need a full fledged social media apology from every teams Facebook managing intern.

4. Give out more pucks at games.  After the 1994 MLB lockout, players were encouraged to throw out baseballs to fans during batting practice.  Though its died down a bit since the early 2000s, catching batting practice for a chance to score a ball is worth about 20% of the ticket price.  Don’t be stingy with your pucks.  It’s unbelievable what one can do for an impressionable young fan not unlike myself 20 years ago.

5. Get rid of the cheerleaders.  This isn’t one of “those” sports.

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Ugly sweater parties and searching for tradition in all the wrong places

It’s a pretty safe bet that anyone between the age of 18-26 with any kind of social life has been invited to an “Ugly Sweater” party this weekend.

The idea is a novel one.  Wear  an “ugly” sweater (read: sweater from the 1980-1999) that you buy from your designated thrift store. The uglier the better, in a sense.

My first ugly sweater party was in 2008.  I was a freshman in college and wore a sweater I had bought from Marshalls on clearance over the summer.  Our ugly sweaters were neat.  The joke lasted throughout the night, maybe even into the morning.  It was a fun, novel irony.

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I’ve been invited to a ugly sweater parties every year since and each one has been worse.  Not worse in terms of ugly sweaters, in fact the sweaters got uglier, but the idea felt stale.    We had done this a year ago.

My instagram generation is obsessed with creating tradition when there isn’t one.  What the fuck is no shave November?  We feel some need to repeat experiences in the past for the sake of…humor…expectations…social norms…tradition?  I don’t want to go to an end of the world party December 21st, 2014.

Part of it, I suspect is tied to nostalgia.  Buzzfeed and Thought Catalogue constantly remind us how much better life was when we were cruising Nickelodeon and talking on landlines.  It’s almost like we’ve given up on chasing nostalgia.  Now we just create our own.

Life wasn’t better in 1997.  They hadn’t yet invented wireless printing and we wore those pants that zipped off into shorts.

My two examples, the ugly sweater party and no shave November both incorporate 80’s fashion trends.  We like to pretend we are making fun of these past cultural signifiers but I don’t believe that’s our real motivation.

I’m probably over-analyzing and it’s really just about finding another reason to have a party, but its worth noting our need for group repetition. Tonight is the Victoria’s Secret fashion show and there is a drinking game. In 20 years it will be a national holiday.

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Some underground music genres, probably

Stuckpop

Stuckpop emerged in the late 2000s in Melbourne and parts of London.  The style relies on very light distortion and euphorically steady rhythmic patterns. The sound is inherently melodramatic with pianos typically at the helm.  Stuckpop is an apology for nu-gaze.

Notable stuckpop artists:

The Willie Lomans, Rabbi Rabbi, POFF, War Crime, Bicameral Legislatures

Movecore

Merging 90’s grunge-core hymns with the violent realities of urban life, movecore mixes electronic melodies with blues progressions.  Though movecore traditionally uses competing guitars to create tempo, this rule has been challenged and pushed since the emergence of nü-move in 2011.

Notable movecore artists:

Grass Rûts, RGBCMYK, Max Golinski, Fruit Punsh, Move to Trash

Wastenoise

Wastenoise is a music style that borrows from traditional 50’s Rock n’ Roll assumptions and adds metal textures.  The genre became popular in pockets of the deep south in 2004 and 2005 — many original artists draw on themes from Hurricane Katrina and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry’s failed presidential bid.

Notable wastenoise artists:

Big Pig, Bush Tax Cuts, Bad Apel, The Black Keys, Large Hadron Colliders

Post-hegemonic

The post-hegemonic movement came about in 2014 as a reaction to the reemergence of Ska.  Many post-hegemonic artists rely almost entirely on vibrations, often converting the songs vocals into a series of vibratory patterns.  Record companies often sell post-hegemonic tracks in liquid form.  Many consider the post-hegemony movement to signal a new golden-era of R n’ B.

Notable post-hegemonic artists:

Horatio Sanz, buttdial, Eject Disk, Bruuce Springsteen, BBQ, Male Gaze Theory

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Accidental identity politics on screen

Two of my favorite things over this past month were, like much of the population, Argo and Homeland.

What these two excellent examples of cinema share is a common antagonist: Muslims in the Middle East.  As Pouya Alimagham of the Huffington Post writes, Argo “presents a country of more than 35 million in 1979 exclusively through the lens of terrorism and hostage-taking, public executions, [and] bearded men shouting so hysterically that spit flies out of their mouths.”

It’s hard not to walk out of Argo believing that Iranians are a bad people, that Iran and anyone from Iran is the enemy.  Aside from a sympathetic housekeeper, the Iranians in Argo are a violent, malevolent people.  You can excuse your sudden bout of racism as a testament to the movie’s entertainment quality, the antagonists are the antagonists.  You are smart enough to understand that Iranian’s aren’t inherently bad people.

But what if you aren’t an educated, racially-aware sensible human being and instead you think “Argo” the next time you meet a Persian person?  What then?  To what extent are filmmakers responsible for protecting the reputation of a nationality?  Argo has made $148,062,309 so far.  There are a lot of hateful people out there.

Homeland faces a similar problem even though the creators may have purposely drawn our attention to it. In season 2, Saul explains that the CIA should look into the “darker”  people Sgt. Brody has come in contact with. Saul Berenson, the moral compass of the show is as good with racial profiling as he is with his mourners kaddish.  Homeland is undoubtedly smarter and more realistic with its depictions, which is probably why it’s okay for President Obama to call Homeland his favorite show.

The great fear of course, is that these sources of entertainment that use real countries in realistic situations will be taken too literally. We like these shows because they allow us to use our previous knowledge to fill in the gaps, which sometimes motivates the plot.   I suspect Inglorious Basterds is different for German people — to me it was pornographic.

Which brings me to Red Dawn.  I haven’t seen the film and don’t plan on it.  The re-make this time has China as our enemy, for reason’s I don’t care to look up.  Here’s the inevitable disgustingly racist reaction from Americans who actually paid money to see this movie.

So what are we supposed to do? How do filmmakers make war movies without accidentally making propaganda for the lowest common denominators of our society?

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