Thursday, 5 June 2014

On supporting local artistes: thoughts from the Buona Vista Musician

Before delving into the post proper, let me provide a bit of context. I have a few friends who are firmly in the "SUPPORT LOCAL MUSICIANS ALL THE WAY!" camp, and these friends, knowing full well my generally negative perception of the local (mainstream) music scene, have constantly encouraged me to give the work of Singaporean artistes a chance. 
It should then be obvious by now that this post has its roots in several solid hours spent listening to the work of those very artistes my friends have stood firmly by.

Now I must add that what, over and above anything else, influences my choice of music is quality - whether the shit I'm listening to is, well, actually any good. Yet, if I were presented with two (good) bands that were for all intents and purposes identical except that one was Singaporean and one was from overseas, I would, without hesitation, treat the local band preferentially. If some band called Aeroplanesmith burst onto the local scene with loud guitars, strong arena presence and a charismatic, screaming demon named Stevie Tai for a frontman, I would most certainly feel proud that we have an answer to the American band so blatantly being referenced here. There is no denying that I do definitely have some 'patriotism', if you will.

Having said all of that, no one should let 'patriotism' cloud objectivity and discernment - no one should lend their support to artistes simply for geographical reasons. To do so would be to encourage mediocrity and complacency from artistes who feel comfortable putting out substandard work, safe in the knowledge that they have compatriots out there sticking with them under all circumstances.

I shall use two local artistes who have gained relatively recent popularity as examples (of course, these two artistes were the two most 'championed' by my 'patriotic' friends).

The first is Gentle Bones. Recently, Gentle Bones released two singles - "Until We Die" and "Elusive" - on YouTube. These two videos garnered a sizable number of views and provided more ammunition for supporters - such as, of course, my friends - to attack 'haters' like me with. After all, if a video gets tens of thousands of views and an overwhelming like-to-dislike ratio on YouTube, it must therefore be amazing, right?

Well, the sad truth is that every single purchased off iTunes or BandCamp goes towards funding what is essentially a feat of sound editing. The lyrics are bland and unimaginative, the music likewise and, most glaringly of all, the singing has been auto-tuned to death (I will, though, give props to the cool music videos). Supporting artistes like Gentle Bones allows them to essentially cheat their way out of the reality that is their mediocre-at-best musical and creative ability and cheat eager listeners of quality, honest-to-goodness material.

The situation is similar when considering another local act: the Sam Willows. As with Gentle Bones, this quartet more than satisfies the basic thresholds that it seems the vast majority of Singaporean listeners want satisfied: a clean, digestible image and impressive video production. Yet, these swathes of listeners either are oblivious to, or choose to ignore, the fact that they are enabling these people to, again, slap together work that is bland ("Glasshouse") or flat-out nonsensical ("Nightlight" - is goodbye the end or not!?) and ride the wave of support from a 'patriotism'-driven audience to fame and consequently drag the local music scene into further mediocrity by 'inspiring' more of the same from other aspiring acts.

Look: I definitely want the best for the local music scene; selfish as it sounds, I would certainly benefit from having local artistes' profiles increased in that I could potentially attend good gigs and purchase good music more frequently and conveniently. However, the exact opposite is happening, no thanks to people who allow 'patriotism' and the novelty of being compatriots with a bunch of people on camera blind them into enabling these people to churn out substandard material.

Also, I'm definitely not ruling out the possibility of these and other similar artistes improving in future; if that happens, I would be more than ready to publicly admit that I was wrong for not sticking with these artistes through their teething pains. However, as is particularly the case with these two dearly-beloved acts, no signs of improvement or change are anywhere to be seen several years from their respective breakouts.

The message I am trying to get across, therefore, is that while one should certainly lend support to local artistes in the hopes of having a thriving local scene, one should also exercise discretion and only support artistes who believe in quality, honesty and originality. 'Patriotism' alone is never a good enough reason to champion a player in an industry as dear to people's hearts as the music scene. 

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