segunda-feira, 5 de agosto de 2013

Blood, Sweat & Vinyl

This is the first in a small series of articles I wrote for another blog last year that has, since then, been discontinued. I figure it shouldn't go to waste, but it's a little outdated regardless and I feel - hope - my writing style has improved a bit by now. Hydra Head went bankrupt some months ago - actually I'm not sure how that turned out - so take it with that particular grain of salt.


Blood, Sweat & Vinyl: DIY in the 21st Century (2011)

Because metalheads aren’t pretentious enough, these good folks have presented a compelling argument as to why contemporary heavy music is awesome, and they’ve done it the right way.

Simple in its notion but undoubtedly hard in its execution, “Blood, Sweat & Vinyl: DIY in the 21st Century” (BSV) is the result of a five-year long project that accompanied three great independent labels – Constellation, Hydra Head and Neurot –, interviewed their bands and key people surrounding the scene, gathered high quality live footage and made an argument, a powerful argument, about the state of heavy music in the present.

So the story goes as follows: once upon a time, the mainstream music industry was grabbing bands by a stranglehold which greatly impaired their creative potential. Musicians felt the need for an uncompromised but serious deal, a label that would provide them with the creative freedom for them to expand on their music and the tools for them to achieve it, without imposing castrating deadlines or unreasonable contractual demands (such as “Have three albums up the next two years and make it snappy. Also, go cut that damn hair of yours. You look like a faggot.”). Cutting that story short, these are three labels that went through with it, because if you want something done right…

These are the labels built and fronted by the the people behind Godspeed You! Black Emperor (GY!BE), Isis and Neurosis, respectively (along with other bands and people, of course, these being the names that “stand out”, so to speak). This is where come the people with the ideals, the influence and the capability to keep up with the demanding task that is yelling against the wind. And here, I believe, lies the fulcrum for this documentary. It’s not so much the “hey, here’s some bands we’ve interviewed” but really it’s more “these guys are doing something great, and here’s why”. And they do it, I believe, by presenting three strong cases:

Firstly, none of the musicians “brand” themselves, everyone rejecting the notion that they play a specific “kind” of music. This is a strong point in the documentary and is one of the major arguments towards the idea of unbinding bands to a particular role or genre. This is also why every GY!BE album is unique in its way: they don’t feel the need to appease to a certain kind of play, a certain style.

Secondly, there’s an expansive thought process behind the music-making process which spans beyond “the band”. As you see with the Hydra Head case, albums are made with a concept and always thinking within a certain community of like-minded people. The extensive coverage of album art and the artists involved with creating said art, themselves free something which is often disregarded by music listeners, shows how the concept (or should I say the culture) that encompasses this particular musical context is one of multiplicity, to a point where the listeners themselves are involved in the whole process.

Thirdly, there’s a way of doing things, following the point above, which both involves and challenges the community towards that collective principle. Paraphrasing Steve Von Till (from Neurosis), they want the listeners to actually “look for” the kind of music they put out, instead of producing something that’s readily available for easy consumption. Which is to say there is a will to engage the community in the albums that they make, rather than maintaining the old separation “I make the song, you buy the song”.

More than simply exposing a music genre or bands, BSV engages you into the rich cultural environment that is contemporary heavy music. It shows you the sounds, the art, the people around it and it brings you into arguing what making music is really about nowadays. It questions mainstream labels, the music genre distinctions and the expansiveness of the cultural complexes surround a particular set of bands and the ambience they produce. It’s an awesome work that they did and a great way to show people who don’t know the bands or are unaware of this reality. It’s also a must-have for those who enjoy this kind of music and feel like they belong in this world.

The documentary has been screening all over the world in music festivals and other venues. There are clips of it on their website you can check out and that’s also where you can purchase the DVD. The box set comes with awesome live footage which you can show off to friends like I do. There’s no valid reason not to get it, truth be told.

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