Thursday, September 07, 2006

We've Been Had ( a review of Kill Your Idols)


The best documentaries usually leave the audience with more questions than answers. Sure, the good ones are typically packed with information on the subject matter at hand, and often offer audiences an expanded knowledge base as a launching pad from which they can develop more and better questions in the future. But the filmmakers that realize the limitations of their medium are usually the ones that fare the best, since creating a complete and all encompassing document of a particular subject in a scripted hour and thirty minute film is simply impossible most of the time. Like a college professor, posing a set of challenging questions, a review of possible answers, and the proper information with which to ask better questions is about all that a documentary filmmaker can hope to do, and it is all that an audience can truly expect if they are seeking a sophisticated view of the subject at hand, rather than a shallow quick fix of easy answers.

Kill Your Idols, a documentary about the New York No Wave scene of the late 70's and early 80's, ends with a series of shots showing blank expressions on the faces of a number of its interview subjects, all pondering the possibilities of what the next important movement (after the early 00's New York cool) in popular music will be. Arto Lindsay finally says "I don't know" just before the credits appear, which seems to be the proper way to end a film that paints in broad strokes and presents a lot of questions rather than answers. The beginning of the film provides a brief history of the lower east side/soho New York No Wave movement, covering bands such as Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, DNA, Suicide and Theoretical Girls. Of course, they leave out several other important groups from that era (they barely mention Contortions, and don't mention Liquid Liquid, ESG and Mars among others), and don't go into a great deal of detail about the dynamics of the scene and the visual art infrastructure that held much of it together (for a much more detailed look at No Wave, I would suggest Simon Reynolds' book Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984). But what makes the film interesting is its use of interviews with Arto Lindsay, Lydia Lunch, Thurston Moore, and Lee Ranaldo as a segue into a brief look at the lower east side "scene" of 2002, just as Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and ARE Weapons were starting to gain national media attention in the wake of the Strokes/Interpol craze of that year. Seeing these relatively new bands compared with some of the original No Wave acts was interesting for two reasons, although the film didn't directly touch on either in any obvious manner.

The first was the simple fact that a film has been made about the early 00's New York bands at all, considering how recently their sounds and style emerged in the national conscience. Seeing even a brief historical document of that time provided a very tangible notion that the reign of those New York bands and their sound is over, and that the early 00's, much like the early 90's, are now considered history, and will forever be analyzed as such by critics and rock historians. Witnessing the Yeah Yeah Yeahs being interviewed before they had a deal ,and seeing The Strokes "2002 Band of the Year" Spin Magazine cover with the benefit of hindsight revealed how equally silly and exciting those years were. Like it or not, the Strokes, Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, Radio 4 and others played a very big role in ushering in a sea change in independent and underground music, bringing post punk influences to the forefront, and putting names such as Television, Gang of Four, Joy Division, Human League, Soft Cell and others on the lips of people that didn't know much about that music before they heard Is This It. Regardless of what you think of these bands and their music, this is certainly a very noteworthy development, and one that you could say had a much smaller but somewhat comparable effect to that which Nirvana, Sub Pop and "college rock" had on American culture ten years before. This isn't to say that nothing else happened during this time, or that all or any of these changes were necessarily good, but they are changes, and quite noticeable ones at that. Urban Outfitters, white belts, mass marketed 20 dollar thrift store shirts, Vice Magazine (at least its current incarnation) and a wide range of other styles in music, fashion, and perhaps even visual art can all be connected back to the early 00's New York scene, and you can thank the Strokes for The Killers and The Bravery as much as you can thank Nirvana for Creed and Candlebox.

The second interesting aspect of the film revolves around Arto Lindsay's comment that the bands of his era "didn't have an industry selling us back to ourselves." In the film, Lee Ranaldo recalls being on tour in Japan (I believe) in 2001 and getting all kinds of questions from fans about the great new New York band The Strokes. The problem was that he had never heard of them, and felt like he didn't even know who they were until some time after people all over the country had heard their music, implying that much of the mystique surrounding the Strokes as this great underground New York band was basically manufactured. Looking back, this kind of makes sense. You don't hear much about the Strokes and Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs building up an audience in the city before catching on elsewhere, and when you look at how quickly all of those bands got big deals (and yes, Matador counts as a "big" deal), one starts to wonder how this New York/Brooklyn "scene" actually came about, and if it was really anything at all. The fact is that much of contemporary underground and/or "indie" music is supported by a profitable infrastructure that didn't exist during the No Wave days, and didn't even exist during the beginning of the Seattle grunge thing. Today, the kind of edgy, "arty" urban culture that the early 00's New York bands represented is something that can be mass marketed extremely quickly, and major corporations have discovered that it is quite profitable too. Again, this isn't to say that these developments are entirely bad. After all, I'm sure most musicians and artists welcome the increased opportunities to make money doing what they do, and its nice that you don't have to live in places like New York to quickly discover new music and art. All of these developments have been brought on by a myriad of other factors (with technology as the primary catalyst), but the current incarnation of "indie cool" has been influenced by these bands and the marketing that has driven them on to magazine covers. It seems like a natural progression from the awkward beginnings that corporate media encountered when they tried to market the Melvins, Jesus Lizard and Pavement, failing miserably in the process. They've clearly figured out how to do it now, however, and the interaction between mainstream corporate media culture and the underground is as lively as ever, and probably here to stay. In fact, the lines have become so completely blurred that no one seems to know the difference between an indie and a major, a marketing gimmick and true artistic movements. Maybe its the world as Andy Warhol always saw it, and there is no difference between any of those things when you get down to it. Or maybe corporate media has taken the life out of art and independent music, and Andy Warhol was just a dick.

Despite what seemed to be an attempt to make the Yeah Yeah Yeah and Liars look silly, the film does an equally good job making people like Lydia Lunch seem pretty ridiculous too (not to mention ARE Weapons, who seem sofa king we todd it throughout the film that it has to be a joke), because the two time periods are so different that it is impossible to compare them or make many important value judgments as many of the film's no wave interview subjects attempt to do when asked about bands like The Strokes. DNA made music in a crime infested Lower East Side with no expectation to ever even get noticed by the Village Voice. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs made music in a gentrified Lower East Side knowing that their music could very well be picked up and marketed by a record company that could generate enough money to make them rich and famous. I'm not sure if things in New York in the late 70's would have been quite the same if the environment had been similar to the one that Karen O encountered. And that is something that we'll never know.

Either way, that time has come, and by many indications, its going to be gone in the not too distant future. Meanwhile, American pop music seems to be in a period of limbo, with many wondering what the next movement will be, where it will come from, and how it might compare to the movements of the past, or influence the movements of the future. The good news is that the possibilities are endless, and there is a chance that the American underground might one day do it right. Who Knows? Apparently, no one does.

70 Comments:

Anonymous angry, very angry said...

jesus fucking christ. so according to you dudes we need to thank the strokes also? not just henry rollins and his re-releases? well shit here's one reporters opinion, fuck all that shit if you want to go someplace get in the car and fuckin DRIVE man DRIVE!

1:27 AM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

how did you do in reading comprehension in school dude? Go back and read it again. Do you think I was actually thanking Nirvana for fucking Candlebox too?

1:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i just did and it still makes me wanna stab myself in the face

1:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the point is im an elitist and i dont like bands like the strokes selling the scene out man!

1:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ps i love you and if you werent anonymous i wouldnt be as mean so be my friend

1:34 AM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

well I can certainly identify with your view in many ways, but I really don't think the article is a celebration of the strokes. Its not a call to arms against them either, but I guess I don't hate them as much as you. The main point was that I really don't know what to think.

1:37 AM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

except for the fact that I think you are drunk posting!

1:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if i were drunk then i wouldn't be lonely, on the internet, full of anger, out of hope. dude you should go watch narwuar's interview with the strokes to see how toy they are...

1:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://nardwuar.com/vs/strokes/

1:51 AM  
Blogger Defensive Listening said...

I love when people say things we write make them want to "stab themselves in the face", though it's probably the same guy. I just wish one of you fakers would actually do it.

2:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thats not a good sign when more than one states such things you should go back to journalism school maybe

2:12 AM  
Blogger Defensive Listening said...

You're absolutely right. I've still got one more semester at Northwestern. I'll be back just in time to tell you why your favorite band sucks.

2:18 AM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

I think its a great sign when people get so pissed off.

2:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think its total hilarity when someone writes that you guys can't write and they cant write themselves they should go back to school themselves darn stupids make me laugh!

8:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think all these technological advancements could cause a resurgance of regional/local musicians who can make money specificaly in their regions. Sortof like how it was in the 60s. There were tons of bands who had huge hits on regional radio, and who could play shows on a regular basis and make good money (then it may have been $50-150 or something, now it's probably $800-1000)... good enough not to require a day job.

I don't personaly think that radio is going to catch on, per se, but i do think that the way the internet is developing (myspace, etc) could help turn music/art/stores that would be niche (sp? nitch?) market-type things into perfectly viable moneymaking options.

Yes, big music and big tours still bus their way across america because they are highly profitable, but i think a lot of people are very sick of the idea that everything like that is just slammed in their face untill they have to notice it (at least a little).

So anyway, i guess i'm just rambling that i feel like marketing, getting music heard, and probably even show booking have been made much easier in the past 5-10 years... it seems to be that people are getting the hang of it a little bit better
(can't get someone to record you? do it yourself and sell some cd-rs, put it online and let people download it)

...the only problem w/ my thoughts is that i also realize that big music/big business will try to snatch up whatever profitable bands they can... and it will be much easier for them to find them as well (although part of me realizes that the music industry has been slow to respond to technological advancements.. they tend to just say "it's ruining EVERYTHING" and not do anything about it, so maybe they won't even recognise this whole resurgance happening, if it actually does)

9:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nardwuar made me want to stab myself in the face, but i won't give defensive listening the satisfaction..

9:49 AM  
Blogger Defensive Listening said...

Just frustrating you to the point where you say it is enough for me. I sleep very well at night.

10:36 AM  
Blogger tania said...

1.
anon 7:36 sounds a lot like sg?

2.
in other news,
jpepes just DECLINED my credit card,
i called my bank and they said the waiters didn't run the card correctly.

free lunch is truly a gift.

3.
lets talk about the vines,
sell outs? or good music?

4.
speaking of good music documentaries,
check out THEREMIN: AN ELECTRONIC ODYSSEY
apparently playing the theremin increases ones life expectancy.

12:29 PM  
Blogger tania said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nerds

12:39 PM  
Anonymous Alex Kanakis said...

I'd love to shoot some video of "anonymous" stabbing himself in the face. It could make the rounds on YouTube.

Which reminds me. Recently there was a video going around of a stupid ass in his bedroom jumping up against his ceiling fan with his head...The fan was wrapped in barbed wire.

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you journalists and your fucking "movements." who gives a shit what the next movement in music is going to be.

lazy filmmaking. lazy writing. shame on you both.

1:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

why don't you try writing a really long piece instead of a four line anonymous comment? you're fucking lazy.

1:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

because i work during the day

1:16 PM  
Blogger Defensive Listening said...

You're depriving the world of your insightful views on music wasting away at that day job. All people who write on blogs must be unemployed and have nothing else to do except lazily write about "movements".

1:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, I really don't know how much clearer I can put things. I could go warbling forever about my point but the fact is that categorizing music into past genres (especially when it doesn't belong) is a huge sin to music itself. it provokes unoriginality and imitators. the media is to blame just as much as the music itself. sure, earlier in the article you questioned the validity of the Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs inclusion to such a sacred genre as New York no wave, yet you are still interested on how these connections are going to change the future of music. my opinion is: it doesn't matter and shouldn't matter. stop playing weatherman.

Back to picking cotten…

1:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The main point was that I really don't know what to think. "

-Stonedranger

Wow, what a MAIN POINT! Thanks for the long read about something you don't know what to think about. It kind of fits in with your posting about stuff you've never heard but heard things about. I guess your writing is cohesive if anything.

1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Should Stonedranger pretend to know more than he does like everyone else on here? He's asking rhetorical questions and not coming on here like he knows everything. Having to deal with many posters on here who do that every day is what's truly frustrating.

2:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so everyone should just agree and be happy hehehehe!!!!!

2:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love happy blog land

2:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i know it's only rock'n'roll, but i like it, like it, yes i do!!!

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The title implies you did not like it? "We've been had"?
Sorry this ones kinda confusing to read. Doesn't ever come to a point and the reader is left not knowing what to think about your posting just as much as you were left not knowing what to think about what you saw. If that makes any sense.

2:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm calling bullshit on the review. next time try to write a review not an op-ed piece. where is the rating, where are the stars? as for the next movement in american pop music it will most likely be a BM.

2:37 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

1155- you are a complete fucking retard. Do you want me to spoon feed you easy answers? Does everything have to have a clear cut view point?

And when I say things like "I haven't seen them live" or "i haven't heard them but..." its always in reference to a band that is playing on a bill with at least one other band that I HAVE heard and DO like. Its just that every so often, I won't get a chance to listen to one of the opening bands. Would you just like me to pretend that those bands aren't even playing? Or maybe I should just not post about the show all together, simply because I haven't heard one of sometimes three or four different bands. Sheesh.

3:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No Stonedranger you are a fucking retard because your "Review" was just a brain fart and made no damn sense and you know it and thats why you didn't even defend it. An author writing "The main point was that I really don't know what to think." after a piece totally negates the piece he just wrote. That was in fact the stupidest quote I have ever seen posted here and there have been some real winners. Wow you're cool, you like No Wave and saw a movie about it but you don't understand it but heres a "Review". The point is?

3:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

remember retards of dallas/denton,tx
this is a music BLOG
stonedranger owes you Nothing

3:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

stonedranger said:
...Would you just like me to pretend that those bands aren't even playing?...

I thought you already did that?

3:40 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

That was the dumbest comment you have ever seen on here? Shit, thats pretty dumb. Boo Hoo.

3:40 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

I really have to stop answering these stupid comments. If you want to critique my writing, go ahead and do it any way you want. You can come on here and say whatever you want, call me any name in the book, whatever. I don't care. But if you want me to respond to your comments from here on out, please write them out in a thoughtful and calm manner and I will respond in the same way. Otherwise, I just don't have time for you.

3:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My post was pretty calm, it was you who started in with the "fucking retard" business. Makes a blog moderator appear so...classless. Also the "BooHoo" remark? 3rd grade? 2nd?

3:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1:39 Stonedranger owes us nothing and you are correct but if he posts something we are allowed to critique it. Else why is it posted on the internet for all the world to respond to? Sorry your leader can't handle the criticism that his review was lacking in many areas.

3:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Otherwise, I just don't have time for you." Who do you think you are? Chuck Pandolf?

3:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't understand brain surgery but I'm going to write a review about it.

3:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He doesn't have time for us but he does have time to watch No Wave videos and write about how confusing they are. Maybe films leaving more questions than answers is fulfilling to you but blogs that do that are just annoying.

3:57 PM  
Anonymous John D. Wood said...

All of you anons need to get a life...What a bunch of panty smugglers.

4:00 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

ok, so tell me what exactly confused you about it?

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wasn't it you who was confused? You don't know what to think about it? I'm only confused as to why you would make that statement about something you just wrote and why you titled it what you did when you had nothing negative to say about it.

4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

john d wood you're just an ANonymous with a fancy name so shut it

4:10 PM  
Anonymous John D. Wood said...

2:10 quite being such a tampon taster, John D. Wood is my real name, I just don't have a fancy blog or website to link to.

4:13 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

the title was a reference to the Walkmen song of the same name, which I thought was appropriate seeing as how the Walkmen were an early 00's New York band, and the song's lyrics dealt with a similar subject matter, i.e. the "scene" in New York and some of the problems with it.

As for not knowing what to think, what I was trying to say was that I didn't know what to think about The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Liars as far as how they compare to the no wave bands, and what their impact has been.

Although I don't have a clear cut opinion on the worth of the 00's scene, I don't see how the post itself is confusing. I was throwing out ideas... responses to questions that the film inspired. If you don't like it fine, but I think it does make sense.

4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah Yeah Yeahs blow

4:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i hardly think I can take your critic
skills to heart anon 1:53.who cares what you think about an article on the interthingy.do you feel as if your making a stamp on the world?someone's just going to critique you in the end
blah who cares.

4:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and same for you 2:26

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and who put this film together and when did it come out?

4:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know it came out of 2:47's ass and he made it sometime last night I think.

4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

2:59 and 2:26 (one and the same) should get a life

5:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Anonymous said...

I know it came out of 2:47's ass and he made it sometime last night I think."

This might be my favorite post of the day so far. I'm gonna go stab myself in the face now that I read all of this malarkey.

5:04 PM  
Anonymous jasper said...

i, for one, loved the review stonedranger. i've been looking for the no new york comp for ever, but this film should be an interesting take on the scene. thanks for the interesting post.

5:48 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

I'm actually planning on posting some tracks from No New York tonight or tomorrow if you are interested.

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no new york is so old

8:11 PM  
Anonymous jasper said...

i'm guessing so are you.

8:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no new york is so old and over and under and back again and out already and will be cool again in 15-20 years
save it and republish it then..everyone will be dead and you can claim you were there and saw it all first hand and lunch gave you your first hand job and how yr ejaculatory jets ruined her first poem ever on paper... entitled "yada,yada,my mouth is always open,i have nothing to say"
or that one time when chance, rollins and moore and yourself got really drunk and picked up an instrument ,just for the hell of it and that was how it all started.you should do that :)

9:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

instead of no new york post that strokes album where they sound like rhcp

9:39 PM  
Blogger blixaboy said...

I love the No wave stuff(Duh!!). My career has been largely informed by the No Wave Pioneers for almost 18 years now(Double Duh!!!). I bought Kill Your Idols last week. Most of the old scenesters sound like a bunch of old jaded been there/done that nags (I know this the pot calling the kettle black in a big way) and the the youngins seem a little confused, naive, and sometimes more than a little poseurish(I am looking at you A.R.E. Weapons). Sonic Youth wrote the song Kill Your Idols. They should practice what they preach. That was easy for them to say 20 years ago, but now they are the Idols(not just mine). To follow their advice we must kill them.

Of course the younger New York bands are operating under different motives. They are existing in a completely different world. 9/11, George Bush, post-Nirvana record industry, Internet, mp3's,Emo kids....yadayadayada. The No wave scene was dealing with the Cold war, Carter and Reagan, punk of '77, New York with affordable rent, digging for records in actual record stores, no CMJ, a real underground music scene with no hope of quitting the day job ........you get the point.

The one thing i got from this documentary is that New Yorkers think their shit does not stink. It does. Just like everyone else in the world. They have their faults just like anyone else.

I still dig most of these bands old and new(Although 70% of Lydia Lunch's stuff is crap), but it would be nice to see someone make a documentary or write a book about what was going on in The Midwest during those years. Sometrhing that is rarely even discussed and yet has a much more direct effect on all of us that live here. Chicago has pretty much always had great stuff going on and in our home state we have a rich history with Roky, Red Krayola, The Big Boys, Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid and the many bands that followed over the past few decades that pretty much get overlooked by most punk rock historians outside of the Lone Star State. Great bands making intelligent punk /post-punk /proto-punk /"whatever you wanna call it" without the stick shoved up their ass. FUCK NEW YORK. PASS ME A BOTTLE OF SHINER, A JOINT, A SUGARCUBE AND LET US ALL WAX POETIC WHILE DRIVING DOWN 35 TOWARDS THE BORDER TO SCORE SOME PILLS. AND IF YOU SEE YOUR MOTHER THIS WEEKEND BE SURE TO TELL HER.......you know the rest. My 2 cents.

p.s. My tongue was firmly placed inside my cheek while writing this.

9:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wanz,

this is the first post you ever made on this blog that didn't piss me off.

Thank you

10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what's the sugarcube for?

...someone really should make that film. i wonder if there is any footage of those older texas bands lying around. it'd be cool to see.

10:18 AM  
Blogger blixaboy said...

Your welcome.

10:24 AM  
Anonymous mc said...

Stoned - Kudos for a thoughtful,ambitious piece. Also to Wanz for a thoughtful, ambitious, very No Wave-styled post

7:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah I agree, i liked the wanz post better than any of stonedrangers. bravo!

2:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no wave does not exist. it's a figment of your imagination.

Pink is the future of music. resistance is futile.

2:03 AM  

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