Thursday, November 3, 2011

Netlabel culture

Re-reading Ed's (not really) recent posts on shitcore got me thinking about a related topic that I cultivated quite an interest for a few years back.  As the internet proved itself to be a a) game-changing outlet for people of all types, backgrounds, interests, and skills to exhibit said backgrounds, interests, skills and b) an (arguably) truly libertarian and anarchic playground for self-expression, easy distribution and subculture-breeding, lots of new paradigms cropped up.  New avenues for business, for publishing, for networking, for computer games began to breed rapidly.  We all know the story.

Netlabels are one of many stories that make up the annals of fringe internet culture.  Let's assume they first came into existence in the late 1990s.  In essence, they release music for free in completely digital formats.  This means no costs other than a modest amount of server space.  Pair this with all manners of "difficult" electronic music, and you have a match made in heaven.  It's a way for a small group of like-minded individuals to bond over a common interest (aka, what the vast majority of the non-commercial entities on the internet are all about).  You see similar paradigms in other media: independent video game developers, amateur photographers, DeviantArt, SoundCloud, the blogosphere in general.  People not only want to make their art, but they want to share it and not necessarily for profit.  They just want to share it.  And they want to be part of a community.  That's what forums are for.  That's what social media is about.

The biggest difference here isn't that it's a self-selecting community, or that it's a fringe interest because it hasn't picked up steam.  It's definitely both of those.  The biggest difference is the afore-mentioned nature of the music: difficult.  It's abstract, often obscene, often with low fidelity sound, highly repetitive, grating, annoying, silly, offensive.  It already draws from the most abrasive and fringe styles of music: breakcore, grindcore, industrial, noise, power electronics, 8-bit, chiptune, death metal, black metal, drone.  It's a community that never ever wants to be popular or well known.  It's even a community that often will deny it's affiliations with any of the aforementioned styles/genres (especially that of breakcore, which I'll get to).  It's a community without a center, without a cohesive style-guide.  You can "distill" it because then you'd just get something that sounded like a better-known artist of one of the styles many of these artists freely and playfully draw from.  You can't take gabber-infused 8-bit noise and make it sound good.  I guess if you really wanted to and really wanted to force the public at large to accept these strange noises, you'd really have to get some really polished producers and some A-level vocal talent to make some really catchy hooks over what would have to be really dumbed-down, antithetically stripped netlabel music.  That said, one of the joys of the "style," if we can call it that, is that there is no style.

There are moments of incredible bliss, of melodic and stylistic perfection scattered throughout these badly tagged (often the ID3 tags for genre read "Blues"), perversely sarcastic albums.  Smack in the middle of an album of hectic, chopped up, fuzzed out breakbeats set over pornographically guttural pitch-shifted vocals, there can be moments of shockingly thoughtful and complex beats and/or melody/harmony.  It's these joys alongside the hilarious ridiculousness of the totally spastic gabber-fuzz-bullshit and absurdist song titles/album covers that make these artists worthwhile.  That, and my belief that no artist isn't worthwhile, they're just worthless to me or to you or to whomever.  So you do end up with moments that really could be even minor underground hits if they were distributed in "real" or "legitimate" or "normal" avenues.  But they're not.  They're released in hard-to-find, intentionally badly-designed and visually grating websites reminiscent of something a fourth grader would have made using nothing but HTML back in 1997.

Two things to consider at this point in this...essay...rant...piece of writing...let's go with that: Two things to consider at this point in this piece of writing: a) didn't Ed already write this a few months back and isn't all of this just shitcore? and b) who gives a crap, most of the music sucks.

To the askers of the first question: yes, it basically is shitcore.  But shitcore tends to have less emphasis on harsh noise and power electronics and more emphasis on speed and sheer strangeness.  But if you want to call a spade a spade, go ahead, I won't stop you.  Sonically speaking there is very little difference between the average output on say Shitwank (Australian shitcore artist Passenger of Shit's label) and say...Trashfuck Net, among the more well-known of netlabels.  And there are a million labels in between that do a combination of free digital releases and purchasable physical releases in styles similar to either of the aforementioned labels.

As for the second part, I'm not really sure.  The people who make it are in a spectrum from those who genuinely care about their craft and see their work as part of a sociological, musicological, political trajectory or chronologically-evolving network and those who make it to piss people off and laugh about it:  the musical equivalent of Youtube trolls.  And then, there are plenty of people who just suck at making weird and/or bad music and their output can't even be listened to by so-called enthusiasts of the style.  And this happens in every genre all the time.  And then finally there are those who simply don't have an ear for this type of music and wouldn't or couldn't understand it's merits if they hit them in the face.  Like any type of art.

At some point, I'll put a list of my favorite netlabel releases

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