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William Gibson on Punk Rock, Internet Memes, and "Gangnam Style" (wired.com)
72 points by bootload on Sept 16, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 26 comments

I'd just like to posit that, in the UK at least, rave and the beginnings of drum and bass were the last pre-digital youth/music based counter culture. Not that I'm trying to call him out as wrong, I wouldn't expect Gibson to be a massive rave aficionado.

I think this article also shows up something about youTube I've noticed within my social group. It's half a decade old and yet it's become pervasive and it feels almost like it's always been there. Friends have said that like me they feel like they've been using it since about the turn of the century.

In Australia where in many ways it felt like we were second-hand consumers of UK rave/dnb culture, the "digital" was a big part of that experience in the early 90s.

Think of all the newsgroups, mailing lists and blogs. Think hyperreal.org and the community around all that.

The music itself may not have spread digitally as we saw from the mid-90s onwards, but discussion of the music certainly did.

Hyperreal was an integral part of a lot of the local scenes in North America, too. Ishkur, who is something of an Internet rave culture celebrity, known for his guide to electronic music, guide to rave culture, and his rave captions project, once posted an essay to the nw-raves mailing list arguing that rave culture was inherently a geek culture. Which was arguably true for the PNW and northern California.

You guys might like my friends, DJ Morgan's, site for some nostalgic and fantastic mixes.

He owned Lotek Records as well.


I didn't grow up during the Punk movement but the commercial "revival" of sorts kicked off by Green Day in the mid-90s. Green Day was on a indie label, Lookout! Records, before hitting it big with "Dookie." When you bought their first two CDs/cassettes a small catalog of Lookout! Records' other albums fell out with a listing of bands I'd never heard of before. None of these bands had websites so information was really limited. You'd have to buy fanzines or know other people in your town that listened to those bands. If you were lucky maybe one of those bands came to your town and you got to see what they looked and talked like for the first time. I can't even imagine what it was like to see Black Flag touring every town in America in the early 80s introducing thousands of kids to a new subculture and form of music.

My point is, maybe I'm jaded now but music was so much more interesting then when there was mystery and not everyone had an opinion about a band before their first mp3 came out. I think the disposable quality of mp3s makes music less valuable too.

The internet also killed regionalism in music for the most part where a certain "scene" would have a certain sound as bands around an area being influenced by each other. See [1]. I'm not sure what could have been done, it's a natural by-product of the internet, but I miss it.

[1] http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/articles/43235/our-band-c...

I did come of age during the Punk movement, and I sympathize with your perception of what has been lost (see https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4529054 below). The benefits of a somewhat slow and poorly distributed dispersal of culture are largely gone. The real question, as I see it, is what unpredictable cultural effects will the technology generate.

I clicked on the link to see what this was about. Here's what I got:

"Dieses Video ist in Deutschland leider nicht verfügbar, weil es möglicherweise Musik enthält, für die die erforderlichen Musikrechte von der GEMA nicht eingeräumt wurden." - This video is not available in Germany because there is a possibility (!) of it containing music for which the GEMA [1] didn't give the neccessary rights.-

Sure looks like regionalism to me. There is a new line between people who can now fire up some proxy service to access the content nevertheless or know how to find it somewhere else and people who don't know enough and thus can't get past the block or who live in a region with free availability.


I think the following (quote from the article) is a very good observation:

"I suspect — and I don’t think this is nostalgia — but it may have been able to become kind of a richer sauce, initially. It wasn’t able to instantly go from London to Toronto at the speed of light. Somebody had to carry it back to Toronto or wherever, in their backpack and show it, physically show it to another human. Which is what happened. And compared to the way that news of something new spreads today, it was totally stone age. Totally stone age! There’s something remarkable about it that’s probably not going to be that evident to people looking at it in the future. That the 1977 experience was qualitatively different, in a way, than the 2007 experience, say.

On Amazon now, I have learnt not to buy a Kindle book that doesn't also come on paper, because that is the quality filter, than the author managed to get a publishing deal. I don't think that signal will be around for much longer. It's the same thing as Gibson says, a thing had to have a certain momentum behind it to make it into the outside world, that is missing now.

"The recorded music industry was a huge deal for those of us who lived through it, and we took it absolutely for granted, and now it’s really gone; it’s not what it used to be. You can’t really get super rich just doing that; you have to be able to sell merch or something to go along with it, or have concert tours."

Is it optimal or sustainable that a band needs to sell t-shirts and concert tickets to support themselves as musicians, let alone be super rich? The recordings and the concert tickets are the only product offered by bands that we place value in; t-shirts hold some slight social value, but little personal value. Revenues from concert tickets go mostly to the venue operator, especially for smaller venues of 100-200 people that most bands play in, and the amount going to the band is hopefully enough to pay for the cost of touring, and probably not much more than that.

So that pretty much leaves recordings as the only valuable product that bands can hope to sustain themselves with. Merch and tour ticket sales are not going to cut it for most artists, so without sales of recordings in some form, they're going to need to work a regular job, and the music is relegated to a hobby.

Making good recordings costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time in a recording studio, so hobby bands have difficulty producing them. Recordings are valuable to us because they allow us to integrate music into our lives. How can we expect musicians to invest the time and resources to make good recordings for us to enjoy if we don't recognize their value by directly rewarding the artist for making them? Buying a t-shirt does not send the message to the artist that we value their recording; only buying recordings does that.

> Making good recordings costs a lot of money

Even now?

My impression was that anyone with even a modest amount of technical savvy could put together a recording incredibly cheaply using a computer these days. Decent software, audio interfaces, and microphones aren't that expensive, and you can tweak the production and lay in new tracks to your heart's content.

It still takes a ton of time to get right, but it doesn't have to be expensive studio time anymore.

It's true that the costs for equipment and software are going down, and in some cases, such as electronic music, it's possible to get good recordings with very cheap and accessible equipment. If you've got a band with drums and other acoustic instruments, however, that means isolation rooms, sound-proofing, and other measures needed to get good recordings, not to mention the software and skills needed to mix them; these are still relatively inaccessible and costly.

My point is that regardless of the cost, if we don't reward artists for making recordings, despite their great value to us, why should they bother with the effort to make them?

> My point is that regardless of the cost, if we don't reward artists for making recordings, despite their great value to us, why should they bother with the effort to make them?

Lots of people have always started bands, and relatively few of them have made a living at it, never mind gotten rich. Sure some people pursue music because they want to be rich rock stars, but lots of people make music because they like making music.

In earlier days, it was easy to play live (and not make much money), but expensive to record anything, much less get that recording out to people. Nowadays, it's very affordable to record things as well, and trivial to upload to YouTube, SoundCloud, etc. Of course, the chance that more than a vanishingly small number of people will listen to your recording is still extremely low, but the barrier is notoriety, not the means of production and publishing.

And yeah, part of the rise of electronic music is because it has the lowest barrier to getting started and making your music -- just like the rise of guitar bands came partially because it was inexpensive to put together a small rock group relative to some other kinds of music, and the rise of hip hop came partially because even poor kids had access to two turntables and a microphone.

You might need all that for good quality, but you can get an acceptable recording cheaply. (Minimum viable recording quality?)

That wasn't something trivial to do in ages past.

I guess the question would then be how many of us are content to be listening to minimally viable recordings while the artists are largely unrewarded for their efforts. I'd rather demonstrate my support for their efforts in the hopes of getting good recordings.

You can make some damn good recordings for under $1000. Pick up some software, decent microphones and an audio interface, and you're good to go.

Speaking as a sound engineer, that's a bit like saying you can paint a masterpiece for the price of some brushes, tubes of paint, and a bit of canvas. It takes a large investment of time (which has a significant opportunity cost) to become skilled in this area. Many excellent musicians are poor or mediocre engineers, and vice versa. The cheaper and more ubiquitous recorded music is, the higher consumer expectations are: a late-night jam recorded in a hotel room or a rough-edged recording of a live show won't get the time of day from most people. The shortest route to a breakthrough these days is to be pretty and make a Youtube video, but that too is easier said than done.

In addition to the basic ability to play music and perseverance, artists have usually needed an extra something special to break out. Whether it's exceptional songwriting, virtuoso guitar playing, or a truly gifted singing voice, or it's having a unique, marketable personal fashion style, contacts in the music industry, or fame from some other endeavor, having some way of differentiating yourself from other aspiring artists can make all the difference in the world.

Possessing gifted production skills (or knowing someone who does who will help you produce your music) is just another edge some artists may be able to bring to the table. Then again, if you are merely a mediocre engineer but a truly gifted songwriter or guitar player, those mediocre skills may be enough to let people discover your other, more remarkable talents.

The internet has led to an arms race of exclusivity, giving rise to such phenomena as hipsterism, un-google-able band names, private (offline mediated) online communities, etc. These are merely the growing pains of a culture which has not yet acclimated itself to total, ubiquitous access to information.

While I generally agree with your assessment, I suspect the phenomena of hipsterism emerged as soon as the development of agriculture allowed the rise of specialization. As an old man, seeing the kids these days unabashedly dressing like the Small Faces brings to mind Paul Valéry's old saw: "Everything changes but the avant-garde."

While I am not personally all that nostalgic about the passing of the cultural distribution channels that Gibson mentions in the OP's link, I wonder how the reduction of meatspace contact in cultural transmission will play out. Many of my long standing friendships were formed in prehistoric book and record stores. As a kid today, I might meet those people, even more of them, no doubt... but would the tight bonds that sustained those relationships over the years have formed in the absence of non-virtual presence?

I guess this problem, if it even is a problem (and not the distortion of my limited perspective), will sort itself. It could be that increasing arrays of relatively weak social bonds in conjunction with smaller sets of strong bonds are what the social meta-organism requires moving forward.

To paraphrase Gibson, "There have always been hipsters, they just weren't very evenly distributed." I offer up Jerry Lewis, Elvis Costello, Cosmo Kramer, Steve Urkel, et al.

And I may be going out on a limb, but googling anything before the Internet was pretty tough /jk

interesting. any thoughts on where this dynamic might lead? what does a post-exclustivity world look like? how do people define themselves?

Imho a "punk" style, anti-authority counter culture has emerged. It's called anonymous and just like punk it's a reaction to the excesses of the "establishment". Only unlike punk, instead of demonstrating membership via your hair, music and clothes, this one uses the shiboleth of computer literacy and meme awareness as the group identifiers.

And unlike punk's self destructive near impotence to do anything but rage. The modern movement actually has some tools to fight back with.

Tools more effective than bodily fluids. ;)

Clearly a modern punk-esque counterculture would have to make radical anti-internet privacy a, or the, central tenet. The whole point would be to construct a totally invisible subdigital culture. What else would define membership is anyone's guess. (also, such a subculture, or multiple, may already exist, as by its nature we wouldn't know anything about it.)

Communities still are human-powered. The only difference is now keeping people informed is easier, so building the community is easier, but it's still largely offline.

Couchsurfing, autocross, bdsm, ska, anime, hiking, slacklining... all communities i've become involved in with human beings at real places because the internet made it easier to find out. I still needed a human to show me it. But then the community was opened up to me much quicker through the 'net.

The next counterculture, to me, was 4Chan's /b/ and Anonymous. As stupid as it sounds, those retards brought a new kind of rebellion to people's lives - even if it was largely online. But it's not the method the message gets out that matters. It's the culture that develops. I think it's clear that the internet isn't holding anyone back.

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