Archive | October, 2012

Time and Place

31 Oct

“Ladies and Gentlemen all the way from Akron Ohio – The Black keys!”

The crowd screams. “Woooohooo! (whistles) (claps) Yeah!”

Most of the merchandise says nothing other than “The Black Keys – Akron, OH”.

So what of this Akron Ohio place. It must be important. After all the Black Keys have attached their brand to it.

Turns out Akron doesn’t have much to say about itself in popular culture. Chrissie Hynde wrote a song about it once, no-one other than her and the The Black keys ever really came from there, yet it has a population of 200,000 so I wouldn’t call it a small town. That’s a city.

Dunedin New Zealand is much smaller, yet it had a sound. A sound I might add that countless bands from New Zealand and even elsewhere continue to attempt to attach their name to. So what of that place. If you are a band from there, are you of that sound. What claim do you have.

I find the attachment of a place to a band or musical artist’s brand a little tenuous. It is both inclusive and exclusive depending on the context and at worst it only works to pad out a headline for an act.

I was once sitting in the greenroom for a shins concert and some idiot approached me with “All the way from Portland Oregon, it’s the SHINS!!!” – Sorry bro, I’m not in the shins. Red-faced before his companions he muffed a recovery and slunk away only to be heard in the distance repeating the same excited intro when he stumbled across the real Shins. They were equally unimpressed. The point being his emphasis on the place was supposed to give the band a fantastical quality. He might as well have said “All the way from Mount Olympus….”.

But what does the place name add? I still don’t know. I played around Dunedin for about 5 years. I never claimed connection to the Dunedin sound, yet I strongly identify with the creative architecture of the city that allowed me to grow as an artist and play more shows than I have since. The town has an amazing musical history that I think all acknowledge, whether they identify with the music of the stars from its glory days or not. What if I was there 16 years earlier?

What if I was in Akron 6 years ago? What if I was in Portland instead of Dunedin? What if I was making music in Bristol in 1991. In Manchester in ’81, in London in ’76, in Mississippi in the 30s.  It’s difficult to imagine that just being in those places at a certain point in time could provide one with a promotional edge. Like your music was better for being there at that point in time.

Time and place are often cited as key ingredients in the success of an artist, like you had to be there, but somewhere deep down I call bullshit. Yes you can be part of a movement, but because something is going on around you shouldn’t mean your music gets raised to mythical status. Because you’re from a place shouldn’t give you a claim to musical superiority, or fame in and of itself. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe Akron Ohio appears on the T-Shirts because it is a symbol of defying the odds. Maybe the same goes for Dunedin, it was a scene and a sound that was international in spite of itself. Portland, Detroit, Nashville, Memphis, Bristol,  Manchester, Liverpool, Nigeria, Cuba, Brazil – all appear to me to be symbols of success in spite of great obstacles. The movements associated with each are famous because the music was born out of adversity of some kind – even if that adversity is simply emerging from a cultural wasteland unscathed.

I like to think there is hope in that. So many artists from small towns or seemingly insignificant places write their chances of reaching an audience off purely because of where they are, but from what I’ve seen the place doesn’t put the artsist on the map. The artist puts the place on the map. I for one know where Akron is now.