In the past few years, I’ve seen music take a sharp turn from emo rock toward synth pop. The geopolitical paradigm shift towards Globalization in the Nineties promised the proliferation of democratic music. Where the access to populist platforms allowed bands to distribute music more freely without industry backing. This shift ushered in a new era for music where artists could dictate their creative styles without the rigidity of the mainstream market. Through this changing marketplace, artists were able to control their future. However, this shift opened a vacuum that sucked the garbage of the late ’90s into the void of synth pop that left the music scene oversaturated, overexposed and over synthesized.
Does life imitate art or does art imitate life? Oscar Wilde pondered this question in Decay of the Living and argued against the Aristotelian principle of mimesis. Contrary to art imitating life, he argued, art sets the aesthetic principles by which people perceive life. The indie music scene of the Twenty Aughts has seen a similar paradigm shift. Herded by Thom Yorke, we are sheep following our shepherd, hoping to be led down the path toward spiritual awakening.
In the 19th Century, Nietzsche declared that God is dead and we murdered him – in the case of Kurt Cobain, this may be true. But Nietzsche was just killing the idea of God and the childlike dependence of all Existentialist questions about actualizing the self. People are unable to grasp this metaphor of God’s murder (likely by waterboarding) and understand a world that is not governed by absolutes and excludes the Judeo-Christian notion of morality and ethics.
But what governs the Universe if not religion? People cannot come to terms with Nihilism and need something in which to believe. Without religion, people are unable to see the world as expansive and boundless as a child’s imagination. If you destroy the Abrahamic God, you destroy the limitations of society. The sacrifice of Isaac is not a lesson in God’s covenant with man, but serves as a lesson in blind faith. There is nothing more dangerous than this idea which yields the abandonment of logic, critical analysis and independent thinking. I hold the belief that only music can transcend religion.
So why not let art guide our morals and shape our understanding of the universe? Several bands of the new millennium do this well and embody Nietzsche’s philosophy. Populist bands like Broken Social Scene, Animal Collective, and Thee (The) Silver Mount Zion provide a new understanding of the world that abandons religiosity and replaces it with community. This sense of community is vibrant in cities like Chicago, Brooklyn and Austin. The rise of instrumental math and post rock demonstrate the notion that we don’t need language to have direction. While language is important in defining art, shaping culture and inspiring the masses, this new genre holds to the old world philosophy that spirituality transcends scripture.
My Élan Vital was shaped by music during my formative years. While music provided an outlet from rich suburban aggression, it also promised that life is not a linear trajectory that favors chaos over pragmatisms. But the question here is not primarily one of aesthetics or a question of conventionally recognized beauties. Rather, it is a question that Dr. Draper explores in examining D.H. Lawrence – one of life’s discovery through a sixth sense that is magically rendered, rippling and quivering under the impulse of the Élan Vital. The current artistic convention that abandons formulaic inspiration and marries it with mustachioed douchebaggery does not hold up to this standard.
If life imitated art, the current Zeitgeist should be one of populism, community and bipartisanship. There was no time in our recent history that America was so divided along party lines which produced talking heads that pollute our minds with toxic ideas. Even in communities like Brooklyn, ideas are recycled and we are a nation dumpster diving into the garbage of our own making. Few bands are creating anything new. Stunted creativity has left bands short on lyrics and heavy on synth. This does little to inspire and leaves us under the misguided apprehension that all you need is a beard and plaid shirt to earn your indie rock street cred (I’m looking at you, Local Natives).
So here is a call for chaos theory dictating new music and inspiring a new generation of forward thinkers, progressivism and democratic ideals. Perhaps if new bands follow Wilde’s departure from myopia, we will not have to bury them into the cemetery of our own building. If you must write prose and poems, the words you use should be your own – don’t plagiarise or take on loan. ‘Cause there’s always someone, somewhere, with a big nose, who knows and who trips you up and laughs when you fall.’
Lisa Distelburger is a writer, stylist, blogger and braid engineer. Her blog BeltwayBohemia.com showcases her design aesthetic and BraidwayBohemia.com provides a sardonic personal braid tutorial. You can also follow her on Twitter @BeltwayBohemia.