Is it possible to have a New Years Resolution for a whole city? Not sure, but I have one. One for Phoenicians one and all, myself included. So here goes: Let's take some musical risks, Phoenix. Let's look for opportunities to try new things. No sticking to known quantities.
We want to help. There is a lot we try to accomplish with our pieces. We want to criticize intelligently, we want to give context. But a lot of the time, we want to introduce. If any piece I write on a band I believe in earns them even one new listener, I consider it a success. But you don't have to depend on us, or other music journalism outlets for that matter, to find out about new things. There are pitfalls to that.
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Every publication has its biases. You can see a really good example this by looking at how similar the Best of 2012 lists of individual writers are on Pitchfork. We are pretty diverse here at the New Times, but we realistically can't cover everything in our write-ups. Finding exciting new music takes initiative, not just the right bookmarks in your browser.
What's great is that this is easy to do in Phoenix. There's a solid infrastructure of bands, venues, and interested people in this town. There are tons of publicly available resources, including this blog and others, that can help you find out about things, but you can find low-key stuff -- like the hardcore shows I go to that happen in warehouse spaces and living rooms -- by picking up a fliers at local record stores and coffee shops. (That's right --offline! But internet-lurking helps, too.) Don't let anyone's cryptic posturing fool you: Nothing will be secret in 2013.
You may have some anxieties about certain issues. Let's resolve them. A common concern is that you're wasting -- or at least gambling -- your money by going into show not knowing exactly what you're getting. Understand that most bands, the kind not trading in any sort of hype, are probably playing shows with covers of less than $ 10, the average being around $6 or $7. The only time it nears or exceeds $10 is when some misguided promoter tries to book an ill-conceived mini-fest with like 8 touring bands no one has ever heard of that no one is willing to pay $10 to see. (This might sound like an underhanded criticism of the recent Sonoran Pop Festival but it isn't; that was good, even if it was basically a rave where no one danced.)
It is important to realize that, deep down, everyone is kind of tasteless.
I could explain the value of $6 or $7 in movie tickets, tanks of gas, or McDoubles, but I think there is an understanding that it's not that much to shell out for a night's leisure. If you discover your new favorite band, it will feel like a bargain, if you don't, you didn't lose much. Also, there are many events that happen in this town regularly with absolutely no cover, thus making the financial concern mostly irrelevant.
Another common concern of the risk-taking show-goer is the social element of local music events; dealing with new crowds of people. A lot of people I know who are less immersed in a certain subculture have inferiority complexes around those they think exude a kind of cooler-than-thou attitude. They usually use the term "hipster," but I'd rather not worry about the troubled semantics of that word when applied to snooty people outside of indie rock. I am not a clinical psychologist, so I can't claim that this is foolproof, but I have a thought exercise I recommend to anyone who has is afflicted with this social malady. It involves visualizing people you think are cooler than you in terms of musical taste singing and dancing alone in their room to whatever you think is antithetical to their played up obscurantism. Like the kind of dancing the character Carlton does to Tom Jones' music on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
The reality is actually more like that than you think. When you look at the crowd at a show, you are looking at people who at some point in their lives went through a ska phase, bought a Korn CD, got a Jawbreaker tattoo, pretended to like Vivian Girls, or participated in any other number of embarrassing musical decisions. These experiments in genre and style form the foundation of who they are today. It is important to realize that, deep down, everyone is kind of tasteless. Use this knowledge to either relate to people or disregard their opinions as you try to find things that you personally enjoy.
Once you overcome these petty fears, you need to keep in mind that not every risk you take will yield a great experience. Crappy shows happen, but even that kind of experience can help increase your awareness of what you are and aren't into and make you better at finding music you like.
For instance, I am a person who knows that he doesn't like most folk-punk. I formed that opinion through going to a few terrible shows and now I understand what signs to look for to best avoid ever putting up with that stuff again. It's not like going to a bad show is a traumatic experience either. Seeing Defiance, Ohio futilely try to lecture a crowd of drunk Phoenicians on the perils of the prison-industrial complex was actually a really funny experience, it's just not something I actively seek. If you laugh at your missteps and try to learn from them, you'll set yourself on a good path.
Get adventurous, try something new, invite your friends, disregard them if they think they are too cool for it.
When you finally do take that risk that yields something good, I assure you it will be rewarding. A particular moment that comes to mind from my experience was when I saw Deer Tick at the Trunk Space in the summer of 2007. They are pretty big for an alt-country/slacker rock band, but back then they hadn't even released a proper album. My only incentive for going was that it was put on by Fizzle Promotions, the working name of former Phoenix resident Frances Lopez's show-booking activities at the time. I was still very new to the downtown indie scene, having come from a hardcore punk background, but I knew that Fran booked good bands, and therefore put faith in the show turning out alright.
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Without going into excessive detail and turning this into a review of a show that happened 5-and-a-half years ago, I will say that Deer Tick sounded really good to the dozen or so people who were in attendance. They sounded really good to music blog writers a year later and now play well-attended shows in Phoenix, but the people who decided to take a chance on a relatively unknown band that night experienced not only a good set, but that coveted feeling of knowing they experienced something cool before everyone else.
You can be that smug person who is ahead of the curve in terms of music tastes, the person who accuses us music journalists of being blind to what's really going on. But it's more important than being smug: you can be the kind of person with a mentality that helps support innovative projects in this town, who helps alleviate the fears of bands, promoters, and venue owners of holding shows in empty spaces. You just have to take chances. Get adventurous, try something new, invite your friends, disregard them if they think they are too cool for it. 2013 should be the year that everyone, including myself, takes some chances on music in the Valley.