When Indie Becomes Mainstream (Frankie – 2009)
Who could forget the feeling of first discovering your favourite band or show. Like a seasoned explorer, you sail the air waves, telescope poised, waiting for a particular hook, lyric or joke to glimmer on the horizon like a cheeky lighthouse. Eyes grinning through sea spray you throttle your badge encrusted wheel, drop the striped sail on the Good Ship Indie and lay a course for life-changing island. Reaching shore you dash out, plunge your headphone jack into the coconut tree and immerse your mind in its luxurious bounty. That which lay undiscovered now feels like home, and your map of the world becomes a little more complete.
In 1999 my friends and I discovered George. They were fronted by the mesmerising voice of Katie Noonan, best showcased by first single ‘Holiday.’ We’d go to their gigs at the Gypsy Bar and sit cross legged in the middle of the modest crowd, happy to be sharing our island with fellow explorers. But people like to boast, and our secret location fell into the wrong hands. A few months later I awoke to find George’s album had gone to number one, accompanied by a truly sinister television commercial. Their next gig I stood up the back of the Royal Theatre while a Kon Tiki load of riff-raff scuffed up the sand, burped over the choruses and shouted out for singles. The next day I promptly took my 7-inches and magazine clippings and burnt them, chanting a simple cleansing prayer into the flames. George were dead to me now.
It’s a testament to the human ego, the way we make our role as fan completely about us. It’s as if the art is the spiritual putty we need to patch up our sense of self. It’s such a one-sided, long distance relationship, that the true motives often become confused. We’ve all had that hip friend asking if we’ve heard of The Obscures, their eyes burning with rage and glee when we decline. They are at once delighted that their secret remains safe, and exasperated that such genius remains undiscovered. How to solve the paradox of wanting a band to be big, but not too big.
Dan Le Sac’s song ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ goes there. ‘Thou shalt not put musicians and recording artists on ridiculous pedestals. No matter how great they are, or were. The Beatles were just a band. Oasis, just a band. Radiohead, just a band.’ It’s true. Do you think your favourite indie artists are at home running commercial decisions past cynical Myspace fans? ‘Hey guys, even though we’ve struggled for ten years and are on the brink of a major record deal, after extensive messaging with SadGirl79 I think the best way to keep it real is to release an EP in eight years then all somehow die.’ With the decay of the music industry and the DIY Internet age removing the fourth wall, surely there’s a little more empathy and understanding towards artists. Whereas the use of Feist’s song ‘1234’ in a Mac commercial would have attracted cries of ‘sell out’ in the 90’s, it was quietly chalked up as a valid industry manoeuvre.
I recently discovered Six Feet Under, only to find that for most of my friends that good ship had sailed about three years ago. Rather than be deterred I simply persevered and had a sense of rediscovering something beautiful, and have now joined the ranks of ambassadors for the show. Similarly I’ve gone back and found incredible peninsulas within The Kinks, JJ Cale and Boards Of Canada back catalogues. Sure, The Boosh, Kings Of Leon and MGMT are all over-inhabited, and there are those who’ll sit up the back of their Tavern screaming ‘I discovered them first’ to anyone who’ll listen. But the truth is, you’re the captain of your ship and if you feel like it’s yours then no-one can take that away from you. Alternatively – No band is an island.
the boosh is everywhere now! i thought i was a part of a secret society where we bowed down to the masters that are Moon and Noir. Still it has it’s magic, i just no longer feel special 🙁
By the way i love this article. I remember reading Frankie and noting how much i enjoyed it. In fact it’s the only article I’ve ever replied to. I had no idea you wrote it, Kudos on the great work!
I reckon we must remember that a shows popularity in no way compromises its quality. I mean, look at bananas. How popular are they? Do we get all flighty when we see all kinds of plebs buying them from the supermarket? Do we think ‘bananas – hey, I started that, that was my fruit!’ Like most things, The Boosh is really popular because it’s really good. Beatles – ok. Monty Python – ok. Boosh – ok. Part of the backlash blues are caused by our inability to cope with the reality that we can’t regain that first high – look at smokers, drinkers, trying to regain that thrill when you watched your first Boosh episode. Well, that may never return in its full glory, but can it compare to the full belly feeling of having devoured three entire series, and possessing the second language of eighteen episodes worth of script to quote and be influenced by?
Justin, I’m just giving you a quick heads up on this… you having been getting some airplay on jjj… so it popped up in small talk with some friends/associates the other day “have you head that track on triple j with that dude with lazy/teenager/too cool accent who is taking the piss out of like music lables and indie wannabes” and everyone else was like yeh mah how funny, so true haha…. WHO is this mysterious unknown very funny guy? SO thats where i speak up (boosted by the confidence of a few semi-cheap-mid-range chardonnay-oh-well-its-better-than-goon- and-lets-face-it-i’m-not-drinking-it-for the-taste kind of drinks)
ME: “oh yeah justin heazlewood,i used to read his article in BMA years back, he writes for frankie too (“what ? you haven’t heard of frankie? well its really creative and cool and like arty and shit, i’m not artistically motivated at all but it makes me feel cultured when i read it) . he’s really witty and honest and funny and shit at the same time, you know? yeah? …. etc etc…
SO back to the point, i liked your writing years back in canberra,i lost that when i moved the brisbane (damn street press and their small budgets, and mediocre coverage, surely everyone in brisbane wants to know whats happening at Mooseheads) so back to the point again… what happens if you turn into the above mentioned? i really want the best for you, really i do, but I don’t know if i’m ready to share you.. PS please don’t tell anyone we talked about this, your profile needs to remain low for a while, and soon, who knows maybe you will be on Rove?
I have just noted that your response to the previous comment was 6 months in the making. I propose that this was due to you having too many much cooler/important things to do (prioritising is a good skill and a nice buzz word for selection criteria & public service job interviews) or maybe that it just took you that long to get the wording “just right” (Hi Sara!… na thats too casual, backspace backspace, throw scrunched up piece of paper into bin and start again.)
So i bought a time-machine from E-bay for 6 grain-fed Pheasants (fairly cheap if you study the market) , it looks kind of like an egg-beater with a recycled fridge underneath it… i believe i just hop into the butter softener and wait for the future to happen… Tally-ho!
We’re together at last! I wondered who outbid me on that time machine – thought I’d got it for a $40 steal, but you kept driving the price up. Re: The obscene levels of popularity I’m currently experiencing – well, I can still safely say I haven’t specifically appeared on TV as TBP yet…surely that buys us some time. Some JJJ play and the youtube vid of Northcote is going rather well, but still – people just know it as the hipster song, surely. I mean, i just did a national tour – and at no point was there a definite feeling of *looks out into the crowd and sees 500 indie bogan commercial radio listeners holding up camera phones and thinkg ‘when did it become like this.’* Man – I got like 120 payers in Canberra for crying out loud. So, we’re ok…
As far as me taking so long to write! HELL YES! And naturally, I am my own manager writing right now, as if I’d have time to phone this in….I’m far too busy writing the difficult follow up single ‘Im so hungover that I just don’t try anymore…’
Bidding you good day (want to out-bid me on that too?) and see you in 1994, I’ll bring the le-snaks.