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Top 9 Trends in Local Music From 2012 

Wednesday, Dec 19 2012

Well, 2012 was fun, eh? We paid almost nothing for our music (but argued about it a lot), finally saw Metallica play Golden Gate Park, and went to more raves than ever before. But before we say goodbye to the Year of Skrillex, the spring where critics bloviated endlessly about Lana Del Rey, and the fall where Taylor Swift proved that you can in fact still sell a million records in a week, let's look back at some of the biggest trends in music — local and otherwise — of 2012.

9. Company-themed concerts
Some of the most noteworthy shows in S.F. these days aren't put together by promoters or clubs, but companies — tech firms, clothing and lifestyle brands, and, of course, liquor makers. Some are free, like the Myspace-presented Z-Trip and Switch show at Mighty in October. Many are private, like the megabash Oracle threw on Treasure Island where Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder sang onstage with Kings of Leon. Some are huge, like the Intel- and Vice-sponsored Creator's Project festival in March. And a few sound promising, only to turn out lame: Rdio got Tanlines and Twin Shadow on the same invite-only bill at The Independent in June, but the crowd was too busy talking business to bother dancing.

8. Broad recognition for the bay
There were a ton of Bay Area artists in the national spotlight this year. Apart from the attention-grabbing activities of Green Day and Metallica, we saw feature stories on local rocker Ty Segall in Pitchfork and SPIN; TV personality Carson Daly hanging with garage-psych deans Thee Oh Sees at SXSW; critical praise for the work of rappers like E-40, Antwon, DaVinci, and Too $hort; and worldwide attention given to local artists as different as High on Fire and Two Gallants, among many others.

7. Whole-album shows
Effusive nostalgia among rock fans is nothing new — and neither is the full-album live show. But the trend expanded this year, with artists like Bob Mould and the Flaming Lips getting on board for Noise Pop. We saw more classic-album concerts from David Bazan (performing Pedro the Lion's Control), Evan Dando (performing the Lemonheads' It's a Shame About Ray), and Roger Waters doing a pretty life-changing live performance of The Wall. It's not just for old albums, either: Former Girls frontman Christopher Owens performed his new solo record live months before its release.

6. Stupid adjective of the year: "relevant"
What the fuck does "relevant" mean in the music world at the end of 2012? It means that you're talking about what everyone else is talking about. And its rise comes out of the same herd instincts that lead to music critics building a dull consensus around the same five or so "best" albums of the year. So forget being "relevant," and be interesting instead. You might get more retweets.

5. Internet artists who also make music
Blame Lil B — he's probably the first local to prove that a controversial, carefully built persona on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr can matter as much or more than a musician's, uh, songs. A social media presence is no longer just for marketing purposes — it's now part of the art. Skeptics may dismiss young web mavens like Chippy Nonstop or Kitty Pryde for being better at Twitter foulmouthery or Tumblr myth-making than actual rapping. But they ought to look at how many people are paying attention.

4. Cool-kid conquest of 2012: trap music
Take the skittering snares and trunk-thumping bass from a Southern rap song, bump the levels up to the max, and play it through a fancy club soundsystem. Now you've got trap, the latest craze among electronic dance music fans that isn't really new. It is popular, though, as exemplified by dedicated S.F. parties like Trap City. And it's not hard to see why: The lurching, off-kilter rhythms of a trap beat impart a brassy frivolity that's like nothing else.

3. Ride the thinkpiece wave
The artists most successful at generating buzz in 2012 weren't necessarily the biggest sellers or the most original songwriters. They were the ones whose presence most begged for exploration in thinkpieces — longish, chin-scratching analyses of the various threads of an artist's music, clothing, videos, and personal life. See: the whole early-year brouhaha over the "authenticity" of singer Lana Del Rey, the thousands of words dedicated to deconstructing Canadian electro-pop chanteuse Grimes, and the countless musings over the meaning of Skrillex's controversial "brostep." Remember, musicians: These days, your real job is helping music bloggers hit their post quotas.

2. DJ sets by artists who aren't DJs
It's a way to get a big name on a bill without paying for them to play: Write name of said group in large letters, put "DJ set" in small letters, and watch the tickets sell. Sometimes it works, especially when you get a master spinner like LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy. But often, seeing a DJ set from someone in a band is like watching a great chef go to work behind the bar. They're not terrible, but they're not living up to their potential, either.

1. The merging of foodie and music cultures
We noticed the trend more than ever this year: Music culture and food culture are merging into one big orgy of discerning taste. The local flavors at Outside Lands are maybe the biggest sign of this, but it's not the only one. There's Noisette, Noise Pop's brand-new pairing of indie-rock bands and chefs from tony restaurants like Flour & Water and Commonwealth. There's The Bay Brewed, where $50 got you unlimited local beer tastings and afternoon sets from Sonny and the Sunsets and Bear in Heaven. And there's the rise of local blog Turntable Kitchen, which built a following by creating deluxe dinners and pairing them with choice cuts on vinyl. While we're a little queasy at the bougie-ness of some of these events — and we worry that cheaper pleasures are being pushed out of pricey S.F. — food culture was inarguably a major influence on the local music scene in 2012.

About The Author

Ian S. Port


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