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Monday, March 21, 2011

Easy Fame in the Pitchfork Era: Be Young, Find a Trend, Get a Drum Machine

Posted By on Mon, Mar 21, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Dirty Beaches: This could be you!
  • Dirty Beaches: This could be you!
Did you want to play at SXSW, but perhaps felt you weren't ready? Are you comfortable with stylish gloss instead of creative substance? Do you know how to work a drum machine?

Well, good news kids: You don't need to work much at making music anymore -- at least not to get Pitchfork-famous or play SXSW. You just need to record some shit and find a cheap way to get attention. (You might also need some tattoos.)

No, seriously. Look at one-man hype-magnet Dirty Beaches. Dude played a show in Austin the other night with just a Stratocaster, a hair comb, and a big box that actually made all the sound happen. Onstage, he muttered nonsense into some crappy microphone, arranged his greasy bangs, noodled a little on his fretboard, and stood around looking arty. The drums, bass, rhythm guitars -- y'know, the song -- came out of the box and went straight into the P.A. It was like a karaoke performance with props. And it sounded great!

Well, okay, not great. Not even really good. But it was enough to keep a room full of blog-weary eyeballs staring at him like some newfound god. The TVs in the club were showing videos of label heads talking about what a genius this guy and his boombox were, and the shill worked. How much effort, songwriting, or innovation did he put into the music, or the show? What creative revelation did he produce? Nevermind -- what you should be worrying about is how to get such a cool press photo.

Even if you look like a total dufus, like the one guy in Cloud Nothings, you can still summon enough buzz to share a stage with Toro Y Moi. Just write a bunch of power-pop songs all at the same quick tempo (spend about four minutes on each one), stick a clothespin over your nose while you sing into your MacBook, conjure up some spiel about playing in your basement, and send the MP3 to Gorilla Vs. Bear. Then watch the attention come in via your Twitter feed.

Of course, don't go making music in some blog-unfriendly genre like jazz, country-rock, non-African world music, or basically anything that can't be described with the prefix "indie." No one -- or at least no one that matters -- will go to your SXSW showcase. This also won't be a problem for you, but don't be too good at any instruments. Only old people care about musicianship. Also -- obviously -- don't be old. In fact, please try to be under 21. There's this whole thing now where people are really excited about the fact that 19 and 20-year-old kids can write a few halfway decent songs and perform them onstage. (Apparently music fans don't go to all-ages punk shows anymore.) And the novelty of seeing an underage band perform in a 21+ club is always good for selling a few tickets.

If you can't jump on the youth bandwagon, try to nail the sound of a previous decade that's about to be cool again. Which reminds us: Sorry, Yuck, but the early-'90s revival is already getting boring. You'd better start looking at post-grunge, a la Eve 6 or Better Than Ezra -- or perhaps late-'90s pop-punk like Blink-182, but with a bit less artistry. You might even consider jumping out ahead of the impending nu-metal revival.

Even if some critics talk shit -- say you're lazy, say you're a tepid rehash, say you don't actually play any instrument, or even a body part -- that'll just get you more attention. And anyway, beyond a numerical Pitchfork score or a New York Times think piece, no one really gives a damn anymore what the critics think. The Twitter is your public, baby! The blogosphere is your sounding board! So yank that guitar out of the closet, snag yourself a cracked copy of Ableton Live, and record a song right fucking now! Don't be shy -- send it off to the content-hungry bloggers! If you don't, somebody else will -- and you'll be here next year, thinking you could totally have done what they did, thinking you could totally have played SXSW to an adoring crowd, and had your song on Altered Zones, and been so cool. And you'd be right: these days, there really isn't much to it.

Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown, follow Ian S. Port @iPORT, and like us at

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Ian S. Port


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