Rock this way – a way to come together?

. May 18, 2012.

Chris Taylor said there needs to be more unity in “music community.” To raise and sustain a thriving music community, it “really comes down to supporting each other,” said the journeyman guitarist, who currently plays a blend of sci-fi-surf and psychedelic hard rock with Ann Arbor’s Blue Snaggletooth).

I spent much of my late autumn picking the brains of various local musicians, ruminating on the potency and potential of what it is, exactly, that we have here, together, as a “music scene,” or, “community.” It’s a tough, tricky conversational query…Not only is it hard to answer the: what-makes-a-scene-work-question; it’s often tacitly considered such a troublesome subject, that most refrain from even asking it.

And the answer can vary, depending on niche. In Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, we have rock ‘n roll (Skeleton Birds), we have indie-rock (Ghost Lady), country-rock (Afternoon Round), theatric-blues rock (Ghost City Search Light), hard-rock (Blue Snaggletooth) pop-rock (The Finer Things), not to mention those that toe both folk and rock (Gun Lake, Juliets, Starling Electric and on and on…). It’s a fairly healthy crop – but the thing is: you can find just as much nuance to every other “tribe” (as Taylor puts it), be it the folk scene, noise scene, jazz, hip/hop or electronica.  

The elusive element, however pie-in-the-sky-ish, would be “an across the board community of support” said Taylor, that binds the fractured “sets” of different styled musicians (scenes within a scene), to attain a bedrock of support. Indeed, what we have is commendable in itself, especially the local labels (ARBCO, Ginkgo,) or local independent businesses (record shops like Underground Sounds or local-centric venues like Woodruffs). The reason for any frustration (and thus our questioning of “scenes”) is that the push and pull of all these more distinct and sometimes erratic components have heretofore, seemed to help some bands (propped up to national tours) while leading others to fall through the cracks to, as Taylor put it, “languish on the local circuit…”

Shelley Salant (of Ypsi band Swimsuit and Ginkgo Records) noted that inevitably, we’d need more local venues; the hope being that more outlets lead to more local showcases, wider local fan base, clearer translation to other “gate keepers” (as Taylor said, “booking agents, local bizz’ owners, event organizers”) realizing the value (potential revenue) in live, local music. But then, that tips into branding one’s self, one’s scene… And who wants, really, to be “tagged” – folk rock, punk rock, etc…

The hope is, always, that everyone gets on board, supporting all local music. But still, there’s no clear answer. Presumably, no one listener will be up for attending the shows of every genre and you’ll probably never see noise rock bands at more folky art fairs.

Or will you? Conventional barriers and cliquey
behaviors break down slowly – genres blend together and it leads me to wonder how much longer we stay separated. Rock bands like Jehovah’s Witness Protection Program synched up, recently, with hip hop MCs from Detroit, Mister, Blaksmith and Benjamin Miles, for a remix single produced by Ypsi-based
raunch-rapper BUFFAY.

So why not blend other genres into this rock column? Ann Arbors’ Chrome Sparks (Jeremy Malvin) is an up and coming ambient electronica composer who’s released a steady stream of singles, EPs and albums. It’s likely you’ll see him mixed in with a handful of indie-rock bands on a bill – (toeing into that realm, already, with the electro-dance-rock of his other group Stepdad.

Why ignore synthesizers? We can all “rock this way…”

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