the fourth wall comes down

Usually performers stay in their world on stage. And everyone else watching plays along. It’s what makes live theater so fun. But then they can break the fourth wall and directly address the audience. Breaking the fourth wall lives in all mediums. Lyrics address their own pop song and Wayne Campbell narrates his collection of hair nets and name tags right into the camera. But in the online world, there is no fourth wall. The participants are the audience and visa versa. The method of distribution has changed. Instead of being controlled by few, it is (or can be) all of us. And there are so many of us involved that it doesn’t matter that its happening at the same time. [Mind, we are still learning to deal with an overflow. Also mind the gatekeepers.] But if the fourth wall is still there, it’s tiny and shrinking.

So it seems strange to me why people are still discussing do-it-yourself, or DIY if you will. When I hear the phrase do-it-yourself in music I think about early record labels like SST and tales of Black Flag and the Minutemen touring in a friend’s van. Since those ‘early days’ DIY has become commonplace in music. With the rise of what technology and home recording have become, how could it not?  Between the online soon-to-be-famous hip hop mixtape and chillwave sweeping the nation, we’ve seen nobodys become everybodys on the cover of magazines and national press discuss those bedroom heroes.

Odd Future has been one of the most talked about acts of the year online, and they began with online mixtapes and track releases – just like Washed Out, Cults, Lil B, Wiz Khalifa and A$AP Rocky – who ended up signing a $3 million dollar deal with Sony/RCA. The majors are snatching up the minors, if they’re lucky. [Part of his $3 million is going to fund a group label A$AP Worldwide.]

These acts have captured the attention of anyone with the internet. But this whole list, aside from the Odd Future collective, have been boring to me. [Odd Future is one of the newest sounds this year has seen. And certainly the best hip hop.] I’m still baffled by the hype surrounding Washed Out and Cults. It proves the point that if enough fingers point in the same direction, we’ll all turn our head.

SPIN Dec. 2011

It’s an uneasy feeling, thinking that everyone buys into the same sounds. I recently spent time back-listening to WXPN’s World Cafe episodes. In his  20th Anniversary compilation episode Beck said something in particular that struck me. That ‘samples have become so expensive, almost as much as an album budget, it has shoved hip hop into a world of generic drum machines’, where they all start to sound the same. ‘It’s pushed us away from traditional hip hop that was built off borrowing music and samples’, like DJ Kool Herc, Public Enemy, Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys. While the home mixtape makes for great artist discovery, what follows can and usually leads to  generic production.

Home recording leaves me troubled. While some of it works, others lose their detail. It’s where we get washed up sounds of dreamy scapes and undecipherable mumblings. Indie rock home recordings all start to blend together perhaps because they are all coming from the same place. But even knowing this, I know we cannot live without home recording. Without it we would have a fraction of content to discuss and it would strain the creative freedom of so many. Basement tapes and backyard sessions are just the natural progression.

While it seems to be working in hip hop’s favor, chillwave and indie rock are getting more and more boring. [Or shall I say ‘bro-ing’?] They are all steeping in success, while the sounds and lyrics are diluting. Maybe it’s just mimicking the Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out psychedelia of the mid 60s. And chillwave is the answer to the new apathetic recession era twenty-somethings. As for hip hop, still Odd Future aside, it’s been unimpressive. Especially the new Drake (wait, were we ever impressed?) And I love it when your hair’s still wet/Cause you just took a shower/Running on a treadmill, and only eating salad/Sounds so smart, like you graduated college/Like you went to yale, but you probably went to Howard. Boring and generic. I was distracted and almost forgot that he was in a Sprite commercial…but then I remembered that he looks like a marketing tool.


Not only do I still miss rock and roll, I am growing more and more frustrated with new music. M83 belongs in a Victoria’s Secret commercial and not in the new chillwave front-runners section. The end of the year is strangely looming. Thank god we have one more coming. El Camino from The Black Keys is out Dec. 6th. Until then, its month old records and strict listening – to make sure I know my place. Do you know yours?