August 18, 2009

old media nostalgia

A couple months ago, I was walking down an back alley in Wolseley and something familiar caught my eye. Sitting atop a mound of garbage was the video companion to 1997's What's Up Matador?, a compilation of various artists on Matador Records during the mid 90s. A number of years earlier I bought the compilation on cd and, among standard favourites like Cat Power, Spoon, Pavement, Yo La Tengo and Liz Phair (well, pre-Space Egg) found some new/old bands that I took to right away (Helium, Chavez, etc.). Last weekend, I finally got a chance to watch the video on an old VCR. It all looks incredibly dated: the grainy resolution, the washed out images, the bold, over-the-top aesthetic, the heavy-handed video concepts, the leering irony/sarcasm, the concsious attempts to produce a hit. What's Up Matador? made me a bit nostalgic for indie rock before "indie rock" became a mainstream genre: before the internet took hold, before small record companies started withering away. Even fifteen years ago, independent music meant something else: it's not that it was more purely independent or more DIY (probably less, actually); rather, it was thought about very differently. It's been fascinating to watch this shift in popular culture take place over the better part of my adolescence.

I was reminded of this again when I visited Pitchfork yesterday and noticed that the website had halted regular reviews to accommodate for the first of many lists and features that will help conclude the past decade in music. P2K: The Decade in Music begins with the Top 500 Tracks of the 2000s, which is a broad smattering of singles with a handful predictably obsure songs thrown into the mix to remind amateurs like me that they're the experts. Above the title is the image of a shattered compact disc. We've come through a period of transition and there's no going back - unless its vinyl we're talking about. The cd encapsulates the best and worst aspects of the music industry through the 90s: overpriced, cheaply made, overproduced, soon-to-be-out-dated pieces of plastic. It's really surprising they lasted as long as they did. Remember mini-discs? In retrospect it seems like we were always trying to anticipate the next medium and now, all of a sudden, here we are with ipods and illegal downloads; here we are with less centralization and further atomization (we all know albums will soon be a thing of the past), which all serves to provide even more consumer information to the entertainment industry.

I've always bought cds, and I have over 350 sitting in my bedroom - when I'm moving in two weeks, 75% of my packing will be takien up by cds, lps, and books. Things used to be relatively finite, but we've fallen prey to the illusion that information is infinitely accessible, infinitely available, and can be infinitely reproduced. Digital media may be practical, but just think how empty our rooms would be had we not been such massive consumers during the 90s and 2000s.

Here's an old favorite, featured on What's Up Matador? (VHS), by Yo La Tengo from their (best) album, 1993's Painful.

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