Callum Madle takes a look at the potential stagnation of the indie scene through the kaleidoscopic lens that is Mac Demarco.
Admittedly, I have been known to enjoy Mac Demarco’s music. Last November, I saw him twice on his tour of the UK, and met him outside Brighton Dome, witnessing how incredibly down to earth he was. There was no hint of the inevitable stardom that Demarco has come to accumulate in Britain and abroad, whilst he casually interacted with those congregated by the back exit, making conversation (somewhat drunkenly, Stella in hand) and taking pictures with numerous people. Even though he may have mocked me for my un-ironic use of ‘bro’ when asking for a photo, Mac Demarco came across really well. His personality is somewhat of a contributing factor toward his popularity; he’s the nicer, mellow Canadian face of the alternative scene. Perhaps it’s this affability that leads one to discount the relative musical and lyrical simplicity found throughout his songs.
The melodies are unavoidably catchy and the lyrics convey some kind of cliched fortune cookie-esque truth. However, these aspects of his songs aren’t the reason for the sonic laziness that seems to have permeated a significant part of alternative music. The hazy, nostalgic sound of ‘Salad Days’ and ‘2’, the two albums that conceivably garnered the most cultural exposure, have become the norm. Arguably, this is thanks to the burgeoning popularity of members of Demarco’s milieu, like Michael Collins (Drugdealer, Salvia Plath, Silk Rhodes), Homeshake and Mild High Club, as well as British artists such as on King Krule’s new album and Rex Orange County.
Even artists beyond the genre have adopted the lo-fi, retro sound to some extent. For example, on Tyler, The Creator’s new album ‘Flower Boy’, the chorus drenched guitars played by Slow Hollows’ Austin Feinstein and Steve Lacy on the songs ‘Garden Shed’ and ‘Glitter’ bear a striking resemblance to Demarco. The former of the two aforementioned artists, Steve Lacy, also worked on ‘Pride’ by Kendrick Lamar, from his most recent album ‘DAMN’, the backing track of which sounds akin to a forgotten cut from Demarco’s 2012 release, ‘Rock and Roll Night Club’. Of course, one may well argue that lo-fi music has existed since at least the 1950s, pioneered by more obscure introverted artists such as Connie Converse, Nick Drake on his 1972 album ‘Pink Moon’, Jonathan Richman of ‘The Modern Lovers’, R. Stevie Moore and Arthur Russell, as well as more famously by the Velvet Underground on their self-titled 1967 debut ‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’.
Any musician from the current crop of the generic off-pitch, synth and chorus-laden, home recording music scene could easily have been influenced by any of these artists. In particular, the work of Arthur Russell, a multi-talented musician, has been re-released and reappraised in the last 20 years, gaining greater exposure. This is turn influenced artists such as Blood Orange, and also Ariel Pink, a protégé of R. Stevie Moore, whose own influence on Mac Demarco can be heard clearly on ‘Rock and Roll Night Club’ and his latest release, ‘This Old Dog’.
Nevertheless, who of these musicians can claim to have had the same exertion on the aesthetic of teenagers across America and the UK, as well as on the production of independent music? We have all been unfortunate enough to come across the archetypal dungaree adorned, Vans wearing Mac fan, with their tattered Patagonia coat and a cap on their head that probably cost £20 from Urban. And inevitably, some of this lot have been bestowed the gift of music, and of course have decided to become third-rate Bane’s World rip-offs, who see fit to flood Soundcloud with their mixtapes. Writing music is one of the most cathartic and gratifying activities one can experience, but for how much longer can the alternative scene rely on a sound that became stale in 2014? The reason that the Velvet Underground, Arthur Russell, or Frankie Cosmos have garnered such acclaim is because of their originality, be it through their production (or lack thereof) and musical aptitude.
There are plenty of musicians currently releasing music who deviate from the vintage auditory aesthetic, yet they are being overlooked by an audience that primarily desires a sound that will only lead to the stagnation of alternative music, not its prosperity.