Still reeling from the latest Grimes record, Cormac Duffy grapples with the idea of internet music
As anyone who widely reads music journalism will know, the same take on an artist tends to pop up again and again, repeated to a level that begs for a ‘Roxanne’-style drinking game. The latest offender is discussion of 2012’s thus far most substantial buzz-thing Grimes, Montreal’s Claire Boucher, as ‘post-internet’ music, from a quote she dropped in interview years back. Firstly, it seems to support the thesis that music writing prefers analysis readiness to quality, but that’s for a different, more self-referential column. What it really brings up is the case for internet music as a discrete phenomenon. We’ve reached a critical mass of sounds that are by-products of our online life, that we can now classify as a culture with its own music, slotting neatly between India and Iran in our local record shop’s world music section.
In Grimes’ case, it refers to that genre-defying scope that comes only from an adolescence where all the world’s sounds were a click away, a common cause of our era’s maximalist tendencies. But the influence has been pointed out in other cases, even without catchy quotes by the artist. The culture gorging that the internet allows, as well as the ability to self-release your pet projects regardless of the fact that they’re slightly less listenable than a traffic jam, means that the internet is the home of weirdness. At the same time, this opening up of our cultural access has left us to consume the past greedily, regurgitating it as either unabashed plagiarism, or the strange, critical engagements with the past we hear in the work of James Ferraro or Maria Minerva.
As easy as it is to draw these links and carve out a category for it all, it’s an approach that limits our insight into what’s really going on. On one level, the effects attributed to the internet are nothing amazing. At least since the day when The Beatles were high enough to think an all-white album cover was a great idea, genre has been pretty much opt-in, and at similar times, we look not at how the structure dictates. To say music is a product of the internet is like saying that The Avalanches were a product of second-hand records. Sure it’s true, but it’s hardly the determinant of Since I Left You’s quality. Music is the same whatever time period it came from, and criticism should keep the treatment the same, and make sure the focus is on the music, not the structure they’re in, no matter how nice a narrative it makes.