This is from the current issue of The Wire magazine. Simon Reynolds' latest book, Retromania, came out very recently and I look forward to cracking it soon.
'Underground', in 2011, means creating an atmosphere of cultural intimacy. So the most apt comparison for where do-it-yourself music is today might be Etsy, the online market for handmade and vintage items. Not only is the economic structure similar — small entrepreneurs selling their wares at fairs or through specialist boutiques but doing most of their business online — but the aesthetic sensibility overlaps. There are the same vintage materials and formats (T-shirts with pictures of old-fashioned typewriters, notepads that repurpose the covers of 1970s textbooks), the same penchant for slow unwieldy production methods, even similar iconography (lots of Etsy stationery features animals and birds, particularly owls!)
But what this analogy leads onto is the unsettling thought that underground music making is becoming a niche market, a form of hip(ster) consumerism that slots right next to distressed furniture, microbrew beer, artisanal cheese and vintage clothing. No longer art as an intervention in the battlefield of culture, but art as 'décor for life'.
I agree with Simon to a greater extent. The two questions I ask are:
1. Have uncertain times, in concert with lives led online where there is little reliable constancy, led people to embrace comforting, often infantile tropes?
2. Were the culture wars over when ever greater media divergence (across all platforms) meant that the great, abstract "water cooler moment" disappeared and one could simply ignore the culture you didn't like? Have most of the guns simply been put away?