Well, after three days at CMJ it’s official: Judged on the guidelines laid down by New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones, our worst fears are confirmed and indie rock has actually failed at being convincingly “black.” It is now the Jamie Kennedy of musical genres.
A quick recap of the rules:
- Subtract 10 points each if band lacks “swing,” “some empty space,” and/or “palpable bass frequencies.”
- Subtract 10 points if the band identifies more as “punk” than “funk.”
- Add 20 points if that punk band is the Clash.
- Subtract 10 points if the words “noise,” “art-rock,” “prog,” or “math-rock” can be used to describe the band. Ditto the following metal subgenres: thrash, death, grind, tech. Automatic disqualification: black metal.
- Subtract 15 points if the band primarily draws from folk traditions other than the blues.
- Subtract 15 points for slap bass. (That’s a red herring.)
- Subtract 20 points if artist in engaged in wholesale recreation of a particular era of African-American music.
- Subtract 50 points if swing revival band.
It is at the discretion of the researcher to fudge the numbers a little if they feel that a particular band has just a little more swing and a little less indie in them.
We Are Wolves
Possibly European/definitely European-sounding dance-rock band, with more of a Moroder throb than a Stubblefield groove. Their commitment to moving bodies is half-hearted and doesn’t keep from them losing 30 points off the top, and another 10 for being punks at heart.
SFJ SCORE: 60.
Cut Off Your Hands
More British punk than American funk–and not remotely punk-funk–these tense New Zealanders don’t sound like they could relax long enough to swing for more than a second, plus they’ve got the treble cranked hard.
SFJ SCORE: 60
Motorik indie-pop with twee harmonies and as much grit as two-ply Charmin, even less sex.
SFJ SCORE: 55
Disqualified: hip-hop group. They were so effective at proving the SFJ score, in fact, that I’m deducting 20 points from the next band just because.
SFJ SCORE: N/A
Trail Of Dead
Melodramatic bombast whose idea of groove is revving quickly to an ejaculatory climax. And that ain’t very groovy.
SFJ SCORE: 40
Thrashing garage punk that’s far too punk and far too removed from garage rock’s 60s roots to have much trace of African-American influence left in its wound-up bashing.
SFJ SCORE: 60
Disqualified: The mere existence of Mick Collins is kind of an atom bomb dropped on SFJ’s equation. Or at least a radar scrambler.
SFJ SCORE: N/A
DAY THREE COMBINED SCORE: 53
TOTAL COMBINED SCORE: 58.7
A failing grade. This is actually kind of depressing. Is Frere-Jones actually right? I don’t even know if I should bother to continue calculating for the last two days of CMJ. On the one hand, I haven’t even seen Black Kids yet. On the other, it’s only going to get worse. Maybe we should just accept the fact that indie needs to go back to school to bone up on its essentialism, and say better luck next year? Probably a good idea for everyone involved in this debate.
FURTHER RESEARCH: A Paler Shade Of White [New Yorker]