It’s Saturday night. I’m standing in some junior’s house somewhere near the south end of the Hill, clenching a red cup and dragging my gaze across a room full of my inebriated peers, hoping the friend who invited me here comes back from the bathroom soon.
I’ve exhausted all the conversation I had in me on some guy who liked my “Hausu” shirt. He didn’t see the movie, but a bright orange T-shirt with a grinning cat face on it is appreciable enough without knowing the source material. The music so far has been the typical blend of dubstep, Top 40 hits and raging hip-hop that all starts to sound like one long song when you’ve heard enough of it. But everyone seems to light up at each song choice, whether they know the words or not.
For the past few songs, there’s been one iPhone dictator commanding the soundtrack, but a girl walks up to him, and their conversation drags him away from the auxiliary cord. Seeing that there’s a minute and a half left on the current song and my friend appears to be taking the world’s longest piss, I decide to dart in and save the party from momentary silence.
The first song that springs to mind is “Tell ‘Em” by Sleigh Bells. Is it two years old by indie standards? Yes. Do most people I know still not know Sleigh Bells? You betcha. But it makes me want to throw down more than any other song I would ever hear at a party. There’s no way I’m not playing this song.
As the cheerleader guitars blast out the speakers, one or two sparse heads nod in appreciation while almost everyone else remains completely indifferent. No one responds with even a fraction of the enthusiasm that a hip-hop beat or a wobble would’ve elicited. Eventually some kid walks up to me with a look of absolute disgust and asks, “What is this, some hipster shit?”
While I’m offended by the aggression and shocked at the specificity to which party music standards allow, the sad truth is I can’t entirely blame this kid for his negative attitude towards me. Even when playing an “alternative” artist like Sleigh Bells, who has gained relative popularity in the field, it would be ignorant to deny that we are currently at a point in our culture where having an intense knowledge of less-popular music immediately classifies you as a certain type of person.
Sometimes I think that the general perception of people like myself is that we listen to a crazy amount of obscure bands because we feel some desire to one-up everyone else when it comes to what music we like. It’s common knowledge that the guy at the party who talks down everyone who hasn’t heard of his favorite band is the biggest asshole in the room. No one hates this person more than me.
When all is said and done, the truth is that I just can’t stand the sound of Top 40 music. But neither can a significant percentage of the population. The idea that I shouldn’t get to listen to music that I enjoy at a party, purely because others might not have heard of it, is insulting to say the least. It seems antithetical to the open-mindedness we should be experiencing at this age that there is a certain set of conditions and sounds that every party song must fulfill in order for everyone in the room to have a good time.
So if there is one lesson to teach those who judge music nerds, it is to accept that some people are just legitimately geared away from many traits of popular music today. The lesson to those who claim to be individuals is to take themselves less seriously. Indie culture is just as populated with trends that seem wholly important for less than a year before becoming completely irrelevant as popular culture; they just usually come in cuter forms.
The biggest misconception comes from the belief that the different forms of art you enjoy automatically make you a better person. Different strokes are something that everyone should respect, but whatever strokes you happen to enjoy need not compensate for being a personable human being. Talking to someone who likes more radio-friendly artists should still go down like a conversation with any other rational human being. Likewise, a conversation with someone who enjoys less accessible bands shouldn’t be treated with assumptions about that person’s very character. There is no such thing as a wrong opinion in music, and truly, of all subjects to possibly be an expert on, is there anything less definable than “good” music taste? How could being well-versed in a topic that’s so utterly subjective ever be something that’s universally respected?
Being someone who spends the majority of my waking hours listening to and/or thinking about music, I can’t be expected to apologize for the way I’m wired. But I understand the negative attitudes that have begun to surround the independent music scene when I go to concerts and see 20-somethings crowd surfing in a button-down shirt and dress shoes while filming their flight on a useless old-style 16mm camera.
I would like to think that for people who listen to alternative music, the original fondness for abstract sounds came from an adolescent place of feeling different from everyone else. Were it not for this sad but ultimately rewarding feeling, so many of the great works of musical art throughout history would not have come to be. Yet as time drags on, it seems that even alternative culture is reaching a homogenized point of “uniqueness.”
There needs to be a shift in attitude on both sides. The general populace needs to be more accepting of those with differing tastes, while the enthusiasts in question can’t forget to stay true to themselves without remembering to be good people. Only then can both sides live in harmony.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sam Goldner at Samuel.firstname.lastname@example.org.