Here’s to True Expression

By Dominique Flemings

Recently, some girlfriends and I went out to a club that was showcasing some “underground” bands that night. “Underground” bands, for those less familiar with the moniker, are what I would describe as simply lesser-known or entirely unknown bands that, because of their disregard for critics, are free to play whatever they want, however they please. As a result, I greatly enjoy these bands because they have the genuineness that most bands seem to eventually replace with popularity.

The venue was a perfect spot for such a concert – one of those clubs that seems to violate every interior décor principle and be all the better for it. Amongst the dimly-lit, non-matching seats that seemed as varied as a used furniture store, we found a spot and ordered drinks just in time to see the first band. It has been some time since I’ve indulged in any live rock music, much less the rawness of underground rock. Underground bands don’t put much stock in what critics say; subsequently, they would starve if they ever tried to make a living off their music, but their music and soul is anything but creatively malnourished. They are artists who bend and rewrite the laws of music because they are above the “art police” who enjoy enforcing their own favorite rules.

Underground bands have guts. Their bravado in the fulfillment of their artistic vision is, to be honest, something that most of us do not get a chance to achieve on an equally regular basis. Most bands acknowledge that the source of their freedom is their obscurity, to the point of promoting it. I had a chance to talk to a member of one of the bands during a break, and asked if they had a website or blog I might visit. He related, with a hint of pride in his voice, that it was the band’s decision to forego having a website, or even CD recordings. If people wanted to hear their music, they would have to find them first.

The band returned to the stage for what I think was the best performance of the night. The drummer was clearly the anchor of the band and in control of the other instruments’ direction, which leads to a well-defined sound as band. While their style was firmly cemented in rock, I enjoyed the subtle influence of old-school indie music in their bass lines and riffs. If anyone has heard of the Canadian indie band, Islands, you can imagine the sound of this band if you add a faster beat and enough volume and distortion to cause the chairs to vibrate in sync with the chords.

I am envious of the artistic freedom these bands have. Oftentimes, in my work, I pine to be more vibrant, avant-garde, flamboyant and variegated – but clients have their own desires and expectations that often rein my own intuition in. Of course, unless you happen to be Frank Lloyd Wright or Picasso, customers prefer their own designs over your unbridled artistry, so my creative leanings are not indulged as often as I would like. I suppose that is why I enjoy having this blog – I am able to indulge in writing purely for the sake of having a creative outlet. We may not have the readership of the some of the more mainstream blogs, but then again, we aren’t obligated to pursue certain topics in order to maintain a large readership. Neither Sergio or I are out to become the next Siskel and Ebert (though we’ve been kindly compared to them) – we quite simply like to write.

It seems to me that a great deal of commercially popular art is ruined once it becomes mainstream. Not because it becomes popular – I am always glad when an artist’s brilliance is recognized – but because, for the artist, delivering what is popular seems to eclipse simply creating and not giving a thought to whether or not it will be well received. There are, of course, notable exceptions – once-obscure Sufjan Stevens comes to mind (any Age of Adz fans?) –but by and large the sad tendency seems to be that popularity is not conducive to creativity.

It is encouraging, however, that there will always be deviants in art; artists who don’t do it for the accolades, the followers, the money or the ego, but simply for the love of creation. I’d like to think that I’m among them: if not always at work, then here on the blog and in my other artistic pursuits. Had the setting been a little more formal (and quiet), I think a toast would have been in order back at the club: to creating for creating’s sake; to making art true to your ideals. Here’s to true expression.

– Dom

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~ by Japan Blog Review on October 23, 2011.

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