UTM Discuss: Separating The Art From The Artist

People are dicks, there’s no two ways about it. Whilst PRs, record labels and tabloids might want you to think that people in cool/successful bands are somehow above being terrible, terrible people; they would be wrong. Musicians, from the dingy basements of the underground to the dizzying hyper-technological utopias of the mainstream often say stuff that we individually – or as a society – abhor. Be it a transphobic comment on Twitter or a drunken declaration of white power at a gig, artists being dicks are everywhere and in the age of the Internet it’s almost impossible to get away from.

Being as it may, separating the individual artist from their art is essential. If we were to denounce an artist everytime they do/say something that doesn’t sync with our own personal ideology we would be joyless, amusical automatons, occasionally whacking out the Coldplay vinyl for special occasions. We at UTM don’t want this to happen, so we discussed the ins-and-outs of appreciating artists with problematic ideologies (i.e. who are massive cunts), so you don’t have to.

Is it easier to separate musicians from their art as opposed to filmmakers/actors/painters?

Connor: I think they’re all similar to an extent,  except maybe actors because you get a physical reminder. It depends on how much their views/actions actually bleed into their art.

Rich: There’s always artistic licence with this, if you can decipher someone actually saying racist things in music, there needs to be a certain context. A really simple example is that NWA weren’t literally shooting people with AKs; they were commenting on their environment, but it’s easier to misinterpret this with lyrics as opposed to it being depicted in a film.

Nathan: I think it’s probably harder to separate musicians. Mainly because they’re scrutinised in the media, but also because their music is, to a degree, an extension of themselves. Actors can portray a character, filmmakers an event… It’s not part of them that’s coming through.

What’s more important to you, the music, or the message of the music?

Connor: I’ve always gravitated to music more, especially because 80% of the time, lyrics are trash and messages are too forced.

Nathan: Definitely the music. I much prefer to focus on the feeling of the music as opposed to the lyrics. Sometimes songs trying to send a message can come off preachy.

Richard: For me, it’s all about the music. I don’t care if some black metal guy’s screaming about Atlantis and swastikas in his lyrics if the music is on point. There are racist dark ambient albums weirdly, Varg did a bunch.

Connor: Guitars can’t sound racist.

Nathan: How can one long brooding noise be racist?

Connor: Remove lyrics from music immediately!

Nathan : I’d sign that change.org petition.

Have you ever listened to and enjoyed music made by someone who was a terrible terrible person?

Connor: I’m sure many artists I’ve listened to have displayed awful views or done terrible stuff, but it’s easy to separate them from the art if they don’t place that in the lyrics. For example, Whirr are awful people and were super transphobic on twitter, but their lyrics are so indistinguishable (lol shoegaze). Their views don’t come into the music – I would happily listen to them again if they weren’t so mediocre.

Nathan: I guess Burzum counts due to the murdering and church-burning? Filosofem was so good, I really appreciated the method in which Varg recorded it – proper DIY lo-fi shit.

Richard: Filosofem is great, although listening to it there’s a huge ambient/techno influence, every noise just kinda blurs into one big noise, which kinda negates the racist lyrics if you have a good knowledge of electronic music.

Nathan: I can remember hearing that story about Mac DeMarco being a bit rapey at a show once… It really put me off listening to him. Although it’s true that everyone’s been a terrible person before and people can mature, It was more his actions afterwards that put me off. He didn’t really apologise and he got arsey when people mentioned it. I was annoyed at the fact that he didn’t fucking acknowledge his mistake.

Connor: Guitar music is full of awful people, every new flavour of the month  ‘indie’ band seems to be misogynistic.

Nathan: I won’t listen to a guitar unless it is looped and delayed for at least 10 minutes. So I can avoid scumbags.

Connor: I won’t listen to a guitar unless it’s sampled.

Richard: I won’t listen to a guitar without some sort of fx loop. Acoustic guitar just makes me angry cos it makes me think of SBTV’s A64 series.

Connor: We should change this discussion to “wow look how obscure we are, fuck you plebs.”

Is there any point caring when an artist like Phil Anselmo does a Nazi salute and then talks about how he’s not  a racist for 10 minutes?

Connor: I don’t even know who that is, Is he in Slipknot?

Richard: He’s the former lead singer of Pantera.

Nathan: I don’t know, it’s not really about Phil Anselmo for me. It’s the fact that he did that shit at a Dimebag memorial show, and that really muddies a dead guy’s memory and his music.

Richard: I think he may just be a stupid dude, sometimes  I wonder if he just does that stuff because he’s stupid.

Nathan: If we ever post about him, can we lead with “Stupid Dude Phil Anselmo…”?

Richard: Yeeees! His apology video was hilarious because his acting style reminds me of Julian from Trailer Park Boys.

Nathan: I don’t think there’s any point caring ​too​ much… the more time we give this idiot, the more he has a platform to do this stupid shit again.

Richard: Yeah it’s true, I think he may just be one of those people who isn’t really outwardly racist, but inwardly is, and gets drunk and does weird shit sometimes. His excuse was ‘we were drinking white wine beforehand’. Still pretty bad though.

Connor: If you’re racist while drunk, you’re still racist. Alcohol doesn’t change your viewpoints, it changes your judgement.

Richard: As long as he didn’t overtly bring it into his music I’ll still listen to it. Not that I’d listen to much of his music.

Connor: It’s always a severity of views/crimes vs how much it’s placed in their music in this situation.

What about when it comes to a serious case like Ian Watkins/LostProphets? Is there any way for a fan to ignore something like that?

Connor: There are some times when the artist’s crimes are so severe, you just can’t support the artist anymore.

Nathan: I think it’s safe to say none of us are fans, but look at it from a superfan’s perspective: your favourite band in the world becoming embroiled in something like that… I think it’d be difficult, but you’d try and separate Ian Watkins from the rest of the band and the music. You can’t ignore it, but you can’t let something that has defined your existence just vanish.

Connor: What if your favourite artist killed a man?

Richard: I think if an artist I liked did that, I’d probably stop buying their shit or supporting them in any way.

Connor: I think that would just completely spoil any enjoyment RiFF RAFF gives me tbh.

Richard: RiFF RAFF couldn’t do anything bad.

Connor: Like it’d always be at the back of my mind, so even if it’s not in the music, that person actions will always be associated with the music.

Ultimately, do you think we should all separate artists from their art?

Connor: Not all artists. There’s some cases where the artist places themselves in their art so much that removing them is impossible. Kanye’s lyrics would be totally confusing if you had no idea about his life and antics.

Nathan: I’d love it if we could separate art from artists. But the reality is that context is all too important, and we need artists to be linked to their work for meaning (Connor’s point about Kanye is the best example) otherwise the music drifts off into an existential vacuum.

Connor: I feel like there’s three kinds of artist here: Those who can be easily removed from the art, those who are their art and those whose art has to be forgotten because the deeds of the person are so awful.

Richard: We should separate art from artists. It’s kinda stupid just completely disavowing a band because someone’s a racist/egotist/sexist/horrible person, because you’re letting your personal beliefs get in the way of art… it’s just music, maaan.

Nathan: I’m scared of the possibility that a terrible person could make a sensational album, one that could define music for a long time, but the art for art’s sake would be ignored. The music is more important at the end of the day, right?

Connor: If you had to have every band mirror your personal beliefs, your iTunes would be very small. Only Morrissey for me.

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