In a city where the exhausted 9-to-5ers are preparing to flush their systems of administrative drivel with alcopops, the creative arts kids of the Solents and Trents are preparing their mouldy, unconscionably-priced student house for another DIY show.
The starchy sofa has been pushed up against the wall, MacBooks have been stowed away in locked bedrooms, and the ‘stage’ is little more than a cramped corner in the living room, sometimes strewn with fairy lights in an attempt to dress up the depressing décor. Amidst the commotion of unaware spectators, a band finishes tuning up and impulsively starts their set. This is ‘The Scene’.
Emerging from the emo revival of the 2010s, ‘The Scene’ comprises of (mostly) middle class white boys with small town suburban blues crying over lost love. They worship bands such as Citizen, The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, and Title Fight. Their URL home: the Emo/Grunge group on Facebook. Their mantra for life: “Support The Scene”.
From an outsider’s perspective, the level of obsession these people have with their community is so ludicrous that ‘The Scene’ has become a joke breaching meme-worthy territory. To the people within the scene, however, this is their life. To support the scene is to positively engage with and promote the DIY ethic both IRL and on the Internet – going to friends’ shows, reading fanzines, and sharing photos/events on social media. Positivity and supporting the scene are inseparable.
Supporting the scene is so embedded into the culture that it becomes a problem when faced with criticism. Commenting on a band’s work without “posi-vibes” leads to a backlash of Orwellian semi-censorship: “you’re not supporting the scene” and comments on intelligence and gender are common retorts. For a creative person, the situation becomes more difficult as most people in the scene are also writers/photographers/promoters/bands. They use each other for their own gain, which isn’t a problem until it becomes circle-jerk of mutual acceptance from peers and friends. A critical comment about a band is like an invading virus to the scene’s system, and the people rush like white blood cells to eradicate the foreign body.
After making such a comment on a band, not only will that band sever ties with you, but some other band won’t work with you because you offended their friend, then that photographer won’t let you use their photos because they don’t want to be affiliated with you. It quickly becomes hard to be a creative professional with a critical mind, because if you can’t support the scene, then you can’t be a part of it.
This bullshit, myopic support for the scene ultimately leads to stagnation. Having no room for honest criticism means there’s little progress in the music, preventing innovation and perpetuating middle class mediocrity – like being congratulated for coming fifth in a six-person race. It creates a false atmosphere of companionship and solidarity, which the scene prides itself on.
I know this because I recently had an experience with the scene when I wrote an unimpressed review of an album. The initial negative response didn’t come from the band, but from one of their friends who, unsurprisingly, was in another band. I had no problem with the criticism of my writing, but what I did take issue with was people telling me what I could and couldn’t criticise. The situation became Nick Young-levels of confusing when the band’s record label tried to become the journalism police. According to them (and others), journalists shouldn’t criticise lyrics because they are “personal”.
In the history of pissy bands misunderstanding a journalist’s role, this has got to be the most absurd. But don’t get it twisted – this kindergarten behaviour negatively effects the community.
Journalists shouldn’t censor themselves or be coerced into giving favourable reviews because it’s the will of the band. They should be able to (and have a duty to) post an honest review without strong-armed interference from anyone but their commissioning editor. For the scene itself, it’s troubling because certain pillars of the community hold too much power. It is no one’s job (except, arguably, IPSO) to tell people what they can and can’t write.
In an ostentatious community like this, the music comes second to conformity. If the scene was as supportive as it says it is, then people wouldn’t have to pander to its middle class mediocrity. Actual support involves criticism, and the ability to listen to that criticism without taking it to heart is essential to bettering yourself and your art.
The mainstream music industry is brutal, but this isn’t any better. ‘The Scene’ is supposedly a creative community, but its creativity is dominated and subdued by its own conventions. For the sake of people within the scene wanting to do this seriously, they have to realise how the industry works and embrace criticism, or run the risk of becoming the running joke of the music industry.