The internet. It’s completely transformed the metaphorical landscape of the modern world in almost every way imaginable. It provides so much, allows you to see and do so many things, to the point where we take it for granted, but it comes at a cost – we’re all incredibly reliant. You might think that’s a grandiose statement bordering on a soliloquy, but think about all of the times in a day that you use the internet in all it’s different avenues; it’s an undeniable necessity of modern life.
With all that it gives, we don’t think about what it takes away – consensus is the amount of time forfeited to the internet. There’s no doubt more than meets the eye, and the focus of this feature is the effect of the internet on the music industry – streaming and file sharing are slowly yet surely killing off traditions such as physical releases and record stores, but an often overlooked victim is the local music scene. The main offenders aren’t solely to blame here, music discovery and the opportunity for it on the internet is phenomenal, but does that mean that local music scenes exist anymore, or has the internet claimed another victim?
The local music scene as we know it is a concept nearing extinction thanks to the possibility for music discovery online via platforms such as Spotify, SoundCloud and the Hype Machine which can make and break entire genres online (are you a fan of dubstep in 2017? Really?). Localised scenes were unique cultural microclimates breeding new offshoots of genres and pushing current ones forward. Seattle took post-punk, psychedelia, and hard rock into their flannel-clad melting pot and created grunge as we know it. Liverpool took 50s rock and roll, pop and dressed it up in a suit in the 60s with Merseybeat – a genre perhaps not recognised in modern popular culture but puts The Beatles at the forefront. They’re self perpetuating as well, the early 90s saw Manchester take the “beat music” ball and run with, swapping the suit for a parka and creating one of the UK’s best loved and internationally recognised genres: Britpop.
With every argument there’s a counter argument, with each modern concept introduced, an old and unnecessary one retires. Is there a need for localised music scenes when you have essentially every song, artist and album under the sun accessible from what you keep on you the most: your smartphone? Your taste has never had the opportunity to be so diverse.
However, there’s even a counter to this: the amount of choice the internet provides can be bewildering at times and there’s something to be said about localised scenes in the past making that choice for you somewhat and tuning your music tastes accordingly. It also plays into the tribe mentality concept of the human desire to be part of something bigger than themselves. The definition of the local scene has completely changed thanks to the involvement of the internet, artists have the ability to reach out to musically like-minded people the world over, but that’s just it – you might find an audience online but they could be spread across the world while these older local scenes thrived on not having the choice that the internet provides.
From the artist’s perspective, there are pros and cons too. The internet allows for control at every level which is an incredible concept in a creative industry – having complete control on their vision and how it should be executed. You no longer have to rely on a record label, management or even performing live to get recognition as an artist. This has resulted in the internet being saturated with artists and musicians all after their 15 minutes of fame, which makes standing out from the crowd an even bigger mountain to climb. This is the basis on how the internet makes and breaks genres – artists so keen to stand out from the crowd are constantly innovating and taking the sound forward but moving too quickly with it. To use the same example as before, a genre mostly localised to internet, dubstep (I’m using the term loosely here, Croydon purists) exhausted itself by starting out with a small pallet of sounds and struggled to break free from those shackles with every bedroom producer trying to be the next Skrillex. Who can blame them though, it was the “it” genre of its time but has unfortunately stayed there, while grunge, Merseybeat and Britpop will likely live forever.
The new may replace the old but it doesn’t wipe out these old recognisable traditions completely, especially if they work. Blogs and online publications have replaced the magazines you’d find in your local record store, music discovery platforms have replaced trawling through their CD racks, and even localised scenes can even exist in some degree on the internet too. Australia for example, has a huge scene for innovative and forward thinking electronic music, with acts like Flume and Alison Wonderland charting consistently.
Who knows where music and the local scene will be as the internet moves forward, it may disband completely but with culture being as cyclical as it is, perhaps we’ll see a revival in ten years time comparable to the one that vinyl is seeing now.