By Alex Tebeleff
As my friend Ben from the DC bands Br’er and Pree likes to say, “kicking against the pricks.” It’s a quote he took from Nick Cave that actually was originally said by Jesus in the Bible, and it’s the essential idea behind what we call resistance. The relationship between music and resistance was highlighted last night in a show we played together in Clemson, SC.
If you’ve ever been to Clemson, you know the entire city revolves around college athletics, particularly the football team. It has a religious fanaticism about it that is also echoed in many other college cities. For example, walk into the local Bi Lo in Clemson, and you are immediately visually assaulted by team color coordinated soda cans spelling the word Tigers. It’s everywhere, and it’s what most people in town first talk about when they have a conversation during football season.
Post Bi Lo, we went to a play a house show set up by some people from the Clemson radio station (god save college radio!), and it was just as immediately obvious that the relationship to music for the people attending the show was that of a reaction against what they found to be the boring and mind numbing obsession with sports that dominates the culture of the city. It was spoken about openly, “this town sucks,” but people seemed very happy and open in this environment. It was a place they could join together with other like-minded thinkers in town and experience the consciousness alteration that live music can provide.
Now, I’m actually a big sports fan, particularly in support of DC’s own professional football team, so I understand it’s something people grow up on. Following sporting functions is a big way that families communicate, it’s a huge part of tradition for many in America. But if that’s all you have in your life, something will be deeply missing in your spirit. These kids are resisting the overwhelming conservative culture in this city that’s most strongly exemplified by an all encompassing traditional sports culture, craving something that they can connect with and gain more out of life from. When taken to this level, sports eliminates most other ways of relating to each other, leaving those who aren’t interested to be pushed out as an outcast minority socially. Sports and music don’t have to be opposed to each other, but in this relationship, when interest in creativity is marginalized and sports is religion, music functions as a means of community creation and as a means of achieving personal understanding and meaning.
The content and energy of substantive music helps to bring the self-awareness that the kids in Clemson at this show were looking for. It can act as a way to bring like-minded open people together, but also to bring a better understanding of themselves and the world around them to new people who haven’t had that experience. This is where resistance can grow. The psychedelic and folk movements of the 60’s that grew out of the ideas of the beats, the punk movement of the 70’s, and the diverse alternative underground movements that grew out of punk in the 80’s, are just a few regularly referenced examples of periods of time where music grew out of a resistance to stale, thoughtless culture, and fought against it as it grew. Even in mass popular culture, Nirvana, for example, was no accident; people were craving something with real feeling. They wanted that emotional connection, they wanted the release of the personal freedom and awareness that comes with that connection.
I see the music scene in DC in a pretty similar light to Clemson currently, though it’s certainly a lot bigger and at a different stage of development, partly relating to the ideas of resistance espoused by many great DC bands historically that still hold a pull on the consciousness of many of those making music in the city. Obviously, groups like Fugazi and Nation Of Ulysses made intelligent, emotional, and physically gripping music that I certainly believe to be timeless. But the time it was made in only allowed it to reach a certain group of people who were already looking for something.
With the Internet and it’s (admittedly muddy) mass of information that’s now accessible, there’s at least a chance for music of substance in this city to reach an even wider audience locally in a positive way, and I already see it happening. The professional scene, both politics and otherwise in DC, can be downright poisonous. It’s not just a grind, the values that people promote for “success” in that world run counter to almost every fundamental value that historical wise men such as the aforementioned Jesus spoke of to help people find a fulfilling life. I’ve been blown away to see the number of people in the professional world start going to house shows in DC over the past four years. They come looking for an emotional release, for positive stimulation after what can be a boring day, for a community that’s grounded in values that actually promote a healthy, self-aware, growing life.
People are also looking for real fun too. Getting drunk at bars is just not enough to gain the kind of social and personal fulfillment that most people crave, whether people are aware of it in themselves or not. I’m not against partying as some of you reading this will know well, but the context means everything. Are you using the alcohol, or is it using you? Do you go out to drink to hide from your day, or is it merely a means to let loose a little after a rough day so you can feel open to the night? It’s why the kids in Clemson who found themselves through music can’t accept just getting wasted and watching football in a bar as the main outlet for their social life, and it’s why the positive community aspect and the increasing substance behind the music from the local scene in DC is bringing more people to shows than I’ve ever seen.
Ben later said to me, “Resistance is like an unmovable object that’s rooted in the ground and part of the earth, and you have a living creature in existence that’s trying to free itself furiously from the trappings and confines of it.” The crazy thing is, if you fight furiously enough, the object can begin to be moved, even in places with as repressive of a culture as Clemson or DC. These are the places that need resistance the most!
Shows This Week (Sorry for the lack of descriptions! Tour is keeping me from doing almost everything I’m “supposed to be doing”):