My Review of “Now That’s What I Call Mabson, Vol. 7” (of which I am a contributor):
A few days ago Kyle Mabson released his 7th compilation of “remixes” or “covers” or “versions” of top 40 hits to bandcamp. He calls for entries using social media tools and people he knows or doesn’t know submit tracks. He accepts every submission he gets and the song order is determined by the order he receives the submissions. My band, extreme animals, contributed a track. I have been wanting to write about these compilations for a while because they really make me think, so here goes:
In the year 2000 I moved to Boston, MA. There was a CD-R compilation series that was being produced in Boston at the time called “Mish Mash Mush“. I liked this compilation series because of the mystery surrounding them. The artist’s names were mostly completely unknown to me and everyone else in the world. They were long and challenging releases, usually lasting about 74 minutes each. Every cd-r had a crazy new list of artists I knew I would probably never hear from again, because artists were changing their names for every new release–it seemed un-trackable and chaotic. . . . the music came out of nowhere and disappeared as quickly as it came . . . Being anonymous and cryptic was not a publicity stunt done by artists to get people to pay more attention to them, but was a fact of life for all of us, that was embraced and amplified through our art. . . It should also be asserted that this was when I lived in the shadows of Forced Exposure (where challenging, lengthy and impenetrable releases were the norm). We had all just heard Jandek for the first time. . .
Above is a track-listing from another Compilation series called “Real Slow Radio” which came out of Providence around the same time. Anyway, fast forward to 2012 when Mabson started this series. Despite the radical shifts that have occurred since 2000 in musical interests, popular culture and media distribution, there are some similarities between Mabson’s releases and the “Mish Mash Mush” series, and this is what makes these compilations stand out to me. They seem to offer an alternative to the “if it’s not something I have already heard of/from a reputably curated online destination/immediately mind-blowing, then I will close the tab” mentality that dominates media consumption on phones and laptops.
The idea of “going viral” while in some ways is a productive model, is just as problematic. This is why I call internet art “the dark arts.” My take on the “dark arts” will have to wait for another time, but in relation to this little blog post what I am talking about is an acceptance by many artists today that self-promotion (and often self-glorification) is an undeniable part of being an artist. And that the ultimate goal of self-promotion would be to get “as big as possible” while still maintaining integrity–for financial reasons as well as to fulfill some kind of conceptual pop art dream . . . I rarely hear it questioned that artists should want to reach as many people as possible with their output, and that they should produce consistent quality content that is easy to google, blog and re-blog. This is a critique/questioning of myself as much as it is a critique/questioning of my peers.
I’m thinking about how the way artists use the internet has at times added a challenge to cut-throat capitalism, but that just as much their use of the web has also re-invented cut-throat capitalism in perhaps even more insidious ways. I have mixed feelings about competition and ambition but in general I do not like things to become so unanimous that they become unquestioned. . . It’s challenging for me because I feel like as soon as I started thinking about self-promotion, technology and culture had changed around me to re-affirm this as an almost omni-present reality. As my creative models moved out of child-hood into a teenage narcissism, so did the internet . . . It is probably impossible to sort out the chicken from the egg with issues like these but somehow it feels good to write them down.
The spirit I see within Mabson’s compilations updates the things I found exciting about “Mish Mash Mush” to the concerns of 2013. These tracks and the compilations in general are too unwieldy, inconsistent, amature-ish and confusing to fit into all the supposed models of affirmation the “glossy” web thrives on. This is not to say they can’t be written about–I’m doing it now, there have been at least a couple of other reviews. I’m just saying they don’t fit the mold of the “successful” 2013 online release as it has been defined by boutique culture blogs. This is not an easy to digest, hyper-curated package of cutting edge, expertly produced tracks which helps to define a particular cultural moment.
I guess in summary what I am trying to say is just that to me it is really important to remember that blog-ability doesn’t create value. The value I get from Mabson’s compilations is not about it’s ability to “reach” people. It’s an experience of 2013 chaos, troll-humor, and confusion within a digital landscape that is desperately trying to organize itself, to filter out “the noise” or “the waste”. I have always been inspired by waste, trash, or the discarded, and will continue to seek it out, whatever that means. Even if it gets harder and harder to find as we try our hardest to “clean up” the web . . .