Howler and the hometown hate debate

Howler_City_Pages_Cover.jpg
Let's turn this into a teaching moment.
Minnesota Give Up. No, that's not the title of Howler's next album, nor is it the slogan for the eyebrow-raising marketing campaign the band rolled out last week. But, if you were to read some of the things being bandied about on the interwebs about the interview that their baby-faced bandleader, Jordan Gatesmith, gave to the Guardian's Alex Petridis, you might think just that.

There's been considerable hand-wringing -- as well as some intelligent conversation -- generated by Gatesmith's interview, in which he had some less-than-flattering words for his hometown music scene. What he said doesn't exactly qualify as grounds for controversy, so given the touchy reaction of some folks, it's probably just the kind of bratty behavior the Twin Cities could use more of. Lest we forget, it's just the sort of thing a journalist like Petridis would love Gatesmith to say about our exotic little backwater town.

Earlier this morning Gatesmith had the opportunity to explain himself, and he struck a mature and contrite tone. Yet this episode once again brings to the fore a long-percolating subject of debate: Just how healthy is the Twin Cities music scene these days?

One of the funny things about Gatesmith's original comments -- beyond, of course, the curious fact that he singled out the 4ontheFloor -- is that he didn't really say anything new. Sure, there were the same old complaints about how long it's been since the Purple One and the 'Mats were doing their thing. Then again, who hasn't heard that dozens of times over? Far more compelling, and eloquent, was what Gatesmith had to say in an interview in January with Jim Walsh, where he wondered whether "Minneapolis is where dreams go to die."

Nonetheless, the response to his comments were swift. Over at the Current, Andrea Swensson wrote a nigh-on-seething blog post, wherein her relative lack of commentary was her harshest means of criticism. Meanwhile, Becky Lang threw her hat into the ring as well with an intriguing column over at the Tangential. Lang suggests that "what makes you famous in Minneapolis" boils down to two things: "Having a live show that people talk about and get social points for being at," and "having a lot of friends in the local journalism/music scene who will support you."

Oh no, she didn't!

Lang makes an interesting point, but she undercuts herself by speculating that "anywhere else," you only need to "have an interesting record" to be successful. Really? So the same can't be said of anyone in Brooklyn, or Chicago, or any other city? That's far-fetched, and somewhat naive.

What Lang is getting at, however, is the notion that the Twin Cities are too incestuous -- another oft-repeated criticism of the local music here. But this, too, has always seemed like a flimsy argument. First off, say what you will about how technology has wiped out the need for local scenes, but it remains true that musicians working with other musicians, artists with other artists, is healthy. Some of the best local music in recent years has happened through collaborations and "icky" cross-pollination.

And second off, if the scene seems too cliquey, well, making connections is a reality of almost any business -- and, like it or not, music is a business, and success a function of it. (Believe it or not, that's also true of Elite Gymnastics and, yes, Howler.) Hell, the real issue may just be that Minnesotans are bad businesspeople. The fact remains, however, that the musicians in this town are regular people, and they'll probably talk to you if you say hi. Same with us pesky journalists, in case anyone cares.

Perhaps a better way of phrasing things is to say that the Twin Cities are too insular. Gatesmith touches on this when he says, "They'll really build up these bands... that I will hate... And then, of course, nothing will happen outside Minneapolis for them." This, really, is the crux of the problem, the root of our self-consciously wondering whether anything is "wrong" with the music here -- our collective inferiority complex, you might say.

Once up a time, this was something Swensson herself referred to as "the Current effect," back when she was running this very blog. All things considered (pun intended), the local media have done a great job of trying to promote local talent. This is something to be grateful for, but unfortunately it has the tendency of becoming hyper-local and, sometimes, overly navel-gazing. The Current is a perfect example of this sort of double-edged sword: They even have a separate 24-hour local feed, but does our sense of that music ever get inflated and become too cheerleaderish?

(To be fair, it's radio. If a DJ were to say, "Up next, here are three shitty bands," it wouldn't really fit the format. Then again, Blitzen Trapper, Dawes, and the Avett Brothers are all boring. Mumford and Sons, too. But I digress.)


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22 comments
Matt
Matt

The TC music scene is lacking because there are TOO MANY TERRIBLE BANDS LIKE HOWLER that are cramming up every venue.  People here just want to hear music that they can easily ignore, music that won't distract them from getting drunk.  There are plenty of bands here in the TC making excellent, original and creative music, but crowds are terrible here.  Maybe they're just afraid to enjoy something that isn't pop-punk or the whiny indie band music leaking out of the Current's anus.  This is not a town that will reward you for doing something original.  If Prince knew what was going on he'd be pissed. 

David Brooks
David Brooks

Soul Asylum is far greater then Husker Du or the Replacements. 

Kmiller
Kmiller

I'm just going to copy paste the comment I made on the AV Club's "Does Howler Need Minneapolis?" story. Also, please don't measure the quality of a local music scene by huge genre changing acts. Where is the love for Craig Finn, Atmosphere, Peter Wolf Crier? Not all good artists win Grammys.

As a former Minneapolite living in New Orleans, I can assure you that our music scene is not exclusive at all. New Orleans is the size of Saint Paul with more venues than the entire state of Minnesota. Nightlife revolves solely around live music. You really think rebirth brass band and Kermit Ruffins are getting big gigs in Nashville and Kansas City? No. They are, however, huge in New Orleans. I think that Minneapolis has one of the least exclusive scenes in the country. Any white kid who listens to hip hop anywhere in the country knows who Brother Ali, Atmosphere, Eyedea and Abilities and recently Astronautalis, Who moved TO the cities to get a jumping off point for his career. Yes, people in Minneapolis do give unfair praise to bands just because they are from Minneapolis. The one thing people in Minneapolis need to realize is that Minneapolis is not that great and that our music scene is based more off of a communal sentiment of "we like music!" than actual good local music.

Rush
Rush

The aesthetics movement of the 19th and 20th century is more important than glam posturing.

REEDBOOKSMORE
REEDBOOKSMORE

PRESS LOVES TO HYPE ANYONE WITH A LISTENABLE SONG AND A PRESS SHOT. PERIOD.... WE CAN SMELL THE BULLSHIT.

& ELITE GYMNASTICS OWNS THIS TOWN.

Same old story.
Same old story.

Kids will be kids and none of this sounds even remotely different than any other scene I've been involved with, though I can't speak for other countries. 

Pinkerton
Pinkerton

this bro is 19 and awesome. hes so super smart too. he's had his finger on the pulse of the mpls music scene since he started howler in 2010. his comments should be taken super DUPER seriously, because he is so super smart. i can tell that because of his hair.

Jordan Drinks Swish
Jordan Drinks Swish

the only thing more homeless than this buck tooth fucks opinion is everyone else talking about it as if he is credible in anyway.homeless!

Mike
Mike

I agree with a lot of what Mr. Gatesmith has to say in the sense that it seems like local media music scene types (and bookers) seem to have their pets whom they lock into and promote constantly, while ignoring lots of other interesting acts.  I think Pink Mink is a much better example than 4ontheFloor.  From the moment they played a note, Pink Mink was given all kinds of praise for basically being made up of people who've been around "the scene" for a while. They are constantly held up as a best local band-type despite the fact that they are really not doing anything interesting and fit exactly Mr. Gatesmith's point in that there is no chance they would ever achieve any notoriety on a national level.  I don't have a beef with them or anything but there are tons of other talented folks doing interesting things here that deserve to be supported in terms of media coverage and gigs.

Randall Monroe
Randall Monroe

"Minneapolis is where dreams go to die." ??? Have you ever been to Reno, NV?

dddoofus
dddoofus

hilarious, this last year I found a stack of dusty local hard core zines at big brain from the late 90s that say pretty much the same thing. minneapolis needs to let go and get over of it's 80's past, the local seen is an incestuous circle jerk that needs a good does of criticism, except for the actual good bands that deserve more love and attention before it's too late. the only difference between the 20 year old snot nosed punks of the past and this guy is a lot of mentions of man afraid, harvest and the fox fire club.

Johnny
Johnny

As long as we're going to go with the 'effect' stereotype I'll chime in with the hipster/scenester/ADHA effect.  The 'scene' in MSP is so small (and prone to juvenile tantrums) that an equally small number of hipster/scenesters are able to make or break a band based on how much X everyone took that night.  Doesn't often have a lot to do with the talent or message of the band either.

Loog
Loog

I can't get over how much Howler sounds like the Minneapolis bands they dismiss in one fell sentence. You could drop a Bridge Club track on one of Howler's tween fans in the UK and they probably couldn't tell the difference.  

Becky Lang
Becky Lang

I don't think I was clear when I said that to get famous elsewhere you just need a good record. I didn't mean other cities only judge records. I meant that in any city, if you want to get famous elsewhere, you need a good record. 

Luke Darger
Luke Darger

Bands need room to grow, people can't hype something too much in infancy and expect it to go on to do great things. Great things come first, then hype. Forget half-baked side-projects and whatever is the latest gimmick. Having the "scene" whisper in your ear you're doing good is poison to actually making art. It's not going to be relevant or generate interest beyond the boundaries of the current's broadcast. 

Cbats
Cbats

Wonderful article! I'm not sure I agree with everything you said but I really appreciate you actually tackling the issue head on instead of just egging on a fight. I don't really have much to add but I will say this conversation was more fun when Elite Gymnastics was the one criticizing the scene because 1. their critiques were much better and 2. they're actually making original music. It kind of undercuts your argument when you sound exactly like every other buzz band covered in NME

R2
R2

that was totally EGz ^ ^

Josh
Josh

If you think all local "scenesters" and "tastemakers" do X you're not only dumb but out of touch with reality.

Cbats
Cbats

I think you nailed half of the problem with the scene here. We're way too paternalistic with our local bands. The other problem though is that this scene has a large inferiority complex and is trying too hard to convince the rest of the US that we're cool too. Whenever someone like Mumford gets popular, our scene's response is to point at our stuff and say "We've got that too!" The scene needs to be trying to shape the culture of music nationally by doing our own thing rather than reacting to it.

Guest
Guest

no it wasn't

Pickler
Pickler

i think maybe johnny just watched a 90's movie drugs in it. its all good. now wheres my x?

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