Saturday, February 19, 2011

IN DEFENSE OF THE BLOCK: My Response to a Daily Universe Article About Provo Music

Earlier today I was shocked to see the online buzz among the Provo music community over an article published in the Daily Universe about the “exclusiveness” of the Provo music scene, or as my friends and I call it, 100Block. At this point, I hadn’t even read the article, I was simply shocked over the fact that BYU's Daily Universe, known for it’s sparse (if not bland) coverage of Provo music had anyone talking at all. Then I actually read the article.

As a person who has been a participant, observer, and employee of Provo music for nearly a decade, I thought I would add my opinion to those floating around the 100Block-o-sphere over the contents of this article.

At first glance I was amused by the inaccuracies I saw in this piece, although I think the reaction to it was a little over the top. As I thought about it, I realized it wasn’t so much the article that was flawed as it was the musicians who were quoted in it.

The article actually represents a common misconception among many Provo musicians: that the Velour scene is a fiercely competitive popularity contest that can only be won by a combination of 1) being “indie-folk” and 2) being “connected”/networking with the “right” “people” (?). After a long and bitter fight, these Provo musicians become jaded and give up on their lifelong dream of headlining a Velour show (“I didn’t wanna play there anyway!”), turning instead to bashing Velour and any band who plays there.

At this point I should probably mention that I played in a pop-punk band for 5 years and have been doing a rap group for the past 2 years; also, I’m an employee of Muse Music Café. Given those credentials, I am quite possibly the polar opposite of this supposed “Indie-Folk Velour aesthetic”. So you’d think I’d be the ringleader of the bitter Velour-bashers mentioned above, right?


I’ve had no problem getting shows at Velour since the venue opened in 2006. Velour doesn’t favor bands that are “indie-folk” or “alt-country”. It favors bands that are good. It favors bands that try (a very non-indie trait, in my opinion). And let’s not forget that while it’s books may look more like those of a non-profit, it is still a business. They favor bands that promote and draw a crowd.

Getting back to the Daily Universe article, and where I believe it goes wrong, we need to look at one of the primary sources for the article: a member of the local band, Red Orange.

Let me make it clear that I have nothing against this band or its members. In fact, I saw them play at Muse Music just last weekend. It was their first show (sorry bands; I don’t count playing the Raintree clubhouse or your ward talent night as a “show”). They were great though. The place was packed. I am fully confident that if they kept it up, they could be co-headlining with Eyes Lips Eyes at Velour six months from now (how the Daily Universe article affects that momentum remains to be seen).

It seems like this new band jumped the gun in making such broad generalizations about Provo music. In a way, they sealed their own fate as a potentially great Provo rock band who thought “the scene” was out to get them. Buying into the myth that Velour is an uphill battle for bands like them, they are now perpetuating that myth to other musicians. And they haven’t even played a 2nd show yet.

I don’t know Lizzie Jenkins, the reporter who wrote the Daily Universe article, but I’m sure she’s a fine writer who was just trying to fill an assignment, not knowing the can of worms she was opening among diehard Provo music enthusiasts. She could have perhaps talked to some more bands, though; maybe ones who have played more than one show on 100Block.

In a way, though, I do admire Ms. Jenkins. Rather than write the same vanilla articles about Provo music that are published year after year by the Daily Universe (with the exception of Spencer Flanagan’s brief stint at the DU culture desk, a breath of fresh air indeed!) she tried to dig deeper and find something newsworthy. I admire her intentions. How many DU writeups about a local band just skim the surface, with a headline that goes something like: “(______) Plays Gig in Provo, Seeks New Fans”?

What I’m saying is that, contrary to what many of my Facebook friends are suggesting, Ms. Jenkins should keep writing. Dig deeper. There are so many great stories to be told about Provo music.

Let’s tell those stories! Neon Trees are touring the world. Fictionist are on the verge of being on the cover of Rolling Stone. Neither band can be described as “indie-folk”. There is no truth to the imaginary rivalry between Muse and Velour. I work at Muse and play shows at Velour. Corey Fox owns Velour and buys sandwiches from Muse’s café (he and his sound guys are our best customers!)

I'll admit, sometimes I have a hard time getting my rap group on the shows I want to be on. When I try and open for a band, only to get the reply of “we’re in the studio, not playing shows right now”, only to see that band announce a big show at Velour two weeks later, of course I get bummed! But that doesn’t mean that something’s wrong with them, or with Velour. It means that I need to work harder, and that’s exactly what I will do.

If you don’t want to put any work into your music, then I believe there’s an opening for you at the Raintree clubhouse next Friday, they’d love to have you play.


Elisabeth said...

Thanks for posting such an awesome commentary on the DU article! Being a huge local music fan myself, I was a bit saddened to see the bashing going on in the article, and was confused at the statement that only indie-folk bands are making it. I'm not the biggest fan of indie-folk music, so I don't go to those shows too often, but I still have plenty of sold-out or just packed shows that I frequent. I agree that the writer didn't do the best job of getting a good representation of the scene, but it was nice to see an article. And maybe the controversy will cause more people to check it out.

Kent said...

Nice job Chance. I was at Muse on Thursday night for The Var Sequence and ended up broadcasting your set as well as theirs via Utah Valley Live. Muse, Velour, Johnny B's, old Muse, Starry Night...I've been to all of them, usually with video camera rolling on one or both of my sons (Side Dish, Var Sequence) and have always enjoyed the scene. You hit the nail on the head when you said the venues want good bands...or at least bands that draw.

Jack Mergist said...

Very nice write up, Chance. I totally agree with you. As a part of an "up and coming band" in the provo music scene, it wasn't long before we realized that our own success is up to us. I wouldn't label our band as "indie/folk", and the local venues are more than happy to help us if we can show them that we take our music seriously and work hard. I think we're lucky to have a place like "100block" to play real shows on weekends and not have to exclusively tour bars until we can book the closest house of blues.

Alex said...

Great post. It seems like the DU article was pretty slanted and trying to side with "the underdog," but the writer didn't do enough research to realize that the music scene is definitely not as exclusive as Mr. Red Orange thinks.
I actually just got accepted to the print journalism program at BYU; I'm not sure when I'll start writing for the DU but I hope you guys will like me as much as Spencer. He is a cool dude.

Chance Clift said...

Thanks for the feedback, everyone.

Alex, that's great you're in journalism at BYU. I was a Comms major once upon a time at BYU, and back then, everyone in the major was required to take Comm 321, the class that basically consists of writing for the DU. Back then, you got assigned to which section you wrote for, but I've heard that since then that has changed.

The thing about writing about local music for a school paper is, if you treat it like many BYU student treats most things (that is, do what you need to do to get an A; no more, no less) then you will fail at capturing the vibe of Provo music. What made Spencer great was that he actually went to shows (not just on assignment).

From what little I know about you, Alex, I'm sure you'll do great because you're already immersed in the local music community as it is.

And Jack, seeing The Lunatic gives me hope that there is still, and always will be, room for good rock bands in Provo. Everybody always complains about there not being enough rock bands in Provo, but not enough people are actually going out and starting one! So kudos to anyone out there who does!

Deane O'Connor said...

Glad to see you posting on here again Chance. Keep up the good stuff and keep me informed. Lord knows I can't count on the DU to do that for me.