7 June 2015
Frank Carter stands on the bar at the back of the room. With one hand he steadies himself against the low roof, with the other he clutches the microphone, the wire winding its way over the top of the audience, back to the stage. The atmosphere is akin to what would happen if you shut the door to your kitchen and left a pan of salty water to boil until it burnt.
“I had a really hard year” he says.
“Within the space of about a month, both me and my girlfriend lost our jobs. Then we found out we were expecting our baby.”
“And then we lost someone.”
“I didn’t know how to process all this, what to do with myself, so I started writing again. Every day, words and sentences, until they started resembling songs. I called up my friend Dean over there” – he gestures over to the guitarist – “and we started meeting every Wednesday.”
“First we had 3 songs. Then in a month we had 18. This is one of them; it’s about what happens when you lose someone.”
He and his band then launch into something loud, emotional but above all authentic. You can tell that he means every word, every spitted syllable.
There’s almost an irony, though, in calling him “authentic”. Such is the aspiration in almost all forms of marketing – music included – to be covered in a varnish of authenticity when you get faced with the real deal it feels wrong to lump it in with all the wannabes. We have subconsciously redefined the word “authentic” to inherently imply a certain level of cynicism.
This go-to marketing crutch is all around us. I’m writing this in a cafe in East London, the spiritual home of in-quotes-authenticity. On the wall is blazoned an artsy piece of copywriting detailing the precise way they roast their ethically sourced coffee beans. It is written on a chalk board, because they are a small cafe who don’t have the resources for printed signage. The food is served in vintage plates. Everything is just so. “We are the antithesis of a chain coffee shop” it screams.
They’ve just opened another – identical – cafe just up the road. It has the same professionally handwritten chalk board. The same aesthetic designed to make you, the customer, feel like you are getting a more genuine, “better”, experience.
“Authentic” is no longer authentic. It is now a brand value. A concept to be used to help sell something, a concept overused and overused until it barely means anything. My shower gel has a load of marketing speak on it presenting its authentic credentials. So does my orange juice. So does my tooth paste.
This is a big problem if you are someone like Frank Carter: genuinely authentic. This is one of the founding blocks that music is built on – music can touch people in a way that nothing else can, and being true and creating a genuine emotional connection is how it does it. But if we are being slowly trained to have an instinctive distrust of new things thrust in front of us, will it still be able to do that on such a deep level?
There has been a lot made recently about how there are fewer massive, festival headlining new artists coming through then there used to be. Now, whether that is true or just another take on “it used to be better back in my day” is of course up for debate, but if it is true I wonder if this is part of the cause? Maybe artists now struggle to make as deep a connection with a wide group of people as they used to, because those people are so exposed to things claiming to be authentic that the concept has lost its power. They are exposed to new music day in day out, more then ever before, in short bursts of YouTube plays and skipped spotify playlists, having less and less chance to penetrate the cynicism barrier that modern marketing has created. And less and less chance to make a real, genuine connection.
This ties in with the rise and rise of the singles chart. People still love music, and they still love individual tracks maybe more so then ever. But there’s nothing more then that, no deeper connection, because they’re not buying into the artist. They glance across the surface, and then move on to something else.
Back to Frank, then. In the next song he tries to get the audience to lift him up, briefly standing straight upwards on top of the crowd like a colossus. “Don’t drop me you fuckers” he barks, teetering backwards and forwards, left and right.
“Don’t drop me!”
Moments later – inevitably – they do, and he crashes to the ground. Hopping back on to the stage he grabs the mike:
“You guys had one job…”
I remember having a conversation with a manager a few years back. It wasn’t an easy meeting. Throughout he was leaning forward in his seat, rocking slightly back and forth, his dissatisfaction with the situation physically manifesting with every sentence.
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