Where is the underground?

Today, I went down to the used record store and sold a bunch of old DVDs, VHS tapes and records. To keep them seems pointless. With Spotify, my record collection is 1 million times bigger than it ever was. And I can always sign up for something like Netflix and expand my movie collection by the same amount.

Still, I was looking over the store’s records and CDs and reminded of the time when the physical representation of music actually meant something. A band would really struggle to put out a 45. I remember the first CD I was involved in (the debut CD from the classic Seattle funk rock band Dr. Zoom) and that felt like a real accomplishment.

Now, this record store had a lot of punk rock records. These records were produced by bands that stayed under the radar of mainstream America or for years, in some cases for their entire careers. Bands like Gang Green, The Mentors, The Adolescents etc. My disparaging views on punk rock are well known (though I am a fan of The Mentors) but I have a certain respect these kinds of groups that dedicated themselves to keeping the currents of subculture moving.

Now, a while back I asked “who is the Devo of today?” My point being: where is a band with similar quirkiness and gravitas. While I was looking at the records for these punk rock bands today, I thought, “Maybe the question is really bigger. Where is the underground of today? Where is the punk rock, the thrash metal, the hippie culture etc. of today? Does any of that or some equivalent exist?” Certainly, there’s still a punk rock scene, I guess there’s still a hippie scene, there’s still some kind of underground… but I think even the people in those scenes will concede that their best days are behind him.

So why would this be? Well, back in the 1960s, the 70s, the 80s etc. the “mainstream” (by which I mean the corporations in the entertainment business) was a kind of omnipotent force. The mainstream moguls were the gatekeepers for any kind of music or movies of significant budget. They ran the three television networks. There was one video network. They were the overground, and they were what the underground was against. In present day, of course, the mainstream is in disarray (because of the Internet, the ease of self production etc.) And in a sense, the weakening of the corporate giants weakens the underground. The underground was kind of like David to Goliath. If suddenly the Goliath is looking pretty sickly, then David is no longer needed.

So I guess we’re seeing a shifting of the various forces of culture. It used to be the powerful mainstream versus the feisty but ghettoized underground. Now I think there are many interweaving cultural forces, tides rising and ebbing.

I bet it’s weird to be a teenager today.

3 Responses to “Where is the underground?”

  1. John Saleeby

    I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a teenager today.

    I’ve been thinking lately about how cool it would be to make a Movie about teenagers where it was impossible to tell what decade it was set in. A new Movie about adolescents come out and all anybody talks about is “The Seventies were the BEST!!!”, “The Eighties’ SUCKED!!!”, and all that shit. Just once there should be a High School Movie with NO POP MUSIC AT ALL and no specific fashion trend stuff so then we can all pay attention to the story and the characters without having to listen to idiots saying stuff like “Nobody played The Sex Pistols at parties in the Seventies! If you had played play crap all the girls would have gotten bummed out and left! This Movie is STOOPID!!!”

  2. Wil

    What would be funny is a movie that appears to be set in the eighties. But ultimately you realize that it’s the 2180s and American is caught up in a 1980s retro movement.

  3. John Saleeby

    R.E.M., The Replacements, and Husker Du are CYBORGS!!