Trends With Benefits

I went out to a show the other night. A bunch of local bands. I don’t get out to this kind of show as much as I used to. It would be convenient to blame my advancing age, but my interest in whatever is going on at the moment has always gone in waves.

When I do go out, it’s usually to support a friend. A few people I know were involved in this bill, but more than anything there was something about the show that made me curious. As it turned out I was not alone in this; it was the kind of show where “everybody who’s  anybody” was in attendance.

The much-vaunted “Montreal music scene” is very driven by trends. No doubt that’s also true elsewhere, but it’s particularly acute here. With four universities and a very particular culture that isn’t for everyone, it’s a city with a lot of turnover. (For the purposes of this piece, I’m being diplomatic and not addressing the fickle tastes of the local hipsterati).

Clearly this particular night was very of the moment. Last time I checked (there’s a good probability that I missed one or more trends in between), the tendence du jour was towards excessive orchestration and spirited group singalongs. Today, the hot new thing is a kind of dark, lo-fi synth pop, ideally with a singer on a goth/Kate Bush tip, slathered in reverb.

A lot of people are cynical about trends. And that’s understandable. I sometimes feel the same way myself; it’s hard not to. But there’s something that fascinates me about them too. What is it that makes something so virally desirable at a given moment? Obviously if anyone knew, they’d bottle it and sell it—and so much lame and futile effort is put into trying to figure out that elusive formula and take it to the bank.

As I stood at the show, watching the bands doing their thing, I could already imagine the dismissive comments from several of my more cynical friends (and, sometimes, the voices in my own head). At the same time, everyone there was genuinely enjoying themselves. Musically, maybe there was a bit of a conformist impulse going on, but maybe people just found themselves doing a similar thing and joined forces.

I remember the feeling of just going along, doing my thing, then suddenly realizing that I was part of something bigger going on, that suddenly a bunch of people were paying attention—and having fun. Eventually people move on to other things and the moment passes. But when the moment is happening, it’s kind of beautiful.

A few years ago, some music critics on the “poptimist” tip advanced the notion that if certain songs or genres were only relevant to the moment, not destined for immortality, there was nothing wrong with that. At first I found this idea quite provocative and odd. Making art for the ages, not for the fleeting moment, is such an ingrained part of the artistic mentality. (Plus it’s a handy way to justify what you’re doing when you feel unappreciated in your own time).

But the idea has started to grow on me. After all, what is there but the present…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *