Scribes Sounding Off: Get Your Pop Con On

Hey, check these out:

“Embrace The Martian: Hip-Hop, Outer Space, and Post-Gangster Subjectivity”

“Good Golly, Why Mali? Solving The Mystery of the Dominance of Malian Popular Music”

“On Lady GaGa, Disability, and the Technology of Stardom”

“Total Sonic Annihilation”

“Pre-Internet Teen Girl Bedroom Culture”

“Hank Shocklee… And The ‘Organized Noise’ Sound Culture of Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad”

“Mix Tape: The Culture of Compilation”

etc., etc.

Yes, it’s that time of year again. This month in Seattle, between the evening of Thursday, April 15, and late morning Sunday, April 18, the EMP|SFM will once more be hosting the 2010 Pop Conference. The theme this year is about The Pop Machine: Music and Technology — which just means a whole lot of fevered speculation with commence with with narrative blasts from the pasts.

I have many friends who ritually attend this mesmerizing convention of panels and presentations based on artist oeuvres, secret histories, and conspiracy theories given by academics, spiritual anarchists, sound scholars, corporate subversives, feminist historians, rock dreamers, pop schemata prophets, magazine heroes, blog studs, and website whiners. It is wholly unique, and often challenging, sometimes indulgent or exasperating, depending on who is creating a world out of their twenty or so minutes of pop culture storytelling and “fondling the mind-grapes.”

I know even more people who want to go but always feel unprepared to do so, maybe because the scene seems expert-heavy, due to their lifelong scribe-heroes are reading their revelations in the flesh. Every spring contemporary critics and crate-raters like Robert Christgau (Consumer Guide, Rolling Stone), Del Cowie (VIBE, XXL), Ann Powers (Los Angeles Times), Oliver Wang (Soul Sides), Carl Wilson (that incredible Celine Dion 33 1/3 book), Michaelangelo Matos (The Stranger and AV Club), Charles R. Cross (The Rocket, Backstreets, many rock autobios), Holly George-Warren (“Public Enemy No.1” about Hank Williams), Douglas Wolk (James Brown 33 1/3 and “Reading Comics”), Kurt B. Reighley (KEXP, No Depression), and many more are there. These and many other inspired journalists and authors moderate the panels, give illuminating assertions, and tangle up equally with civilians. There are plenty of insouciant inside jokes and semi-barbaric bon mots, but if you read enough music press (past or present), you should be laughing and rolling your eyes almost as much as anyone else there. And you will. If you go.

So this year, go. The Pop Con is sometimes casually described or dismissed as a high-brow verbal geek-orgy or extrapolative jackassery, but it is much more user-friendly than this reputation suggests. Casually stroll between the awesome panels described at the top of this page, and you will hear ideas about music and identity and the future that will tumble down through sites, magazines, and books you’ll read for years to come. Or even show up in the next wave of sounds you listen to (as many local and national performers attend and interact as well, and some of them are the analysts anyways).

appetite for self-destruction

Meanwhile, if you want to do some reading on one avenue of thought regarding the music scene (the business) or (the music scene’s) busyness, I heartily recommend Appetite For Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age by Steve Knopper. A Rolling Stone contributing editor, Knopper goes for the jugular in showing how progress made in the record industry often meant dystopian suffering for the consumer, from wasteful longboxes on CDs that cost tens of millions of dollars only to keep retailers from freaking out; to the millions boy band managers made while their creative clients took only thousands away from recordings and exhausting tours; how petty and wasteful lawsuits by the big five labels against confused and non-predatory downloaders has helped hasten the lingering slaughter of recorded music; and how those big labels actually caused consumer’s computers to crash on purpose in a wave of releases in 2005.

Starting with the attempt to destroy disco in the late 70s, and continuing with the heights that MTV and Michael Jackson brought to popular music awareness through the 80s, Appetite For Self-Destruction eviscerates many myths about what actually kept the big boys in the business going long past their natural extinction date. The waste is a sad thing to consider, but the book is also empowering in that it celebrates alternative choices swarming out at the end of the struggle between expression and commerce.

The EMP Pop Con this year isn’t strictly about business, but it wouldn’t hurt to bone up on this aspect of technology in a book this well-written and on the side of the music fan (not surprising, as it is published by Soft Skull, comrade of proletariat reading fiends everywhere).

Then get ready for O-Dub interviewing Dave Tompkins on the history of the vocoder! And “Girl In A Coma Tweets ChicanaFuturism”! And “Karaoke And Authenticity”! And “Dr. Dre’s G-Funk in Post-Rebellion L.A.”! And “The Digital Glossolalia of Todd Edwards and DJ Koze”! And see you mid-April for a whole lot of exciting et al.

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