overground scene


The underground in the internet age

Can we speak of the “underground” scene today? How do we define the underground scene? For how long is it possible for something, anything, to remain in the underground with the rampant expansion of the internet?

What does “underground” really mean? Is it defined by the number of people listening to the bands, or by the prospect of becoming well known? The latter means that a band might deliberately want to be underground and, therefore, do not pursue a contract with a record company. Whether or not a band is signed is crucial in terms of how much underground that band is. Record companies are utility maximisers and are interested in promoting their bands the best way possible. Hence a band, regardless of how good or bad it is, once signed has the prospects of becoming known because record companies have methods to achieve it. A record company might call itself an indie company or whatever, but has various reasons to earn more. For instance a record company that produces or distributes “anarchist” hardcore punk bands like Tragedy, or Aus Rotten and so on, is probably interested in making them known because that will alow it to sign and produce more bands that will allow them to spread the message to the world. So, if a band gets signed it is potentially a mainstream band. However, there are record companies that are unable to promote their bands or that go bankrupt. So their bands might not make it to the mainstream even though they might want to.

Of course there is Mainstream and mainstream! The Dead Kennedys are mainstream, but Michael Jackson is Mainstream of gigantic proportions. So, a definition of mainstream should take into account the extent (how many countries) and depth (how many people). Michael Jackson would be at the higher rank of the mainstream scale, with both qualities high and Dead Kennedys would be in a lower rank with the the “extent” quality equally high but the “depth” quality significantly lower! A band that belongs to the lowest ranks with both qualities really low could be considered as “underground”. Enter the internet…

As I pointed out earlier, the record company is a decisive factor in making a band or a scene mainstream. The bands that do not make it to be mainstream is because of bad promotion of the record company or because they do not pursue a contract. The internet together with people’s need to be defined by others can change all of this.

It has always been usual for teenagers to define themselves through the kind of music they listen to. There have always been kids that were standing out in their school or town as those who “new the most” about the kind of music they fancied. Some kids had older siblings that introduced them to the basics and gave them an edge, the initial advantage that allowed them to become more “specialised” in the genre faster than the others. Through a snowballing process, whereby the “thanx lists” of the various bands introduced to new bands, some kids were gradually leaving the mainstream behind and discovering the more “underground” bands.

In general, people feel good if they feel that they are part of the few “enlightened”. Let us Imagine a band that is actually at the lowest level of the mainstream scale. Then imagine someone who is really proud of knowing that band and makes a video to post on Youtube with, for example, the “Best Death Metal Albums of all time”. From the moment the post is on, the formerly unknown band is days away from becoming mainstream. Because Youtube is accessible at many countries (extend) and by many people (depth). Moreover, most of the viewers will feel that they are not cool for not knowing that band, which is considered to be “cult” and will do anything to familiarise themselves with it!

Thus, internet and people’s need to feel special mark the end of the underground.

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