“Frequently the voice of the masses is nothing but farts,” noted a radio program director during a panel at the CMJ Music Marathon and MusicFest '95, held in New York last week. The convention drew the usual assortment of musicians, indie proprietors, industry leeches, and, most amusing, swarms of college radio leeches-in-training, eagerly blowing off their first week of classes. The original goal of the festival was to get as much unheard music out there as possible, but now that everyone wants a piece of the “alternative” pie, the question has largely become one of reorganization. Sparks flew freely, if your idea of fireworks is an intense discussion on whether college radio should play Bush.
“The Almighty Speak,” a panel on MTV and VH1, demonstrated the odd state of affairs in today's alterna-friendly landscape. MCA's Mike Jacobs and Matt Pinfield, an MTV exec, congratulated themselves on knowing about Rancid way back when; Geffen's video promotions director praised Beavis and Butt-head for breaking White Zombie; and the fuming indie hordes shot questions. As to why MTV plays so few artists from independent labels, Pinfield kept a straight face while claiming that label affiliation doesn't matter, as long as a video is “good.”
“Can I ask you a question?” Jacobs interrupted, pointing at his interrogator. “Does your TV have an off button? Use it.” Such a disingenuous attitude seemed like business as usual, though the debate gained momentum when people aired the familiar complaint that MTV doesn't seem to play much of any music anymore. Linda Ferrando of Atlantic pointed out that MTV is not only a high roller in the music industry, but also within the world of TV networks, and therefore subject to the ratings game. Think about asking one of the largest institutions in the broadcast communications industry to take a chance on a “good” indie band, and the problems become evident.
Fortunately, the festival also showcased more than 400 live acts, the best of which made these petty debates irrelevant. For Silkworm, a ghettoizing prefix like “indie” seems insulting; these Seattlites might be the finest rock band of the moment. The strong Bay Area presence ranged from Paula Frazer's haunting ballads to an especially punchy Barbara Manning and Portashrine's crowd-pleasing romp through Gary Numan's “Are 'Friends' Electric?” Tricky's closing-night show was the biggest draw, as he and his band spun out sinister songs that suggested a desperate hunt for identity in a ravaged postindustrial landscape — as fitting a metaphor for the festival as any.
By Greg Milner