At this point in the history of musical one-upmanship, it's no surprise that even respected artists can be catty motherfuckers when they feel someone's shaking their precious status perch. As the Brian Jonestown Massacre/Dandy Warhols documentary Dig! displayed, throw a scrap of success between image-conscious acts and they'll try to claw an imagined opponent to pieces. A new music scene documentary recently given national release, Kill Your Idols , links the '70s/early '80s New York art punk genesis to current Big Apple fixtures, but the side issue of what constitutes “correct” edginess is the juicier story. Hindsight hipness is always 20/20, and minor accolades can cause relative nobodies (who knew A.R.E. Weapons were such whiners?) to aim knives at their more talented peers' backs.
Idols offers a glimpse at the seeds of rebellion that sprouted more than 30 years ago against a community that had bucked the norm. Warped no wave/post punkers Suicide, DNA, Theoretical Girls, and Teenage Jesus & the Jerks rejected the New York Dolls, the Ramones, and other “blues-derived” punk acts to create an aesthetic that was adversarial to easy hooks. Arto Lindsay and Lydia Lunch speak often about their desires to “rearrange the building blocks of music” (Lindsay) and “reference nothing else,” “separating the truly desperate from those just wanting entertainment” (Lunch). Whether their shock tactics were sonically pleasing was inconsequential. That driving force to express something confrontational was fascinating and inspired many, most notably Swans and Sonic Youth (whose members provide some of the more eloquent interviews in this film).
But as the lens shifts to the present, we see the class of '00 — and a whole mess of shit-talking — with Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, A.R.E. Weapons, Gogol Bordello, Black Dice, and Flux Information Sciences corralled as the new reigning N.Y. force. Again, their creative processes are intriguing: One Flux member describes taking inspiration from the “groovy rhythms” of a nearby metal stamping factory, saying, “New York City is the script, and we interpret that.”
But it doesn't take long for some bitter pills to enter the bloodstream. The new brood is tagged “posey,” “fashioned,” “redundant,” “mama's boys,” and “spoiled brats from the suburbs” by its predecessors — tags that are hard to wrap around, say, the humble displays by Liars and Black Dice, bands making really interesting music far from MTV's accolades. Of everyone interviewed in the movie, Lunch seems to have the most vitriol, as she chides the current generation for lacking the intellectual fortitude to make music as extreme as she strongly believes it used to — and should still — be. At least her comments are provocative, and make clear that she expects nothing less than a musical revolution (although she doesn't seem to understand that bands like the YYYs are simply “experimenting with what works,” as its members explain; they never claimed to change the world).
A.R.E. Weapons, on the other hand, get far too much screen time; its members despise even the bands they admit they haven't heard — to the point of hilarity. In a shining example of their ongoing ridiculousness, one Weapon prattles on like a caricature of record geek vanity, bragging, “ESG was fucking cool when I was in 11th grade and college. For me it was fucking cool 10 years ago. … For someone else it was cool 20 years ago,” an unsubtle slam against the Liars' admission that they're so unhip as to still celebrate the seminal South Bronx act. (And what has A.R.E. Weapons brought to the table aside from disastrously poor performances?) There's no room to appreciate or discover anything for the first time with these protectors of cool's corridors — everything's been done, hermetically sealed in retrospect, and impossible to top. It's an irony within a film that celebrates artists for their free thinking, but a salient point when it comes to arguments over what is a progressive way to make music and to view its creators.