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  • NTSC 3:45 pm on May 4, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    Thoughts on Appropriation and Polka Hip Hop 

    April 6th, Bremen Café

    April 6th, Bremen Café

    NTSC here, melodeon player for your November Criminals. What follows will probably be rambling and incoherent. I’ll do my best to structure it as best I can.

    Sometimes I need to take stock in how lucky I am. I play the melodeon—a diatonic button accordion—for a Polka Hip Hop band. For the only Polka Hip Hop band in the world.

    I get to mix two of my favorite genres and perform them at the same time. Besides feeling lucky about getting this opportunity to express myself musically, I also need to zoom my focus out of my own life and recognize where I fit into a larger history of music, the people who make it and the performers who benefit from it.

    I’m a white guy who grew up in an upper-middle-class family. I listened to a lot of rap growing up because that’s what the kids in my grade school listened to. I was fortunate that my parents raised me and my two sisters in one of the few truly diverse neighborhoods of Milwaukee, a city that is famously and depressingly segregated. The late eighties and early nineties were a boom for the popularity of hip hop groups, so that’s what I was exposed to.

    On the flip side of that, I’ve always been a huge nerd. I would listen to the polka and folk programs on the radio in my room and play along on my harmonica. Being of Polish and German descent, I feel the music of those cultures very closely in my heart. They resonate somehow and I couldn’t even explain why. I don’t speak Polish any more than I speak German, which is not at all.

    In high school I was introduced to Cajun and Zydeco music, which changed my life forever. I learned to play the Cajun style accordion (which is itself based on a traditional German style instrument) and I consumed a lot of Cajun and Zydeco music. A list of my biggest influences from those genres will reveal a trend, and point to the larger topic of this essay:

    Left to right – Boozoo Chavis, Dwayne Dopsie, Andrus Espre, J. Paul Jr. Step Rideau, Steve Riley

    Because the genre of Zydeco spoke so much to my musical tastes, I ended up emulating and worshiping primarily black musicians. The separations between traditional Acadian-influenced Cajun music and Creole/Black Creole Zydeco music run very deep in Louisiana, and have only recently begun to wear down a bit. The barriers still very much exist to this day. It’s a highly nuanced and complicated relationship, but a lot of it boils down to systemic racial bias and segregation, aka America’s entire history.

    That’s how I picked up the accordion and made it my primary intrument. I played along with every Cajun and Zydeco CD I could get my hands on. I practiced endlessly until I’m sure my parents regretted ever encouraging me to pick the instrument up in the first place. Hell, they even bought me a second one! Gluttons for punishment, my parents.

    Polish Immigrant with Concertina

    Eventually I acquired a three-row melodeon and began to learn some traditional Slavic and Baltic music, in keeping with my ancestry. It was strange, but I began to develop a sense of comfort with polkas and waltzes from Eastern and Central Europe. It felt like the music belonged to me. I knew unconsciously that I had no place performing Zydeco and Cajun music. I’m not French, I’m not Acadian, I’m not Spanish and I’m especially not Creole or Black Creole. I’m a Polack—a uniquely Americanized version of a Pole. That is my heritage.

    Cultural appropriation has run rampant in American society forever. I tried to do some research into when it began and was unable to find any high water mark. It’s been ever present. So long as there have been disenfranchised populations in this country, the privileged classes have taken every opportunity to steal their music, dress and language for entertainment. It can be argued that the most popular white bands in the nation’s history have all climbed to their positions of wealth and fame on the backs of black pioneers.

    Jump to 2011 and the forming of the November Criminals. We had no idea what we were doing. It started as a single song for a single album and nothing more—until it became something more. All three of us, Brümeister, Spade One and myself, really loved the sound we had discovered. We loved the energy, the melody, the rhythm. We loved the freedom it afforded us. We had literally created a genre of music and could do with it whatever we pleased. There were no guidelines, no tropes, no boundaries. There was no road map or definition for what we were doing.

    A few shows in, I began to struggle with the whole concept of us as a band. Spade One booked us on a series of hip hop shows at hip hop venues across the city. We were playing to audiences that expected an evening of pure hip hop, crafted and honed for their tastes. I can only imagine what they thought when I got on stage and plugged in my accordion. Needless to say, a lot of our audience took their smoke break while we performed. We played to a lot of empty rooms in those early days, and I felt it in my gut.

    Art Bar 2012 - I am clearly lost

    Art Bar 2012 – I am clearly lost

    I knew inherently that I didn’t belong. I felt terrible, not from a self-pitying standpoint, but because the audiences continued to be so nice to me. After every show I got handshakes and words of generous praise. “That was awesome, man.”, “You guys rocked it.”, “You really play that thing!” and so on and so forth. It might have been my own self-doubt preying on my mind, but I don’t think it was. I would have felt better if we had been booed off the stage, or hissed at, or blacklisted. That would have felt more appropriate. It never happened.

    We were nothing but accepted and thanked for our efforts. The hip hop community of this city gave us a stage and myriad opportunities, and never once told us to stop what we were doing. If anything, everyone emboldened us further! We would get pats on the back and offers of collaboration. It all made me feel even worse! I thanked my lucky stars that at least we were a Polka Hip Hop band. I’ll explain…

    Syncretism is the merging of two or more systems of belief and/or culture into one amalgamated blending. It happened a lot in colonized areas where the invading empires needed to instill their own religion onto the native population. Aboriginal deities and ceremonies got merged with Christian saints and traditions, creating something altogether different and unique in the process. I feel like our band follows that strange, organic trend. The thought keeps me going.

    Polka Hip Hop band with Concertina

    So long as we are a blend of traditional Slavic/Baltic/European music and Hip Hop, I feel a little less like I’m just one of many thieves who have taken what isn’t theirs and appropriated it for their own ends. It’s crucial that I always remember where Hip Hop came from, and who it truly represents. Yes, Hip Hop has opened its arms to artists of literally every race, sex, gender, creed and culture. That doesn’t mean I can interpret it in any way I want and ignore the ramifications of that action.

    Hip Hop is bigger than me. Its history is the history of jazz, and blues, and slavery and class struggle. I’m doing my best to make peace with my place in it now, and do right by every artist who made it what it is today. I know it will be an ongoing process. I’ll never be “done.”

    Recently we were invited to perform at Dontre Day, a commemoration of the life of Dontre Hamilton who was slain by Milwaukee police officers on April 30, 2014. Due to weather, it was held in the beautiful congregation hall of the All Peoples Church. I don’t know that we’ve ever been invited into a more open, welcoming environment of love and worship. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more out of place.

    A beautiful mural in the All Peoples Church

    A small group representing the Nation of Islam left just before our set, and I felt cowardly and grateful at the same time. We played our hearts out. I managed to successfully omit all the cussing in my verses (there is a lot) and we packed up quickly to make way for heartfelt and powerful words from the Hamilton family.

    As always, without exception, we were thanked and welcomed and appreciated after the show. Whether or not people were just being polite is beside the point. The fact that the community, every community we’ve ever performed for has always treated us with respect and care is simultaneously gratifying and crushing in just about equal measure.

    I’ll reiterate, I am incredibly lucky. I am privileged for so many reasons, one of which is that I benefit from this amazing opportunity. Yeah, we’re a weird band from a small city in a flyover state. We’ve got no audience to speak of and we toe the line of appropriate and ill-conceived every time we set foot on a stage. Still, I am ever grateful for what I have, for my brothers-in-arms and for the community that has nurtured us.

    I am going to do my best to find my place in it while honoring and amplifying the history behind the genres I love. I know I’ll mess up bad, and probably already have a hundred times. Hopefully I can proceed with the right amount of awareness and respect to make this whole endeavor worthwhile, because I truly love what we do.

    I’m a lucky guy.

  • NTSC 4:05 pm on October 12, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    What does The Great War mean to me, NTSC? 

    As you may or may not know, we have started a campaign to help fund the creation and distribution of our second full-length album, The Great War. I wanted to take a moment to talk about what this album means to me, and invite my brothers the Brümeister and SpadeOne to do the same.

    The Great War—also known as World War I—marked a major turning point in the history of the world. It killed, literally, some of the oldest monarchies and empires under which the world has ever suffered. It redrafted the imaginary boundary lines of the Earth and redefined what horror truly was. Little did we know those horrors were only a prologue to what would follow.

    The album we’re currently making is named after that horrible conflict for a lot of reasons. For one, we as a band are just fascinated by WWI. The unrest caused in Imperial Russia led directly to the revolution which would topple the Romanov Tsars. The empires of the Ottomans and Austria-Hungary split apart at the seams, giving birth to new nations and reviving old ones. It was a major victory against the sovereignty of monarchs and oligarchs, but the sentiment was not to last long.

    Welcome back to the stage: Poland!

    Welcome back to the stage: Poland!

    Beyond our interest in WWI as an important turning point for the world, the theme of that conflict resonates with me very personally.

    I like to use the acronym POOP when I talk about this kind of thing. It stands for “Power Over Other People.”

    I don’t want POOP.

    I don’t deserve to wield POOP.

    Anyone who does want POOP, or thinks they somehow deserve it, is by their very nature a dangerous person. Yet we glorify, champion, support and endorse POOP-heads all the time. We have been doing it for centuries now. The Great War began with a loud and visceral attack against the very concept of POOP.

    The young anarchist Gavrilo Princip fired the shot that would end the life of Franz Ferdinand and  set in motion the terrible gears that wound up the world’s war machine. That was not his intention, but that was the result. He had intended to set a fire beneath the butts of other revolutionaries and anarcho-syndicalists like himself. He had intended to show that the rulers of men, the wielders of power, were mortal and fallible. Nobody deserves to hold power over another human being. POOP is bad. We are not wild animals that need breaking, training or caging. The natural inclination of all humans is cooperative. We fight back only when we are controlled, and that is what spurred the events of June 28th, 1914.

    These Fucking Assholes

    Then there’s these fucking assholes. That flag look familiar to anyone?

    Especially in this election cycle, with fascist and nationalist parties winning more and more seats in governments across the world, the lessons of The Great War ring like a cacophony of bells in my head. We can’t let this happen again. We need to learn from history. In my mind, The Great War is going on right now. It’s happening again. It is in our hands to fight against nationalism, fascism, escapism, anti-humanism and all forms of POOP.

    That’s what this album represents to me. It’s a weird thing to want to convey in a polka hip hop album, I know. We’re a weird band to want to talk about these issues. We have no visibility. We have no notoriety. We have no power.

    We have an accordion and three mics and that’s about it. We can’t help ourselves though. When given the chance, we’re going to write about what’s on our minds. In the first album that was pirates and beer and fun and friends.

    This time, it’s The Great War.

  • NTSC 1:51 pm on September 15, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    I for one am not surprised 

    Recently it came out that the sugar industry has been manipulating data for decades to protect its financial interests to the detriment of the population’s health. This sparked the usual outrage, editorials, think pieces etc. etc.

    Dr. Cristin Kearns

    Dr. Cristin Kearns shed light on the sugar industry’s illegal actvities

    I don’t understand why people continue to react with such anger and surprise. Mainly surprise.

    This is how the system works. The structure of power and money creates an environment, a naturally selective ecology wherein it is and always will be more beneficial to cheat than to “play fair.”

    Consider a theoretical savanna. There is a semi-intelligent species of primate that gathers berries from the ground. Because there is a limited number of berries, the tribe has created a rule that simply states “Individuals may only collect and eat 150 berries a day.” So, some of the primates keep to the rule and only collect and consume 150 berries a day. Some even collect less to try and make up for those who can’t collect more.

    However, there are two other kinds of primates in this little theoretical savanna. They’re the cheaters. One cheater looks at the rule and learns how to twist it. They only eat 150 berries a day, but they collect way more than that, as many as they can possibly carry. Other primates may complain and gnash their teeth, but technically they’re following the rule, which clearly states “Individuals may only collect and eat 150 berries a day.” So for all intents and purposes they’re not actually cheating, but in reality they are definitely skewing the amount of berries the whole tribe can have.

    The second kind of cheater just ignores the rule altogether. They collect and eat way more than 150 berries a day. If left unchecked by their peers, they’ll eat all the berries. They’ll also have a completely natural advantage over their peers, since they will be better nourished, their young will have a better chance of succeeding and they may even gain positions of power over the other members of their little tribe because they have so many berries.

    So, it’s a dumb and overly simplistic illustration, but it proves the point. Cheating will always be the best way to succeed in a system of rules and laws. Oftentimes that cheating will lead to power and influence and the ability to change the rules of the game in the cheater’s favor.

    Let me clarify, the cheaters aren’t immoral. They’re not evil. They’re working in a system that has proven to benefit their actions. They are acting intelligently. I’m not saying that cheaters like Enron and the sugar growers should be applauded. I’m saying their motivation isn’t a big surprise.

    Lead in the water, illegal dumping, poaching, the devastation of the rain forests, spoiling of the Earth’s natural resources, are all caused by the system we’ve put in place as a species.

    The answer isn’t more rules. The answer isn’t to kill or punish the cheaters. The answer is to fix the system. How do we do that?

    Well, the fact of the matter is this system has been grown and shaped and perfected for thousands of years. So long as power benefited a select few who understood how to wield it, they shaped the world and the economic ecology of it to suit them and their offspring. It’s been the manifestation of financial natural selection. Darwin would be proud.


    To truly fix it, we would have to scrap the current system of power and money. It’s not nearly as difficult as those with power and money would have you believe. When one human being can no longer exert control over another, and everyone gets what they need without any exceptions, we will have moved toward the next stage of our evolution as a species.

    Rest assured, there will be no utopia. There will be no solution. It will be a constant experiment of trial and error. There is no “good” or “bad.” There is what works and what doesn’t. Right now, this way we’re living, doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for the majority of animals (humans and everything else) nor does it work for the planet we all live on together. It just doesn’t work.

    It doesn’t surprise me that this happened again. Guess what, it is happening right now. I guarantee somewhere a corporation or conglomerate is twisting the law, breaking the law or lobbying to change the law so that they can profit. So long as profit is the most important goal to survival, this sort of scandal will keep happening. It is happening. When we change it, when we finally join our voices together and say “Enough is enough. This doesn’t work.” then I will be surprised. Pleasantly.

  • NTSC 2:08 pm on August 15, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Milwaukee is Burning 

    Aug 13, 2016

    Aug 13, 2016

    I grew up in Sherman Park. I spent the first 14 years of my life in that neighborhood. My parents moved their little family there before I was born. The early years there were pivotal to me.

    I remember walking down to the local comic shop with my friend Eric. We would try to sneak peaks at the racier, adult comics with nudity in them. Inevitably we would be shooed out. I have good and bad memories of those days. Grade school was tough for me, and eventually the area got too dangerous for Eric and I to take walks anymore. Gang activity increased at an alarming rate.

    Shortly before my fifteenth birthday, my mother was held up at gun point one night in our alley. That was the last straw for my parents, who promptly picked us up and moved to the East side. They could afford to do so.

    After the violence which erupted in that neighborhood on the night of the 13th, you could be forgiven for thinking you know what my reaction would be today.

    When I was a kid, I hated gang members. They were violent, macho bullies. My grade school had a few of them, and everyone knew who they were. You just avoided them. It was easy for me to do so—I was a white kid who could stay out of the whole thing if I chose to. So long as I kept my head down, I would have opportunities awarded to me by the virtue of my upbringing.

    We moved, my parents enrolled me in a then-prestigious private high school and upon graduation I went to college from which I graduated summa cum laude. I have my parents and grandparents and society at large to thank for all of those opportunities.

    My opinion of gang members has changed a lot since I was a kid, which might surprise some to hear. Growing up I was always told to question things, to think critically and to look to the root of problems—to always ask “Why?”

    My mother, bless her heart, also told me to avoid engaging with the police. She taught her white, scrawny, nerdy son to be always mistrustful of authority, and never to give up too much information voluntarily. I don’t think she taught me that out of any dislike for police officers as people, but because she understood how the system really worked. The system inherently wants to find the shortest, easiest distance between two points. That distance can end up hurting people.

    This takes me back to the evening of the 13th, when Sylville Smith fought for his life and lost it. Why did that young man have a gun? Why did he have a criminal history? Why did he do everything that he did and why did it lead to his death and the destruction that followed?

    I don’t demonize criminals any more, because a criminal is an invention of our society. How do you make a criminal?

    You feed one while another goes hungry.

    You educate one while another goes untaught.

    You help one while another goes unaided.

    You give opportunities and representation and a voice to one, and in so doing take them all away from another.

    So long as there is disparity, and the rule of law to protect it, you willfully create an entire population of “criminals.”

    There is not a human being on this planet that will put up with that forever.

    On the flip side, I don’t demonize police officers any more either. Ask why. Ask how you make a police officer. Look at what they’re being told.

    They’re being trained to dehumanize an entire population of their fellow human beings.

    They’re being taught that breaking the law is inherently bad, even while their superiors fight every day to twist the law in their own favor.

    They’re being given complete control over the bodily rights of other people, and they are specifically rewarded for exercising that control.

    They are not taught to look beyond the crime to the source of the problem. They are not taught to question authority. In fact, they are trained only to protect the solidarity of the system for which they fight, although in reality it no more protects them and their interests than it does that young black man they killed.

    We are all in this together, and the very few in power do not want us to remember that.

    Nothing divides us but the imagined divisions of our own creation. Except the majority of is didn’t create those divisions. They were created for us, too long ago for anyone to remember why or how.

    Money is an invention. Class is an invention. Poverty is an invention. Law is an invention. Crime is an invention. Power is an invention. Freedom is an invention.

    They’re all tools, used for a specific purpose, and we don’t get to wield them. None of us really do. The hand of the police officer that pulled the trigger that killed Sylville Smith was controlled by the inhuman rights afforded him by the rule of law.

    A single, powerful man can order the sanctioned murder of thousands of people who live thousands of miles away, and will be applauded.

    A single poor man can choose to use the tools at his disposal to improve his standing in life, and will be murdered or caged for it.

    They are the same. They are born into this life with the same potential, the same value, the same birthright and natural heritage of all the Earth. Give one opportunities and he is president. Take opportunities away and the other is a criminal, and dead.

    August 14, 2016

    August 14, 2016

    Milwaukee is burning right now. It may no longer be on fire, but it is burning. The kindling has been built up over generations. What will we do? Will we fan the flames with further hatred, anger and knee jerk reactions? Will we let them keep dividing us?

    Will we work together to quench the fire finally?

    I will tell you what I saw on my drive to work the following day. I drive right up Burleigh, right past the shell of that burnt gas station on my way to work. I saw hundreds and hundreds of people all gathered with trash bags, bottles of water and open hands, cleaning up. The sidewalks and parks were absolutely full. Everyone was working. Everyone was helping. Police watched on. The atmosphere was tense and solemn.

    Cleaning Up

    August 14, 2016

    It was a balm on the burns, but not a cure for the root cause of the fire. Still, it gives me hope.

    What do we do next?

  • NTSC 5:27 pm on August 11, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Lessons from an August past – a stream of consciousness ramble 


    August 6th – The city of Hiroshima is the first target of any nuclear bomb used in warfare.

    August 8th – The Soviet Union declares war on the Empire of Japan.

    August 9th – The city of Nagasaki becomes the second city targeted by an American nuclear strike.

    August 10th – Imperial Japan accepts the Potsdam Declaration, contingent on the retained sovereignty of the Emperor.

    August 11th – America demands Imperial Japan’s unconditional surrender.

    August 12th – The Soviet Union advances onto the Korean Peninsula.

    August 14th – Emperor Hirohito of Japan surrenders unconditionally. The second world war is over, for the most part.

    1945 was a very different world from our own. People were different. Morals and values were different. Right and wrong were different. New cruelties never before suffered upon the world and its people were invented and executed, to terrifying effect. Over 2.2 Billion human beings were killed by other human beings, often in the worst ways conceivable. It was perhaps the most inhuman conflict in all history.

    For what?

    For fear.

    For hatred.

    For nationalism.

    In defense of the perceived differences that divide us.

    For power and money.

    Two Billion Three Hundred Million children of Earth, across every spectrum you can imagine, were murdered.

    Who were the bad guys? 

    Who were the good guys?

    Who are we?

    Let us never forget what transpired.

    War, cruelty, hatred and violence on that level is totally and completely unnatural.

    It is the ultimate expression of manipulative control exercised by the powerful over the powerless.

    Let us never again believe the lies of justified hatred against one another.

    Let us never again be so blindly convinced that violence is heroism, especially in defense of something as meaningless as the concept of a country or a race.

    There are many lessons to learn and remember from those days.

    Don’t hate one another. Don’t divide into groups. Don’t blame and accuse. Don’t scapegoat.

    Unite against power.

    Power serves only itself.

  • NTSC 3:58 pm on January 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    4th Place 

    My wife and I attended the Shepherd Express Best of Milwaukee 2015 Awards Party last night at the Turner Hall Ballroom. It was certainly an affair to be seen at, all congratulations to The Shepherd and all the folks that worked hard to make a great event.

    best of milwaukee 2015 logo

    What a Party!

    The menu was insane, with catering from almost 20 of Milwaukee’s best restaurants and hospitality groups. Needless to say, we all ate very well. As much as I enjoyed the food, and it was certainly a main focus for me, I went for different, personal reasons.

    november criminals plea for votes

    Holy Crap! We’re on the ballot!

    If you’ve been following us at all, you know that The November Criminals were actually nominated in our category of “best rap/hip hop group.” We were officially on the ballot, thanks entirely to the tireless support of our friends, families and fans. It was unheard of. We were listed among the ranks of Milwaukee’s most visible, most beloved rap acts – acts that had managed to achieve the unthinkable for a Milwaukee band: recognition outside of our local stage. There we were, in black and white with a little check box beside our name. It was unreal. I told myself I was attending the awards party for the awesome food, but there was a small part of me that wanted to go to see if it was possible, if we could really actually take home the title.

    I consider myself an optimist, but I fall short of that lofty goal pretty frequently, especially when it comes to my own personal success. Realistically, I told myself we couldn’t possibly win. We have incredible fans and followers, but their numbers – though staggering to me – are not nearly as large as the numbers of fans our esteemed competition enjoy. I use the term “competition” here very loosely. I’d wager 90% of Milwaukeeans have never heard of us, and that estimate is probably too low. So, yeah, I knew we couldn’t win. The numbers told the story. Yet, in the back of my mind flickered a small, fragile candle of hope. Maybe we had managed to creep by in the polls. Maybe our competition hadn’t cared enough about the title to promote their nomination. Maybe they were resting on their laurels and figured their name recognition would be enough to win. We, on the other hand, campaigned furiously on social media.

    we continue to pander

    Just one example of our tenacious campaigning.

    For us, this opportunity wasn’t just another award like it was to so many of the area businesses that win one every year like clockwork. For us, this opportunity represented a chance to gain real visibility, on a scale we could never achieve alone through our own network of connections. This was a real chance to get some recognition for the insane thing we’re doing musically. It would also represent a palpable admission that what we are doing isn’t so far from the mainstream that it will never be accepted. It would be validation and vindication that I, personally have been craving ever since we started this project.

    It was not to be.

    At 7:00  the winners were projected on a giant screen behind the band (shoutout to Wifee and the Huzz Band) one after another in order of category. First Milwaukee characters and representatives, then services rendered, restaurants, boutiques, animal advocacy groups, the list went on. There are a lot of categories. I clapped and cheered for the winners, especially businesses and individuals I appreciated and voted for. I fell silent when the Music category finally appeared. Best acoustic musician, best choral group, best female singer, etc. I held my breath. I could feel my heart pounding. I knew we couldn’t win. I knew it as a fact, but still, that glimmer of hope fluttered in my chest. Finally: “Best Rap/Hip Hop Group.” It was all I could do to bring myself to read the name below the title heading. WebsterX. Well, it wasn’t a surprise. I wasn’t shocked. It was exactly the name I’d expected to see. It made perfect sense, but no amount of logic can soothe that feeling of loss. We came in 4th among the runners-up. We came in dead last.

    A measure of hindsight has been a salve to the pain of losing. We made it on the ballot! There might be people out there who had never even heard of us before, who may have been curious enough to look us up after they voted for WebsterX. They might not become fans after they find us, but they had to look us up! There are probably at least a few people who never knew Non-Ironic Polka Hip Hop even existed before this competition, who now know undeniably that it does! We almost certainly got a modicum of exposure out of this whole thing, and that alone is a triumph, especially when you’re a band like us. Yes, the news is that we lost. The news is, we came in dead last. But maybe, for us, bad news is still good news.

    Maybe next year?

    Maybe next year?

  • NTSC 4:01 pm on May 21, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Visibility and the democratization of online creativity 

    Technology is a truly wondrous thing. I can distinctly remember when my family could finally afford to buy a CD-RW drive for our computer. The ability to actually burn your own music CDs had finally become available to the masses, and it was incredible. At the time I was authoring digital music with a piece of shareware software called Goldwave. I’m stoked and shocked to see that it still exists! Anyway, I must have been around 18 years old at the time and I felt like a rock star. I burned CDs with my music and gave them to all my friends (as if the songs were any good at all.) I listened to them with my portable CD player everywhere I went, though it skipped terribly while I walked, cradling it in my right hand like a baby bird. Suddenly, small music producers could create their own mixes, their own compilations, their own actual albums and sell them to the masses at large. That is just one example of the incredible democratization of creativity that technology has created.

    Fast forward to today, when that democratization has truly revolutionized creativity as we know it. With the ubiquity of professional-grade music production software, industry standard programs becoming available through affordable subscription models, and other advances, almost anyone with an inkling to create art can get their hands on the tools to make it happen. For me, this is both a huge positive for the world, and also a negative. While it has made it possible for even the smallest indie artist to make professional quality products, it has also made it eminently easier for absolute offal to flood every conceivable marketplace. Video games, music, illustration, video, if it’s a media that can be consumed online, I promise it has been super-saturated with tripe of the lowest degree.

    Sturgeon’s law states that “99% of everything is crap.” This may be true, but before the widespread availability of media-creation tools, it was probably a little more difficult for all the crap to make it to market. When it took thousands of dollars in startup capital alone just to get your foot in the door, the market was understandably less flooded. Now, crap and mediocrity are the norm and it’s up to each individual artist to try and get their signal heard among the noise.

    That’s where this powerful democratization hurts us all. There are truly great artists out there, with unique, valuable voices who have the right to be heard, appreciated and rewarded for their talents. Today, it’s not enough for those artists to be skillful and practiced at their craft, they also need to be a full-force marketing and social networking machine as well. Nowadays an artist, instead of spending the lion’s share of their precious time creating quality art, must blog and tweet and post and reblog and instagram and snapchat everything they make, in the hopes of reaching any audience at all. It can be discouraging, to look out over the vast ocean of media that is created and disseminated every single minute of every day, and realize that you and your passions are just a drop in that endless sea.

    My wife got me a fabulous book recently, in which Calvin and Hobbes creator, Bill Watterson discusses the state of comics today. He laments the struggle of comic artists trying to make a living online:

    “…the new business model is to put the strip out there for free, attract some zealous fans, and then hope to sell ads, or T-shirts, or original drawings, or book collections to make actual income. You basically put your art out there as a loss leader. Even if it works, wow, that’s depressing.”

    The culture of free-to-play, free-of-charge media that today’s consumers are so accustomed to is, in my opinion, due entirely to the sheer volume of media available. Affordable technology is the cause of that volume. Today, unless your product is free, you can’t hope to compete. That’s not only ridiculous, it’s nauseating to someone who strives to make a comfortable living from their art. Bill Watterson and illustrators of his ilk were able to not only live comfortably, but handsomely, because they were valued and compensated for their skill and talent. It seems the best an artist can hope for today, whatever their genre or medium, is to scrape by on sales of peripherals.

    Personally, The November Criminals would not have an album, or a website, or any real presence at all without the availability of powerful technologies. I wouldn’t have any of my freelance gigs without the power of the software on my home PC. I cannot in good faith demonize technology since it has made my current lifestyle possible. However, I fear for what the future holds. If this is the current state of affairs when it comes to artists trying to make a living, what will happen as the markets become even more saturated than they already are? How will anyone hope to get their voice heard?

    At least I can rest easy at night, secure in the knowledge that when it comes to Polka Hiphop, we are quite literally the only game in town. We’ll always have that.

    For now.

  • NTSC 4:42 am on September 2, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Tour Retrospective 

    I’ll add more in later posts as I recall specific events and after I’ve had time to ruminate on it more, but I wanted to swing by and say a few things about the trip and the recent shows we’ve played.

    Superior Wisconsin is a beautiful, industrial, blue collar place filled with good people who really come out to support local music. It was a blast playing there! The trip up was pretty kooky, and tiring, but I was thankful that Brü was able to take over half of the driving duties.

    When you’re stuck with the same guys for a few days in a tiny car with no air conditioning and no radio, you learn a lot of things about each other. I can say, unequivocally, that my band mates are all heart. They’re funny, brilliant, insightful, goofy and all around loving guys. They give their blood, sweat and tears to everything they do, and I’m privileged and improved to know them and perform with them.

    We’ll return soon enough. Until then, thanks to everyone that came out to see us! PROST!

  • NTSC 8:28 pm on November 27, 2013 Permalink | Reply  

    We’re picking up the CDs tonight! 

    That’s right! Tonight is the night! We finally get our eager lil’ eyes and our greedy lil’ hands on the product we’ve spent so much time making and perfecting for YOU, the ravenous hordes! I think it will finally feel real once we’re got them in our hands.

    CD sleeve

  • NTSC 3:52 pm on November 25, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: fishpause records, , spawning grounds, Troutski   

    The Spawning Grounds 

    We want to give a huge shout-out to our man Troutski (aka Kilgore Trout) of the Brew City Banditz and Fishpause Records for helping us out with the album. We recorded some of our favorite songs at The Spawning Grounds, Trout’s home-made studio and practice space. He also produced and performed with us on the song Sausage Fest, which showcases his innate musical talent as well as his lyrical sense of humor.

    Thanks Trout!


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