Synths and Savages

‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’, we’re taught it from an early age. I would dare to argue, however, that the same doesn’t apply to fans and their music preferences. Granted, with the onset of streaming and other digital means of music consumption, the value of being a ‘true’ fan has lessened. No more do you need to spend countless hours reading tonnes of zines or going to every other gig, major or local, to be seen as an erudite in your favourite type of muzak, whether it be metal, hip hop or anything else.

Still, certain sounds do attract certain types of people, just as certain philosophies or beliefs do and sometimes stereotypes do have some basis in truth. Metal and punk have been seen since inception as the realms of the disenfranchised, hip hop as the vehicle for those frustrated on a social level, while country and Trump supporters go together like gin and tonic.

For a while now, I’ve also been interested in how certain genres seem to gain more ground in certain countries or even cities, with Finland, for example, having the most metal bands per capita in the world. I’ll compare Glasgow to my own native Riga, since these are the two metropolises I’m the most familiar with.

As a land of about 2 million people, Latvia, by definition, has a small market. This, in turn, influences the music that does or does not gain ground. Judging from the popularity of certain bands and speaking with musicians I know personally, it’s evident there’s an inherent contradiction in the music scene. Bands aren’t afraid to experiment with genres and sound because most are certain they won’t be able to make a living with their work anyway, despite unorthodox bands like Instrumenti and Triana Park having gained a stable and dedicated fan base in the old country, the latter even representing this Baltic state in this year’s Eurovision.  

Bands that do want to gain notoriety outside this frozen wee land tend to cynically mimic popular trends in the larger international music scene, a perfect example of this being the indie rock darlings Carnival Youth who tend to play more gigs in Europe than in their home state and recently also featured in the South by Southwest festival.

Pop music aside, there’s a strong-minded old-school approach to genres like metal and hip hop in Latvia, the former being more influenced by the old, raw American and Scandinavian scenes of the nineties, the latter still referencing Biggy and Tupac in their work more than any other artist (obviously, you won’t understand the lyrics, but you can follow the flow and the beat).

Again, a lot of this can be traced back to the non-commercial approach to music, but also to the historical reality of a country that regained its independence from the USSR in the nineties and, thus, was unaware of a lot of the musical movements and changes that happened in the preceding decades across the Western world.

Glasgow’s music scene would seem rather typical of most Western European cities in comparison, but all is not as simple as it would seem. Of course, there’s the pleasure of seeing and hearing such international monumental acts as Metallica, Wu-Tang Clan and Nick Cave. But, despite the variety of music on offer, in my experience dance, house and techno still seem to be the holy trinity. And in this city they are more than just preferred genres for a large portion of the population:  people’s love for electronic music is also exhibited in their attire, slang and aspirations of dj-ing.

Of course, in no way does it make other genres less worthwhile, but the popularity of the aforementioned styles is still a mystery to me. Whether tied to the drug culture or just to the Glaswegian love for a good night oot, I do believe that this serves as an example of how cultural mentalities and musical preferences are intertwined. But what do I know? After all, I’m gazing at Glasgow’s scene through the lens of a culture of musical hermits.

Featured image credit – Flickr user Marcus Stoltze