Music for All, or, The Magrudergrind/Scion Controversy

Posted on October 25, 2011 by

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Radio stations are organized best by genre: rock, classic rock, pop, country, news, hip-hop. As a result, few people are willing to step outside of the popular, widely publicized and often stale music we hear on the radio daily and more often several times in a day. In fact, few of us even dare to change the radio station and try new genres—instead we pop in a CD or I-pod if we’re lucky; others just open the window and turn the volume down.

But more recently, complete genres of music are being abandoned for wide distribution as musical conventions become tighter and new genres or subgenres begin to arise. Few people actually seek out these new creations and even less give these genres a fair chance because they don’t fit into commercially well-defined conventions. As a result, not only do many people lose out on chances to hear original, new styles of music, but the often bland and generic styles continue to dominate popular society.

One often overlooked genre is grind core; a style of music established in the 1980’s which is heavily influenced by death metal and hardcore punk. One of the first grind core bands is widely considered to be Napalm Death with their debut album, Scum, in 1988. Upon hearing this very bare description of the genre, many readers have probably already decided that it’s not for them simply because of the negative stereotypes facing both of grind core’s influences. Yet there is more than death metal and punk working within this genre.

Some typical grind core characteristics do overlap with death metal and punk, such as common instrumentation: electric guitar, bass, drums and vocals. While the vocals tend to be harsh, ranging from punky-shouts to intimidating, guttural growls to high-pitched screams, they are sometimes used purely as instrumentation ala scatting without regard to lyrics. Sometimes however, the lyrics can be very weighty, carrying socio-political messages such as anti-violence, feminism, anti-capitalism, and even pro-animal rights such as Flagitious Idiosyncrasy in the Dilapidation (feminist, consisting primarily of female musicians) and Cattle Decapitation (vegetarian and pro-animal rights). This completely disagrees with the stereotype facing grind core and death metal bands that they have violent, anti-feminine, pro-war, pro-drug agendas, though some bands with these agendas do exist such as AxCx (warning: link contains very lewd and very offensive content). Some bands, such as Flux Capacitor dabble around utilizing a strong balance of both goofy and political songs.

Grind bands also use various techniques with their music, such as blast-beats and d-beats in the drums, and down-tuning for the stringed instruments. In addition, the songs have very fast tempos and are very short—anywhere from thirty seconds to sometimes barely a minute and a half, sometimes even shorter. Grind bands also sometime use special effects, such as reverb and pre-recorded samples in their songs. Overall, grind core tends to lend itself to noise; desiring a dissonant, harmony based musical experience as opposed to melody based. This desire is also a reason for adding special effects and abrasive sounding vocals.

As a result of the commercial snubbing of grind core, many fans and bands have begun to associate it as an independent, do-it-yourself style of music. Much of the recordings and merchandise bands sell are paid for and made themselves. This association with the genre, however, only reinforces the disconnect between grind core and commercial success, similar to how hipsters complain about popularity.  Magrudergrind, a grind core band established in 2002, suffered from within the grind community for their deal with Scion to produce Crusher, a 10” EP, and distribute it to fans for free in late 2010.  Many people were upset by this connection, including J. Russell of Agoraphobic Nosebleed (a grind band), who publicly and profanely berated Magrudergrind’s decision to work with Scion.  Justin Foley, of The Austerity Program (not a grind band), is one of many musicians that argued against the Magrudergrind/Scion team-up:

That said, this Scion record stuff is gross and I think Magrudergrind is dead wrong for doing it. [ …] I am keenly aware that there’s an economic aspect to participating in this community (playing shows, releasing recordings, sharing merchandise). But this economic aspect is a means to an end, and so shouldn’t involve associations [such as with Scion] which are unnecessary. I‘m not interested in encouraging the participation of others who do not have the same primary motivation that I have – enjoyment of music and respect for the people involved in making and sharing it.

Many musicians believe that Scion, a part of the Toyota Company, was essentially using modern, “hip” bands as a way to garner support for their automobiles, intended for the young, “hip” fans of these bands. However, Scion has essentially created its own record label through this process, Scion A/V, which releases music for free for fans to enjoy. Unlike downloading music, this is intended to be free—therefore, it is not a theft and isn’t robbing the musicians of profit, because they agree to the free release while possibly not seeing any profits from Scion. Not only does this show the band’s commitment to the music, but it also lends Scion a positive reading. Even though they aren’t guaranteed immediate profit (or really any profit at all) from doing these projects, they are willing to produce and pay the bill for the album and promotional events, thus allowing the artists to spread their sound to a larger audience.

While Foley also notes the financial burden on musicians, he doesn’t understand the benefits of relieving musicians of this weight and how it could ultimately benefits old fans while creating a larger fan base and as a result, ultimately benefitting the band’s goal of enjoyable music. This sort of situation allows bands financial freedom to create the best album they can, which is something every fan should want, especially in a commercially unacceptable genre such as grind core. A band that truly loves music would never allow this sort of assistance become permanent support.  It is just a bit of help that allows them to focus on the music, which should always be a true fan’s priority, along with sharing any and all music with those who will want to listen, despite the radio’s prejudices.  Although it may be argued that the Scion deal boosted sales of other Magrudergrind items or Scion’s automobiles through the shared association, this sort of deal ultimately allows bands to rebel from the bland radio system, where every song sounds the same and very little ever changes while supporting music and their fans by sharing it free of cost.

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