View From The Side: Chivalry Is Killing Music

 

‘Noblesse oblige’ is the concept that those in power bear responsibility to the lower classes, originating from the French chivalric age when it was seen as a grace for esteemed counts to help feed the hungry. Ultimately this came crashing to a catastrophic end when the poor decided they’d be better off beheading their benefactors than waiting for a few paltry drips to trickle down, and probably isn’t a good basis for a modern democratic society. Yet it seems we’re quickly reviving such tendencies as the ‘bank-of-mum-and-dad’ becomes the only way for people to get a leg up.               

We’ve all seen the plethora of articles harping on about how bad young people have it these days, along the lines of ‘job prospects are looking grim’, ‘millennials are suffering a mental health epidemic’ and ’young people are buying brunch instead of a house’

Which for many this is indeed the reality of life in 2016. Key waypoints enjoyed by our parents such as moving out, getting a mortgage or otherwise making some harmless mistakes along the way are becoming a dwindling prospect for most. Inflation, cost of housing, employment prospects, costs of education and such are all meaning that young Joshy needs to stay living in the spare room indefinitely. It would be hasty to blame this ALL on the Tories, but I think I’m shouting into the right echo chamber here when I say the past six years have seemed like an utter joke at our expense. Housing Minister Gavin Barwell’s recent suggestion that we can solve the housing crisis by encouraging grandparents to leave their assets to millenials is exemplary of this government’s blasé attitude to the problem, and sheer lack of empathy for a demographic with relatively low voting turnouts.

In spite of this all, I regularly encounter those who hold the fairly dissonant view that a vote for these people will ensure their children’s best future. Or indeed some graduate-age peers who want Mummy and Daddy to pay less income tax. It’s not hard to see the logic here, as the benefit is far more apparent if the folks can just give you a bit extra cash, as opposed to a less visible series of perks spread amongst 64 million people. This effect turns what is essentially a selfish act – choosing to give less to society – into an altruistic one, with the excuse that it’ll go to the kids. I am suspicious of this flimsy premise and think it falls squarely into the same category as that of a certain wayward 350 million. And ultimately I think this is will be to everyone’s detriment in the long run.

I recall the time when I visited MushiMushi Records a couple of years ago. Tucked away in the down-at-heel Radford suburb of Nottingham, the shop itself seemed utterly perfunctory. With no turntables to listen on, tons of dusty rave CDs circa 2003, and most of vinyl out of sleeves (stored safely in a secret warehouse location), the shop felt suspiciously like some sort of tax write-off. I spoke to TANMUSHIMUSHI, owner of the shop and infamous Discogs seller. He’s known for buying up entire releases and jacking the price up for resale, a practice which resulted in a Four Tet’s refusal to deal with him and eventual ban from Discogs. Appearing from behind the counter sporting a full trackie, he turned out to be an affable bloke who spoke to us for a long time about the shop, his family, and music. The overriding point that he tried to make was that his hawkish business practices were only to provide the best for his children. The ends justify the means. A commendable goal perhaps, but something’s definitely fishy when you ask a guy who owns a record shop about his musical tastes and he can’t properly answer.

Is Discogs a microcosm for the world at large? I think so. This same rationale sees people profiteering in all kinds of ways, at the loss of a shared community. Even though our folks might be on the lush, greener side of the intergenerational fence, there will always be the underlying dynamic that their attempts to share are an act of generosity, rather than a necessary response to a flaw in the system. And as a result, the rites of passage that come with becoming an independent adult are under threat. No longer possessing the ability to leave the nest, young people will find it harder to forge their own identity in contrast to their parents. There’s a spectrum of attitudes out there ranging from the fully-accepting, hands off parents to the helicopter ‘what’s your five year plan?’ types, and most are somewhere in the middle. More reliance on the older generation means more a greater reluctance to transgress its sensibilities, whether they are oriented towards career choices, lifestyle, religion, or sexual preferences.

At a large scale, this could threaten the very foundations of cultural change and its dynamism, which sees each generation defining itself against the last. And it is also part of the greater elitism within the arts, like the oft-repeated if-somewhat-exaggerated ‘poshification’ of the music industry, or anecdotal experience of a London art school being almost exclusively populated by private school kids. Pretty soon, the only ones with the freedom to be creative and risky will be the ones with financial ability.

It is a wonderful facet of youth culture that it often flourishes in the face of adversary, but all the same I find myself dubious about the possibility that many movements of the past could have come into being without some free space. We find culture's relationship with free space very intertwined, with lots of post-match analysis around Detroit, Paris, Berlin, London of yesteryear, New Orleans and so forth giving birth to art forms through the appropriation of dingy basements, warehouses, lofts, fields near a motorway or bomb shelters. According to one journalist, Motown might owe its existence to the fact that families in Detroit could usually fit a piano in their living room . This logic probably applies on an individual scale too, as having ‘somewhere to call your own’ away from the prying eyes of judgement is how people free themselves in all sorts of ways.

The powers that be eventually gave Tan the boot, realising that rampant profiteering would ultimately degrade the entire point of the record selling community, and I think it’s time we follow suit. If it were a little easier for young people to support themselves without scrounging, our family relationships and society as a whole would be far healthier. This can only come to pass if this profiteering is restrained, or else one day we’ll end up bankrolling our fifty year old daughter’s techno collection.


 

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