Are local music ‘scenes’ a healthy idea in terms of creativity or do they stifle innovation? It’s a question that we’ve wrestled with for some time at Breaking More Waves.
Every large town or city has to a greater or lesser extent its own music ‘scene’. A scene is difficult to clearly define but would certainly include bands, regular punters who go to see the bands, the venues and spaces that the bands play in as well as the promoters who promote the shows. The people in any one scene will probably know or at least know of each other and will probably end up gravitating towards the same locations in terms of geography and quite possibly musically.
And it is this movement towards similar musical locations that can make scenes unhealthy. There is a danger that scenes can become so inward looking that bands can simply become copyists of each other; the whole thing becomes simply an exercise in back slapping, with objectivity thrown out of the window. The scene becomes full of homogenous groups congratulating each other for producing a sound that everyone else in the scene likes. Anyone attempting to break the mould and do something different is quickly ejected and looked down on. The scene becomes pure music snobbery and loses sight of original creativity and innovation. People end up becoming part of ‘the scene’ because they fit a particular model and peer pressure means that conformity is the only way. This drive towards greater conformity creates the dreaded ‘scenester’ - the individual who turns up to the gig simply because they think its cool to be there and in order to seek approval from their friends. Then as music and fashion changes, which it has to, in order to survive (we wrote about this change here), the scene itself suddenly finds itself isolated and redundant; to concerned with itself to have noted what is going on in the outside world, unable to respond to the changes.
However that is not to say that all scenes are unhealthy. Scenes can provide initial support. They give the bands opportunities of venues to play in and people to play to, an important first step for artists. Not all scenes are inward looking. The healthiest of scenes bring artists and bands of all types to the mix adding a diverse range of influences to the pool. These scenes also welcome newcomers and work hard together to enable the musical community to develop. Have a look at the interview we did here with Peggy Sue and their description of the Brighton musical scene. This is in our opinion a model of a healthy scene.
So are local music scenes a good thing? Well, yes and no. They can be stifling environments, but they can assist new artists. Ultimately it is the artists who take risks, and swim away from the pond where they are big fish into bigger wilder seas that will be more successful artistically, but sometimes the currents are strong even in the pond.