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September 22, 2008 | by  | in Music |
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What is seen to be scene?

Fuck I hate the scene. It’s full of emaciated 20-something kids, with skinny black jeans and vintage Reeboks and giant neon t-shirts, with elitist but narrow-minded musical tastes. The bands all play synth-heavy dance rock with inane lyrics, none of the people will even look in your direction if you aren’t wearing the right shade of fluoro green mascara, the crowds spend every gig screaming in-jokes at each other and dancing like epileptic patients, and I never get invited to their parties.

Sound familiar? We’ve heard complaints like this time and again, in media and from the people around us. ‘The scene’, ‘scene kids’, ‘scenesters’ – the terms get thrown around as if we all know who and what they refer to, as if ‘the scene’ in Wellington was a singular, tangible entity with clearly defined boundaries.

But from my experience of being in bands and socialising at gigs, I’ve detected a peculiar feature of the supposed ‘scene’: those people who are inside it don’t seem to think that it exists. They protest that they aren’t scene kids, that they and their friends are not exclusive or elitist and that there aren’t any particular sounds or fashion trends that you can pin down as being ‘scene’, and to an extent they’re right.

The true ‘scene kid’ is a rare beast, and I’m not sure that I’ve ever met a bona fide specimen. I’m not saying they genuinely don’t exist – but there are far fewer of them out there than is commonly supposed. And the above description of a typical scene event is rarely, if ever, accurate. But this isn’t to say that there is no such thing as a scene.

To outsiders at scene gigs, it’s blatantly apparent that something’s going on that doesn’t include them. The problem is in the ambiguity of the word itself. In one sense people talk about ‘the scene’, in another people refer to ‘a scene’. ‘The scene’ is often used to condemn a group of perceived wankers and posers in one convenient stroke; ‘A scene’ is a more benign way of dividing up sectors of the broader music world for the sake of clarity of communication.

The term ‘scene’ originated from the 1950s jazz and beat poets, and basically refers to a group of people glued together by practically any mutual characteristic; in music these are commonly fashion, music taste, the style and genre of the bands, and the socio-economic situation of those included. Most importantly, scenes need a geographical space to exist, whether it be The Mighty Mighty, East London or the USA’s Deep South. Influential historical scenes include the Seattle scene of the late 80s/early 90s, the punk scene in late 70s London, and the Dunedin scene of the 80s.

‘Scenes’ can be used to loosely connect the dots; to make sense of the confusing maelstrom of bands, sounds and people involved in music. It’s used in a way similar to ‘-isms’ in political science and history: it doesn’t describe anything particularly concrete, but it’s helpful for building up a rough picture of the layout of the music world. Like just about anything else in the universe, a spectrum exists – some bands fit easily within a scene, others straddle boundaries – but without categorising the spectrum, conversations about music would be virtually impossible.

But we shouldn’t take these rough categorisations too far. Scenes, after all, are only made up of people, and while the music within a scene may be fairly similar it would be absurd to suppose that all the people within it adhere to the same personality type. There’s as much variation within a scene as there is in any other sphere of culture. And, of course, the boundaries are very blurry – particularly in Wellington. With our high level of cultural activity and low population, it’s possible to link bands of completely different scenes by fewer than four degrees of separation, in most cases.

As for ‘the scene’ in the singular sense, and ‘scene kids’, I reckon they’re something of a myth. My hypothesis is that we’ve welded together a bunch of irritating personality traits and fashion trends that we observe around us, to create an imagined community of super-bitchable people that we can criticise without ever having to confront. In other words, they’re your typical scapegoats. We see the expensive clothes, the adherence to trends and smell the whiff of elitism, but the rest is largely fabricated to give us something to hate.

It’s easy to fall in to the trap of labelling a band as a scene band and instantly dismissing it because ‘you’re just not in to it’. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve been guilty of this, only to realise, yet again, that good music transcends categories. Considering bands based solely on the way they sound rather than the people and fashions they’re associated with can turn up some gems in surprising places.

Come, guys, let’s not be hating on people for wearing neon or playing Casiotone keyboards – or, for that matter, sporting long, greasy locks and black t-shirts. While there are some shallow twits behind the trendy sunglasses, there are also some brilliant musical minds. Keep an open mind and you’ll be surprised at the kind of music you can learn to enjoy.

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Comments (13)

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  1. Mr. Magoop says:

    hurrah!

  2. ron howard says:

    salient have a serious hangup about this eh?

    nobody play with you kids at school or something?

    I go to lots of gigs in Wellington. I haven’t seen anybody wearing a giant lettered neon tshirt in two years, (except for the kids piling out of Wellington High school at lunchtime), we don’t have any synth-heavy rock bands, So So Modern play like a few times a year, I wouldn’t even call them a Wellington band anymore and well, Heat Like Me are just four friends having fun, i doubt two bands, one who rarely plays anymore wield a dominating presence over any “scene”. There are TONS more garage rock/”adelaide” bands) punk bands, bogan rock/”valve” bands and so on. Quit thinking that Charlie Ash even have anything to do with Wellington anymore.

    There was a short time when a pile of “neonsleep” kids used to all come to shows all at once after a pre-party, decorate the venue with PPC props and take lots of photos of each other, while that has died off considerably, even when it was peaking – if you were actually going to gigs before that eventuated, during and after, you would have noticed that while they did keep to themselves, they bought a spirit to a party that your jaded writing could never do. I for one enjoy the atmosphere much more when there are some young party kids having a great time up front, it makes me smile and remember when I too wasn’t a jaded old fucker.

    Enjoy it while it lasts and encourage more kids to come, cause trust me, going to shows in Wellington before the current crop of kids started coming was depressing as hell – rock band after rock band playing to post-grunge lank haired males in their mid-twenties (NOBODY wants that again)

    People don’t like your band, fine, but quit blaming everybody else…and smile for once eh? The sooner you realise that there is no “scene” and that “kids just wanna have fun” the sooner you can get to just simply enjoying the music you see and hear.

  3. Chris Gilbert says:

    “we don’t have any synth-heavy rock bands”
    That’s just a lie.

    “There are TONS more garage rock/”adelaide” bands) punk bands, bogan rock/”valve” bands and so on.”
    Thanks for that, Stephanie’s in one of them, and calling them ‘bogan rock’ is really no better than calling everyone in Alt music ‘indie wanks’.

    Look, I don’t want to go into the rest, because you’ve clearly not understood the piece was a critique on the stereotype ‘scene’ has in Wellington, and how it is an inaccurate representation of music and culture here, since – as you so wonderfully pointed out – there are many different music factions active in the city. It is a DEFENSE of any ‘scenes’ that do exist.

    I can’t even believe you’re complaining, did you even read past the first paragraph!?

  4. ron says:

    I’m not complaining. I just have no idea what you’re going on about.Its an iditotic article.

    Please, name 3 “synth heavy rock bands” in Wellington who play regularly enough to be counted as part of a “scene”. I’d love to know what you think the “scene is”.

    You’re just like most irrelevant press in this country who think Wellington is “all about dub”, Its makes me smile the number of people who come to Wellington looking to see a dub show…unaware, that dub only exists on CD and 4 shows a year. Please don’t be one of those idiots who takes So So Moderns success as some sort of symbol that all bands from Wellington sound and look like them. That is just naive and makes you look stupid.

    Wellington doens’t have a stereotypical “scene”, this is what you guys can’t understand. Even referencing Seattle, Dunedin or London in a feature talking about a Wellington (non-existent) scene is just plain embarrasing.

    Perhaps if you guys went to shows outside of Wellington..or shock horror! NZ, you would realise that there is NOTHING different about whats going on in wellington then any other city in the world. If you go to an indie show, you see “indie kids”, if you go to a metal show you see “bogans”, if you go to a punk show etc….

    Is Steph actually in a band? That was just a guess, but its pretty obvious telling from her writing, and my guess is a fairly unpopular band as well that the kids don’t like – hence the jadedness of her opinion.

  5. Jesus Toblerone says:

    Like Chris said before- it is pretty clear you didn’t read past the first paragraph mate. Most of your arguments are pretty much in line with the rest of the article. You kinda come across as a retard. Hope that’s working for you.

  6. Wee Hamish says:

    Ron dusts his hands, flings a scarf around his neck and congratulates himself on a post well done, returns to searching for Smiths EP’s on eBay

    tbc

  7. Mr. Magoop says:

    “we don’t have any synth-heavy rock bands”
    “synth heavy rock bands”

    Do you mean synth-heavy rock, synth heavy-rock, or synth heavy rock?

    It seems you need to advance your gramma before advancing down the road to credibility.

  8. CAPTAIN INTENSE says:

    HAVE YOU EVER EXPERIENCED A SCENE SO INTENSE THAT EVERY SINGLE BAND AND EVERY SINGLE INSTRUMENT BEGINS TO BLAZE ACROSS YOUR SOUL LIKE A MILLION SUPERNOVAS?!

    HAVE YOU EVER HEARD THE SOUND OF SUCH INTENSITY

    HAVE YOU EVER HEARD SOMETHING SO REAL

  9. Chris Gilbert says:

    … I’ve missed him.

  10. CAPTAIN INTENSE says:

    *THE SOUND OF A LOW HUM AUDIENCE SCREAMING FOR TWENTY FOUR HOURS NON STOP*

    ….
    …….
    …… intense

  11. Stephanie says:

    Captain Intense, you’re my hero. Let’s get married. I meant it.

  12. Doods says:

    everyone knows ron howard is a dick so stop hating…the man made ginger nerds cool

  13. Doods says:

    but seriously ron your either an idiot or just forgot to read the article

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