A few weeks ago, one of my social media sites was updated with information concerning a new release from DC’s own, fantastic, brutal Magrudergrind. I was pretty psyched, simply because Magrudergrind is such an onslaught of musical thrash genius, that any thick, deep blasts from their nuclear stockpile is gonna get me psyched. I was also totally stoked because the EP release was being offered as a free download at the time. Being unemployed, getting the music for free is totally awesome. I clicked on the links, hit download and was soon in destructo riffs over blasting drums and awesome power vocals that are yelled, screeched, grunted and squealed. Crusher is a pretty sick release from one of the best heavy bands on the planet right now. It has one of their longest songs to date as an epic closer that even includes a bunch of twisting guitar solos and the dope inclusion of some freestyle rapping that somehow, despite being from a whole other sonic reality fits well within the context of 11 and half minutes of brutality.
This release though is not without controversy and it’s a very interesting one. Being from DC, I’m familiar with the people from Magrudergrind. The guys are in a couple different bands and have been in a lot of DIY, indie punk bands. Further, I know that drummer Chris Moore books a lot of DIY shows of various different punk, hardcore, metal and other types of bands on a fairly regular basis. These dudes roll deep in a culture of DIY functionality. And here we are with a release that, as you have by no doubt seen now, was funded and distributed by a Japanese car company. Like you, that got my head scratching.
There have been a few op-eds issued about the internet concerning this atypical method of release, especially by a band that does operate within the DIY framework. One of the most interesting criticisms came from J Randall of the notorious grind band Agoraphobic Nosebleed. Agoraphobic Nosebleed is perhaps one of the highest regarded bands of the grind genre and clearly, over many many years have put out music that is of the most extreme nature, not just in power and sound, but in structure and pretense. I don’t entirely agree with J Randall’s assessment that Magrudergrind whored themselves out for Scion, but it’s very curious to find that Scion has had a very keen interest on a genre of music that so very few people on this planet enjoy. Even within the world of “extreme” music, Magrudergrind, while great, is relatively small and low-key. The overall reach, even by offering the music for free does not seem that even the tiny investment would make a dent. Further, that this is not the first band of this nature that Scion has even approached is very, very curious.
I dug further and comments posted on an opinion piece by Justin Foley lead me to understand that Scion fairly regularly sponsors metal shows from grind, death and black metal bands. There involvement in this type of youth culture is not wholly unsurprising. Though a large part of the audience is not even financially capable of purchasing their own cars, this sponsorship allows Scion to put their brand in front of the audience they are marketing their cars to. Many of the audience are young, white males from privileged backgrounds. This marketing gets the name in front of kids who might have parents that are well to do, and thus may influence the pressure kids put on their parents when deciding on a vehicle. Also, because a lot of the people into metal are coming from white privileged backgrounds, the saturation of brand may stick with them and when they finally wipe of the corpse paint and cut their hair, they will still want to be “down” with their “roots”. They will remember fondly all the free metal shows and records and there is the opportunity that brand loyalty will kick in. Though I believe that ultimately Magrudergrind did benefit in small way from being able to create this record, this is a fact of this release.
Foley’s piece, in part does not understand why someone would take money to fund a project in the DIY realm. It comes off as a bit didactic and preachy, and it frames an age old argument that has been heard before, many, many times over. Magrudergrind’s position is they get to offer their fans something for free and the worries of recording and production budgets are no longer an issue. In that case it’s clearly a win. The Scion logo, while a little odd, is no worse then any other logo on any other release from any other label, be it an indie or a major. After all, a label is a brand, no matter how it is marketed or if indeed it is intended to be a brand. But I have been buying music for a long enough time to know that if No Idea or Dischord puts it out, there is a good chance I am going to like it. Instantly, I see those names and I am at the very least interested in the recording, even if I know nothing about the band. While No Idea and Dischord is brand loyalty I generally feel good about, it’s no different then any other merchant offering a product. Magrudergrind’s position is complicated by the logo, because of it they are vouching for the merchant.
The reason why I don’t have a problem with these types of arrangements anymore though is not because I no longer find them questionable. The problem in today’s consumptive culture, especially with music, is that ultimately the methods of distribution have weakened the economic support necessary for a band like Magrudergrind to operate even in their modest way. The sale of music is way way way down, and especially for indie bands, this makes a difference. Most independent bands can actually recoup expenses on recordings through sales and even fund future projects. Record sales can help finance tours, allowing bands to directly reach their audience. Without that money, usually supplied by the audience, touring especially becomes more difficult. Magrudergrind is not a professional band in that they do not make a living playing or producing music. Without the real support of fans, where else are they to turn?
Touring is expensive. You need a van that has to travel long distances everyday for weeks. You have to eat, sleep, fuel the vehicle, have maintenance completed and a plethora of other expense to pay for. Five to ten dollar shows barely cover that. To make a good recording, to be able to take your time and use a studio that properly captures what the band is trying to convey is expensive. I don’t like corporate America involved in my music scene. I think it’s disgusting and debasing, and I think it has the potential to devalue the experience of what DIY culture is all about. But when the DIY community fails to nurture itself, and that includes pooling economic resources, bands soon have very little choice but to become beneficiaries of the corporate patrons who are getting much more competitive for market share.
If you are into heavy music at all, I suggest you visit Magrudergrind’s web store and pick up their self titled LP. You get a physical copy of Crusher for free.