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Those are admirable goals, and indeed so in a time when greed, corruption, paranoia and violence seem to be everywhere. I managed to catch up with two of the three, Derek Hogue and Chris Hannah, for a discussion about music, politics, economics and people.
LAS: So, what is new in the world of G7?
Derek: More of the same. I really like the records we're putting out as of late. Not that I didn't like the previous ones. But I'm particularly excited about some of these. Greg MacPherson, Hiretsukan, Propagandhi, and last year the Clann Zú and Submission Hold records. All very good.
LAS: How have things gone, traditionally, for the label? It seems that, just as much so in the "indie" world as in the mainstream media, people are far more interested in hearing how the new Modest Mouse album was recorded than learning about political and social injustice. Do you find yourselves having to force your ideas onto people?
Chris: We don't have some glassy-eyed agenda whereby we believe putting out records will have any significant impact on the planet's high-speed trajectory down the toilet. If we have any part to play in rolling-back global self-annihilation, it is currently infinitesimally small and certainly inadequate. Life is a balancing act between individual pleasure and obligation to concepts of justice. Given our upbringing as spoiled babies within the framework of western capitalism, our choices have thus far been fairly predictable, and I should think almost totally irrelevant to the powers that be.
Perhaps when our balancing act finally collapses and we retire from putting out records to begin a program of systematically physically annihilating the figureheads of monumentally less ethically-traumatized organizations, our contributions may be of some note.
All that said, as a home recording enthusiast, I too am interested in reading about how records are recorded, even ones as bad as modest mouse. Ain't no crime to be interested in interesting things you're interested in. just don't it to the exclusion of the outside world.
LAS: One of the things that irks me about "independent" music is that it is very rarely such: 4AD or GSL wind up running the same ad campaigns, hiring the same publicists, even following the same aesthetics that Interscope or Warner Bros. employ. How feasible is it to run a record label while striving to ensure that "the structure of the organization didn't contradict itself by mimicking the structures of unbalanced power and hierarchy in the profit-driven corporate world"? After all, a record is hard to get into stores without a bar code.
Derek: Yeah, there are a lot of contradictions and decisions that may seem right at the time, and end up being incredibly wrong. A barcode is the last thing I'd worry about. I'm far more concerned with the inherent disgust that accompanies the compact disc as a format - the fact that Phillips/Sony gets money from every CD made (be it only 1.5¢), the fact that we are generating landfill fodder that will never breakdown, made from polycarbonate, which is a petroleum product (hello Peak Oil!) ... I find that more disturbing than bar codes or promotional practices.
However, I do feel sick when hear music that purports to be representing something underground, marginalized, and truly alternative - which is what I thought we were all in this for - being used to hawk shoes, or theme crappy TV shows, movies, snowboard videos or whatever the fuck else. When it comes down to talk of how big an advance you can get, what terrible, inane buzz you can get going, and which big box retailers will rack the record, I think we've truly lost sight of the fact that music is actually something that's important, and is not just another widget to sell.
As for whether it's feasible to run an indie record label without these things... the first part of your question alludes to external factors that blur the lines between indies and majors, but the second part points to the internal organization. I don't think hiring publicists or having certain aesthetics affects how a label is internally structured, as distasteful as some of this shit may be at certain levels. But internally, there's no unbalanced power or hierarchy here, and never will be. And I contend it is in no way necessary to (ahem) succeed.
LAS: On the same topic, do you find yourself running into a lot of necessary evils, like working with distributors and press people who could care less about your mission, so long as you can move units?
Derek: Well, we don't really "move units", so we don't get acknowledged by a lot of these people. But people do think you have to engage in all this industry garbage to survive. I've thought that on more than one occasion in some frustrated moments, and maybe it's led to a few decisions I slightly regret. But it's bullshit. I feel dirty. On with "the mission."
LAS: Do you ever find yourself frustrated that so many people just don't seem to get it? Someone at Sub Pop was blurbing the David Cross advertisement for PETA while simultaneously luxuriated in their "rabbit fur lined coat" that they would never get rid of. Is the uphill battle being fought on a steepening slope? Does that make your endeavors more futile or more fervent?
Derek: Well, there are a lot of stupid people out there. Us included. Sometimes it seems things haven't changed at all in our tiny lifetimes. Which I guess shouldn't come as a shock. But overall, I mean if you want to talk about animal rights, there's been some progress there I think. There are definitely more vegans and vegetarians now than ever before, and it's becoming more acceptable and easy to do at the mainstream, level. That has a fairly direct impact on the lives of animals.
But overall, yeah, people are dougheads, and we are still in a shithole, and we will forever remain fervent in our futility. Chris: there is a painfully embarrassing old adage to the effect of "resistance is never futile". As cartoonish as it has become to allow this phrase to ever leave one's mouth in everyday conversation, it remains true. There is value in the act itself.
LAS: I noticed that G7 is a big supporter of Participatory Economics. How viable do you think something like that is, in the real world? I've often thought that Communism and Socialism are both viable and respectable concepts on paper, but time has proven that in practical implementation they simply do not work the way they are designed because of a simple (or complex) variable: human beings. Can changing our economic system without brainwashing the consciousness of our culture really work? I dare say that Capitalism worked, specifically in the context of the United States, before social situations change.
Most Westerners fall into the trap of over-spending on material goods, winding up as pawns of the commercial system that compelled them to earn wages in the first place. Can Participatory Economics function properly and co-exist with "the new iPod" and $200 Burton backpacks, promoted by "street" cred people like the skateboarders from around the corner turned pro, staring people in the face? I mean, when there are millions of people dying from preventable diseases and wars fueled by a hunger for oil, buying a G7 CD (made from petroleum) can seem in pretty poor taste...
Chris: Buying CD's these days is generally in poor taste no matter the circumstances.
A participatory economy, by definition, will not be imposed from above, so to draw parallels between it and the implementation of the dour command-economies that paraded through the last century as "communism" and "socialism" isn't particularly useful for the purpose of comparison.
"Parecon", the compound of "participatory economics", a proposed alternative to contemporary capitalism that values equity, solidarity, diversity, and participatory self management rather than profit, is viable on any level in so far as people participating in said economy actually believe in fairness, democracy, equality and participation in a political process. If they don't, it will fail. It is that simple. If people prefer Darwinian capitalism, that is what they will get (congratulations everyone!).
I would encourage anyone and everyone to spend some time at the Parecon website and involve [themselves] in the process of debating the concept. It's not doctrine, it's ideas.
Aside from that, I think you are right: capitalism indeed "worked" in the US and still does: wealth (and it's corollaries) is still concentrated in the hands of the few at the expense of the majority of the population of the planet. That is how it is meant to work. Defined strictly, there is no "benign" version of capitalism. It would cease to be capitalism if there were. Profit is capitalism's prime directive. All talk of freedom and democracy is secondary to this one truth. This alone renders capitalism unviable. Any system that subordinates human liberties and ecological sanity to material gain is a system waiting to be overthrown or consumed by itself. That is my gut instinct anyways, as a speck in the masses of humanity writhing across the earth as I type.
LAS: The chaos in the world seems overwhelming at times, and it is often hard to balance the right to personal happiness with the obligation to the global community. It is hard to say what impact any individual effort makes. People make a huge gap between concept and reality, and I have a strong feeling that humans will inevitably succumb to their own vices. People are being oppressed by the global system of capitalism, but this global system wasn't beamed down from goldfish in outer space. How difficult, or easy, do you think it is to delineate a balance between practical livelihood and activism, both personally and professionally? As you said, Parecon won't be imposed from above, so it takes a change in daily lifestyles to work, but change is difficult. Is there a way to ease that transition with a balance of comfortable lifestyle?
Chris: I think individual efforts are immeasurably important. Much more important than any doctrine. They are the living proofs that people are not innately made of shit.
Derek: We have to stay in the black? Uh oh.
In the big picture the balance is fairly simple. If you are to continue breathing and trying to mold this ball of putrid clay into something more humane and just, in whatever small or big ways, then you have to somehow make it day to day and have a modicum of happiness. Alternately, if we determine that it is better that we NOT continue breathing, the "balance" is again fairly obvious.
LAS: From Canada, does it seem that the United States is as evil as it looks from inside the country? Do the atrocities of the US make it easier for other countries to get away with injustices of their own?
Derek: The United States is basically the Great Satan. There may be some setting of precedent for other countries, a far as pre-emptive strikes, disregard of the rule of international law, and a host of other US crimes. But I don't think that the Indonesia genocide of East Timorese, or England's repression of the Irish, or the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda would have been any less ignored if the US was a patron saint in its own dealings. Humanity at its current state is basically rotten and diseased, with or without the existences of US aggression abroad.
Chris: the United States is probably only exceptional in the field of flaunting international law and human rights due to its unique and immense military/ economic power. There are no states on this planet that I'm aware of that haven't leveraged their own military/ economic power to gain access to more wealth at other people's expense while at the same time offering platitudes about freedom and democracy out the other side of their mouths. Some, like the Taliban, don't even offer those. [weeping] At least they're honest?
LAS: What are your thoughts on file sharing and the digital revolution? Like many things, it seems both incredibly empowering and terribly dangerous.
Chris: I say share them. Support artists/ musicians/ authors/ programmers/ photographers whose work you value, where you can, but don't buy in to the industry whining about the death of music. The industry, accountable to shareholders, is concerned with profit, not music. The faster that ceases to be part of reality, the better.
LAS: What about copyright and commerce versus art? I'll often tell people who ask (and everyone always does) that I'll burn a copy of Radiohead or some other corporate artist all day long, but I'd never pirate the Weakerthans or Fugazi or an independent artist who isn't living from the Yanqui U.X.O. corporate weapons pyramid. It seems reasonable to me from a certain logic, but is that a double standard? Does any creative endeavor, regardless of content or commercial affiliations, stop being art and start being a commodity when it goes from the pure performance of playing live to the production, marketing and distribution of CDs?
Derek: Well, I don't think it's a double standard if you're talking about whether or not you're giving money to a multi-national corporation. But there are so many takers along the way even with indie labels, be it the store, the distributor, or manufacturer, there's increasingly less difference. That argument I think loses steam daily.
As for commerce vs. art, I do think there's something lost when the music is divorced from its live performance. But most of the music that I feel most connected to, and has been most important to me in my life, I have never seen live. So I think the sacredness, and, uh, intimacy, if you will, of music that is truly passionate and inspiring is still there with recorded music, so to write it off as pure commodity is wrong.
I think artists deserve to be paid for their work. But anyone that expects to be paid for art that an individual doesn't appreciate or connect with in anyway, in this era, they're just deluding themselves. If you're actually good and relevant, the people who've obtained your music for free will support you in some way.
LAS: Were you bummed when they changed to the G8?
Derek: Not for any reasons related to our name.
LAS: Are there any exciting plans for the future of G7?
Chris: I am giving serious consideration to suicide. I have spoken to some people who think that's exciting. Some have even offered to help.
Derek: We hope to completely cripple the entire music industry as step one in a larger plan to destroy global capitalism. Wish us luck! SEE ALSO: www.g7welcomingcommittee.com
Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.
See other articles by Eric J Herboth.
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