The Irrelevance of the Internet in the Rise and Fall of Voxtrot

Sometimes I’m a little slow to pick up on American pop culture these days, what with my obsession with Swedish pop and all, so I managed to completely miss the Voxtrot blog buzz in 2005-2006. Voxtrot have been called “the perfect web 2.0 band” or something like that, with their blog and (former) status as darlings of the mp3 blogosphere. But they’ve got a highly ambivalent relationship with the net, as manifested most directly in singer Ramesh’s blog rant against the internet last March:

The internet is fickle. Everything is disposable. Everything is fleeting. The internet is a very dark place to be. Everybody’s a fucking authority and everybody knows better than everybody else. [...] Sorry if I sound a bit critical, but I guess that, at this point, I’m not talking so much about Voxtrot specifically as I am about the relationship that every band is forced to maintain with the internet.

My rant:

So, this guy is like 23 and because he wrote some songs bloggers like, I guess that makes him an expert in the internet and its societal effects. But let’s smack a little realism in here. First, disposability and fleeting things predating the internet by a long time. Anyone remember the 1980s? How about that great 1970s pop hit “Wildfire” (I apologize if you lived through that and had successfully forgotten it). There have been disposable pop hits as long as there’s been pop hits. That’s part of the beauty of pop music — it’s ok if it’s disposable. If it makes you feel good for a little while, it’s done its job. You want great art no one criticizes, try classical music, and even there the Bachophiles go off on the trash that Beethoven dude wrote.

Second, “the internet is a very dark place to be.” Uh, not like, say, inner cities? Iraq? Darfur? Because you have to face the fact that some people aren’t into your music? Or the same things you are? Because on the internet criticism and the conversations that have happened offline every day as long as people have been having conversations about pop culture become visible? Well I don’t like reading negative reviews of my work on the net either, but … and this leads me to the third point… I recognize that it is the PERSON WHO WROTE THE REVIEW that has that opinion, not THE INTERNET, and that if I look elsewhere I will find rays of sunshine that are great ego boosters. The fact that your skin is thin does not mean the net is dark.

The band “is forced” to maintain a relationship with “the internet”? No, bands that want to be successful have the opportunity — an unprecedented one — to form and maintain relationships with THE PEOPLE WHO ARE INTO THEM. The internet doesn’t give a hoot about any of us. It’s a bunch of signals and wires. It’s a communication medium. The net gives bands a means of reaching their audience. They are also going to encounter people who think they stink or, worse yet, are boring. That’s because the internet mirrors everything else, not because it’s a dark force.

And don’t even get me started on his titling the post “get off the internet, I’ll meet you on the street” because, guess what, I’ve actually done research on this and read a whole lot more, and the internet is not a substitute for face-to-face interaction. It’s a supplement, and even an enhancer. Alienate your online fans and they won’t be joining you offline, they’ll be too busy with their friends.

But his reification of the internet gets suppport in this recent article about them in the Baltimore Sun titled Internet killed the radio star:

A funny thing happened to Voxtrot on the way to pop music stardom: The Internet moved on.

A year ago, the rock group from Austin, Texas, was the darling of music bloggers everywhere. One site described its music as verging “on the Platonic ideal of indie pop.” [...] But the experience of Voxtrot this year has proven that what the Internet gives, the Internet can take away. Internet love is fleeting and fickle. Fans must be nurtured and cared for. Or else they can turn on you with all the viciousness of a cliched pop song heartbreaker.

The same bloggers who fawned over Voxtrot last year are no longer so hot to, um, trot. The band’s new album, released in May, was met with yawns at best.

“The Internet moved on.” “Internet love is fleeting and fickle.” Hello bloggers, you are not people, you are The Internet. That wasn’t YOUR love, it was “internet love,” which is a whole different thing, I guess. So different that it bears no relationship to, oh, every band whose sophomore record ever got trashed by people who loved their first in the entire history of rock and roll. Which is like, just about all of them. Isn’t it maybe just a little bit possible that THEIR RECORD WASN’T AS GOOD AS THE EPs and it’s about people making astute judgments and sharing them with others rather than the medium moving on?

Man, I remember the heyday of England’s New Music Express (NME) and how unbelievably fickle they were. There was an internet back then, but none of us knew about it yet. It wasn’t called the internet yet. Yet we managed to like some stuff bands did and not like other stuff they did and talk about it with each other anyway. Amazing.

I will agree with the claim that “fans must be nurtured and cared for,” but don’t kid yourself that if you are good at creating relationships with your fans they will like anything you produce. Fans are individuals with judgement, and they will decide whether or not they like your music based on how it makes them feel. They may still like you, but if you put out a lame record, it won’t sound like the bells of heaven in their ears just because you update your blog and respond to friend requests on MySpace. And they might even dare to say so.

Now after all that ranting, I will confess that I love Voxtrot’s EPs, which I discovered AND BOUGHT through the internet, and I even like their album a lot, though I don’t think it’s as good as the EPs. But as an internet scholar, I get really freakin’ sick of people’s pop analyses of the medium. As though no one has actually done any real rigorous consideration of these issues and to quote Ramesh, “everybody’s a fucking authority.”

Here is a link to a Voxtrot song from one of the EPs Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives from their own website. If you like it, give them the credit. If you don’t, blame the internet. You know how It can be.

Comments (7) to “The Irrelevance of the Internet in the Rise and Fall of Voxtrot”

  1. The internet doesn’t give a hoot about any of us. It’s a bunch of signals and wires. It’s a communication medium.

    OK, I’ll bite. I agree with your critique of underinformed, blanket condemnations of the web. But might this characterization take things too far? Isn’t it possible that the Internets are inscribed with our values? Is it an accident that open data structures underlie open communication/free culture? Is it an accident that hostility is more commonplace in asynchronous text interactions than in F2F situations? Maybe the medium is changed by us as much as it changes us? Or maybe not? I’m curious where you stand on this.

  2. On the other hand, I’m seeing more acts actively avoiding the Internet. Sometimes it’s just a matter of deleting themselves from myspace, others have no visible web presence at all. I’d link to examples, but well, y’know…

  3. “Is the internet inscribed with our values?”

    An interesting question, Jean. Yes and no. Certainly the architecture of code that underlies it is based on values — distribution of information, imperviousness to attack, lack of central authority — and that gives rise to a certain ethos enacted on it. (See Lessig for more on all that).

    But no, the internet doesn’t care about us. The internet does not have intentionality. The internet does not have agency. The internet does not make people do things.

    For instance — “hostility is more commonplace.” Well, no, actually the research that’s looked at this finds no evidence to support that common assumption. Hostility is a lot more VISIBLE, but there’s no evidence it’s more common. You don’t invite the hostile jerks to your parties offline, you can’t keep them out online. We have better strategies for avoiding exposing ourself to hostility offline, but that doesn’t mean there’s more of it online. There’s also no evidence there’s more deception — another common assumption.

    I don’t believe the medium changes us. I believe that people assess the medium’s virtues and drawbacks and act accordingly. It may lead people to enhance some aspects of their personality that they might keep underwraps otherwise, but I vehemently disagree with attributing agency to the medium instead of the people who use it.

  4. Avi — are the bands deleting themselves still emailing you to keep you up on what they’re up to?

  5. I wouldn’t attribute agency to the medium so much as I might proffer that some paths are more well-worn than others, which in some sense “designs” the Web, and prescripts it for future users. To be sure, newbies can resist and redefine the spaces they inhabit online, but they always contend with established communities with established agendas and norms. The scripts I’m taking about don’t reflect a technological determinism; the medium ephemerally transmits values from one user to another, though. We can call this social reproduction (even social constructivism), but it’s still a technically mediated transmission of culture.

    [aside - As for hostility in CMC, I'm not an expert (nor am I strictly - or much at all - in the 'reduced cues' camp), but I had thought the jury was still out on this question? (eg., Kato, Kato & Akahori 2007, to cite just one).]

  6. The Kato et al article shows that people EXPERIENCE reduced cues as more emotionally intense under experimental conditions. It doesn’t tell us anything about whether the internet makes people more hostile. The jury is still out on most stuff, though, since the landscape keeps shifting and the researchers are always playing catchup.

    I’m with you on contending with established norms of pre-existing group contexts (indeed, that’s something I focused on extensively in my own early work), but I still think that’s about people socializing other people rather than built into the design.

    There are things built into interface design that shape what people do, but I don’t think interface = the internet. If the internet had such direct effects, all pre-existing communities would have the same group norms, and that’s far from the case. To go back to fandom, one sees some fan communities that are all about illegal sharing, and others that are vehemently opposed, some that are all about pithy quick catty opinions, and others that will only stand for reasoned and thoughtful in-depth commentary…

  7. Nancy, I’ve noticed it primarily with N. American bands, particularly in the punk/hardcore scene. The Portland band Tragedy is a notable example as I don’t think they’ve never had a web presence and I believe they even go as far as to eschew email.
    Another modern dilemma: the Canadian band F’d Up got stopped at the border awhile back on their way to a big NYC show and was sent home lacking proper paperwork and work visas. The border guards were able to look up their names online and found they were in a band and on the way to said show, yadda yadda. The response: delete themselves from the web and use aliases for all PR and interviews.