The future of the arts has been here for a while, but now even your dad can't ignore it.
This weekend, My Bloody Valentine surprised the crap out of everyone by giving a day's notice of the release of an album that I'd been waiting some 22 years for (being of the generation that had their hearing wrecked by Kevin Shields' glide guitar).
It all reminded me of how, a few weeks back, I woke up to an email from an acquaintance of mine. The email was sent out to all his friends, and it went something like "My dad's got a new record out today, and he could really use your support to help get the word out." I get emails like that quite often: people telling me that they or their friend/boyfriend/girlfriend is releasing a new piece of music, and asking if I'd tweet or post about it. In my little enclosure on the side of the internet, it's well known that I'm a fiend for new music. I even do a podcast of obscure ambient and sleepy musics. These emails usually have a Bandcamp or Soundcloud link at the bottom, both services I love. Sometimes a YouTube or Vimeo link, for video.
This particular email was from filmmaker Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code), and his dad is David Bowie. Which I tell you not because I want you to fully understand how important and famous and sexually attractive I am, but to explain my amusement when this email, too, turned out to have a link at the bottom, which kicked me to a Vimeo video.
David Bowie, who hadn't released a song in ten years and had done precisely zero publicity in advance of the piece, had simply done what everyone else I know had done: passed a link around, for a video he'd put together himself. Obviously, Bowie's resources are substantially larger than, I dunno, a drone act in darkest Russia or a techno producer in Hull or whatever. But the process was essentially the same. Perhaps the only real difference is this: The latter examples release music into the world without warning because that's the only way they can do it. Bowie did it because he chose to.
Bowie has always been good at taking the temperature of the culture, extracting the things that seemed useful to him and bending them to his will. I cannot therefore imagine it escaped his attention that the things we do in the arts because we have no choice eventually become the norm when most people do them that way. Most people do not have a publicity department at their whim. They instead rely on word of mouth. And because, in a big, wide and badly curated internet, we have learned to tune into that very intently in order to find the good things. We now live in a world where our most popular authors have reached their heights without the benefit of one wall poster, one paid placement or one mainstream newspaper feature. Amanda Hocking became a millionaire without anyone noticing, in terms of mainstream media or even broad cultural conversation.
The future of the arts has been here for a while, but I suspect that it required the return of an old hand at the occult mechanics of marketing like David Bowie to drive it home for a lot of people. Imagine if he'd presented the piece like a record of old, or like the way movies are marketed now. The long build-up, the teasers, the chatter. Some people miss that slow process of creating anticipation, and, yes, that was a thrill that is largely gone today. But also lost, with the end of that method, is a really poisonous strain of disappointment, a thing which gave a lethal bite to artists on, for example, their third album or their second book. What we have now, with all its inherent difficulties and issues, is, I would argue, a far more life-enhancing, generous and magical thing.
What Bowie did – what artists all over the world do, every day, now – is create a gift. Turning on the net first thing in the morning can be a real grind. Everyone knows that feeling: time to open the door to the Shit Room to find out what went wrong while you were asleep.
People forget – or, perhaps, didn't know until a couple of weeks ago – that the internet is also the greatest delivery system for new art ever created. And now we live in an age where we switch on and find we've been given a new favourite song for the day.
Talk about the music you love. Support and embrace the musicians you know or follow, big or (especially) small. Because, in these early years of global network culture, they make the world a lovelier place to live in than it has ever in history been.
Follow Warren on Twitter: @warrenellis
Image by Marta Parszeniew.