The Growing Epidemic of Hype

Bok-Bok-Melbas-Call-608x608So here it is. Bok Bok’s first release since 2009’s highly successful Silo Pass. Melba’s Call is a typically stark Nightslugs production that’s been a little rounded at the edges for a pop-centric audience. It’s a great tack. Immediately enjoyable with Kalela’s crooning vocals over skittish 90’s samples. Falling right in there with the current lo-fi R&B-dance trend that‘s been breaching gentrified walls for the past few years. I was just about to hop over to (insert distributor of choice here) to buy said track when I realised it’s not out until March 31st. I guess I’ll have to wait. No… I don’t actually, because by that time I would not need to listen to this track ever again. In the month it would take for the song to appear in record stores or their on-line equivalent, Kalela’s sultry vocals would have the same ubiquitous effect of Mac’s C major start-up chord. And this is no fault of the singer or the producer. It is just the way that hype is transcending effect in the music industry at the moment. Record labels, all over are succumbing to this formula, since the marketing geniuses of the world came together and made a word cloud! You could just imagine them all writhing around in their rat-king ball as the listen to Kanye West and regurgitate phrases like brand and consumption audience. Their ideas on hyping releases months in advance has filtered down to every crevice in the music industry to the point that even indie dance labels have adopted it

In the month it will take to officially release this Bok Bok track it would have featured on every mix, podcast and music blog – no the irony is not lost on me – that by the time it eventually sees the light of day everyone would have exhausted the track completely. Ok this Nightslugs release might have been a bad example. It was only announced a week or so ago, and the hype around Melba’s Call is somewhat reserved, but it is the proverbial straw that broke this camel’s back. It’s a single after all. Wouldn’t you just release the single?

My patience wore thin for most of 2013 as Daft Punk and Arcade Fire were the most exhausting crusaders of this doctrine, but it was actually an indie label in the form of Nonplus that first exasperated my fortitude with their hype tactics. Joy Orbison’s Brthdtt is the main offender here. Probably one of the most frustratingly enjoyable house tracks released in the last few years. It gathered exceptional notoriety on dance floors all over the world with its instantly recognisable modulated filter bass hook and R&B vocal sample months before it even got an official release date. And that was the problem for this track. By the time the release hit the shelves, it was featured on every mix, podcast and radio show known to EDM-man. Any DJ who was able to mix two tracks together managed to get a copy months before even the You Tube rippers could get their 98kpbs-hands on it, so that by the time it was released it was as inconspicuous as an elephant wearing a tutu. Unlike Daft Punk, on this occasion it did work and the limited vinyl run sold out before you could say Big Room Tech House DJ Tool –Tip. There was an issue though. Everybody that bought the Nonplus release found himself or herself with a record they could not in good conscious play out as a DJ unless they enjoyed suffering an onslaught of ridicule from a suspecting audience. You could play it at home and it can even be enjoyed in the same way as a pop track, but your purchase was probably on the basis of several listens and as a result you would have kept it sealed until the effects of that bass-line finally wore off. And when you do eventually play it again, once will probably be enough. Because let’s face it the track works on such an immediate level that another listen is rarely required. Perhaps that’s why there are second hand versions selling all over the Internet for much less than its original retail price today.

This Joy O effort was more word of mouth and Boddika’s (Nonplus label boss) benevolent nature than marketing strategy but just as annoying as the Daft Punk campaign. It prescribed to the same principle. Perhaps the reason behind this was to induce staying power and this might be the bigger issue we need to confront. In today’s trend-informed society when the majority of music only provokes an immediate response, it will forever be doomed to anonymity unless ingrained in our conscious. I don’t usually indulge in statistical facts due to their vulnerability to subjective information, but a recent statistic was difficult to ignore, especially when considering the computable source of the data. 94% of all digital music, sells less than a hundred copies. That indicates to me that music today is very rarely prised for its long-term effects. Its very much a flash-in-the-pan moment to be devoured instead of savoured and discarded in making way for something new. This attitude has a reciprocating effect on music. Brthdtt, whose distinctive sound is unmistakably obvious, can stand testament to this. Very little happens other than a superficial listening experience informed by playful bass hooks and catchy vocal samples.

It is definitely turning into something of an obsession, informed by a feedback loop that only seems to be gaining strength. Chromeo has been the most recent group to join the fray in what seems to be this growing epidemic of hype. The first single, Over your Shoulder off their hotly anticipated album was released 5 months ago. It’s funky bass line, 80’s infuormed synths and thin guitars carried on Chromeo’s legacy and luckily for us it was a free download. Thank you guys… but 5 months on and three more singles in, I feel that the album has already worn out its welcome, especially on the strengths of Jealous (I ain’t with it), the latest offering, which has recently been met with a social media campaign to get it into the Hype Machine charts. Since that first single, the music has detrimentally repealed the Chromeo sound – a sound that I believe first succeeded where Daft Punk failed on RAM for an over inflated pop production that could rival David Guetta. You can however get Jealous today, if you pre-order the album. Hmmmm. Pre-ordering something that will be infinitely obtainable from the very moment it is made available? It seems somewhat pointless. I believe the reason that pre-order for digital releases exist at all is for the distributor (in this case iTunes) to pounce on that epiphanic moment of that first encounter with the music, since any long term effects will be rendered moot. The immediate effects of a track, clouding your better judgement. Locking you in an agreement that you wish you could opt out of two months down the line as every bar, restaurant and advertisement bang out Dave 1 and P-Thugg’s forgettable hit.

White Woman is only out the 12th of May and I have to wonder why it will eventually take 7 months to be released. What do the record labels hope to achieve by sitting on an album that long and dangling the carrot in front of its audience? If you consider that only 102 songs of iTunes’ 2012 catalogue took up a whopping 6% of their total sales, you’ve got to question the motives for this hype strategy. Surely, selling a record is not economically feasible in today’s market. Is it not the reason labels have adapted and sign all-inclusive deals with their artists? They pretty much control every aspect of their signee’s output but you don’t see the same level of hype for a tour. It is why I have tremendous respect for artists like Death Grips, who undermine label authority and leak everything while the label wastes its time on ridiculous marketing strategies. It does suggest something of the record industry as whole. This value they’ still appropriate to recorded music doesn’t make sense anymore, since an album can now be recorded in a bedroom. It is usually recorded before the label even offers the deal and begs the question why this dinosaur still exists. You can hear all the music you like through the likes of Spotify and You Tube and artists can make sure their music is available without the help of a label. All they have become are hype machines with budgets that can make any music popular. But, surely the music should speak for itself? If it has to rely on hype to the degree we’ve been seeing lately, the music must not be able to survive on its own merits alone. It’s unfortunate, because a group like Arcade Fire, whose Reflektor album was quite a beautifully constructed piece of work, also induced hype fatigue towards the end of their campaign. They definitely didn’t need it. And the same will go for Melba’s Call.

I do hope this is only a phase that will pass like mini-discs and Seapunk.I sincerely believe it is getting in the way of innovative music coming through too. If the news feed is swamped with artists and releases whose notoriety will ensure an impact regardless, new artists get bumped off to make way for the more popular thing. I am not quite sure why the media assists and goads these strategies. O wait, I can think of one reason. MONEY! There’s a reason every news feed on every blog and music magazine is always almost identical. I was quite appalled to find that a recent review of Disclosure’s live show, in The Guardian no less, was all paid for by their label. Objective journalism completely missing the mark there. So if everybody is stirring the pot when will the food be ready? 7 months to a year according to Daft Punk and Chromeo. And if you are hungry now, they suggest getting take-out in the form of another single for an album you are already done with. O and in the process of writing this article a Video has now surfaced for Melba’s Call. Enjoy the hype.