Ladies and gentlemen; the root of the problem…

Upstairs the DJ drops tracks to roars of approval from The Workman’s Club crowd on this weeknight in Dublin. But down here in the green room, the songs are reduced to processed beats pounding in one’s temples.

“Is that too loud? Do you want me to get closer?” Rory asks, pointing to the ceiling. He moves to the edge of the tattered armchair towards the voice recorder.

Rory is the main man behind Belfast band Strength NIA and I’m a humble journalist with a couple of questions. Thus, here we are; sitting in the green room mid-interview while the party rages on upstairs…

“In contemporary rock and pop music in Ireland now there’s some great stuff happening,” opines Rory.

“The thing about artists in Ireland that are kind of, more subversive or left-field… they have a kind of disdain or kind of a contempt for commercialism or being successful.

“I see it all the time and I meet it all the time when I’m talking to people. I’d love to see more bands and artists that are more left of field embracing their…”

Commercial side?

“Fuck no, not even commercial side. But wanting to be successful at it…”


“Ambition! You took the words right out of my mouth!”

And y’know what? He’s absolutely right.

The left of the dial is simultaneously a grey area and an artist’s palette of shades and hues not yet known to man.

The music is what gives it those exotic colours; kaleidoscopic, psychedelic, shit-stirring, third-eye opening, awe-inspiring records and artists painting the airwaves and the minds of this humble blue-green world.

And yet, it remains a grey area, uncharted territory.

For the fans, the critics and the musicians. ‘Cause it’s not a sound, and it’s certainly not a look, it’s an attitude and an ethic.

Spend any length of time in an indie scene and you will inevitably come across Rory’s aforementioned apparent lack of ambition. Where the artistes seem to discourage and disavow excessive financial rewards for their craft. Enough to get by and keep on doing their thing, that’s all they want.

We’ll leave the dissection of capitalist society to the political scientists and philosophers. Suffice to say, “success” is largely defined by us Western homo sapients in material terms.

The house on the hill, Merc in the drive, white picket fence and 2.3 kids. That’s NOT what the underground artists are after.

They’re after creative freedom. The ability to express themselves honestly through music and thusly commenting on what it means to be human. ‘Cause that’s what creativity is; whether it’s plainly spoken or not, it’s a comment on our very humanity.

Needless to say, that ain’t top 40 material.

As the great prophet Hicks asked his congregation; “when did banality and mediocrity become a good image for your children?!” When our owners discovered it breaks the top 40, that’s when.

But around about the same time, mere handfuls of people on either side of the Atlantic and indeed in lands beyond our provincial Western mentality were born with their heads outside of their assholes and realised that “hold on… this stuff is shit!”

And lo the underground was born! A by-product of mainstream entertainment, a Shangri-La of integrity and expression.

That’s what’s important to the independent bands of the 21st century; integrity and expression. The music comes first, everything else is just a bonus.

Tad defeatist though aren’t they?

As Jay Reatard so eloquently put it “you’re going to fail anyway so who gives a fuck?”

And a healthy lack of fuck-giving is a good thing. It encourages individuality, something discouraged in our Orwellian age, and can light a fire under a person’s arse.

It’s that first bit “you’re going to fail anyway…” that’s the issue.

“The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.” Charles Bukowski said that. And he couldn’t be more right on.

From an early age, the dreamers, believers, truth seekers and the generally righteous are told to sit down and shut up. That’s why they invented school, so they can put that psychic leash around our necks and keep us in line.

It’s in the classroom that we first catch a glimpse of the carrot they will dangle in front of us for the rest of our days; they call it “success”.

The aforementioned house on the hill, the picket fence, etc etc, that’s what success is. At least, that’s what the 21st century Western-world definition of success is.

And as stated before, the independent bands of today are uninterested in such things. What they’re after is “integrity and expression.” Which is, of course, not multi-platinum material.

But why shouldn’t it be?

Why shouldn’t creative exploration of human’s inner space sell millions of copies? Why shouldn’t intelligence and honour and evolution be worthy of the public’s attention?

Why indeed?

The easy way out is to say that it’s not what our owners want. That they don’t want critical-thinking, able-minded individuals populating this third mall from the sun so their comfort and bank accounts remain unmolested while our very souls are molested.

And indeed that may be part of it. But the real reason is far more chilling. It’d turn the most hippy-dippy idealist into a Carlin-esque cynic.

We don’t want that.

People don’t want to hear it. ‘Cause it’s challenging. Challenging not just to the system, but to our very mindset.

Changing the way a body, your own or otherwise, thinks isn’t easy for anyone. It’s hard-fuckin’-work. And hard work is something the majority strives to avoid at all costs.

Which suits our owners just fine. There’s a difference between ambitious and ruthless. Ambition works for what it wants. Ruthless takes advantage of opportunities.

And that’s what has happened. An opportunity has been taken advantage of and that opportunity is us. Our human condition.

So the indie bands, out of instilled defeatism and fear of the red-hot iron brand that spells ‘SELL-OUT!’ turn their nose up at the thought of playing arenas. They play their souls out in tiny clubs and work their fingers to the bone and wear their brains to mush and sweat the paint off their guitars.

But as Kristofferson sang; ‘when you waste your time a-talkin’ to the people who won’t listen…’

by James Fleming

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