Lo-Fi and Instagram
April 7, 2012
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Culturally Lo-Fi has become pretty entrenched in society nowadays. We see it with the current craze of Instagram which gives the opportunity for people to masquerade as ‘artists’ by taking seemingly mundane photos and applying as many filters and effects as possible to completely distort reality; because let’s face it, if the picture looks nothing like reality then it has somehow entered the realm of artistic expression. Also for added kicks, at least it looks vintage; it looks like film! As you can probably tell I’m pretty dismissive of the Instagram craze but for some reason I can’t apply that same level of vehemency to Lo-Fi music. Maybe there is something different about the values of these two closely representations of the world that makes one more authentic than the other.
Broadly speaking I think the ideological roots of things like Lo-Fi music and Instagram have their genesis in the Slow Movement. The Slow Movement was born out of Slow Food which is derived from a protest at an Italian McDonalds in the 80’s. Obviously there were other factors that prompted the protest, many of which included a growing anti-globalization sentiment and in particular the perceived decline of authentic regional cuisines in favour of generic fast food. Nonetheless the important factor is the notion that with all the benefits that industrialisation and globalization bring there is something to be send about how it just seems too fast. We can see this in the pace of the news cycle or the ever present commercialisation of our lifestyles. What Instagram does is hark back on that nostalgic feeling where life, at least from the perspective we have today, was filled with more time. In order to do this it uses film effects to symbolise such a lifestyle. Likewise Lo-Fi music represents the sound of multi-track tape decks and the authenticity of getting that sound perfect simultaneously rather than relying on post-production to digitally manipulate 1’s and 0’s into something meaningful.
Of course, this idealisation might seem a bit fanciful, I highly doubt that people during the early part of the 20th Century thought they had plenty of time on their hands or that they did not endure similar pressures during their life. Nonetheless I think the Slow Movement should be interpreted much in the way Hanna Arendt conceives of modernity in her work The Human Condition. Arendt references the Greek polis as a methodology to disconnect from the fetters of an outdated tradition (in the context of Arendt’s thought she was responding to the question how totalitarianism could have emerged) and back towards a past in which such a tradition did not exist, or at least not have such a prominent hold on the hearts and minds of the public to the extent that people turned a blind eye to totalitarianism. By using this frame of reference we might consider that Lo-Fi music wants us to consider what we find disturbing about the commercialisation of music where songs have almost become formulaic in their creation and instead we should look back to a period of music where the tradition of creating music for it’s spontaneity and originality itself were the main driving factors rather than whether or not a song had enough hooks to guarantee a radio hit. An example of the tension in today’s industry is to look at the label pressure placed on Santigold to churn out some songs that sounded more like pop hits; or perhaps Radiohead’s salient song ‘Anybody Can Play Guitar’ that still rings true 19 years later.
I think what makes Lo-Fi, besides being omnipresent with some amazing artists, is that it doesn’t really rely on gimmicks. Take for example How To Dress Well’s song ‘Decisions’ not only is the original moving on its own accord where it is within the confines of its bedroom production but it is also equally as good in its orchestral version. This demonstrates to extent the strength of this particular song’s musical narrative; it can transcend the equipment used whether that be a synthesiser or a violin.
Lo-Fi as a genre isn’t a gimmick; it is not some sort of sub-culture that purely exists in order to engender some form of elitism. It is a genuine expression of music in stark contrast to Instagram which parades itself as being representative of the general ethos of the Slow Movement, or at the very least a counterculture movement, yet in actuality is just another continuation of the very tradition that the Slow Movement is attempting to overturn. Instagram is not art, the fact there is a myriad of web columns and blogs instructing people on how not to be terrible at Instagram says it all really.
Update April 10 2012
Well it seems that Facebook has just purchased Instagram so we can all look forward to even more terribly shot and composed photos being redeemed by ‘vintage’ filters. What’s interesting is the sheer amount of money, $1 billion for a company that in a sense doesn’t really create any tangible revenues. Facebook must have been pretty desperate for the company and it probably means that the ‘art’ of Instagram is here to stay.