Posted in music on October 29, 2007

Arcade Fire

Will (not Win who is pictured above) Butler responded to Sasha Frere-Jones' article about race and indie rock.

Being as I am in the Arcade Fire, I prickle a little bit at your statement that “[i]f there is a trace of soul, blues, reggae, or funk in Arcade Fire, it must be philosophical; it certainly isn’t audible.” In a somewhat … I dunno, is it childish to respond to critics this way? Anyway. I’ve attached an MP3 with parts of our songs that I think steal quite blatantly from black people’s music from all over the globe. [Will Butler]
Be Online Basketball.

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Comments (55)

it's such a stupid article. as much as i love jazz/blues it's refreshing for bands to use different tonalities.

Posted by Anonymous | October 29, 2007 4:03 PM

That was an incredibly awful article.

Posted by Anonymous | October 29, 2007 4:05 PM

that mp3 cut up was kind of neat

Posted by Anonymous | October 29, 2007 4:08 PM

that would be WILL butler...win's brother.

Posted by Anonymous | October 29, 2007 4:09 PM

or "WILL butler"

Posted by Anonymous | October 29, 2007 4:09 PM

that's such an amazing mp3. it's rare that you come across something like this that'll provide such access and insight into the inspirations / influences of a band...

being spoonfed? i dont mind.

Posted by vinz | October 29, 2007 4:09 PM

why do black people always bring up race - wanting credit for stuff? i mean, nobody's asking black rappers to be "more rock". although, i think kanye is adopting this strategy - if only to make more money.

Posted by Anonymous | October 29, 2007 4:12 PM

OOPS! fixed, thanks!

Posted by brooklynvegan | October 29, 2007 4:18 PM

^^ SFJ is a white dude...

Posted by Anonymous | October 29, 2007 4:19 PM

4:12 I don't think you totally understand the situation

Posted by Anonymous | October 29, 2007 4:20 PM

Anon 4:12: Sasha Frere-Jones is white. You on the other hand are an idiot.

Posted by edwyn the bear | October 29, 2007 4:22 PM

i actually think the piece touched on a very interesting topic, although it did a terrible job addressing it! there are tons of interesting things you could say and interesting questions you could raise about race and popular music: it's just that SFS is apparently not the man for the job.

for example: SFS's complaint is that present-day (indie) rockers fail to follow mick jagger's (etc.) example and incorporate 'black' elements into their music. but what he ignores, obviously, is that there is a *huge* difference between a white musician using (incorporating, imitating, etc.) 'black' music in the 60's and a white musician doing the same today. what are those differences? what has changed about american society, politics, culture -- especially about racial relations -- that explains those differences? these are fascinating and valid questions, which is why the piece's failure to discuss any of them is so disappointing.

Posted by om | October 29, 2007 4:41 PM

Sometimes music writers just need shit to write about & overanalyze to earn a paycheck...

Posted by RT | October 29, 2007 5:12 PM

her complaints about lack of syncopation or 'rhythm' are way overblown. she completely ignores the influence of a whole 'nother kind of body-shaking music on rock 'n roll: techno, which has probably influenced rap the just as much.

Posted by Anonymous | October 29, 2007 5:23 PM

This Frere-Jones character is a race-baiting little prick. Fortunately for him (and his bank account), his primary demographic are the plethora of white wimps who hate themselves as much as he does.

Posted by Nucular Physiques | October 29, 2007 5:24 PM

I agree that 4:12 needs to read the article again.

Posted by Anonymous | October 29, 2007 5:50 PM

I thought the article intitiates a great debate. I really wonder what scene SFJ is observing. I think hip hop is influencing indie rock a lot. Has he ever heard of Yeasayer, Dirty Projectors, CocoRosie....etc? There are plenty of bands that discount his whole article and they are even all from NYC. So its a little weird. Also, its not totally necessary for music to follow the same exact patterns it did forty years ago. Things do change. And its really good if they do. Bottom Line: SFJ is a hater.

Posted by Squad Car | October 29, 2007 5:51 PM

I thought the article intitiates a great debate. I really wonder what scene SFJ is observing. I think hip hop is influencing indie rock a lot. Has he ever heard of Yeasayer, Dirty Projectors, CocoRosie....etc? There are plenty of bands that discount his whole article and they are even all from NYC. So its a little weird. Also, its not totally necessary for music to follow the same exact patterns it did forty years ago. Things do change. And its really good if they do. Bottom Line: SFJ is a hater.

Posted by Squad Car | October 29, 2007 5:51 PM

Sasha Frere-Jones doesn't deserve the attention given to his ridiculous, misinformed articles.

Posted by Anonymous | October 29, 2007 6:03 PM

I just love the fact that Will is so worried about it that he's willing to show us exactly where they stole their ideas from.

Posted by Anonymous | October 29, 2007 6:13 PM

Sasha Frere-Jones is the Anne Coulter of indie rock.

Posted by Anonymous | October 29, 2007 6:15 PM

"Sasha Frere-Jones is the Anne Coulter of indie rock."

This is the best quote of the year!

Posted by Avarian | October 29, 2007 6:54 PM

The greatness of the article isn't the article itself, its that the one ciriticism it offers that basically covers your precious Voxtrots and LCD Soundsystems and Spoons and whatever you bland alt-rock failures fap to. It's that these bands are all boring, bland, rhythmless, awful, and derivative, yet very few "indie rock" marketed acts actually get criticized. That's a shame, because most of it is horrible and only good to those with no reference point before this decade and various greatest hits compilations of "important" bands.

I couldn't give a shit about SFJ, but I'm glad this is opening up a discourse on the over-blown, lionized garbage that gets so acclaimed by you jerkoffs.

Te amo.

Posted by Chris | October 29, 2007 7:12 PM

while i agree that "indie rock" has become rather run-of-the-mill, this article only suggests a change to something african-american. is it african, or american? i've always struggled with that. you're either one or the other. pick one.

Posted by Anonymous | October 29, 2007 8:52 PM

"I couldn't give a shit about SFJ, but I'm glad this is opening up a discourse on the over-blown, lionized garbage that gets so acclaimed by you jerkoffs."

you hate indie rock but you're reading and blogging on an indie rock website. i bet your picture is in the pictionary under "jerkoff".

Posted by Anonymous | October 29, 2007 10:55 PM

who cares about race OR The Arcade Fire?!?! NBA season starts tomorrow woohoo! and whats up with Continental Arena being renamed The Izod Center?

Posted by Jason Elam | October 29, 2007 11:21 PM

i'm confused. a white reporter said, 'the arcade fire hasn't stolen enough from black folks work' and someone from the arcade fire's response was 'no no, we steal from them all the time!'

of course what he really means is 'but, we totally ripped off a white buy who had already ripped off the black people for us!'

when will retro hipster rock end? ugh.

Posted by s | October 30, 2007 12:54 AM

Seriously, how did this bimbo Sasha Frere-Jones get a sweet gig as a music critic? A band must be good if her friends ask her for tickets? Are you joking? And the musical connections in the MP3 are over her head, really? I'm shocked.

The music critic for Metro NY is 10x better than this.

Posted by MDK | October 30, 2007 1:14 AM

One, this isn't blogging. LOLZ

Two, this website provides information on shows, which is what I require. It just so happens that 70% of the music or events covered here sucks.

Three, who says I hate indie rock? LOLZ. Indie rock, first, doesn't exist, its a marketing term. Two, I said most of it sucks. The quality fell off on the whole after 2005.

Posted by Chris | October 30, 2007 1:30 AM

Sasha = a guy

Posted by Anonymous | October 30, 2007 1:32 AM

Chris 7:12 said:

"The greatness of the article isn't the article itself, its that the one ciriticism it offers that basically covers your precious Voxtrots and LCD Soundsystems and Spoons and whatever you bland alt-rock failures fap to. It's that these bands are all boring, bland, rhythmless, awful, and derivative, yet very few 'indie rock' marketed acts actually get criticized."


Sorry Chris, but those who believe that "very few 'indie rock' marketed acts actually get criticized" DON'T read THIS blog.

Posted by b.LOUD | October 30, 2007 1:56 AM

I totally agree with Chris. t is always amazing to see the knee-jerk racist reactions on this blog anytime this stuff is brought up( I remember the discussion about the TVOTR cover of VV). I like that this blog provides ample cover for the true inherent racism of the indie scene to come out. So many of you are living in your delusional bubble thinking that your friends of color in the indie scene feel totally comfortable and are "just like you". I think it's time for you to realize that sometimes there is an oppressive disconnect that goes right down to the core of some of that rhythmless soulless and downright disingenuous music. A disconnect that causes resentment and anxiety that we have to force back downs so we can appear to "fit in" with you guys at the Merc or Bowery Ballroom or whatever. Oh white hipsters, that the days of your bland indie rock safe spaces would be over!

Posted by tamara | October 30, 2007 2:33 AM

can't we all just get along?....seriously though...let people listen to what they want. don't try to force your tastes down people's throats. who cares if someone enjoys something you don't.

Posted by Anonymous | October 30, 2007 8:34 AM

I am a huge AF fan, but between this and the "Arcade Fire Stole My Basketball" incident, aren't they demonstrating themselves to be just a wee bit touchy?

By which I mean completely oversensitive?

You guys are in a very popular band. People will praise you, and people will talk shit about you. Much of it will be true. Much of it will not be. Roll with it, please.

Posted by David Berger | October 30, 2007 9:05 AM

I think its worth mentining SFJ reads Brooklyn Vegan, just check out his article about Animal Collective last week, he quotes from comments section almost directly, also gives good info which does not appear on this site, like the fact the DJ set that came before AC was apparently AC produced.

I think he is just commenting on what he likes, so he likes more groove type things, ok thats fine. Also someone mentioned Dirty Projectors are hip hop influenced, I dont hear it, seen them live multiple times.

FYI, and I mentioned this before, there were more black people at Korn show this year at the Seaport, than at any other free indie show in NYC, and that includes Spank Rock. So, draw your conclusions.

Posted by Anonymous | October 30, 2007 9:13 AM

maybe thats why no body dances anymore? haha

Posted by Anonymous | October 30, 2007 9:53 AM

"why do black people always bring up race..."

"always amazing to see the knee-jerk racist reactions on this blog"

amazing isn't quite the word.

Posted by in_fam_ist | October 30, 2007 10:05 AM

"friends of color"

tamara, what color do you mean? Oh, that term is just hilarious. (my own personal experience at use: the southeast asian kids i went to high school with wanted nothing to do with the mexican kids i went to high school with who, in turn, wanted nothing to do with the black kids i went to high school with who wanted nothing to ....etc...)

tamara, you scour these blogs & websites just looking for a way to call people bigots, don't you?

are you doing your part?

do you sleep easier at night?

does this work better than your pills?

... i'll bet it does.

Posted by Anonymous | October 30, 2007 11:00 AM

"Via Playblog:

Frere-Jones’ argument is predicated on two bullshit dichotomies. Early in his essay he describes how “Elvis Presley stole the world away from Pat Boone and moved popular music from the head to the hips.” There are two glaring problems with this assessment. First it subscribes to the age-old notion that mind and body represent opposing forces, the idea that intellectual urges and sexual urges are mutually contradictory and thus forever locked in a Manichean battle for the souls of teenage pop music listeners. It should go without saying in this day and age that this notion is rubbish: The desire to read and the desire to fuck live comfortably side by side in many well-adjusted teens of both sexes.
Worse still, Frere-Jones ascribes racial attributes to the two sides of this outmoded dichotomy: Mind is white, body black. Thus, to Frere-Jones, the Arcade Fire (“the drummer and the bassist rarely played syncopated patterns or lingered in the low registers”) is pedantic, sexless and indicative of whiteness, while Mick Jagger (“He sang with weird menace and charm”) is lusty, soulful and indicative of blackness—or rather, in his parlance, miscegenation. Frere-Jones even discusses Jagger’s dancing!

...Frere-Jones also ignores—whether willfully or not—huge swaths of indiedom that might undermine the particulars of his premise. In fact, even the band he uses to set off the entire discussion, Arcade Fire, seems a poor choice. Arcade Fire’s sound is a dead-ringer for that of the Talking Heads; the distinguishing aspect of the Talking Heads was their study of, enthusiasm for, and use of African polyrhythm and percussion. Hardly the best example of a band bleaching the black out of its influences.

...Frere-Jones skips the rise of dance-oriented indie genres such as Big Beat (Fatboy Slim, Chemical Brothers) and Electroclash (Peaches, Miss Kittin). He passes over the showmanship of the Britpop movement (Blur, Suede, Pulp), a scene in which fashion, haircut and personality played nearly as much importance as hook, melody and beat. The blues riffs of the White Stripes, Black Keys and Cold War Kids must have escaped his attention. He misses the melding of indie and hip-hop that produced the trip-hop phenomenon. LCD Soundsystem and the DFA, Le Tigre, Daft Punk, the neo-Stax sound of Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson—all go unnoticed by Frere-Jones. He must also not be familiar with a currently booming strand of indie typified by Calvin Harris, Simian Mobile Disco, Chromeo, MSTRKRFT, New Young Pony Club and others—syncopated, bass-heavy, electro-fried indie dance music that he might encounter in all the indie clubs where kids—newsflash—shake their asses (sorry—hips) to this stuff.

So what has Frere-Jones been listening to? It’s difficult to say. But one thing is clear: Frere-Jones beats up on a mere straw man in this piece. His arbitrary definition of indie—white guitar bands descended from the Beach Boys rather than the blues—is a make-believe genre from which he has already eliminated anything he sees as black-influenced music, making his criticism of it as not sufficiently black absurd. Only when he forces this twee subgenre of his own creation to stand in for the broad totality of indie can he make his argument at all, and even then it must be made with obnoxious insinuations based on an embarrassing set of racial and sexual anachronisms. Since his stock in trade is calling other people names—he famously branded Stephin Merritt a racist because Merritt published a list of his favorite musicians of the 20th century in Time Out New York without, Frere-Jones insisted, a sufficient number of black artists on it—Frere-Jones’ alarming lack of self-awareness must not be laughed off or excused. With this piece Frere-Jones has demonstrated himself every bit the racist—for buying into this pathetically regressive set of ideas—as any 1950s Southern preacher who decried white interest in animalistic, vulgar race music. That Frere-Jones’ delineates and fetishizes the other—this carnal, black backbeat, this jungle sexuality he insists on placing in contradiction to cerebral, “oblique,” “flat-footed,” white rock—should damn him alongside those who delineate and vilify the other; both visions assign the same traits to blackness.

Perhaps Frere-Jones should spend less time trying to reconcile his white singing with the would-be black funk of his (all-white) band, and a little more time poking around indie clubs, where his shameful philosophical starting point was discredited so long ago that his current epiphanies sound like unwelcome posts from a time machine. He needs to get on with it—read a book, have a dance, sex it up once on a while. None of those things will make him any whiter or blacker than he is; alas none will make him any less a jackass, either."

pwnt

Posted by Anonymous | October 30, 2007 11:03 AM

getting spanked in playboy just isn't as much fun as it used to be.

Posted by Anonymous | October 30, 2007 12:39 PM

tamara's right and oct. 30, 11 am is suffering white-blindness.

Posted by s | October 30, 2007 4:06 PM

i love how the article never mentioned bands like broken social scene, tv on the radio, islands, etc., etc., one of the worst articels i have ever read in the new yorker. i am so glad to see this backlash. i was raging on the train as i was reading it.

Posted by Anonymous | October 30, 2007 4:54 PM

S, what is "white-blindness"?
I mean it. Explain yourself and your little self-righteous, self-satisfying term.

I'm half-Japanese, half-Irish (100% West Coast, I might add). Do you mean, perhaps, half-blind?

Here's a simple rule I've lived by for a long time: If ANYBODY calls me colored ANYTHING, they'll have a good fight on their hands.

So, mr/ms. S. I await your reply.

Posted by oct. 30, 11 am | October 30, 2007 5:09 PM

white-blindness is when you think being entrenched in white culture to the point that you can't see the forest for the racist trees. you don't have to be white for this to be a problem.

tamara, who at least implied she isn't white, was saying that white hipsters have a tendency to assume that their non-white hipster friends do not see racism int he scene, because they, the white folks don't see it.

there is generally an accepted difference between the terms 'colored' and 'of color'. most modern anti-racist theory (written by non-white folks) uses the term 'people of color', because even as there are differences amongst different non-white groups, those differences are not as entrenched in gov't and mainstream american culture as the disparity between white people and non-white people. 'friends of color' is simply an extrapolation of that term, as would be 'women of color', or, something that is grossly lacking in most indie-rock scenes, 'musicians of color.'

you can take offense at the term 'people of color' (obviously, since you are an autonomous being) but it's not like tamara made it up or was trying to be insulting.

Posted by s | October 30, 2007 5:18 PM

S-
1. So you think i have white-blindness? how so? That's what I was hoping you would explain; your jibe at me. (I should have asked that question better to begin with, I know).
2. If people are autonomous, like me, and can CHOOSE where they go to be entertained by someone that fits their own personal taste, then why are some, like tamara, so upset over the audiences at indie shows? a.fire can't pick their audience, can they? of course not. If all the white indie kids dropped rock and went to nothing but rap shows, then everyone would bitch about all the white kids at those, right? Or, has that complaint been levied before...
3. you can't speak for tamara (unless you ARE her) but I really want to know, specifically, what color she means. I wouldn't want anyone's damn pity (an adult, I am); but I don't want to be dumped into a big "Non-White" group with others who have no respect for me, my family, or anything else outside their own self-concocted sphere of self-hatred.

Posted by oct. 30, 11 am | October 30, 2007 7:40 PM

Just another dispatch from the ivory tower. Don't forget that this behavior is what got us into the present mess in the music biz. Music gets made somewhere, people enjoy it, and some guy puts forth his take on the cultural requirements said music is not upholding. Classic critical nonsense.

If you need a writer for New York magazine (relevant only to baby boomers) to tell you what's good, you are already gone.

Posted by BeeLaster | October 31, 2007 1:07 PM

if you don't know the difference between New Yorker and New York, you shouldnt talk.

Also the Talking Heads to Arcade Fire comparison is pretty stupid as well. As has been observed.

Posted by Anonymous | October 31, 2007 2:02 PM

"if you don't know the difference between New Yorker and New York, you shouldnt talk."

-just another dispatch from the ivory tower

Posted by DeVille | October 31, 2007 4:57 PM

Butler's mp3 is the perfect response to a load of pointless shit.

Posted by whatlofi | November 1, 2007 2:20 PM

RE: Deville's comment. I think the distinction between the New Yorker and New York is appropriate. The New Yorker is enfeebled by it's profound nostalgia for the New York of E.B. White and finds it cute to package Indie Rock as such and critique it without nuance as they believe that engenders controversy.

Frankly, this is the only part of the conversation that interests me. Arcade Fire fucking rock though, I'll say that.

Let's end with a question?: who invented the modern drumset?

Posted by Allen | November 1, 2007 3:14 PM

One day this community of cultural critiques will decide it doesn't care about writing about music anymore and will decide to influence the aesthetics and cultural programs of entire wharves of impressionable minds vis a vis politics. Can't wait for that.

If you want social understanding, take a deep breath before you get pissed off next time you're on the subway. We're all in this together and bands like Arcade Fire shouldn't get panned for working with such charisma towards something that they love so passionately since it works to unite people not divide them. Blah, I can't even stand what I MYSELF am saying!

Posted by Allen | November 1, 2007 3:34 PM

I get irritated every time I see anything by Sasha Frere-Jones, even his choice of what to write about is irritating. (His name is irritating, too.) It's possibly not surprising that The New Yorker has such an excellent "serious" music critic, (Alex Ross, who by the way seems to have better taste in pop music than Mr. Frere-Jones) and such a crummy, self-important "pop" critic.

Posted by saltnpepper | November 1, 2007 5:01 PM

It's been years since I first read this article.

And I still love it.

Thankfully there are some New Yorkers left who aren't vegan/don't listen to music about the insecurity of being white.

Posted by Justin | August 3, 2009 1:21 AM

while i agree that "indie rock" has become rather run-of-the-mill, this article only suggests a change to something african-american. is it african, or american? i've always struggled with that. you're either one or the other. pick one.

Posted by شات اكابر | February 2, 2011 10:05 PM

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