Underground Music Scenes: The Attraction and the Success Backlash

During a couple periods of my life, I have become fascinated by the idea of knowing about a band that no one else does; an "underground band". It is like having a little secret that you can keep, bringing only the people who you want into the fold and leaving the others completely ignorant.

There are some distinct advantages being engrossed with a local or underground music scene. You often are witness to some unique concerts, events, etc that have a far more personal feel that the stadium shows of more mainstream bands. Twice, I remember seeing a two different hard rock bands in concert within a church recreation hall where me and three other people (the same people at both I believe) were the only people in the audience. I've also been at shows where the band has taken audience input and played a few covers they might not have otherwise done because there were so few of us. I also have some first LP and EP releases by bands that have since gone on to play larger shows that are hand written burned CD copies. These are some of the nice things that fans get when they're fans of unknown artists. Artists take more time because they want to cultivate a good relationship and have the time to do so. Huge bands can't be that personal with the crowd of 25,000 they played for that night; they just don't have time.

I think this is part of the attraction of people to underground music. This personal connection with the band is very powerful. Plus, people in general like to believe they know about something great that the mainstream masses don't. This gives underground bands very loyal fans. The underground scenes I followed were full of very committed fans, and some great artists, both ones that made it and ones that didn't. Sometimes though, something that didn't make sense would take place, a sort of a success backlash.

I've been a fan of the punk/hardcore band AFI for a while. They were one of the first underground bands I found back long before their mainstream breakthrough. Although the band has a number of releases it was their album in 2003 that really carried the band into the mainstream for the first time in a large way. I thought it was a very good album for the band, and liked the progress they had made. What I saw though was some other longtime AFI fans completely dismiss the band claiming that they had sold out to be popular, had changed their sound to get radio play and had become punk/pop, (the death card to a true punk band). I even talked to people who said quite openly that they didn't listen to the group anymore simply because they were mainstream now.

It was if the band suddenly had the plague simply because they were being played on mainstream radio.

Although not witness to them myself, I've heard other people tell similar stories like mine with AFI, about fans of Metallica, the White Stripes, Nirvana and other one time underground bands that have since been recognized by a far wider audience due to mainstream success.

I can understand not liking an album by a band. I can understand (but don't condone) the contempt for certain fans who haven't followed the band from the beginning that some die hard fans have. I can even understand choosing to not follow a band anymore after a particular release, but I don't understand this success backlash that takes place once a band makes it big, purely because they are no longer underground.

This is like the reverse of fair weather, fans who only like a band once they are popular and trendy, but move on once they are old news. I don't know what to call them... hipsters maybe... I hear that word thrown around like crazy for just about anything. (By the way, here is quite an amusing list of definitions about what exactly is a hipster: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=hipster&page=1)

Whatever you call them, I think It is ridiculous.

Shouldn't we want our favorite bands to be successful and popular if they are making great music?

I think this type of backlash is fueled at least partially because once a band makes it big, they won't be our little secret anymore. We won't be privy to insider information, but instead just another one of the masses and no one wants to be that. There are bands that have actually done what some would call "selling out" by changing their sound purely to gain a wider audience. That doesn't necessarily mean that the band isn't still making good music. It certainly doesn't mean we should dismiss all their work... whether we think they sold out or not.

Maybe, this is just a strange phenomena that I encountered during by time engrossed with underground artists... maybe not, but I think it's crazy either way.

Seems to me, these people might be missing out on some great music.

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