CULTURE: The Hype Machine
Going Out

CULTURE: The Hype Machine

And we’re rolling — constant documentation makes one professional crank wonder if once-savoured acts of existence have been lost to the upload-and-unleash culture

Illustration: Amy Thompson

I once met a gal who declared, with a straight face, that she was entering her “non-documentation phase.” It came off, at first, as some absurd yuppie pre-occupation, spoken with the precise concision of a tweet and possibly conjured up over an afternoon of latte-fetching. Yet it was, despite all the varnish of pretence, a pretty bold move.

In the name of living in the present, could you remove yourself from all the digital jotting-down of your existence? That would mean taking away Facebook, Twitter, access to blogging sites, your favourite video-sharing site — even your always-at-hand camera phone. These acts of affirming your existence — posting photos and thoughts to various websites — have become a much-trumpeted part of the professional world. Post often to gain hits, and have Google’s algorithms work in your favour! Keep your profile fresh! Update or fade away!

Non-doc gal proffered a nice counterpoint to all that hype. Instead of existing in a state of constant updating — where you’re essentially always looking one step back to get one step ahead — why not be comfortable in the present? This thinking isn’t new — it’s boiled-down Zen philosophy and has been the base point of countless self-help manuals. Still, the idea takes on a new dimension when compared with the tides of the ground-level culture in Ottawa.

The club rats among us can appreciate that going to rock shows has changed. Where once the need to document was concealed (bootlegs, anyone?), now it’s promoted, out in the open, and in my sightlines. Heading out to see some upstart rock band at Zaphod’s used to mean leaning on the rail at your favourite spot in the bar and soaking up the sonics. Now it’s nearly impossible to focus for the line of bluish camera-phone screens in the way. In the dark room, your eye zooms inevitably to that bright screen reducing the band in front of you to a miniaturized, digitized form and thereby lessening the power of the live experience. It’s an old-fart tune, but I can’t help carrying on about the wisdom of the way things were. I mean, if you need to say   “I was there,” do it the old-fashioned way. Buy the T-shirt.

Lately, the recording of a performance has become the main event through a new outing called the Voicebox Sessions. It’s an idea that was started by Ottawa producer Dean Watson and director Craig Allen Conoley. They provide independent musicians with a three-day creative workshop session where they perform, record, mix, and master a song, which they then perform in a unique location scouted out in advance by Watson and Conoley. This performance is then made into a music video. The playing is not the thing; watching a video of it later is now The Thing.

Those videos make it onto online band pages; they get posted and otherwise shared in an effort to bring more attention to an obscure band in a crowded online universe. These are the happenings and hype creation of the new web world. We are all content producers, and we are all constant content consumers.

It’s an electronic rat race, yes, but I’m not actually down on technology. I just think that the Internet is interesting only when it connects online and offline lives. So if that video prompts you to head to the next club show or festival site, there’s a chance to experience the real deal. You see, there needs to be a place that still allows you to savour sound completely unmediated by social media, camera phones, and digital video. To me, the live show is one of the last bastions of a real experience and a break from the constant screen time required in most white-collar day jobs. There are things that turn the senses alight — a reverberating bass line, feedback from the amps, the smell of stale beer. It reconnects you with tiny fragments of reality. For good or for bad, that stuff can’t be edited out.

Read Sound Seekers, a report on the club scene by culture columnist Fateema Sayani, every Thursday at