I’ve been puzzled by this question, what happened to the underground? Is the underground still there in music or how does that whole thing work nowadays? Ofcourse theres something outside of the mainstream, but the old implication of the underground being what the mainstream should be is long gone.
I’m nothing, I should be everything
Yes, I did just quote Marx. The underground, it used to be the area of hard working bands, hoping to achieve mainstream succes with their unique sound. Perhaps some of them were a bit head strong or just weird, but they all had the same goal in common. That goal would be, becoming big and playing stadiums, you know… the rockstar life. Ofcourse, this still happens, bands playi in tiny, sweaty venues, hoping to be the next name in the charts. It doesn’t matter if you play hiphop or hardcore punk.
Not all bands have that goal in sight though. If you start playing death metal, the days of glory are long past. You are not hoping to achieve succes anywhere outside of your scene. The scene is a closed community, surrounding a genre. It’s become a thing like a niche, a rarity. Musicians realise that too, if they commit to a style, the mainstream is as far away as ever from them. Is that scene still underground? Perhaps, maybe the underground just has accepted it’s never going to become mainstream. The same thing as that a death metal band accepts they’ll probably never draw that punkrock crowd to their shows.
That brings me to the next issue with this story, what is that thing with hipsters. Can something be hipster and still be underground? Not every band that is appreciated by what is considered the hipster crowd, ever really surfaces in the mainstream, but it starts to feel like whatever scene is involved with the hipster scene, ends up being in a transferral zone, between underground and mainstream. Neither accepts this music to the fullest. Look at a band like Deafheaven, from my black metal world. They have become a hipster band, meaning black metal has spat them out. Still, they are stuck in limbo, neither here nor there. When the scene spits you out, you can barely get back in.
A third way or any way
I’m not sure what state the world is in. Do we still do justice to the dense system, by using such generic terms like mainstream or underground? A middle way seems to not really resolve anything, but there’s a clear scene in between that is neither one nor the other. It’s peculiar enough to be called a third way, but it only shows the variety that actually exists and is going in all directions. The new music landscape seems to be one of pluralism, anything goes. It’s the postmodern condition in pop form.
The mainstream is still, there, but it’s hardly something that plays a part in the deep, dense underground that shows itself in many guises, sometimes even that of mainstream. Maybe the underground never was something that could be united by any general terms. It seems that nowadays it just happens to be confident where it is, whether its embraced in its scene, the general underground or just in its small, weird hipster niche.
There’s still plenty of sound from the underground.