In which I ask people if they like fake bands and they almost all say yes

When you were a kid, you knew you were cool by material measurements. It was how many Yu-Gi-Oh! cards you had in your binder, what level your Charizard had been painstakingly raised to in Pokémon Ruby, or how many pairs of jellies you had. I know the most significant disappointment of my childhood (and possibly my entire life) was the day I opened my new razor scooter on Christmas day to discover, to my horror, that the wheels and handles were forest green rather than hot pink, the status-symbol color of choice in middle school. What does this tell us? Well, for one, it tells us that I have not lead a very hard life. Two, that image is everything, a lesson I have oft repeated during my time writing about the music world and all its eccentricities.

To prove this, I took a page out of someone else’s book (see my previous post about Coachella and the Jimmy Kimmel Live skit) and asked a bunch of college aged kids if they were excited about new albums and shows from artists who, shall we say, do not technically exist. The response? I asked about twenty or so people their opinions on made-up groups and albums and the overwhelming response was adamant and affirmative—yes, they’re great, can’t wait until that new album drops, what’s your favorite song they’ve done, etcetera. Just for reference, I wrote down the exact band name I made up on the spot and posed to passersby for comment. They are as follows:

“Oh you’re going to Ultra? I heard Teakwood Vest is going to be there. You excited to see them?”

“Have you heard ‘Eight and a Half Pounds’ by the Organic Chicken Breasts?”

“I’m continually surprised that groups like Painting the Cat Beige can’t get enough recognition to get airplay on mainstream stations. It’s sick man.”

“Why can’t people distinguish between Arcade Fire and Arcade Fire Extinguisher? Arcade Fire wishes they had that much raw talent.”

“I saw Solitary Ibis on Prozac a few years ago and they killed. Have you heard of them?”

“Lilac Bush with a Drinking Problem is on tour but I’m way too poor to fly to D.C. just for that. Too bad.”

Every person but one acted as if they knew about the fictional groups, and, even more surprising, acted as if they knew everything about said group or artist I had fabricated for the purposes of the experiment (the word experiment being used very loosely here). They went beyond just acknowledging that they knew the band or were vaguely familiar with their work, going on to describe their sound as a whole—albeit in vague generalities you might use while doing an oral report on a book you have yet to read, see, or touch.

It’s hip to be square

At first there was an element of superiority and perhaps even a touch of acceptably sociopathic glee I felt while watching people trip over themselves to say that they avidly followed the comings and goings of fictional artists. But after the first half hour of self-congratulatory superiority had passed, I started to feel a little more sympathetic towards the unwitting participants in my miniaturized study. Is there really so much pressure on young people to be “in the know” when it comes to music and all things indie that we just nod and say “Oh yeah love their work,” before running home and frantically googling whatever it is we just lied about?

I’ve said before that festival culture is about the constructed image of coolness rather than the practice of enjoying and appreciating music, and I stand by that thesis, as any respectable English major would. But is that epidemic pathogen of needing to establish your coolness by accruing the most knowledge of music really limited to the flower-crown borders of Coachella or are we all just kids back at recess arguing over our Bakugan collections? When did we sign up for this exhausting back-and-forth over who is the most indie and who is a veritable piece of human garbage because they’ve never listened to St. Vincent?

Becoming and staying cool is a never-ending struggle. It’s like selling real estate—what would make a house killer in 1993 makes it unsellable now. Brass finishes and beige kitchens were the bee’s knees back in the day, but know we want subway tile, farm sinks, and those weird chandeliers with glass bulbs coming out at different angles instead. In ten years? Our kids will be complaining about those stupid mosaic backsplash tiles and how outdated granite countertops are (they’re already on their way out, according to an interior designer friend of mine, Carrera marble and soapstone are where it’s at apparently).

The same can be said of staying hip as far as music goes. Bands that got you major points a few years back are trickling down through the colleges and high schools and no longer have that little-known cool factor you were trying to cultivate. But here’s the thing—we’re also kind of lazy. Not lazy in the traditional sense, where you lay around all day in men’s sweatpants and your own filth (e.g. living the dream) but in a not-so-new but more unrecognized way, the “ninety percent of my life is dedicated to working so I don’t feel like doing literally anything when I get home.” So maybe you fabricate your musical knowledge rather than researching new groups. Maybe you don’t have the will to trust community radio during your morning commute and stick to something familiar, so you lie about loving that new vinyl by Eating SPF 50, a band I just made up, in case you’re slow to catch on. Maybe there’s a bit of poser in all of us. Speaking of, when is Alcoholic Triceratops going on tour again?

Performers Mentioned In This Article