Remember that one kid in high school who seemed to not have too many friends but always posted insane pictures of concerts on Facebook? He was one of us. Or that guy at work who shows up looking really tired a couple times a week and constantly mumbles about bands you’ve never heard of. He’s one of us too. It’s this huge thing that very few people know about – and that’s exactly what makes it so darn special. Underground music is a vast community, but one that is, by definition… underground. This a community that you want to be a part of – and not just because of the great music.
1. It Gets You Unique Access To The Artists
I just got through figuring out whether or not Rolling Stone Magazines favorite metal band of 2014 was going to sleep at my parents house this week while touring in the area. Someone who opened for Black Sabbath just liked my Facebook status and I also just got a text from a dude who’s been touring the world for thirty years. These things might seem weird and out of this world to folks not involved in the underground, but for us devotees it’s pretty par for the course. What I think a lot of people don’t realize is how accessible a lot of this stuff is. You can see four bands with a combined hundred years of touring experience for less than twenty dollars as long as you know where to look – and a lot of these artists just want to hang out with normal folks like you and be your friend.
In the underground community it’s surprisingly easy to watch a show from the front row and actually be close enough to reach out and touch the artists you love (Not that that’s encouraged!) Beyond that – you often find yourself chitchatting, sometimes by accident, with folks who have been lucky enough to go all around the world pursuing their art. If that doesn’t pique your interest – simply from a human perspective, then I don’t know what will. As crazy as it sometimes sounds – the underground really is all that and more. It is truly a force to be reckoned with.
2. You Find A Whole New World At Your Fingertips
In my work in the underground, I’ve come to discover radical sides of society that I might have otherwise never crossed paths with. While on the one hand I’ve learned a lot about people who work in the trades and who identify closely with the empowerment that comes with a blue collar lifestyle, I’ve also gotten to meet millionaires who use their affiliation with the arts to boost their social status. Once you pull back the veil of the underground, you get a chance to look into what makes this entire thing so special. People in the underground community tend to be much more open and willing to share bits and pieces of their lives, opening you up to whole new sides of the human experience.
Beyond that, there’s also the incredibly deep world of touring musicians and all the characters you tend to meet who help make that lifestyle possible. A lot of these people spend almost their entire lives on the road and they are aware of things that many of us might never be otherwise exposed to. Being a part of the underground gives you a window onto a world of punk rock magic where strangers sleep at each others homes just because they need a roof over their heads for the night before they hit the road again and where you find yourself frequenting 24 hour diners out of necessity more than anything else. It’s a strange world, and a rough one, but certainly something that I think you want to be a part of.
3. You Enter A Unique Community
A huge part of this hidden world is the community – something I briefly mentioned in the previous entry that but definitely should be expanded upon. The underground is a community built off of necessity and despair. We all know there isn’t a lot of money in this business so it often feels like everyone has banded together to make the best of our situation. In a world where everyone is trying to get better opportunities for their bands, and the bands they love the most, people have come to terms with the fact that we all need to work together if we want to help create the best possible scene.
This whole notion of a scene in and of itself is an interesting one. For the uninitiated, it refers to the group of people who regularly attend underground shows and help to contribute to the art, be that financially, through art of their own, or something else. Your local scene is sure to have it’s champions and villains, a sort of quixotic take on a world that often tries to base itself around films like Almost Famous. And this is fine – but getting involved in the scene is always a rewarding journey that leaves you meeting new people constantly and making friends from all over the world.
4. Your Understanding of Art Totally Changes
When you get a chance to pull back the curtain and see how the artists live, your understanding of art totally changes. You end up in a place where you can see the why and how of the art you adore. What better way to get a better understanding of music you love than by actually getting a chance to talk with the singer over beer and cigarettes? These are the opportunities regularly foisted upon you in underground music. What the underground allows you to do is to get a chance to look at the incredibly deep infrastructure that allows more mainstream artists to succeed.
It also gives you an opportunity to see how hard it is to make it out there. The fact that so many of these artists have touched so many lives and yet remain starving and are forced to take on side jobs is a very weird thing to see play out. The underground is a strange community and when you start to realize the brutal nihilism of it all, it will either totally alienate you from it or make you fall deeper in love than ever before. As you delve in and start to get a sense of what makes your favorite artists tick your eyes are opened and you’re forced to face brutal realities – realities that are endlessly interesting and give you a unique perspective on the works you love
5. You Meet Famous People Before They Become Famous
My mentor got a chance to hang out with Kurt Cobain before Nevermind dropped. My uncle got to know Zakk Wylde on the local scene before he started playing with Ozzy. Hopalong, a band who have now played various late night TV shows and toured with the Rolling Stones, used to play my favorite local coffee shop every weekend. The point being – a lot of these famous people who we all worship used to be a part of the underground, and many of them can still be caught now and then hanging out at underground shows. (Hell – Dave Grohl does it all the time!) Why? Because they love it.
The whole point of the underground, despite what some people might say, is to churn out the next big thing and to help create the sonic gods that the masses worship. Of course the odds of any one band being the one that gets launched to stardom is ridiculously small, but if you meet enough people the odds are you’re going to end up hanging out with some pretty special folks. It’s simply how it works – and it’s really exciting when stuff like that plays out in your favor. The music industry is a strange place – one full of heroes and demons, but meeting someone famous before they make it big… that’s what makes this whole thing special. Because everyone has a shot – and don’t you want to be able to say, “I knew them when…”?
Featured photo credit: Fraser Mummery via flickr.com