The lost concept of the demo

possessed-demo

A promising young band which will remain unnamed released a demo last year and threw the proverbial kitchen sink at it. Chock full of riffs, perhaps far too much so, the demo presented precocious talent getting carried away in their exuberance, but the germ of something better in the not too distant future was there for all to hear. Or so one would think. Unfortunately, this demo was panned by traditionally credible review sites;  it lacked coherence, they said. According to them, it plagiarized greater bands and had no identity to speak of. I agreed with the broad gist of these sentiments, but I couldn’t help thinking that the concept behind the traditional metal demo has become obscured over time.

Once, demos served two purposes: to get the band’s name out in the scene, and to establish a rough blueprint of what the band would have to offer in the future. Small recording budgets and inadequate technology perforce made these demos garage-sounding efforts; even from the writing and performance angle, bands approached these recordings with a laissez faire philosophy. Whether due to still-developing musical chops, or a mindset which treated demos as a common dumping ground for tangentially-related ideas, these inelegant explosions of noise were sloppy and carried a devil-may-care attitude with pride. One didn’t look to them for polish and total writing intelligence, rather they were treated with a brotherly solicitude (the word “patronizing” crossed my mind, but that’s not quite it. One empathizes with such an initial offering only when there is something innately genuine about it. There’s no condescension involved, simply a wishing well for the future, for the sake of the band and the genre at large).

Advances in technology, however, have all but relegated the demo to insignificance. I’m not sure if new bands even release demos as they were once understood anymore; DIY gizmos allow the dedicated auteur to come up with professional sounding recordings patched up for blemishes, in the process missing all the little idiosyncrasies that made the demo such a curiously intimate affair. The effect is two-fold: not only does the music become more impersonal, but the expectations of those listening to it become distorted out of all proportion as well. They come to believe that a demo should be as good as the finished article, and that bands deserve no period of initiation wherein they begin “proving their mettle” as an ongoing process throughout their existence.  In some ways this is to be expected in a time of instant gratification and the impatience that naturally accompanies it, but, ultimately, the losers in this shift of mindset are listeners themselves. Not only do they do promising bands a disservice, but they also miss out on the subtle thrill of heightened anticipation; admittedly, this feeling becomes rarer in time, but it still creeps up on you unawares every once in a while; what tragedy then to exchange it for a blanket rejection of a band’s legitimate growing pains.

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