Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Howler vs. 4onthefloor: Whose Side Are You On?

Note: The views expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily represent those of "Live From Studio 5!", KFAI, or any other human being on the planet...though I wager some of you will agree.

I was hoping to avoid chiming in on the recent Howler uproar, but it's gotten so out of control at this point, I figured, why not add another voice to the cacophony?

The beef, in brief: Jordan Gatesmith, the frontman of Howler, a band so stereotypically hipster it was bound to be snatched up and mass-produced by a record label, recently trashed his hometown music scene in an interview with The Guardian.

"They'll build up these bands -- no offense, Minneapolis -- that I will hate. I will completely hate. But they'll like sell out the biggest room in Minneapolis," Gatesmith said, citing 4onthefloor, a stomping blues band that includes four members who play four kick drums in 4-4 time, as an example of what's wrong with the Twin Cities' music scene.

 "They're like Mumford & Sons crap," Gatesmith continued.  "I'm sorry. But that will get huge. They'll do like crazy big venues, then everyone will be like, 'Yeah! 4onthefloor is the band to watch! Everyone get ready!' And then, of course, nothing will happen outside of Minneapolis for them. And I think a lot of bands that kind of do the punk rock thing, or kind of the underground thing are the really good acts that will just never see the light of day. So I have a hard time with Minneapolis."

I don't necessarily disagree with Gatesmith. Minnesotans love their hometown bands, gag-inducing gimmicks and all. We find a favorite and over-expose it to the point where you wish the band would self-destruct already. Personally, I thought 4onthefloor was a bore from the get-go. They're a band made to sell beer. No surprise, of course, that they quickly partnered with Pabst after walking away with first place at last year's "Are You Local?" competition.

I'll stand by the Facebook statement I made that night as the rowdy winners took the stage: "There are artists and there are entertainers." 4onthefloor is the latter. That's not necessarily a bad thing; we all need a frothy sonic escape sometimes, but let's just be honest about what a band is.'s "Are You Local?" competition, like its City Pages counterpart, "Picked2Click", is not about talent anyway; they are popularity contests. The trouble with attaching so much clout to those titles is that our musical lust is momentary, and Twin Citians have an especially short attention span. Our preferences are as fickle as the weather forecasts; wait a minute and they will change. And why shouldn't they? This is the land of 10,000 musicians! And in a pond this itty bitty, it doesn't take much to look like a big fish.

Perhaps the only thing that riled me up about Gatesmith's statements is the idea that Howler is any better--or any different--from 4onthefloor. Both bands received excessive media attention and fan adoration long before they'd proven themselves worthy. Both bands are one-trick ponies. I'd dare say that 4onthefloor's horse is already dead; Howler's will soon follow. A year from now, no one will remember either of these outfits beyond this petty argument about which of them is more authentic.

If I must choose sides, well...I won't. I don't particularly like the music either buzz band is producing. I certainly wouldn't pay to have their tunes on my iPod or to see either act live. The one thing 4onthefloor does have going for it is a good-hearted frontman, Gabriel Douglas, who is a known supporter of, and collaborator with, musicians in the Twin Cities.

Douglas has donated his talents and time to Rock the Cause, an organization that can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned. And if we must bring this bickering down to a superficial level, Douglas is as passionate about hoodies as I am, while Gatesmith seems like the kind of guy who'd willingly wear eyeliner and skinny jeans, two things I've successfully eschewed for my 30 years on this planet. Based on those personality traits alone, I'm siding with Douglas.  (He also grows impressive facial hair.  Let's see you do that, Howler!)

Thankfully, what Howler boasts in ego, 4onthefloor has in humor. Here's their musical retort to the controversy, a cover of another bloated-beyond-belief band, Mumford & Sons.

If I know anything about the Twin Cities' scene, it's that you don't want to piss off the wrong person. Enjoy your record label asphyxiation and Brit love, Howler.  Heck, you may as well relocate. Minnesotans may be "nice", but they can hold a grudge like nobody's business. Consider your bridges here burned.

Tune into "Live From Studio 5!" on Wednesdays from 10 PM to Midnight on KFAI radio for more unsolicited opinions on what's hot and what's not on the local music scene!

- Erica Rivera

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