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Contemporary artists, music defy classification

By BARBARA HAUPT AND PHILIP HOFIUS

Art mirrors the culture that shapes it.

As artists and musicians create personal works, they convey the fads, wants and concerns of their generation.

In the 1800s, black slaves working on plantations created the blues. During the Vietnam War, countless musicians voiced their dissent through their art. Almost every period of history has one or two figureheads who stand out from the rest. If we could choose one artist to represent our generation, who would it be?

Philip: I don’t think we have any one person who defines our generation. Past generations had their Bob Dylan and their Beatles, but we have so many different categories, genres and subgenres within music, it’s hard to know who our Elvis is.

Barbara: It’s amazing the quantity of music there is these days. More people are able to make music and get it out there, with MySpace and YouTube. All the old styles have been twisted and spliced into endless new forms. One can easily find avante garde, electronic jazz bands, alterative country groups and Nordic death metal.

With all these subgenres and the seemingly endless supply of artists, it seems there is more of a personal connection between individuals and their music taste. As a generation, I think we feel more defined by our music collections than preceding generations.

Philip: In some ways, these networking and file sharing sites help otherwise unknown artists become popular, but they also don’t have the ability to separate the good work from the bad.

While media moguls and conglomerates have fallen behind the average Joes at Google, Yahoo and YouTube, teenagers have become more divided on terms of musical and cultural preference than ever before.

Barbara: The Web sites promote a more DIY side to music production, so that almost anyone can do it. Contrast this with the age of Mozart and Beethoven, when only a select few, mostly aristocrats, could afford either the time or money to learn about music. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, music would never reach listeners unless the musicians were signed by specific, big-name labels and played by only a few radio stations.

Philip: The Internet allows us to go out and search for artists we like. But, this wealth of free information makes us one of the most skeptical generations ever.

Today, companies like Sprite spend billions to advertise subtly and insert their products into counterculture instead of promoting their products visibly. These attempts integrate the old mass media with independent art, make artists more skeptical and self aware and force change to accelerate.

Barbara: I think one of the most interesting phenomena of our generation is the genre of indie.

Almost every generation has its counterculture, which eventually becomes the norm, and Indie is ours. Indie, short for independent, is a label that technically applies to artists who are unsigned or signed to independent record companies. But the term has come to describe a certain musical sound and style. Indie has redefined hipster culture and has actually become incredibly widespread in the last several years. I have no way of proving this, but I feel like this drive to be as different, as obscure as possible, is distinctive of our generation.

It does seem music within the Indie genre is often different for the sake of being different and not change on an organic level. But like most “underground” philosophies, the idea is to rebel against corporate-run, mainstream media and make music for music’s sake, which is obviously a worthy cause.

Because our generation is inundated by such an immense supply of varied music, it’s impossible to choose a single, unifying poster child. As individuals, we are able to find smaller, more specific musical niches through which to express ourselves. Because of this, as a group, we are distinctly unclassifiable.

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