Bomb the Music Industry! has three very specific rules for how they operate as a band: 1) They play only all-ages shows that cost $10 or less; 2) every record they release can be downloaded for free on the Internet; 3) if it can't be done themselves, it isn't worth doing. They're a Fugazi for the 21st century — a perfect storm of DIY ethics and up-tempo indie-tinged punk rock that has not only weathered the economic recession, but thrived in it.
Founded in 2004 from the ashes of the Long Island ska band The Arrogant Sons of Bitches, Bomb the Music Industry! has spent seven albums railing against everything from the hypocrisy of anti-corporate bands ("Side Projects Are Never Successful") to the politics of selling out ("My Response to an Article in Alternative Press") and the pressures of being beholden to a record label ("It Ceases To Be 'Whining' If You're Still 'Shitting Blood' "). They're a volatile pop-punk dynamo, spinning nearly out of control in their live shows — inviting the crowd on stage to play instruments, breaking their gear (usually by accident) and playing every show like it's the last gig they'll ever have.
But more than that, Bomb the Music Industry! represents a more sensible, practically minded philosophy on how to make, perform and distribute music. For all of their anti-consumerist glee, their DIY ethos has translated into an undeniably successful marketing strategy. And while they've proved that punk can be a recession-proof genre — especially in the realm of live music — you don't have to look far to find the opposite.
Around this time last year, Britney Spears and Nicki Minaj announced a 25-city tour, crisscrossing North America from Los Angeles to Winnipeg to, eventually, Nashville. Billed as the Femme Fatale Tour, it was orchestrated as the latest maneuver in an attempt to bring Spears back into the sort of spotlight she enjoyed in 1998. Tickets went on sale for the Bridgestone Arena date with prices ranging from $29.50 for nosebleeds to $350 for exclusive VIP packages, not including the bevy of fees imposed by Ticketmaster.
Three months later, those tickets were selling for between $18 and $53 on Groupon.
Across the country, headliners with massive mainstream hit singles — headliners like Rihanna, Lil Wayne and Kings of Leon — were slashing their ticket prices, often selling them for half their original asking price. In some cases, entire legs of tours were cancelled, marred by poor ticket sales and ballooning production costs. For every sold-out U2 Claw show and Lady Gaga Glitterpalooza, there were two pop tours that went over like a Creed reunion or a Dashboard Confessional revival.
Comparatively, BTMI! keeps their costs low by touring within their means. They only produce merchandise they know they can sell, and for years, that meant not burning hundreds of dollars on printing T-shirts. Instead, they opted to provide stencils and spray paint for their fans to make their own shirts at shows. The records BTMI! have already released online are available on vinyl, mostly in multiple colors, and those have sprouted a small collectors' market of überfans owning entire rainbows of BTMI! vinyl.
That's the thing about DIY music: In 2012, "DIY" doesn't necessarily mean "not getting paid." Nor is it mutually exclusive to Fugazi-inspired gutter punks and power chord-addled folk rockers. Folk-punk bands like Andrew Jackson Jihad and Defiance, Ohio may have been the gold standard for eschewing a record deal in favor of playing sustainable music for a niche audience, but even bands without the kind of communal support found in folk-punk circles — bands like the recently defunct local pop quartet Parachute Musical — can galvanize a small audience of fans into funding their records in a way that would previously be thought impossible.
But none of that is really what matters. What matters is that, when all of the DIY ethics and colorful vinyl records are stripped away, Bomb the Music Industry! plays amazing music.
BTMI!'s latest record, last year's Vacation via their sergeant-at-arms Jeff Rosenstock's Quote Unquote Records, is one of the most solid power-pop records to come out in a decade. With shades of Weezer at their height — all the way down to the guitar tones on "Vocal Coach" and the sweet but dorky references to watching Twilight Zone marathons on New Year's — Vacation is an earworm of a record. There's something deeply affecting about Vacation, above and beyond the head-banging viscera of Bomb's punk and ska roots.
In the end, that's what people are turning out for. Fugazi didn't get huge because of Ian MacKaye's "fuck the system" ethics — they got huge because their music was resonant. I doubt anyone listens to Bomb the Music Industry! solely because of their propensity to play all-ages shows and let you spray-paint their logo on a T-shirt. But these days, you know, it sure doesn't hurt either.
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