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19 January 2013
This isn’t underground

Glòria Guso

Anyone knows that music festivals are in a large part sponsored by brands of clothes, shoes and sunglasses, but sometimes this sponsorship goes beyond the economic and interferes with the very conception of the event, something that can end up being a problem for the bands participating, the public or the brand itself. It can’t be denied that the rise in taxes and reduction in capacity of many concert halls after recent tragic events are having a very negative effect on the programming of live music and, in this context, one possible way out could be a closer collaboration with sponsoring brands.

Converse has allied itself with the Barcelona promoter This Is Underground to create a platform supporting the local music scene, principally by organising concerts. During the next few months, Make Noise will bring to Barcelona foreign bands already consolidated in the indie world, who aren´t on tour, so that new bands from the city, chosen by the organisers or through votes on the website set up by the platform, can act as their support bands. These events conserve the traditional format of concerts in a small hall with a low stage, close to the public, but pervert it by filling it with publicity of the footwear brand, also present since November in Barcelona’s metro stations.

Over the last three years in Catalonia there has been a great boom in the ambit of independent music, not just on the level of bands but also with the creation of numerous projects such as record companies and small festivals that, with minimal means and a lot of willpower, have created quite a buzz in specialist America media such as Pitchfork Media and in national newspapers of the general press. It is evident that Converse, with Make Noise, is taking advantage of the work already done by these young agitators and the bad economic forecasts to parasite the local circuit and make use of it, in a way that is to say the least questionable, in order to give off a young, carefree and modern image, inventing in the process a new form of sponsorship that goes beyond the patronage of staging large festivals.

The first of these events took place last 18 December at the La 2] in the Apolo with the participation of [No Age (USA) as the star band. With the omnipresent slogan “Shoes are boring, wear sneakers”, the assistants were encouraged to have their photograph taken during the concert to enter the raffle for a pair of sneakers. Loads of photographers situated in the first rows took care of it, portraying not the bands but the public having a great time, throwing beer all over the place, jostling and jumping around like mad. The night’s stellar moment starred No Age, half way through their performance: the video that was being projected on the stage screen changed, they stopped playing and sat down on the floor.

The video-clips shifted to images of Converse factories in Indonesia, with a text in atrocious Spanish denouncing the working conditions of the workers. The public first fell silent and then applauded, there was an attempt to stop the video and, after their 15 minutes protest pause, No Age played a few more songs and abandoned the stage, thanking Converse for the invitation. It seems the group accepted all the brand’s contractual conditions that referred basically to publicity before and during the concert, knowing that they would use the platform to make this denunciation.

It’s not just that No Age didn’t change the world with this, but they also treated everyone like naïve idiots. Just as Converse used them and their young alternative image to publish their products, No Age wanted to use the brand to show a subversive and committed side their only objective being to justify to their fans their participation in this event without seeming to have sold out, when in reality they had, like all the other bands participating. Beyond the content of the video, it’s clear that this intent to boycott ends up being absurd, childish, obvious and vacuous. There are an infinite number of channels through which messages against multinationals can be launched, probably much more effectively than in a concert with 300 people in an audience who already know who’s in charge on that day: the photograph with the most sweat and bruises.

If the unfavourable economic situation and measures, such as the law of sponsorship, have to serve to supplement the lack of public investment in cultural projects by letting brands appropriate initiatives of private individuals that function, making them lose their independent and combative essence to become scenarios for cheap vindications, let’s just call it a day. One thing is to depend on private sponsorship to keep projects going, another is to cede one’s image to advertise a product and submit to practices far removed from music, art, or whatever else, leaving the public in a situation where nobody feels comfortable, not even the ones who profit from it, and in which some decide to set themselves up as gurus of justice, converting their discourse into a mere justificatory pseudo-protest that is too superficial to have any effect.

Glòria Guso is an art historian and a researcher in the social sciences. She was born in the periphery of Barcelona but lives in Paris and her second home is Germany. For her PhD thesis in sociology she studies the international mobility of the visual arts professionals. She writes, coordinates, edits, documents and criticizes.

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