Strange Boutique (February 2015) – Snobbery

A much busier work schedule and greater activity with the label and event side of my activities over the past few months has seen this site go to sleep for a while, but my Japan Times columns have continued at their usual monthly pace. In lieu of giving you anything new, I hope those few of you who remain will bear with me as I run over this old ground for a while.

My February column was triggered by vinyl snobbery, but is really about snobbery more generally. I’d suggest having a read of it first to get the gist before coming back and finishing this post.

Now I’ll happily call myself a snob, and the central irony of the piece was that I was on my way to a particularly exclusive and in-crowdy event when I saw the “Fuck PC. Real DJs play vinyl” sign that pissed me off so much. The truth of it is that some kinds of snobbery annoy me more than others, and I suspect this is true of most people – someone who honestly didn’t sympathise with any kind of snobbery would be a very strange creature, and probably utterly unbearable to be around. To me, snobbery over the technology used to deliver the music feels like the worst kind of fetishistic capitalism, while snobbery over the content of the music itself makes more sense. In either case, however, I think there’s a defence you can make that snobbery functions as a sort of protective layer around something.

Fuck Vinyl Snobs: Real DJs Play Great Music

Whether that “something” is a set of values or of aesthetics is probably where I start to draw lines (where I become snobbish over the kinds of snobbery I can accept), but the distinction between aesthetics and values is itself a fuzzy one with a lot of overlap. Aesthetics are often built up to reflect values (the home-made, customised, ruined aesthetic of punk is an obvious and easy example) but once constructed, they’re always open to appropriation that ignores or even inverts the values they were designed to express (again, see punk).

As with a lot of my JT stuff, the column picks a side based more on the need to present a focused argument rather than out of an absolute belief in the position I’ve chosen to advance. My defence of snobbery is a relativistic position based less on any sympathy I really have with snobs than on my irritation at the way poptimists and their ilk employ the language of anti-elitism with the (admittedly often unintended) result of promoting trends that reinforce hegemony. On the other hand, the moment the wheel turns and po-faced rockist snobbery begins to dominate, guarantee I’ll be there tearing at it in all my pop-ist fury. As I say, my position is a relativistic one.

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