Steal My Sunshine
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Why We Need to Keep Hold of Escapism in Music
I do think that music has the power to transform…
IN THIS PHOTO: Hot Chip/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
and enrich lives around the world. There is no doubt that, on a daily basis, people are lifted and guided by music and its unique power. There are great artists out there who are making sure we are in a better mood and made to feel touched and protected. One such band is the always-reliable Hot Chip. The band has just played All Points East and their album, A Bath Full of Ecstasy, is out on 21st June. I am pleased they are about because the band is one of the very best out there. I saw an interview they conducted with The Guardian and there was something that struck me. Alexis Taylor, their lead, was talking about their music and what they want to achieve:
“I wrote the [new] songs for people to bathe in, or be lost in an active way,” Taylor explains, as we order an Uber afterwards. “To have a deep listening experience with it, without any distractions, if they can.” Both have railed before about how they dislike mindless escapism in pop. “And escapism is the opposite of what we should be doing in our lives, for political and ecological reasons.”
They find the world around them frightening: Goddard regularly retweets anti-Trump and climate change messages. But Taylor would never write direct protest songs. “Rather than just saying, ‘Oh, there’s Brexit and there’s Trump in power’, instead we’ll write songs like Positive, which is about looking for positivity – asking people to support those around them suffering from mental health problems or facing difficulty with poverty or homelessness. I’m thinking in songs instead, to try and figure out an answer.” Mindful escapism, perhaps?”
I do understand where Taylor is coming from regarding escapism and avoiding big issues. We are living in a time where the planet’s future survival is unsure and there is a lot of heavy sh*t around. Hot Chip are a band who look at environmental issues, mental-health and other subjects that we can all relate to. Rather than make these subjects quite severe and gloomy, they have a more comforting approach; putting their arms around people and making sure there is positivity among the hard-hitting words. ‘Escapism’ is a word that is pretty broad and I think, more and more, we need it in our lives. I can appreciate Taylor saying a more mindful escapism is good but, even when you add a positive and hopeful spin to ecological problems and mental illness, is that providing an actual distraction from the severity of the world?! I have complained about artists not addressing serious issues and being too mainstream and, whilst so many are stepping up and reacting, is there too much weight and not enough relief? How often does one hear a song that simply embraces life or is fun for the sake of it? I do feel there is a lot of Pop that is vacant and hollow but, in a music landscape that is becoming less and less fun, should we be advising artists to reject mere escapism – instead, put something with a deeper message out there?
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I think, so long as much has a bit of depth and nuance, it is great to give the people something a bit fluffy and simplistic. Hot Chip are an example of a band who can address what is important but put a slightly lighter spin on things. I do feel that Pop that is vacuous and aimless should be rejected but I think, reading that interview quote, there is a feeling that all music, if it is escapist, needs to come with a message. I reject the idea all music needs a purpose and we all need to address serious subjects. I know musicians have an important role and, the more they talk about environmental issues and get us to think what we are doing to the planet, the better that is. That is fine, yeah, but all of this can create quite a suffocating and one-dimensional vibe. We are all aware of the severity of big issues and many of us have to cope with an awful lot. The realities and pressures of modern life are shoved in our face all of the time. From the fatigue of the morning commute to the constant stream of bad news and dire warnings, it is hard to ignore the situation we are in. I genuinely think the average person is trying to do their best and we are all worried. I applaud artists who are using music to try and change things and open minds. It is important we all work together to make things better but music, for me at least, is a way of getting away from the world and finding some peace. I think one of the reason people look back and listen to a lot of classic sounds is because there is that guaranteed hit of pleasure and delight. I am not saying we all need to escape from serious music but, as we are all more stressed and divided, there is that desire to embrace something escapist.
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For me, I love a bit of classic House and Dance; songs that are about the pleasure of life and getting together. There is some great Pop from the 1980s and 1990s that did not necessarily hold a lot of seriousness and depth but, hey, it does make you feel a lot better! I do feel we all need this kind of music and we are not ignoring the world completely by mixing things up! I think there is a real lack of simple fun and uplift in music; something that does not have to be about anything other than having fun. Many might think there is a pretty healthy Pop scene that does that already…but I disagree. I think Alexis Taylor’s statement about vacuous Pop is right. What I want is for there to be more music out there that makes us all feel calmer and brighter; that sort of Summer of Love sound that can act as a contrast to everything else. The world has been in a pretty dire state in other periods and, even then, there was a balance of music. Look back at economic recessions and terrible governments. We were all strained then but, I feel, there was more in the way of relief and optimism. Of course, we all do need to take note of what is happening to the world but rejecting non-mindful escapism is a bad thing. Why must all music be about the troubles we face?
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Does every artist need to be more responsible and use their voice to raise awareness?! I do not think so - and it would be an awfully bleak industry if this was the case! I think, as more artists tackle big subjects like mental-health, something fundamental is escaping from the industry: songs that make us feel better and let us forget about our problems. A few singles from this year have provided a good kick - but there is not a whole lot of hope around. I think more people are getting nostalgic because they want to bond with music that made them feel good and comforted. As the world is in a pretty unsure situation, I think escapism (small doses of it) is necessary. It means we can find that little retreat and area where we can switch off and recharge. If music is merely concerned with the big questions and issues then it does get to you and can be draining. I love artists like Hot Chip and their more optimistic spin on things. There are too many artists shoving reality in our faces and, if we can still hear songs that dig deep but have a smile, then that seems like a good balance. As I said, the planet has been in a worse state than it is now and, through warfare and political evil, artists have given us songs that we can wrap ourselves in and dive into; a pure escape that does a lot of good for our mental well-being.
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This article was written in 2016 and talks about how good, fun music can provide heal and redemptive spirit:
“Music is a barrier and also fuel. Losing oneself in a song is as much a ward against exterior misery as it is a reminder to keep going, to start somewhat fresh and anew. To dismiss lightweight music as an opiate de-legitimises the work of talented creators. While the Weeknd's Abel Tesfaye is a vocal supporter of Black Lives Matter and of awareness for Toronto's Ethiopian diaspora, he's also the "Starboy" who rode through 2016 in a variety of expensive cars without a care and scored the second-largest debut week of the year. The number one song in the U.S. is "Black Beatles," a song that defies any analysis deeper than it being fun as hell.
Music is a wonderful escape and there's nothing wrong with that," says Dr. Mel Borins, a professor of community medicine at the University of Toronto and practicing family doctor. Borins is a songwriter and performing musician who writes comedic tunes about pap smears and colonoscopies and he believes that music – any and all music – is a legitimate medicine of sorts that can help with depression and anxiety, along with laughter and other forces of joy. "What we have difficulty with as human beings is change, and any loss is a change," he says. "I don't have anything against distraction… escapism is a good thing, and on the other hand, music has a way of uniting people."
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In her New Yorker essay "The Worst Year Ever, Until Next Year," writer Jia Tolentino felt the great flaw of the social media era in times of turmoil is how overwhelming the information intake is, that "there is no limit to the amount of misfortune a person can take in via the Internet… no guidebook for how to expand your heart to accommodate these simultaneous scales of human experience." It's a continuous sensory overload of doom-and-gloom for those who follow the news. Borins defines burnout as "when you have nothing left, physically, emotionally and spiritually… you get discouraged about things, you think negatively," and while he's hesitant to apply the condition to the current climate, it doesn't seem too far off.
It bears reminding that the liberty of musical nourishment, to even forget about troubles, is in itself a privilege. Those who managed to escape the fate of the many thousands dead in Aleppo won't find slipping on earbuds to listen to Bruno Mars as easy a solution as those of us in Toronto, and the same holds true for the non-white families in the U.S. and Europe who worry about the fact they may no longer fit a suddenly narrower definition of their own country's cultural identity. Again, the larger scale of human suffering threatens to extinguish hope. And you know what? All of this does suck, but it shouldn't have to do so in an all-consuming manner. Pop music may not have the answers but it might just be one more thing that keeps humanity going, just as long as someone's listening”.
Our planet and country is going through some hard times right now and we do all need to work together to make things better. If musicians can raise awareness and send important messages out to people; get us all motivated and thinking, then that is brilliant. We definitely need music to play its role in that sense but I feel, with all this crap flying around us, there is a big place for escapism; good music that does not need to protest and summon – something we can listen to and instantly feel better in ourselves. If we ignore the power and important of non-mindful escapism then it is depriving people of a much-needed release. This is something, I for one, would hate…
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TO see happen.