In the Seth Godin class that I’m taking, one of the points that he stresses is not being an “insider.” He claims that once being an insider is your goal, you’ll never truly feel inside enough. By this, he means that striving to be “in” leads to constantly seeking the approval of whomever you see as the credible people within your field. This causes a repeated compromise of individuality, which can leads to subpar work with no unique voice.
I agree with Godin’s statement in the sense that we should be willing to take our own path and not be so afraid that we conform to the dogmas of any scene or culture that we’re a part of (or want to be part of).
This is one of the primary ideas that Sole Imperial Represents. Having the mastery of yourself and your own creativity gives you individuality and allows you to deliver original work that makes a valuable contribution to culture. This also falls in line with Godin’s idea of “making a ruckus.” When we choose to be on the outside, or at least take that perspective, we take a fresh voice that we can add to our own creation. Whether we’re making music, design, or creating business, not being so engrained in “the scene” can ultimately provide the unique position to deliver art that adds the most beneficial contribution to the culture. This involves taking our outside surroundings and absorbing them in a way that allows us to inject that small pinch of different flavor that makes our work just a bit different.
I’ve recognized this trait of approaching things from an outside perspective in the careers of some of my favorite artists and writers. This has not only benefited their art, but provided longer term career relevance through evolution.
Ralph Waldo Emerson- Society
Ralph Waldo Emerson, famed transcendentalist and advocate for extreme individualism, is referring more to society as a whole rather than any particular scene. However, our mainstream culture is constantly proposing that we adhere to the fast-food thinking of memes and pop culture, or whatever the equivalent was in Emerson’s time. The reaction to this throughout time has been the emergence of subcultures like punk and hip hop, which are both a reaction to the economic, political, and cultural effects of mainstream society, but also platforms of individuality for their participants. However, as the subcultures solidify and grow, we can see different examples of people claiming that someone’s music or ethos isn’t “punk” enough or “real hip hop”. While I grew up in both of these cultures and have a deep love for both, I think that there are plenty of times when fans hold onto their musicians and artists and reject their evolution. While I understand the desire of not wanting your favorite band to sell out or discard the qualities that made you like them in the first place, this can sometimes create an eco-system of artists making music that fits on a certain grid of what will be accepted within the subculture.
Henry Rollins- Critiquing His Own Scene
Henry Rollins, former lead singer of Black Flag, set the punk and hardcore scene ablaze when he said “punk rockers are some of the most narrow-minded people on the face of the earth”. He was referring to the lack of individual thinking within the punk scene that can lead a subculture to swallow itself be not evolving gracefully. Though Rollins initially found a voice within the punk/hardcore scene, this ability to think for himself has allowed him to transcend the image of what a figure in punk should portray, allowing him to delve into acting, TV hosting, and authoring several books that all have very little to do with punk music.
The Roots- Intentionally Alienating Their Fans
Before they were Jimmy Fallon’s house band, The Roots were the gauge by which bohemian left-of-center hip hop was judged by. Their jazzy melodies, Questlove’s in-the-pocket drumming, and emcee Black Thought’s multi-syllabic rhyming ushered a new era of hip hop for fans of A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. Dedicated listeners could identify themselves in a certain way by claiming that they were Roots fans. However, as Questlove, the drummer and bandleader stated in an interview with Red Bull Music Academy, they discovered early on that their growth as artists led to them gaining a new group of listeners, while also alienating a segment of their fan base with the artistic advancement of each album. He notes the insistence of the great producer J Dilla in influencing a lot of this, who said, “Everyone has now caught up to what you’re doing, and for you to stay ahead of the pack, you’re going to have to get uncomfortable and just go there.” (XXL Magazine)
However, The Roots had the discipline and knowledge of this fact to take the risks of growth and not pander to what their musical scene or listeners’ view of what they should make.
Phil Frost- Always an outsider
Phil Frost is a highly respected artist that is often associated with many movements, whether it be New York Hardcore, skating, graffiti, street art, and the Beautiful Losers movement that took place in the 90s. Frost is fascinating in that though he’s highly respected in all of these subcultures, he’s not exactly a staple of any. In an interview with Living Proof Magazine, he said, “I ended up in New York with a yearning and desire to accumulate as much information as possible. I spent a majority of my time working long hours painting. Though you may see it differently, I don’t ever consider myself to have been part of any one scene. If there was a scene, I was recluse to it; I have always considered myself an outsider (Living Proof).” This has yielded him the freedom to cultivate his own style and not have to subject himself to the rules of any scene.
The point here is not to completely abandon the concept of participating in any collective or “scene.” In fact, the contextualization of being part of something bigger is extremely beneficial. However, the strength of that collective is improved when its individual members avoid the homogenization of the group and contribute their outsider influence to enrich the overall creative eco-system.