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A Load of Bull: how RBMA is at odds with its founder’s beliefs

Remember that appalling Pepsi advert this April—the one where Kendall Jenner singlehandedly diffuses some generic protest with a blue can of cola? Upon its release, increasingly more people quickly denounced the spot for its tone-deaf co-optation of the iconography of grassroots activism like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. Even Bernice King, the daughter of the American minister and civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made a snarky remark about it on Twitter. Snark begat screenshots begat memes, and Pepsi, in a rare reversal of a mammoth global marketing campaign, scrapped it following an overwhelming backlash. All that over an ad, Pepsi’s failed stab at radical chic.

Now, imagine that Pepsi had doubled down and skipped making the ad altogether, going straight to sponsoring the actual protests instead. Imagine that they showed up to the next demonstration and set up stands selling Pepsi, plastering their logo across banners, handbills, and t-shirts. Imagine they installed temporary ATMs. Imagine they became corporate partners with nonprofits and NGOs, making them cross-promote Pepsi products through their social media feeds. Imagine they funded leading experts to retrace histories of their own communities, publishing them on a Pepsi-branded website. Imagine Pepsi, more than merely co-opting the lexicon and codes of a popular movement, simply annexed the whole movement.

You can stop imagining, because that’s exactly what Red Bull has done with the global underground music scene, another grassroots, radical, and revolutionary force. Rather than mimic avant-garde music communities, Red Bull has bought them outright. Which would be less of a problem, if Dietrich Mateschitz, the company’s co-founder and public face remotely stood for any of the values that avant-garde artists and their audiences hold dear.

I’ve written before about the loose relationship between experimental music scenes, Red Bull Music Academy, and gentrification, as well as Red Bull’s shady business practices, and the mystery of the beverage itself. Now, on the occasion of their return to Montreal, it’s time to talk about RBMA’s ostensibly inclusive cultural rhetoric versus Dietrich Mateschitz’s unsettling social and political beliefs.

According to Forbes magazine, Mr. Mateschitz is Austria’s wealthiest person, controlling a vast fortune estimated at $13.4 billion US. Being that rich means that he has a lot of stuff: aside from a forty-nine percent stake in Red Bull, he also owns an Alpine lodge, a Formula One motorsports team, a race track, football clubs in Austria, Germany, Brazil, and America, an island in the South Seas, and various aircraft to get there. By degrees of separation, Mateschitz likewise finances Red Bull Music Academy. But all these assets haven’t tamed Mr. Mateschitz’s tempest.

No. In an exclusive Q&A this April with the Austrian newspaper Kleine Zeitung, Mr. Mateschitz rants indignantly about his contempt for political correctness, hostility toward multiculturalism, sympathy for Donald Trump, and scorn for what he describes as the “self-proclaimed so-called intellectual elite.” Apparently, Mateschitz doesn’t recognize his billionaire entrepreneur status as anything approaching elitism.

When pressed on political correctness, Mateschitz claims: “The most basic of all human rights is that of self-responsibility, and that is what they want to take away. They manipulate, regulate, monitor and control.” His sentiments echo Trump’s own, who has frequently railed in public against liberal diplomacy. On Twitter following the June terrorist attack in London, Trump wrote: “We must stop being politically correct and get down to the business of security for our people. If we don’t get smart it will only get worse.” As if “getting smart” equates to “outspoken bigotry.”

Another point of accord between the US president and Mateschitz is their opposition to accepting those fleeing conflict, something that Mateschitz in particular sees as a wave that’s “destabilizing Europe.” The reporter interjects at one point during the interview, warning: “You are talking like an enraged citizen.”

“I am talking about the fact that none of those who called out ‘Welcome’ or ‘We can manage it’ offered up their guest room or set up a tent in their garden to accommodate five emigrants,” snaps Mr. Mateschitz. “When one of the highest officials in Brussels says that countries with monocultures should no longer exist, then I hope that I am not the only one who is worried. But it seems that no one dares say the truth anymore, even if everyone knows that it is the truth.”

The truth, as Mateschitz sees it, is that emigrants are mongelizing Europe’s purity. This is all a long way from RMBA’s talk of diversity and inclusivity in dance culture. For Mateschitz, heterogeneity is fine in the club, just not out in the real world.

Few English-language music publications picked up on the Mateschitz interview—The Fader, Resident Advisor, and Crack magazine all ran brief mentions after Artsnet’s Hilli Perlson initially reported it—but the story quickly disappeared, as stories do nowadays. Still, the right-leaning website Breitbart jumped right on top of it, running an enthusiastic news item with the headline: “Red Bull Boss Slams Mass Migration, Forced Multiculturalism in Europe.”

All this begs the question: if Mateschitz is so obviously versed in the alt-right’s talking points, why is Red Bull interested in traditionally left-leaning avant-garde music cultures, of all things? I believe that, in their combative postures toward the status quo, Mateschitz sees something of himself. The artistic underground is also the most loyal scene—the most vocal, most active, and accustomed to being on the defence. For both the underground and Mateschitz, their critics are haters, losers.

In addition to Pepsi’s misguided ad, another string of images this year came to symbolize how out of touch with reality some of us have become: Chris Christie vacationing on a private beach; golfers in Oregon chipping on the fairway while nearby wildfires rage; Melania Trump arriving in stilettos in Houston to greet victims of hurricane Irma. It’s an equally bad look now to claim a radical political attitude and continue to support Mateschitz’s endeavors. Do you want to be seen raving away at RBMA while the world burns?

The choice is yours.

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Walls and bridges: how to break the media mirror and reclaim reality

“Is this … really happening? Is this … an act?”

Through the nervous, refocusing lens of an unsteady camcorder recording, an increasingly worried young girl verbally processes the scene before her. She’s witnessing the entertainer Meat Loaf moments after he collapses on stage at a performance in Edmonton, Canada. But this is not part of the act; this is really happening.

The camera briskly zooms out, revealing a confused and restless crowd. Audience members begin to vacate their seats. A roadie calls reluctantly for applause from the stage. Panic rises in the girl’s voice: “Oh my god, mum! Mum, what happened?”

 

At some point during this foul year—whether after the Brexit result in Britain, or Donald J. Trump’s US presidential election victory, or simply at a Meat Loaf concert—we were all various versions of that terrified girl, watching in shocked disbelief, grappling for a parental figure to assure us this was just a bad dream while something that wasn’t supposed to happen happened right in front of our very eyes.

Reality as we knew it broke down in 2016. All artifice revealed. Finally, ignoring or wishing away our collective situation would no longer suffice. But what is our situation?

It’s proved futile to establish “reality” today: television shows like Mr. Robot and Black Mirror blur the lines between cultural verisimilitude and speculative fiction; bogus news items propagate virally online, only to be revealed as such by “real” news organizations—publications and networks of which we have become progressively more distrustful; social media act as echo chambers, containing and reflecting our own images and opinions and desires back at us, reinforcing the perception of societal stability and normalcy; even comedy and farce have failed their critical duties, in part because reality itself seems evermore ironic, satirical and absurd.

How did we get here?

This peculiar account begins in July of 1892, with an obscure American philosopher and logician called Charles Sanders Peirce. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Peirce attended Harvard University in the early 1860s, graduating summa cum laude with a degree in chemistry in 1863. Peirce held only sporadic academic appointments, but his ideas on pragmatism and the nature of mind would have a profound influence upon a century of Western thought.

One of Peirce’s key philosophical contributions was called “synechism”: “the tendency to regard continuity” in all things. Peirce believed that we mistakenly perceive the world as a series of binary operations: utterances and interpretations. The medium of consciousness then wants to smoothe them out, and makes them appear uninterrupted and endless.

Peirce outlined synechism in an article called “The Law of Mind,” published in the journal The Monist. Radically, he argued further in 1893 that synechism implied the illusory nature of independent identity: “the selfhood you like to attribute to yourself is,” Peirce wrote, “the vulgarest delusion of vanity.”

But this notion of unified existence and consciousness found itself at odds with another, more lucrative view of the individual—one that would come to dominate the 20th century: the idea that each of us is utterly unique.

In 1925, the Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud authored a brief but important article called “A Note Upon The Mystic Writing Pad.” In it, he likened perception consciousness to an Etch-a-Sketch-esque device made of wax and cellophane. Freud noted: “the appearance and disappearance of the writing” is analogous “with the flickering-up and passing-away of consciousness in the process of perception.” For Freud, consciousness was a discontinuous and malleable activity.

Peirce died in poverty in 1914, with many of his later writings going unpublished. Synechism was incongruous with the anthropocentric, Western notion of the individual’s supremacy. However, another of Peirce’s concepts would prove consistent with Freud’s imminent individualist ideology: pragmatism.

Peirce also thought that the best way to perceive reality was through logic and scientific inquiry—by data gathering. All objects had practical consequences, argued Peirce, and those consequences constituted the whole of our perception of them. It was the beginning of a results-based, utilitarian conception of reality.

Pragmatism would come to govern both public administration and private markets. For the following hundred years, value would be determined through demonstrating practicality.

A problem with the results-based reality arises when it rubs up against Freud’s notion of discontinuous consciousness. Freud supposed:

If we imagine one hand writing upon the surface of the Mystic Writing Pad while another periodically raises its covering sheet from the wax slab, we shall have a concrete representation of the way in which I tried to picture the functioning of the perceptual apparatus of our mind.

Modulating the intervals at which our perceptual apparatuses register experience, for example, could destabilize our observation of time. Bombarding people with rapidly cycling and shifting forms of information could manipulate the development of memory, too.

In the 21st century, almost all of our memories emerged mediated. Even immediate, first-hand experiences were described in mediated terms: numerous eyewitnesses of the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York City, for instance, recalled the twin towers’ dramatic descent as “like a movie.” Reality was entirely a simulation.

Suddenly, any practical result could be mass-produced: wide-ranging policies could seem effective on screen when, in reality, they failed. Corporations could appear to produce giant profits when, in truth, they were losing vast sums of money. A game of managing appearances became reality—carefully manufactured, and delivered through increasingly individualized media channels.

By 2016, those media forms completely dissociated: The New York Times and Fox News began reporting entirely different stories; political dissent was officially pathologized; Facebook and Twitter turned into self-reinforcing bubbles; Apple attempted to further circumscribe its ecosystem through new and proprietary standards; reality became a hall of mirrors.

That really happened. It wasn’t an act.

The world today is not a two-sided coin; it’s a 99-sided die, and on each side a problem. What we desperately need now is to tell ourselves bold and original stories about the future, building neither walls nor mirrors but bridges—bridges that revive a sense of interconnectedness, continuity, synechism.

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Red Bull’s Sour Notes

(For Part I of this story, please read this.)

It’s not easy to casually surf for information on the health effects of Red Bull, which contains high doses of caffeine (the devil we know) and a shadowy organic compound called Taurine (the bull we don’t).

A 2010 study published in the journal Amino Acids suggests that Red Bull consumption “ameliorates changes in blood pressure during stressful experiences, and increases the participants’ pain tolerance.”

The American FDA collected records of Red Bull-related health problems voluntarily reported between 2004 and 2012. One patient in particular suffered from panic attacks, anxiety, blurred vision, dizziness, decreased appetite, fatigue, adrenal insufficiency, insomnia, confusion, attention deficiency, self-examination and dependence. These side effects are especially dangerous during brutally loud, disorientingly strobing, blindingly smoky EDM events. They’re also potentially deadly amidst sports, Red Bull’s other key branding arena.

In 2013, the family of a Brooklyn man called Cory Terry brought a wrongful death lawsuit for $85 million against Red Bull, charging that consumption of the energy beverage directly caused this otherwise healthy 33-year-old’s fatal heart attack on a Berlin, Maryland basketball court. As of April 2016, though, the case failed making it to trial, suggesting that Red Bull paid substantially to keep the Terry family quiet.

The following year, Red Bull resolved a different kind of lawsuit, a class-action false advertising claim challenging its “Red Bull Gives You Wings” slogan. That out-of-court settlement cost the company $13 million. How anyone would seriously consider that consuming Red Bull could possibly result in spontaneous wing growth is debatable. It becomes conceivable, then, that Red Bull might spend $13 million on a bogus lawsuit simply as a perception management maneuver, linking the search terms “Red Bull” and “lawsuit” with another case that A: has nothing to do with Red Bull’s potential health hazards, and B: makes the company appear favorable under public scrutiny. Indeed, because of the avalanche of mainstream publicity the story generated, this is the lawsuit that Google most commonly indexes to Red Bull today, not the Terry’s.

Managing the perception of whether or not Red Bull is dangerous is beyond big business. In an important way, Red Bull is no different from Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, or even other “energy drink” brands. This is because, where it counts, they function in lock step.

In fact, powerful industry associations represent them all—chiefly, the American Beverage Association in the US. Britain and Canada have their own equivalents. These organizations effectively act as muscle for their clients, doing the leg- and sometimes dirty work that individual companies either can’t do alone, or don’t want to be seen doing publically. This work most often involves lobbying efforts to stall independent studies on health effects, fighting new taxes designed to curb mass consumption of sugary beverages, and swaying public opinion whenever possible.

And their collective methods are shadier than Red Bull’s marketing strategies. In October 2016, the American Beverage Association was caught in an intricate scheme that reportedly paid US dietitians to publically oppose a new soda tax via updates posted to their personal social media accounts. Credentialed opinions are not outside Red Bull’s reach. Experts have been bought.

That everyone down the line has a price tag isn’t overly surprising. And Red Bull Music Academy’s operations seem inexpensive by comparison—surely against governmental lobbying efforts: artists and their surrounding scenes are the starvingest of all. Over the past fifteen years, music recordings have plunged in value, and music journalism has slid even further. Investing in these cultural venues is a comparative cakewalk for Red Bull. And it makes clear the reasons why the corporation would go after the elusive music of the underground.

Avant-garde artists are traditionally most resistant to branding partnerships. They also cultivate fierce loyalty among their audiences, who view them to be more authentic than pop stars. Red Bull targets these artists because of—not despite—their DIY, outsider status. Thus the underground becomes a carrier signal for Red Bull’s increasingly murkier marketing mission.

Nonetheless, some of these scenes want nothing to do with Red Bull. But that doesn’t put them out of reach. RBMA can commission a “history,” say, on Montreal’s “Godspeed Generation,” effectively co-opting an especially anti-capitalist movement into the heart of its branded online ecosystem. The same goes for RBMA’s Cadence Weapon-penned account of the city’s “Torn Curtain” scene.

At first glance, these seem like thoughtful and insightful chronicles of significant cultural undercurrents that shaped Montreal’s musical identity. But they are, in effect, reliable roadmaps locating otherwise unreachable would-be customers: those thought to be above the sway of advertising: ad-blockers; cord-cutters; Gen-y’ers; Millennials—anyone deemed impervious to traditional promotional tactics.

Reaching the unreachables is what Red Bull Music Academy is all about. The logic goes: if you can locate them, you can map them. And if you can map them, you can conquer them. Marketing “campaigns” are named for their military resemblance. Red Bull goes further. Its RBMA activities are termed “activations.” Co-opted by Red Bull Music Academy, the spirit of resistance becomes the capitalist’s user manual.

But RBMA operates at arm’s length from Red Bull, right? Not true. According to their legal disclaimer, Red Bull GmbH reserves exclusive intellectual and commercial ownership over RBMA’s domain and content. All Your Avant-Garde Are Belong To Red Bull.

It’s worrying. Especially when you think about what’s in the stuff.

Still, the most abundant ingredient in Red Bull, besides sweetener and Taurine, of course, is water. The company is deliberately vague about identifying its water sources, saying only that it uses “fresh Alpine water of highest quality, which comes from springs nearby the production sites in Austria and Switzerland.”

I’m not a water policy expert. But the World Economic Forum, the influential Swiss-based foundation urges that water crises will become “the biggest threat facing the planet over the next decade.”

What Red Bull wants to do with fresh Alpine water is to add sugar. And Taurine. Put it in cans and sell it to as many of us as possible. Full stop. That’s not good for anybody.

(Read Part III of this story here.)

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Who By 🔥

The signs are everywhere: We live in uncool times.

Fossil fuel combustion continues to drive most global economic activity. Human-powered climate changes are irrevocably warming the planet. Devastating forest fires—like those in 2016 that destroyed the oil-slick city of Fort McMurray—are the new normal. The world appears aflame. And it seems that the language we now use to describe culture has transformed accordingly. Hence, the proliferation of the shorthand 🔥.

Over the past decade, things that once might have been labeled as “cool”—chiefly of music, but also more broadly in relation to skills, talents, fashions, events &c—increasingly began to be designated “fire.” Not “on fire,” mind you. Not “fired up” nor any modified variation thereof. Just “fire.” Fire as an adjective was abruptly ubiquitous. And calling something fire suddenly bestowed a kind of hotness beyond any measure of cool.

This year, we achieved peak fire thanks to the 🔥 emoji’s saturation. Two years ago, Jessica Bennett of the New York Times had already proclaimed the emoji’s victory in the war for words. The OED’s selection in 2015 of 😂 as word of the year, as well as the Museum of Modern Art’s 2016 acquisition of the original emoji set (which interestingly contains a bomb but no figure for fire) entrenched these digital icons permanently into the public imagination as legitimate linguistic forms. Aptly, 2015’s “fire mixtape” became 2016’s “🔥 mixtape.” Clever tweets were 🔥. Drake’s Views was 🔥. Even academic papers, NPR podcasts and poutine were 🔥. Everything that was anything this year was 🔥.

 

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Social media scholars Luke Stark and Kate Crawford believe that emoji perform a valuable, immaterial form of labour, and “serve to smooth out the rough edges of digital life.” “Emoji,” they write, “were intended to normalize and then capitalize on the collective strength of affect in human social relations online.” Emoji are not productive, but rather affective: 🔥 isn’t a thing in itself, but it encourages an impression of a thing. To call someone’s mixtape, album, podcast or party 🔥 is also to confer symbolic weight upon it, to assign to it a cultural currency. Like real fire, 🔥 needs an igniting spark, and that spark is most often human, classed, gendered and racialized affective work.

Stark and Crawford rightly point out that emoji’s “highly compressed lexicon” is predominantly designed to stimulate social media activity. Nonetheless, 🔥 suggests something deeper, more profound and abstract. Something hotter.

“Hot” as a synonym for “up-to-date” or “in demand” flourished in common North American parlance in the mid-1800s. Before long, its usage in that context thrived: hot topics came hot off the press; hotheads and hot feet were hot to trot; hot hands remained hot on the trail of the latest hot spots. But hot also came to denote something stolen, illicit or illegitimate. “Hot,” as defined by Eric Partridge’s 1949 Dictionary of the Underworld meant “too well known.” By the mid-1900s, hot’s usage as a descriptor cooled considerably.

Concurrently, the colloquialism “cool” arose out of predominantly Black lingo in the US to specify a new genre of stylish, sophisticated and sexy Jazz. By the time of the Cold War, cool had turned into a popular term for hipness and general approval. Cool indicated something intrinsically good, but it also conveyed an icy notion of quiet, slowness, calm, pause and reflection. Cool was furthermore associated with acceptability and safety—refuge from the heat. Cool was all right. And so, a generation warmed to cool. That is, until fire caught fire.

What’s chilling about fire’s eruption into popular vernacular use in the 21st century is how consumately it seems to capture the fever pitch of our hellish age. The Book of Revelation ends with a rain of fire that devours Satan’s armies. Death, Hades and the resurrected fallen souls are then tossed into a lake of burning sulfur to be tormented forever—the “second death” of a damned humankind.

Still, aside from fire’s overt apocalyptic connotation is its implication of speed as the operative mode proper to late capitalism. Fire burns quickly, and with passionate intensity. If hot means fast, and cool sounds slow, fire is positively hyper. And the transformation of fire into 🔥 swiftens the economy of an already abridged expression, reducing it further to instant and unambiguous iconography. Cool was neither hot nor cold. 🔥, on the other hand, is unmistakably 🔥.

🔥 in this sense is a super-linguistic incendiary of post-modern abbreviation that strongly gestures toward cultural accelerationism. Accelerationism, the nihilistic It-philosophy of both the radical right and left, espouses speeding up the alienating processes of capitalism. Accelerationism is the underlying logic behind Žižek’s last-minute endorsement of Trump, and arguably the most politically and theoretically progressive strategy to effectively counter the “contradictions and absurdities of capitalism.”

In The Futurist Manifesto, F.T. Marinetti advocates setting ablaze our libraries and “books of today,” replacing them with blunt and crass images. “Our hearts know no weariness,” he writes, “because they are fed with fire, hatred, and speed!” For Jean-François Lyotard, whose Libidinal Economy is considered a formative accelerationist text, fire constitutes the key to Freud’s death drive, and what Lyotard termes “libidinal irreversibility.” Put bluntly, it’s impossible to get un-fucked. And we are now legitimately, properly fucked.

As the dismay, astonishment and disbelief subsided from the news of both the Brexit result in Britain and Donald Trump’s US presidential election, shocked tweets turned to memes. Shortly, a number of posts emerged quoting Michael Caine’s sizzling line from The Dark Knight: “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

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Doubtless, 🔥 was the hottest buzzword in a year characterized by zero chill. We might not have started this fire, but it’s our charge now. If there was one sunny spot to the spread of 🔥 in 2016, it might be found in the familiar Buddhist proverb: Light a fire for someone else; it will also brighten your own path. Let us continue fighting fire with 🔥.

It’s the fieriest weapon we’ve got.

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Red Bull Music Academy Blues

As I write this, at least a dozen cranes are presiding over Southwest Montréal’s up-and-coming condo boom. It’s a story that Williamsburg Brooklynites, or Mission District San Franciscans, or Gastown Vancouverites, or Londoners of Hackney will find only too familiar: once a light-industrial and staunchly working-class community, the area known locally as Griffintown is undergoing a massive “revitalization”; read: sweeping gentrification.

Culturally speaking, gentrification typically wipes out whatever creative community might have previously thrived there. But Griffintown is different: here, cultural events have been woven right into a cunning redevelopment narrative. Rebranded as part of the city’s “Quartier de l’Innovation”—a hub for the creative class—Griffintown in particular has been sold as the city’s newest hipster neighborhood, an alternative to the Plateau and Mile-End’s cultural hegemony: an “urban oasis”.

Look for example to last Friday’s Red Bull Music Academy Drone Activity In Progress. This event series began in 2013 at the Knockdown Center in Queens, and is franchised out to reconditioning communities around the globe. Staged in a disused warehouse that ironically now serves as a sales office for the chic SE7T condo project, the Griffintown edition boasted most of Montréal’s fiercest noisemakers including Drainolith, Kara-Lis Coverdale and headliner Tim Hecker.

Still, hold no illusions that Red Bull cares about this district. They don’t care that the cost of a single-family home in the Southwest borough rose by 18% over the past twelve months—the highest increase seen anywhere across the city; they don’t care that a nearby 18th century archeological site was recently demolished with no consultation or oversight; or that an historic housing co-op was irrevocably damaged and razed without warning, its longtime residents losing all of their earthly belongings; or that industrial noise from around-the-clock work is disturbing sleep; or that dust and debris deteriorate air quality; or that frequent water main breaks make drinking water unsafe; or that, despite this localized influx of capital, the entire city is suffering from what the CBC, in an on-the-nose nomenclatural gesture calls “extreme neglect”.

Red Bull doesn’t care about this music scene either, or especially about music in general. Red Bull’s sole purpose is to sell Red Bull—wherever, to whomever, however—in as much quantity as possible. Kanye loves Kanye like Red Bull loves Red Bull. In 2015, according to data-gathering website Statista.com, the company raked in nearly one US dollar per person on the planet, making it by far the world’s most profitable energy drink, and among the more ubiquitous global brands. How? Since the 1990s, Red Bull’s advertising tactic has been to get involved in absolutely anything and everything. Slowly, we bought it.

The former New York Times “Consumed” columnist Rob Walker coined a useful term for this strategy: “Murketing”, or murky + marketing: blurring the borders between what we consider to be traditional advertising and authentic daily life. Defined by Walker, murketing is increasingly confusing the things we buy with our fundamental identities: simply, who we think we are is ever-more based upon our marketplace choices. Lifestyle branding is nothing new. What is new, though, is how apparently every possible lifestyle now seems to sport a Red Bull sponsorship: from windsurfing to space jumps to art spaces—and musically speaking, from Mumford and Sons to last Friday’s drone show.

Yet, Tim Hecker’s audience is a far cry from Mumford and Sons’: it’s not particularly popular culture. For Red Bull, ostensibly, there is no pile too high, and no hole too deep. What does it say when even our most underground artists and effervescent scenes are not beyond the reach of a behemoth branding machine? The question becomes: Is the scene fundamentally different because of corporate sponsorship? And after the fog clears, the answer is a resounding yes.

Previously, this kind of thing might have taken place in a DIY loft or other venerable venue, with little advertising beyond perhaps a Facebook event page (or a flyer before that) and word-of-mouth—precisely the sort of murky strategies Red Bull has appropriated. It would be organized locally and cost relatively little money—another façade that RBMA worked hard to construct. But people would arrive on bikes and on foot, not in Ubers. There would be no valet parking, no hastily installed ATM machine, no guest-list exclusivity and no omnipresent trademark imagery, as there was at the RBMA event.

Superficially, the fifteen-dollar entry fee for thirteen acts in a sprawling abandoned warehouse seems like a steal, until you realize who really ends up paying. Friday night’s show didn’t take place in an established locale. It was a pop-up event. This is an alarming and dangerous trend representing the Airbnb-ification of festivals, with no cultivated relationship to a permanent venue or staff, and no ongoing responsibility to the community. If a scene is defined by a group of people engaged in collective activity around a common interest, what we are left with, then, is a group of people collectively engaged in replicating a scene for commercial benefit—a scene-simulating scene.

This particular scene has been nurtured in Montréal since 2000 most visibly by the Mutek festival; a non-profit organization principally supported by the municipal, provincial and federal governments, and dedicated fans. Then Red Bull waltzes into town and drinks their vod-bomb milkshake. How can Mutek refuse partnering with an overwhelmingly profitable brand, its tendrils embedded in deep pockets? How can local artists say no to playing a stage with nothing else visible save a Red Bull logo? All of this community’s political momentum—chiefly its public, grassroots origin—has been co-opted into an elaborate energy drink sales pitch. We are forced to face the fact that this once-resistant music scene is now indelibly branded, and ultimately inextricable from the urban gentrification process. It’s murketing at work.

The lineup on Friday night was stacked with eight hours worth of performances—an impressive bill by any standard. Just how was an audience expected to stay alert for the entire evening? There’s always that fridge-full of sugar water behind the bar.

(Read Part II of this story here. Read Part III of this story here.)

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