Josh: Today, it is my great honor to welcome Matt Mauldin from Wineheimer, veteran of both the DIY punk scene and the wine industry. I’m calling on his unique perspective to help me flesh out some recent thoughts I’ve had on music and wine (which, as you know, I often blend together even without reason). Specifically, I’ve noticed a certain parallel between the evolution of DIY punk and the rise of wine blogging.
Punk used to be a cultural curiosity, small sects of closely-bound performers who amassed a dedicated, hardcore following in their various scenes (D.C., London, Richmond, Pacific Northwest, etc). At some point, and I almost want to blame the emo movement for this, even though it’s still my favorite musical movement, bands such as Rites of Spring and Embrace began softening the punk sound and inviting bands like Texas is the Reason, Sunny Day Real Estate, and The Promise Ring to appropriate the sound for a much more pop-friendly style. For example, compare Fugazi, circa 1988, to Brokencyde, circa an era that should soon be forgotten:
As soon as these bands achieved commercial success, the genre rather suddenly morphed into a widespread pop culture fixture that is an utter mockery of the DIY ethics that founded the punk movement. As someone who was a member of the punk scene during those years of upheaval, what was your experience?
Matt: The way the DIY culture morphed into the mainstream in the late 90’s and early 2000’s was just a link in a long chain. Just as early psychedelic rock morphed into commercial arena rock in the 70’s; glam rock, heavy metal, and hard rock into hair metal; punk rock into commercial new wave; hardcore punk into crossover metal- then eventually leading to commercial crunch-core; grunge and 80’s indie into commercial alternative; DIY into commercial pop-punk and commercial “emo”.
Whatever the subgenre is, no matter how radical the sound- it’s only one or two steps removed from commercialization. The key event in this chain is how the original movement adapts to the commercialization. With punk, after the original wave was commercialized it went underground with hardcore. After the hardcore style more or less morphed into metal, “hardcore” became DIY. DIY was a plethora of styles- mostly based in in the original tenants of punk and hardcore.
The two leading styles commercially that grew out of this were melodic or pop punk, and emo (with its various incarnations). Both of these styles were easily commercialized once fanbases was established. Since then, music on the underground level has mushroomed- there are so many styles and there is so much going on… I don’t see central movements anymore as much as I see loose collections. What I’m saying is that with any of these movements, the sound can easily be manipulated. It’s the aesthetic that makes it real.
My experience being a part of the 90’s DIY scene was more or less about refusing not to be a part of it. When I played in Car Vs. Driver, we believed in the infrastructure. It was a fulfilling way for us to operate. There was no worrying about where we were going, or about much of anything other than communicating our music through our aesthetic. We shunned most any potential entry way out of that world. The business of our band was done on a very primal level. And when it was time to move on, we ceased to exist. We could have played just about any style of music; it was our aesthetic that made us a part of that movement.
Josh: So what you’re saying, then, is that, like any innovation, it didn’t take long for people to figure out ways to commodify your music scene. The irony, of course, is that a movement in music that was expressedly built around self-reliance and purity was becoming diluted in order to bring in outside support.
Because I grew up during the last throes of the DIY scene’s “death,” I experienced this music in the other direction. I began listening to the commercialized bands, then working my way back through their influences until I reached the Guy Picciotto and Ian MacKaye braintrust.
The reason I brought up this music history, of course, is to compare it to what is happening to wine writing today. Now, more than ever, wine is becoming an everyday consumer’s alcoholic beverage of choice. With the internet aiding the spread of hype for certain brands, with shipping so simple and prevalent, any consumer or any shop can get their hands on just about any wine, if they have enough money and willpower. This has taken the appreciation of fine wines from a “club” mentality spearheaded by a few centralized experts to a disorganized wave of bloggers who, though they don’t have the world experience of professional writers, still offer up reviews and opinions for mass consumption on the internet.
This isn’t to say that either side is right or wrong, or that either group will be phasing out of power. They still serve their separate purposes, just as bands still exist that are dedicated to the original DIY ethics while their pop compatriots proudly dumb down the spirit of the music in the name of a dollar. Obviously, I have an opinion on which one is better, though I understand that both serve their purpose and can even appreciate certain pop bands. It seems to me that a similar attitude exists in the wine-writing world. Again, I was not around in the wine world when internet writing really took hold, so I’m deferring to your wisdom on this. How would you say this current trend of wine-writing compares to the punk scene 20 years ago? Any conclusions we can reach as to the future of wine-writing based on this phenomenon of commodification?
Matt: Your perspective on coming into the music in interesting. As much as my peers may lament some of the more commercial directions of that music, how bad can it be if it brings new people back to the roots… where it all came from? I should appreciate the fact that there are probably people like yourself somewhere out there who appreciate what happened during that time because they were exposed to it commercially and had the interest to get to the core of it. Nothing stays the same forever- emo either commercialized and moved out of the underground, or the movers and shakers stayed underground the music grew and changed.
I’m still pretty new myself when it comes to the wine-blogging thing. Obviously, the DIY aspect of blogging is comparable to the underground music scene of the 80’s and early 90’s. People are creating viable information sources out of informal projects. Real and credible sources of information are born out of people’s creativity and initiative. In wine, I think it’s already carved out a niche as being a nice compliment to traditional and professional information sources. What will be interesting to see is what new identities are created for wine information.. what will stick. Do people want wine to be de-mystified? Or is the beauty of wine the complexity and details of the story, cultivation, production, and enjoyment.
Will wine blogging uncover some new region, previously unknown, because of that voice in the wilderness? It definitely brings up new ideas and interesting questions. I think ultimately, the biggest and brightest voices will consolidate and figure out a way to commercialize it to the extent that they can make a living from it. At that point, I think you’ll see the original waves of blogging appear more closely resembling the traditional sources. But with the accessibility of the internet to the masses, I’m sure there will always be a reinvention of wine and other forms of blogging going on beneath the established surfaces…
Josh: My original perceived outcome was less rose-tinted; my initial concern was that wine blogging would become commercial shilling by part-time writers who make spare cash by accepting corporate sponsorship with certain caveats as to which wines they should review, not unlike chain wine sellers who require their employees to suggest certain brands over others. By asking you to draw these parallels, though, I now see the artist’s perspective of it:
Wine bloggers write because they are passionate about their wine, and while some may stray down the road towards being “friends with benefits” with distributors, that independent streak that made DIY punk so pure will also continue to drive the wine-blogging community.
I especially like your “voice in the wilderness” message. There are underrepresented regions in the US that are gaining publicity because of bloggers who have a pure passion for local wines. Virginia, Michigan, Texas, Georgia… these states (and dozens more) all have collections of wine bloggers who strive to make their region’s product internationally respected. As long as there are aspects of the wine world to be discovered, there will be discerning, dedicated wine writers who will fight to get the word out.
As a parting gift to all the discerning punk lovers out there, I’d like to present a live video of one of the bands keeping DIY alive today: Suis La Lune from Sweden:
Matt Mauldin is a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and has been in the wine and spirits business for over 13 years. He enjoys all things wine, as well as sharing his thoughts and ideas about wine. He also is into punk rock and disc golf. Please check out www.mattwineheimer.net for more.