I received a shocking email last week. It began with a routine message from a publicist I rarely work with. He wanted to know who I was writing for, what kind of music I was covering and my current contact information. It’s a pretty standard request.
I replied with my address and an explanation that I write almost exclusively about Colorado-based musicians for the Denver Post.
That should have been the end of it, but his reply opened a whole can of words — er, worms.
“I detest ‘hyperlocalism’ in the press,” he said. “It’s not going to bring in more readers or views and results in provincialism.”
After I got over the publicist’s baffling and unprovoked attack on what I do and wiped my tears, I started thinking, and I kinda felt bad for him.
When people get excited about their own local stuff — whether it’s theater, films, coffee, beer or music — they make life a little bit harder for those who are trying to promote non-local stuff. If you’re drinking in a sunny day in October, chasing your Pablo’s coffee with a Titan IPA while listening to the new Overcasters record, it’s going to be hard for some publicist working a national act to grab your attention and get you to spend money on a CD, a ticket to a show or a t-shirt.
“What,” you might ask him, “does your sea-level-living, Starbucks-and-Bud-drinking out-of-towner have to do with me?”
This passion that we have for our local stuff is good. It strengthens our community, improves our quality of life and creates opportunities for cooperation, collaboration and innovation. It makes us feel good about where we live and inspires local artists and artisans to new heights.
But there’s a downside to this too. Early this year in Portland — a city that gives Denver a run for its money in local pride and prejudice — a passionately local-centric chef got into a fist fight with the organizer of a culinary event for allowing non-Oregonian pigs into a competition. The incident made the New York Times. The word “provincialism” was bandied about quite a bit. People were arrested, essentially over whether Portland was totally awesome or not.
Localism and provincialism are, essentially, synonyms. They both refer to a preference for or focus on the things in one’s immediate community. Essentially. Provincialism, however, also has a connotation that the preference or focus excludes things outside that community. And that’s where things get dangerous.
If we want the Colorado music scene to be all it can be, to produce the best stuff we’ve ever heard, we absolutely need to pay attention to the world outside of our bubble. I’ve seen more than a few instances in the Denver music press — heck, probably in my own writing — when the critic used words like “brilliant” and phrases like “best album of the year” to describe a merely adequate local release, measuring based on a parochial standard and forgetting that artists everywhere should be the yardstick.
We’ve also been falling all over ourselves lately about Pictureplane being all over the Fader or Candy Claws getting love in Pitchfork, as if we’re baffled by the fact that outsiders finally get our superiority (Ricardo Baca responded to this phenomenon in his uniquely eloquent fashion a few weeks ago).
None of this is helping. We need to acknowledge what’s good about Colorado music, improve what’s not quite there yet and learn from all of the great music being made around the globe.
It’s localism when we celebrate one another’s artistic achievements and make sure they can be sustained. It’s provincialism when we act exasperated with the rest of the world for taking so long to catch on to how awesome we are.
Eryc Eyl is a veteran music journalist, critic and Colorado native who has been neck-deep in local music for many years. Check out Steal This Track every Tuesday for local music you can HEAR, and the Mile High Makeout every Friday. Against his mother’s advice, Eryc has also been known to tweet. You can also follow Steal This Track on Twitter. Sorry, Mom.