And so, the epic debate begins--I have been posing this question to myself for the last 9.5 months. In essence, I have gestated it like a child (the child could have even been 2 weeks late, okay). I now feel like there has passed a sufficient amount of time to have decided the answer to a very flamingly hot burning question bearing down upon my mind:
Of the two main larger cities in the United States, which one has the best music scene?
My final answer, after being an on and off resident of both (and being particularly non-bias as I grew up in Chicago and have family on both coasts) will have to be: LOS ANGELES.
What? "Blasphemy!! Downright unacceptable! Kick her out of Brooklyn! Send her back!"...I can imagine all of my current Brooklyn and New York City friends and neighbors shouting whilst planning my demise. But do me one, and hear me out. I promise there is a logic to this whole debate, so here goes something (not nothing).
Sidenote (more like middle note preceding the following):
In an effort to continue my ongoing fight with organization, this will be ordered by topics.
LA v.s NY: a furious and orderly debate.
Variety of music: TIE. There are too many people, too many types of people, too many different scenes in each city, and too many different influences to have decided this debate on variety of music alone. We can all agree to disagree.
Quality of venues: LOS ANGELES. Thanks to the plethora of old theaters (oh Hollywood, how I bow to you), the absolute variety, spread, and sheer number of insanely incredible, acoustically stunning, and aesthetically beautiful venues in LA alone beat New York. Yes, New York has historic venues (The Fillmore, The Blue Note) and great warehouses (Bushwick, thank you) and even a sick bowling alley venue (Brooklyn Bowl), but the likes of Mercury Lounge, the Music Hall of Williamsburg, The Bowery Ballroom, Webster Hall (cringe, ack), Terminal 5 (dude, as Michael Cera so perfectly implied in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World [it was the Chaos venue in the film] what a douchey spot) and The Living Room (with it's free entry but must-buy-a-drink for each artist you see bs policy) cause me to end up at the following conclusion: LA kills it. KILLS. The Orpheum Theater downtown (where Thom Yorke chose to play his first solo show), Spaceland in Silverlake, The Echo, The Palladium, The Greek Theater, The Music Box at Henry Fonda...the list continues on fairly endlessly (and I've left out all of the incredible smaller venues). Sorry New York, your public transportation may be awesome for show hopping, but your venues just have not been pleasing me or my slowly dying ears in comparison to those of LA.
Musicians per Capita: NEW YORK. Obviously there are more musicians (and maybe even relatively successful ones at that) per capita in NYC and especially in Brooklyn. It's easier to get around, it's easier to tour internationally, you don't need a car, yada yada yada. Hence--therein lies part of the reason I moved to the East Coast.
Extent of Scene: NEW YORK. Yes, you know what. I'll say it. Brooklyn is a hot scene. The fashion, the ridiculous looks and judgements held between each passerby on Bedford avenue. Vice Magazine's offices being in Williamsburg. The Sartorialist being in New York, and this whole Grand Life NYC business (a fantastic ploy by the Tribeca and Soho Grand hotels to control the downtown Manhattan scene that so far has gone more than well). I mean c'mon, it's obvious. New York wins the sceniest of them all contest. And you know what? It's kind of fun and exciting. But, I don't think it's a very sustainable lifestyle. And it seems like it takes a whole lot more illegal substances to keep it fueled. I thought celebrities were bad in LA. But visually, the place is freaking brimming here. And in terms of having something to do, all the time, every night, and sometimes even for free--New York beats them all!!! Yay!!! Move here if you have an inordinate amount of energy all the time. Do not move here if you have FOMO--fear of missing out. You will constantly be in fear. But us New Yorkers, we love being busy.
Quality of Life: LOS ANGELES. "But you have to have a car!" You might protest. I would like to argue that in fact, especially in the next 3-5 years, you will no longer need a car in LA. Especially if you try really hard (like everyone does in NYC anywho), and you live in Silverlake, Echo Park, Downtown, or Los Feliz, work in a nearby area, and generally hang out around there with a weekend foray to the beach via bus or via the new trains. More people have bikes now and it's not a very unsafe place to bike either (no ghost bikes in LA). Carpooling is key in LA as well, and Prius's are just as frequent as bikes in Brooklyn. We all know California makes it easier to live an environmentally conscious lifestyle, so I'm sure we'll be seeing an even more interesting dimension emerge in the next few years re LA and public transportation (oooh, a connection between music and the environment again! sneaky me.).
Attitude of Musicians: LOS ANGELES. Okay guys, let's be super honest here. The musicians in Brooklyn and New York are SELF INDULGENT. Is it me, or do you feel like some of the music coming out of the East Coast is replicating itself and the other bands that are all on the same slew of indie record labels and with the same PR companies? It's almost chemical and maybe even mathmateical: one part synthesizer, other parts guitar and base, add drum set, reverb, and an attractive singer or just member of the band, and walaa! You have an "indie success." How could I forget--edgy or trendy attire. And make eyes with the crowd, part your hair to the side, and for men--don't forget your mustache (even if it's teeny weeny). For girls--either you are teeny tiny and adorable, or you're allowed to be bigger if you are actually a talented musician...
Okay, that was all far too mean. But it's kind of resoundingly true. I have seen some incredibly talented bands (Hymns, Twin Shadow, Class Actress, and Beach Fossils just to name a few) but I've seen far too many bands who just sound so much like each other I can barely stand it anymore.
The LA musicians that I know and love hang out with each other and live in similar neighborhoods (just like they do in New York and Brooklyn) and maybe even went to college together, yet somehow, I find more unique and distinct characteristics between each band, separating the music from one another (think Fool's Gold, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Local Natives, Superhumanoids, Chief, White Arrows, The Franks, The Henry Clay People, The Outline, etc). It's all got folk influences, and I'm pretty sure most people would be able to see or hear an overarching theme or two, catch the whole guitar, drums, bass, maybe banjo or mandolin, keys, and vocals aspect, and even the similar clothing styles, but in the end--the compositions and the instrumentation are different and pleasingly so! Iamsound put out a great LA collection this past spring...check it out to see what I mean.
So I guess this is more than just attitude--it's composure. I think LA musicians have a purer attitude and a better composure not only in regard for their musical creations, but in regards for how they interact with each other and their environments. And, this burgeoning LA scene--it's newer. New York has had the music for a long time. And LA has had talented musicians as well. But the group that's currently hitting the venues is on a whole other level...
I could go on about this one forever, but I'm not an anthropologist, sociologist, or historian, so I won't.
Music: LOS ANGELES. Don't get me wrong. I LOVE experimental indie rock, and love the scene and the style and the essence of what is going on in New York. But, I think it is far more ethereal than that of the current music being created in Los Angeles. Look at the followings of LA groups like Edward Sharpe and I dare you to find a similar audience for a New York band. I guess it comes down to international relatability. Since I write for a music blog focused on international, multi-genre, independent artists--keep in mind--i'm utterly and absolutely biased. But I think good music is universal, and I just have this feeling deep down in my gut that the indie music in LA at the moment is more lasting and more globally relatable and universal than that of the music coming out of New York right now.
Final Tally: NEW YORK: 2, LOS ANGELES: 4.
These are just my continuingly forming opinions from my last two years plus observing of both places. (summer 2008-summer 2010).
This is all not to say that I don't think that things could change in a matter of months. They really could. But in this time and in this place, I'm having a hard time finding an incredibly inspiringly mind-blowingly good band in New York, whereas last year, I felt like I stumbled on these once every 2-3 months in Los Angeles.
To that point--if you do know of an incredibly talented and passionate band in New York, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let me know about them. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And on a final note, I adore living on the East Coast and think that New York is one of the most inspiring and important places to live in the world (and that almost everyone should try it) and believe that it is in fact more conducive to the production of original and creative and lasting, passionate art that many other places around the globe.