Half a decade is a lifetime in blog-years. On that scale, No Fear Of Pop is a venerable site, but age hasn’t made them creaky. Since 2010, the site’s founders Henning Lahmann and Tonje Thilesen have used the platform to showcase new sounds that defy the false binary between “underground” and “pop” music. To celebrate the milestone, NFOP has planned a massive rager at Urban Spree this Sunday, May 24 with sets from Heatsick, Perera Elsewhere, UMA and loads more. I sat down with Henning to discuss how much has changed since he started NFOP.
Daniel Jones: How much has changed since you started No Fear Of Pop?
Well, blogging is dead now. I mean, we still have our readers, but the whole “blogosphere” thing has really shrunk. Once the larger, corporate-sponsored sites adopted the same methods and artists as blogs, they started to receive the bigger, interesting stuff. At the same time, I feel like the buzz-y hype thing that music had when lots of blogs started has slowed down considerably. Of course, NFOP has changed as well. We’re no longer strictly music-oriented, and we don’t do nearly as many pieces. Three years ago I would do about four posts a day—there was just so much to write about! Now we do about five a week, but we have more writers and I think the quality has definitely increased. Soon, the style format that we have now will change so that it’s less blog-like.
Do you feel like it’s harder to discover new artists who don’t have press agents?
I do feel like it’s harder, but I’m not exactly sure why. I feel like there’s a lot of noise in my inbox, many more professional press releases and artists who’ve had publicists from the beginning. Even a site like AdHoc—which is doing a really excellent job—features a lot of pushed artists. I think what’s missing these days, and what we don’t do ourselves much anymore, are the blogs that really dig and post things nobody else has found. I don’t know if such blogs exist anymore; I have a feeling that, if they do, nobody pays much attention to them. I’m rarely surprised at things I see on blogs these days.
I read an article recently about the shift away from online content that’s grows “organically” as opposed to posts that reach wider audiences thanks to paid viral boosts. Now there’s greater emphasis on media that’s optimized for SEO and pushed to specific markets. It affects many people involved in online journalism, and as a form of music consumerism it can discourage the average person from proactively searching out new things.
That’s interesting because five years ago, when I found something new and exciting that I’d write about on NFOP, other people would pick it up. Then it would grow, as you say, organically—other bloggers would hear it, bigger sites would sometimes pick it up, and it would spread. Back then things kind of evolved from the bottom, and I don’t see this kind of natural sharing happening anymore. Of course, social media plays a much bigger role now. A lot of times paid content is posted strictly to Facebook, and people can listen to music there without the need for blogs.
We’ve really consolidated our music browsing habits. Back in the day we’d check Hype Machine to get the latest posts from Chocolate Bobka, Mutant Sounds, Jellyfish Altar or whatever. One embed would lead down a weird maze of Myspace pages. Now we check our Twitter or Facebook feed and auto-stream the video to a short-term memory drive. There’s some amazing writing still going on, but the mavericks are gone.
I think the constant access to high-quality music makes people less adventurous. They don’t need to sift through webpages and embeds anymore, and there’s so much just there in front of you. I think all of these streaming sites played a big role in the shift away from blogs; people subscribe to a bunch of musicians who post a feed of new material. Hype Machine had posts about new music with links to blogs, so if you liked what you were listening to, you could discover a ton of new stuff. Most music streaming sites don’t do that, and Facebook certainly doesn’t. There’s no real connection there between the musician and the site aggregating their music, and that’s what I really liked about the idea of Hype Machine. But I’m not sure if people still use it the way they once did.
How do you think this shift has impacted new artists?
There were a lot of things you could say against the whole “blog hype” thing that happened back then, but it felt like, as a young artist, you could get lucky and get discovered through blogs, and then find your way to the bigger sites and find a booker or label. I feel like there was more diversity. There’s still so much music out there, but the way artists get discovered these days has changed in a way that isn’t necessarily advantageous to the musicians.
Do you think music blogging has a future in its current form?
Online music writing will certainly continue, and hopefully in interesting ways. A lot of the old blogs that I used to read when I started blogging are gone now, and the ones that still exist don’t feel as serious anymore—even some of the bigger ones. I see a lot of the same content on larger sites. I feel like there isn’t much interest anymore in finding the stuff below the radar. Still, I do admire AdHoc and Tiny Mix Tapes because I feel like they try to look beyond what’s already out there. And I mean, I’m not trying to act super underground; I think a lot of the stuff NFOP covers—Circuit Des Yeux, Holly Herndon and so on—isn’t necessarily anything new to someone who’s into music. It’s sort of underground, but it’s pushed to us…
The “Professional Underground.”
Hah, exactly! It’s all great, but it’s not some new discovery. Even stuff that’s really weird is being professionally pushed now. Look at James Ferraro! Who would have guessed six years ago that he’d become so popular, or when he was doing the Skaters stuff. Only the really weird blogs like Richard MacFarlane’s Rose Quartz were touching him.
Oh wow, Rose Quartz! MacFarlane really made a name with his 1080p label.
That’s another thing: it feels like some of these new labels have sort of taken the role of blogs. Take 1080p: Rich is basically doing with the label what he did with his blog, only instead of posting about new music he finds, he puts out a cassette. There’s the same kind of personal connection there. When you listen to the music on his label it feels like a natural extension of his own interests.
But what you say about weird music being more acceptable is interesting. When the whole microgenre thing started to explode, their underground status was co-opted by mainstream media forces just as quickly. But of course, as these microgenres ramped up and were pushed by corporate forces, their influence reached a broader spectrum of music. Weird isn’t so weird anymore; it’s a brand.
Even in fairly mainstream pop music these days, you can see how influential this whole blog thing has been. At the same time, maybe the blog hype got too successful, and too many people with money paid attention. Everyone wanted to copy it and make money off it, and suddenly you didn’t need the blogs anymore. It’s enough for most people involved to have one or two of the big websites post about it.
Is that frustrating?
For a year or so, I was disillusioned. I used to think people wanted or even needed blogs like NFOP to find new and interesting music. I don’t think anyone has that feeling anymore, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Now that the hype is over, it’s almost refreshing, liberating. I don’t look at the numbers anymore; I don’t care how many clicks we get from something. We can do whatever we want, really. It used to be such a race. We always wanted the freshest music, the first premiere from the band everyone was whispering about and so on. But I don’t feel that anymore, and that’s a good thing. It got kind of ridiculous for a while.
It adds a layer of competition into something that could just be about passion and sharing.
Exactly. I trust my writers. They have great taste, and they can write about pretty much whatever they want. I think NFOP is definitely more interesting now than it was three years ago. There are more posts about music we care about, and less about what we think other people care about. So many websites do all kinds of nonsense filler posts out of necessity, simply to generate clicks.
It’s true, though; simply writing about cool music rarely generates big numbers these days.
You used to be able to do that. Three years ago, when the first Youtube tracks from Evian Christ started making the rounds, everyone was going crazy, like “What the fuck is this?” That just exploded, and I haven’t seen anything like that since.
This is why we can’t have nice things anymore!
But it’s true! The bigger sites need new strategies—and I don’t mean to talk down about the bigger sites. I’m friends with a lot of the editors at those sites, and I like them. But sometimes I see clickbait articles in my feed and I just want to message them and say, “What the hell!”
I’m sure the same thing is running through their heads, though.
Of course. It’s not that they love that kind of thing. I’m just glad that we don’t have to do that. If something is on NFOP, it’s there because we truly love it, plain and simple. I think the people who read us appreciate that.
Do you think this kind of idealism could lead to a resurgence in personal music blogging?
I think there’s the chance it could go back to that state, at least on some scale. It’s going to be interesting to be around as both a reader and a musician when that happens, because there’ll be new opportunities. Nobody will ever get rich again writing about music, but creatively I think it will be a lot more interesting. And I hope that NFOP will still be around for that. It’s amazing to see how so many people still care. When we were organizing this anniversary party, there were so many artists who actually cared about the site and wanted to play. This is the greatest compliment, if it’s coming from the artist, to a site that supports new music for the sake of the music itself. It’s that sense of community that makes it worthwhile.
Don’t miss NFOP’s 5th anniversary this Sunday May 24th in Berlin!