They Heard It First

“At dinner, we talked about blogging, no lie,” said Chris ‘Lemon-Red’ Nelson, a music geek from up by Boston. He was in town last Wednesday for UK Grime princess Lady Sovereign’s New York City debut at the Knitting Factory.

Lady Sovereign’s burgeoning career has been built by word-of-mouth and lots and lots of hyperlinkage. So naturally, the bloggers who got her out of the East London ghetto and into the States came out in full-force to show their support and meet their fellow tastemakers. Mr. Nelson, who’d come down on the wonky Chinatown bus earlier that day, said that “literally everyone” he was with was an avid music blogger, just like him.

Scattered among blog polloi were notable print-writing music folks like Jon Caramanica, Joseph Patel, Daphne Carr, and Sasha Frere-Jones. Of course, most of these writers blog too, as do the Pitchfork writers who were present. (Hell, even the classical music writer dudes have blogs.)

It’s a bit like high school in reverse, thanks to the internets. The alt-nerds are the cool kids—and their tastes make deals happen.

“It’s normally considered kind of lame to meet internet people in person,” Mr. Nelson said, “but they’ve made it this kind of cool clique-ish thing.” Like any tastemakers, members of the gang get recognized when they venture out with their earplugs and scuffy shoes. “Someone I didn’t know tapped me on the shoulder at the Sov show and was like, ‘LEMON-RED!'” Mr. Nelson said, “and so that was kinda neat.”

Vice Records manager Adam Shore, whose label, it might seem, has all but given its keys to the bloggy set, joined up with Mr. Nelson’s crew at Bubby’s in Tribeca before heading over to the Knitting Factory. Mr. Shore’s label has released several records now that got their first exposure online, including a full-length by Norwegian songstress Annie, and a compilation of UK Grime artists like Kano and Lady Sov herself.

One can track the growth of Annie’s career, for instance, in the official historical record of blog posts. See: Annie!. See: Anniemal Collective. See: Annie! Annie! Annie!. Trace it back: It’s A Thing That You Sing When You Don’t Want To Ring, a whole year ago. And the result of last year’s hype: the number-one spot on Pitchfork’s top singles of 2004. Annie’s Anniemal was finally released in the U.S. earlier this month.

“You can’t rely on print media anymore to tell you something first,” Mr. Shore said. “Granted, I’m up on reading stuff, but by the time Spin or Rolling Stone comes out, I know every single thing that’s in there.” Oooh, fighting words.

Mr. Shore noted that the blogs, of course, are mostly read by people who have their own, which gives the scene its stickiness and depth. Perhaps a bit incestuous, maybe, but that’s just how blogland rolls. Naturally, the self-consciousness factor at Bubby’s was through the roof as the bloggers struggled, through sheepish grins and in-jokes, with the stigma of hanging out with their IM chatbuddies. (And this was even before Rupert Murdoch bought MySpace!)

“[Jon] Caramanica said someone should have brought their laptop so they could blog the dinner in real time,” says Mr. Nelson, who had never previously met most of the culture peddlers he was dining with.

At the Knitting Factory, Mr. Nelson’s crew lined up at the door to have their names crossed off the guest-list—a familiar scene if you saw Sri Lankan weirdie M.I.A.’s analogous NYC debut last March.

Sov’s people denied it, but to the Transom’s eye, it seemed like half the house, in fact, was on the guest list. Bloggers lurked in every corner, taking internet notes with their internet eyes.

“Paolo, who does booking at the Knitting Factory, actually told me that the guest lists were totally filled up, about a week before the show,” Mr. Nelson sad. “He was like, ‘EVERYONE is coming out for this.'”

Even Nick Catchdubs, the cultish New York DJ who opened the show, keeps a blog, where he posts about new mixes and both new shoes and shows. “It was cool seeing the UK midge do her thing this week,” Mr. Catchdubs wrote. “Other people seemed to enjoy it too – or at the very least, they enjoyed talking about it on the internets. Aaah, quasi-social interactivity!”

Former Harvard Lampoon writer and Pitchfork associate editor Nick Sylvester, who’s been delivering the riffs daily on his new Village Voice blog, one-upped ‘Dubs on the self-awareness: “Everywhere I looked, some blogger was talking to another blogger, probably about sweet new blogs, pointing out that the DJ was a blogger himself. If you screamed ‘Free wireless! Over here!’ my guess is half the room would have emptied out, just to blog about finding free wireless.”

After the show, which unfortunately left some underwhelmed on account of Lady Sovereign’s apparent illness, the party moved to M1-5, where Mr. Catchdubs played another set and folks like Mr. Nelson, Mr. Sylvester, Mr. Frere-Jones, and Spin magazine’s Julianne Shephard talked shop and drums over drinks.

If you’d like to see the hardest working folks in the music biz in the flesh, look for the blog-doggies again in August, when the next wave of UK grime stars, Kano and Roll Deep, play at the Knitting Factory. They’ll play on consecutive nights, so we’ll find out if the blog gang can actually tolerate two nights of semi-fresh air and separation from their laptops.
—Leon Neyfakh

They Heard It First