There are very few music events I’ve attended in my nearly five years of covering Southern California’s underground scene that have made me both physically and mentally sick, but the Saint Laurent after party at the Palladium last Wednesday night managed to do both with an extra descriptor added for bad measure: heartsickness.
For a night billed as a “Tribute to Los Angeles Music” and emphasized through a musical line-up stacked with local bands, in the end it was the musicians themselves that were tributes to the cool-grifting capitalists of YSL and the swollen ego of Burger Records who, in their quest for world domination, seem happy to align themselves with just about anyone who comes their way, even those from the exclusive and elite enclaves of the fashion industry.
The event was benign to begin with: a fashion show followed by a free concert full of YSL creative director Hedi Slimane’s favorite local groups whose music and style inspired his latest collection and who were used in YSL’s advertisements for the event. Bands were given guest spots with the directive that they were to go to “fans” rather than industry folk; a nice touch that allowed regular kids to see Beck and Joan Jett in an intimate setting that would’ve been out of reach otherwise, while also cleverly concealing the fact that the entire Southern California music scene was being used as a cog in a YSL advertising campaign—what marketing types call “earned media” aka free PR.
Unfortunately, what started out as good clean fun quickly devolved into a shitshow that ended abruptly when an attendee fell off a balcony, ending the night right before Kim & the Created—who had done more to promote the event than anyone else—were to play. Lights on, show over, everyone go home.
I’m not surprised.
I’ve always thought that Hedi Slimane was little more than a carpetbagger, someone whose true talent lies not in creating but in correctly identifying creative centers before they pop, which he then aligns himself with and sucks dry before moving on when the wellspring turns to mud. He has always done this—just ask Pete Doherty. Yet, ever the optimist, I’d like to think Slimane truly loves music and believes that by photographing musicians, getting their names in Vogue, pasting their faces across billboards and allowing them a place in his runway shows, he is somehow elevating them above their station. But he is not. He is doing the opposite.
That was patently clear last Wednesday night.
Despite the glitz and glamour surrounding the event, what we ultimately experienced was little more than a run-of-the-mill Southern California underground rock show—and a poorly run one at that. It ran behind schedule and the bill was constantly changing until the night of the show, despite many of the bands dropped having been used in promo videos and print ads leading up to the evening. This made for a badly stacked line-up, indeed. Who follows up Joan Jett with the Allah-Las? Any promoter could’ve told you that was a bad idea unless you deliberately mean to drop energy levels and encourage people to find somewhere else to party, which many did.
Another troubling issue: the indiscriminate serving of alcohol. Again, any promoter worth their salt will tell you that you simply cannot have an all ages show where alcohol is served, especially if it’s being given away for free, without monitoring the shit out of the bar. When I made my way to the bar upon arrival I asked for and was served two drinks without question, one of which I could easily have handed over to an underage attendee with no punishment forthcoming for me, the bartender, or even the venue.
Yet there should be punishment for the utter lack of compassion and common sense I witnessed at the Palladium that night, although I know that there won’t be (except probably for me, for writing this.)
First of all, no matter how empathetic and sensitive the black and white images found in Hedi Slimane’s online diary are, they are merely caricatures of reality. They have no names and no voices, only faces—hipster Norma Desmonds for the rock and roll set. For someone who claims to be “documenting” the local scene, little of what is seen on Slimane’s website is reflective of the actual scene itself. It’s as though our diverse and vibrant community has been crammed through an Instagram filter that renders us all fitter, thinner, whiter. It is not a scene I recognize though I recognize some of the faces.
As far affording bands a larger audience via YSL’s global reach, it appears to me that rather than helping bands succeed, Slimane is setting them up with a false narrative of success that can prevent further evolution. How does being thrust into an international spotlight help a small band move forward once the eyes of the world have moved on to the next big thing? Who wants yesterday’s papers? For all the free press Slimane gave No Parents, Kim and the Created, and all the rest, their names barely appeared in the promotional materials created for the event, effectively negating recognition outside the context of the fashion show. Furthermore, all of the local bands were scheduled to play after anyone of of consequence had long since adjourned for the evening. How does that help their music get heard?
Still, Slimane is not the cruelest player on this dark stage. He is simply boosting his brand, which he could not do were there not conspirators ready and willing to sell themselves—and all of us—out.
Enter Burger Records.
Though Burger has put out some terrific records and done a lot of good work in the past, they now appear to have fully embraced their own hype, mistaking “right place/right time” good fortune for a divine providence that has brought the fashion industry to their door. Yet it makes total sense that Burger, of all labels, would be the most receptive to Slimane’s overtures.
Cathy Horyn of New York Magazine, never a fan of Slimane’s, had this to say about his work at YSL in a sobering op-ed entitled “The Business of Style” in which she praised his marketing acumen while remaining thoroughly critical of his art:
It’s as though [Slimane] refuses to strive for the standard goals of a luxury designer — to make modern, conceptual or intellectually resonating clothes. Instead, he makes straightforward commercial fashion that a woman can instantly relate to.
Place this burn in the context of the SoCal music scene and it becomes quite clear why Burger Records is a natural conspirator in Slimane’s naked opportunism. With apologies to Horyn:
It’s as though Burger refuses to strive for the standard goals of an independent label— to make modern, conceptual or intellectually resonating music. Instead, they make straightforward commercial music that anyone can instantly relate to.
All this while proclaiming themselves cultural revolutionaries at the vanguard of pop. Burger call themselves a “label of love” but, for the moment, they appear far more interested in promoting themselves than protecting their bands—something you don’t see, for example, Sub Pop doing. Burger is a label of self-love. As with Horyn’s criticisms of Slimane, Burger has the attitude of a trendy major label sealed with an insincere kiss. They are apolitical and deeply anti-intellectual, their bubbly ALL CAPS captions concealing their hoary self-interest; as if smiley emojis erase their calculated intentions, their Wonderbread homogeneity and rapacious need to absorb anything remotely “cool” into their brand to stave off cultural irrelevance.
Sadly, the reality is that everything that happened at YSL’s Palladium show was entirely predictable and also, terribly, entirely warranted because it’s nearly impossible now to make a living as a musician. You must be privileged to be principled. Not selling out is a luxury many bands can no longer afford. Well, you might say, that’s entertainment. That’s rock and roll! And it is, in a way. Rock and roll was born at the crossroads of capitalism and revolution, and nothing can ever change the fact that (to quote Ellen Willis) there is “money to be made from rebels who are also consumers.” But to recognize this fact and to take shameless advantage of it anyway, all the while insisting upon the benevolence of your actions, is evil. It’s just evil. And if I have ever felt the presence of true evil, “Satan laughing with delight,” it was at the YSL x Burger party at the Palladium last Wednesday night.
YSL x Burger is a farce. And it’s high time for it to end. Enough of this.