There are few active musicians that personify the ideals of DIY quite like Jeff Rosenstock. Though Bomb the Music Industry! was initially a self-recorded side project, it quickly became an effective vehicle for documenting the anxieties of emerging adulthood and music biz politics. From humble beginnings, Rosenstock’s project earned substantial grassroots support thanks to his firm commitment to releasing music via his pay-what-you-want-label Quote-Unquote Records, playing a relentless schedule of $10 or less shows, and never sacrificing his ideals for an easy payout. Though not an easy road to success, Jeff’s words in the trailer of Never Get Tired, 1a fan-made! documentary about the band that fittingly enough, still needs funding in order to see a proper digital release make it clear that forging his own path wasn’t a calculated decision as much as an innate instinct:  “I don’t feel like I belong in the music industry. I don’t feel like I belong playing that game everybody else is playing.” That outsider perspective gave BtMI! license to rage against all manner of enemies in and around the music biz. Thankfully, Rosenstock’s self-deprecating sense of humor and constant desire to evolve musically kept things catchy and humorous rather than stale or pretentious.

Outwardly, at least, Rosenstock has found some sense of belonging since Bomb the Music Industry! folded. This Friday he’ll release Worry,  his second solo album for SideOneDummy, an honest-to-god record label home to bands like AJJ2who’ve put in a strong bid for best music video of the year, PUP and other bands whose names consist of more than three letters.With Rosenstock’s reputation for independence at all costs, the move to a label likely came as a surprise for some of his more devoted fans. But based on what we’ve heard so far from Rosenstock’s upcoming record, Jeff’s still got an axe to grind.  

Festival Song,” the first taste of new music we got from Rosenstock in 2016, didn’t spare anyone. From the banks that sponsor skylines, to the corporations that buy and sell cultural capital as a means to an end, to the audience that buys into the image without a second thought, nobody is complicit in the farce that is the modern festival circuit is safe. “They wouldn’t be your friend if you weren’t worth something, if you didn’t have something they could take,” Jeff shouts, desperately trying to wake us up before the world we’re used to turns into a slick, soulless facsimile of itself. It’s a take on “Merchandise” for the modern age, written by a decidedly non-straight edge dude who worked his ass off to create something authentic in an age when authenticity is the only commodity that money can’t buy.

If you’re one of those visual learners or you missed the appropriately low-key rollout of “Festival Song,”3or were afraid that it might be a Good Charlotte cover  then the video for Rosenstock’s latest track “Wave Goodnight to Me” makes his anxieties about the current state of the scene harder to miss.

The treatment for the video is simple: a happy-go-lucky Jeff4whose gait and goofy grin for some reason feel reminiscent of mid to late-90’s Foo Fighters videos gradually realizes a once welcoming place has become unfamiliar and hostile, replaced by some sort of wine bar5Looking at you, James Murphy with a (not so) strict No Jeffs policy. Rosenstock’s lyrics are a requiem for a scene, lamenting both the fact that something he held dear has been pushed out “in the name of progress”, and that he can’t help but beat himself up for believing it was anything other than inevitable. If  “Festival Song” is a critique of co-opted experiences and aesthetics, “Wave Goodnight to Me”  is a (surprisingly peppy) funeral dirge for the scene-supporting venues displaced by commercial interests. Whether it’s places like 284 Kent, Death by Audio or Palisades in Jeff’s adopted hometown of Brooklyn, the Smell in LA, or anywhere else in the country, a developer can look at a lovable, run-down space and see dollar signs.  Eventually, all that’s left of these autonomous cultural spaces is real estate jargon like “lively, artistic neighborhood” and the memories of those who found a sense of community and belonging there.

It’s an apparent fact that nothing in modern culture has a right to exist for very long unless it can make money for someone else, especially when changing patterns of consumption make it difficult for those people to make money for themselves. Just ask anyone involved with one of the many shuttered DIY venues around the country that nurtured a scene. Just ask G.L.O.S.S. what kind of psychic toll is exacted when you prioritize ethics over material comfort. Even Jeff Rosenstock knows that the music industry has already bombed itself. And morality doesn’t count for much in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. 

Is it still possible to meaningfully critique the forces that attempt to profit from music without being co-opted by them ? Do we even have the right to an opinion in an age when most of us are too cheap to vote with our wallets and too ignorant of our role in the process of gentrification? As some hack writer on a music blog, am I part of the problem? Jeff Rosenstock may not have all the answers, but there’s something to be said for his continual ability to ask the right questions. It’s too early to tell if Worry  will be the document that instructs us to fight back against the apparatus that rob people, places and experiences of their soul. At least it’ll give us a reason to sweat and shout in basements, bars, and all manner of poorly-ventilated spaces across the country while there’s still time.

References   [ + ]

1. a fan-made! documentary about the band that fittingly enough, still needs funding in order to see a proper digital release
2. who’ve put in a strong bid for best music video of the year
3. or were afraid that it might be a Good Charlotte cover 
4. whose gait and goofy grin for some reason feel reminiscent of mid to late-90’s Foo Fighters videos
5. Looking at you, James Murphy