Bloggers vs. Bear: Setting the Record Straight on Dallas’ Most Influential Music Website

The Dallas Observer Music Awards ceremony will take place in the fall as opposed to summer this year, which only means that the people who take the awards seriously are posting their pleas for artistic justice a little later this time around. Other than that, not much has changed. I mostly take notice of this event when someone is wrongly categorized or when a project with which I’m involved is nominated. But I do understand that the award means something to some people in the community. After all, why else would some people take to their blogs or Facebook pages demanding that a fellow nominee not win? That’s what’s happening in the case of the anti-Gorilla vs. Bear lobby.

You might be familiar with Gorilla vs. Bear. It’s the locally-based blog that gets plenty of national attention without posting exploitative TMZ-styled items about teen pop singers. Gorilla vs. Bear has put more Dallas-area musicians on the international radar than any other “local music advocate,” and last month, it put on a rather successful festival in our very own city.

So far, the criticism of Gorilla vs. Bear’s nomination has come from two other nominees for the same exact category: The award for best “Blog/Website.”

First, award nominee and Dallas Observer contributor Subservient Experiment’s Cory Graves posts about being nominated on his blog, or so it would seem. He spends most of the time discussing the reasons why Gorilla vs Bear shouldn’t win or even be qualified. From the “Sub Ex” blog:

At the risk of coming off bitter (trust us we’re not, we are truthfully thrilled with our little niche as DFW’s 6th best music blog, honestly) it is still a little empty feeling knowing the eventual winner will be a ‘writer’ who admittedly goes to very few shows or pays any attention whatsoever to the local scene. In short these statements alone make one a national blogger. No better, no worse, but certainly not a local.

Then another blog/website nominee, The Violitionist’s Michael Briggs, chimes in with this comment:

GvsB is fine for the national music blog that it is, but they all but completely ignore the local scene. I would rather see any of the other nominees win.

On Sub Ex, Graves goes on to explain how much he is not “resentful about Gorilla vs Bear’s success.” If that’s the case, why didn’t Subservient Experiment pick on another local nominee, DBF-Music? I just took a peek at the featured acts on their home page. Out of 31 total artists, not a single one is local. This is by far, the most “national” local site I’ve ever seen nominated for an award.

Personally, I don’t really care. It all reads like cliquish squabbling. But what concerns me about these comments is that the two bloggers seem to be borrowing their distaste for Gorilla vs. Bear from another source: last month’s Dallas Observer cover story about the website’s first local festival.

In that article, Dallas Observer music editor Pete Freedman serves up a thinly veiled hatchet job, suggesting, among a litany of suspicions, that Gorilla vs. Bear doesn’t mean anything to the local scene, that it derives its content by stealing it from other blogs, that its success was a matter of luck, and that its first Dallas-based music festival was likely to flop. (As an aside, even though one local blog reported that the event was “way under capacity,” Gorilla vs. Bear Fest was about sixty tickets short of being a sell-out — and that’s with a headliner that drew a tiny fraction of that to The Loft last year, which speaks to the local audience pull Gorilla vs. Bear has in its home town.)

At the time, Freedman’s piece felt very suspicious to me. Keep in mind, casting Gorilla vs. Bear in a negative light is pretty hard to do, especially considering the website gives an almost entirely positive and benign perspective on the music it covers. It seemed obvious the Observer’s music editor was trying to play with the emotions of the extremely proud local music fan. Obviously he did a good job. A couple of local bloggers already sound just like him.

What’s unsettling about this apparent influence of opinion Freedman holds over some local bloggers is that Freedman’s own opinions are often completely off base. Those of us who follow local music have had to show patience with Freedman’s biases for years. Whether it was the time ripped Girl Talk, only to latter get scolded via Twitter by Girl Talk’s Greg Gillis after his review came out that inaccurately suggested that the artist was just “pressing play and letting the work speak for itself.” Or when he recently tweeted that 2011 is when electronic dance music finally went “mainstream,” never mind the many articles and even books from two decades ago that were about exactly that. It would be like a sportswriter suggesting that a record will be broken this year that was already broken in 1999. Nobody would ever stand for that in the world of sports. In music, however, the scrutiny is nowhere near as disciplined.

Reading how Freedman characterizes Chris Cantalini’s website in the article, placing words like “covers” and “promotes” in quotations as if to suggest that we should hardly feel comfortable assigning those words to what Cantalini does, you can’t help but wonder how Gorilla vs. Bear once won a Dallas Observer Music Award. Take this line, for example:

…the site has already earned its recognition in music meccas like New York and Austin. The interesting thing is whether Dallas will ever notice.

If Dallas hasn’t noticed, what does that say about the fact that Gorilla vs. Bear won your most recent award for “Best Blog?”  That nobody actually reads your paper? And now it’s nominated yet again. Not a single person that even casually follows local music would be surprised if it won, and that’s exactly why these two bloggers are making a preemptive request that the public not support the website they know all too well. And just look at the way Graves put “writer” in quotations in the above snippet from his blog, one of the ways Freedman undercut Gorilla vs. Bear in his article.

Freedman goes on to say that Gorilla vs. Bear was a “direct beneficiary of being in the right place at the right time.” However, there were many blogs that popped up at that time that didn’t have the same impact. I wrote for one of them. Did Gorilla vs. Bear launch at a fortunate time? Yes, but you have to actually do something with that sort of luck. It’s also called being a pioneer.

This dismissive attitude towards music blogs reminds me of an episode back in 2009 regarding an artist we gave an update on last weekPaul North. This was Freedman’s take on Gorilla vs Bear “stealing” the subject matter that fueled the attention-garnering cycle of North’s alter-moniker, Sunnybrook:

Lest there was ever any doubt, in this Internet-driven modern music age, that tastemakers pretty much just blatantly steal finds from other tastemakers and that it’s all one big circle, basically, check the case of Denton’s Paul North, aka Sunnybrook.

He continues:

Pitchfork credited Gorilla vs. Bear with the find, Gorilla vs. Bear thanked local blog WeShotJR for putting Sunnybrook on its radar, and the train will no doubt move on from this point, too.

Such is the way things work in this modern music world–sometimes to terrifying results, plastering so-so bands all over the place to the point of repulsion.

Freedman oversimplifies what blogs do and how they share information and then dismisses the process as cultural pick pocketing. Discovering and promoting new bands is thievery, Freedman suggests, unless he’s the once with the scoop, of course.

In the recent article, Freedman then goes on to make sure you know how unpopular the site is here, even though it wins local awards (by vote) and is well-known in the rest of the world. And for good measure he wants you to know how little Cantalini has done for Dallas music:

Cantalini’s absence would go largely unnoticed; most Dallas music obsessives don’t know what he looks like, because Gorilla Vs. Bear isn’t popular in its hometown like it is elsewhere. Aside from a few acts with area ties that the blog regularly covers — DeLaughter,Erykah Badu, Dentonites-turned-Brooklynites St. Vincent and Neon Indian — it really doesn’t touch the Dallas music scene.

Now this is one of my favorite quotes. Yes, Dallas, just remember that Chris Cantalini has done nothing for you all, and has really only covered artists that The Observer has already tackled.

As for the measly four acts the article mentions, I’ve compiled a little list of a few locals that were left out of the article. One wonders if all of these names were included, then perhaps the point about minimal local coverage wouldn’t have had such an impact on DFW bloggers either prone to amnesia or just completely unaware of the site’s history. The list:

The aforementioned Sunnybrook.

Treewave

Smile Smile

The Theater Fire

PPT

Teenage Symphony

Daniel Folmer

Prince William

Bosque Brown

Sleep Whale (Mom)

S.O.C.

FUR

Central Booking (including DJ SelectSober, and multiple posts on The Party)

Faux Fox

PVC Street Gang

Farah

Fergus and Geronimo

Dreamed

Is that not a list of local artists? At least at one time, or when they were written about? Could it be that The Dallas Observer was dragging its feet when it came it to many of those acts? Selective memory, I suppose.

I could name even more, but it would be comically unfair. Pete Freedman may not remember, or may just not be up to using a simple search function, but it’s irrelevant. The two bloggers who are protesting Gorilla vs. Bear’s nomination may not remember their fellow local bloggers’ work, but that’s also irrelevant.  I’m sure the artists mentioned here remember.  Gorilla vs Bear has also promoted a variety of  local shows (including event at off-the-beaten-path venues like Mable Peabody’s) local compilations, and untold other examples of DFW activity that wasn’t created by the site itself or endorsed by any other local publication beforehand.

To summarize – and I dare someone to dispute this – Gorilla vs Bear has done more to help local musicians get attention outside of DFW than probably just about anyone in the history of this music scene.  The site has done far more than Pete Freedman ever could or ever will to help break an artist. A number of artists. Sure, Pete has helped Ishi sellout Trees, but even he wonders what it means once you drive out of Dallas County.

One more thing: Local blog and past Dallas Observer Music Award winner and current nominee Gorilla vs Bear is presenting one of the biggest shows of the year next month—Panda Bear, at a venue that is a past Dallas Observer Music Award winner and current nominee: The Granada. Cantalini says the show “will sell out” and I have little reason to believe that to be untrue.

He also added: “See you there.”

Image via wiki.

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