Murder Murder

hipster banjos that don't come from Northern Ontario

Apparently this is not a renegade settler war party, it’s a new “bloodgrass” band from Sudbury in Northern Ontario called Murder Murder.  You can listen to their banjo-esque non-Northern-Ontario-ish neo-bluegrass murdery numbers at the link above.

Music aside—and the imported Appalachia sound is a whole other issue—here I’m just going to look at their fashion, promotion and visuals. Identity stuff, in other words. Check out their bio (thanks to Braden for pointing this out to me):

“Murder Murder is a Bloodgrass band (Bluegrass + Outlaw Country + Exclusively Murder Ballads) hailing from the frozen forests of the Ontario Northland. Their tales of death are filled with life by the kick of the suitcase, saw of the fiddle, and roll of the banjo.  

As devoted fans of bluegrass, traditional music, and folk music, we were drawn to the murky ethical themes of the murder ballad form and to its enduring nature. Many of the earliest examples are the sole surviving records of victims of violent crimes. Oftentimes murder ballads capture the essence and atmosphere of a dark, lawless and violent frontier. Northern Ontario, although never romanticized in the way that the Wild West or the far north during the gold rush era were, was once such a place – with a wealth of stories and characters. The lack of mythology associated with Northern Ontario is troubling, and thus we felt it our responsibility to create our own mythology.

Heritage hipster band Murder Murder- Wifebeater

That’s funny—I did not know there was “a lack of mythology” associated with Northern Ontario, let alone a “troubling” one! My Cree and Ojibway friends will be so very surprised! Maybe Murder Murder haven’t seen this map? (Download it here.) I’m sure there are loads of people the band could talk to on its quest for a mythology of origin. The question is whose mythology, and for what purpose?

Yes, this is yet another exhibit in my possibly too-many-chaptered thesis that the increasingly widespread heritage hipster aesthetic is a covert and often unconscious assertion of a sort of settler claim to the land, both historically and in terms of hipster gentrification of urban neighbourhoods. I keep coming back to this trend because not only does it show no signs of fading, the way trends usually do, but it’s intensifying into something far more overt and creepy. The sense of white settlerness that underlies this whole aesthetic is, it seems, now gathering menace. It is morphing from colonial settler to frontier or imperial raider. Rebels, outlaws, Vikings… And it’s not just Murder Murder; take a look at the Mountain Dew “Dewshine” TV commercial in the previous post to get a sense of the new, darker, more lawless manifestation of the heritage hipster enterprise. The earnest, placid lumbersexual is being replaced with a wild west, gun-toting frontiersman of the “there isn’t room in this town for the both of us” variety. There certainly isn’t room for a woman or a person of colour—and certainly no indigenous person—in this strikingly white male scenario.

I wonder who does their laundry?

Context is everything. And what exactly is the current context in Canada and the U.S.? It seems that the more we see racial tension and police brutality toward black people become front page news in America, and the more we see First Nations title become a political issue in Canada in the face of accelerating resource extraction, the more it appears that indie music and advertising and gentrification look a lot like an aggressive assertion of white pioneer origins.

Let’s not even get into the whole topic of the increasingly US-style ‘right to bear arms’ blather out of our far-right prime minister. Because the weird conservatism of this whole frontier/outlaw style is evident enough already.

Murder Murder dead woman
Bloody female corpse in bathtub, from the band’s promo photos

If you think these arguments are farfetched, let’s consider the phenomenon pointed out to me tonight by my friend Elaine:

“Have you seen The Local Branch? They were the ones making the “smudge kits” for Urban Outfitters. In their Kickstarter video they actually say they’re fulfilling their “manifest destiny.” I assume they don’t know what it means. Or maybe they do. Which is worse?

Murder Murder Sudbury

Whether in present-day Sudbury or in a “romanticized” past, it’s the same diff, just whitewashed mythologies with a posse chorus. Dudes: is white masculinity really this deep in crisis? If yes, is this the solution? As a fantasy, why does libertarian “rebel” trump, say, revolutionary? You seem to be cherry-picking your folk referents, chaps.

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