A Student Essay on Indie Rock Flyers and Posters!

by B.S., a student in my Folkore: Dynamic Street Art class

In exploring different neighborhoods around Portland, I documented what poster and flyer art presented itself to me; on street corners as well as in record stores and music venues. Many of these posters were of the DIY nature: Xeroxed on plain sheets of paper with simple graphics, meant for mass production and distribution. In addition I encountered posters which were of nicer quality, with detailed graphics and of a more stylized nature. Examining this range in poster and flyer art enabled me to gain better understanding of where the poster falls in terms of a mass advertising technique and as a “legitimate” art form. What real purpose does the music poster serve? How does it reflect the culture of the current generation? These were questions that ran through my mind as I wandered the streets of Portland.

The historical context of flyer art allows us insight into the art form as reflective of its surroundings: from Toulouse Lautrec’s Moulin Rouge poster to the psychedelic music posters of Hendrix to the punk posters of the Sex Pistols, and finally to the computer generated internet poster or “e-flyer” of the 21st century. How does the music culture context affect poster art? By ascertaining the context in which this art was found I hoped to discover how the medium interacts with society at large, as well as with the subculture of which it is an integral part.

Poster and flyer art is a unique medium in many ways. It stands somewhere in the category of mass advertising but also in the category of art- what does the interplay between these two categories look like? By definition, the flyer is as a means of advertising to the public on a large scale. But is this really what the medium does in reality? By examining music poster art one might draw conclusions that are measurably different or even converse. Much poster and flyer art serves not as purely informational but as a means of communication between those who are part of the subculture, for reasons such as expression of style and genre, as well for means of reinforcing their community. For example, a poster promoting Girl Talk- a popular artist that specializes in mash-up style remixes of popular songs- speaks to our generation. It depicts Gregg Gillis (Girl Talk) in stylish neon glasses and head band giving what could be perceived as an apathetic look- his mouth slightly open. The font is in a graffiti-esque scrawl, denoting youthfulness and giving the poster a kind of DIY look, although the glossy poster is far from do it yourself. The stark, cold color contrasts draw attention and perhaps imply a rave like dance party, and indicate a kind of modern electronic music- correct in defining Girl Talk’s mash-up, dj style. The poster appeals to those that listen to Girl Talk’s music; those who are inclined toward pop dance music, as well as the indie music scene. The piece does not in fact advertise to those outside the indie music subculture- hanging in the Roseland Theater along Burnside in NW Portland, it serves to reflect the current music scene, showing style and genre through its graphics and colors.

However, flyers can also be perceived as important symbols of the culture in which they are a part; moments frozen in time that reflect each part of the evolutionary process of the community. In this sense the art form takes on an aura of permanence. In documenting music posters and flyers, I was able gain better understanding of the art form not based on the pieces themselves, but as pieces which are all part of a greater web, which effects and reflects the music scene as a subculture.

This point can be supported also in documenting the geographical dissemination of poster art. I found poster art to be abundant in neighborhoods such as South East and along Burnside in Portland, however I did not see many examples in the downtown area. While there were many DIY posters on street polls in these neighborhoods, I found the majority of the artwork to be in record stores and music venues. These neighborhoods are integral to the “indie scene” in Portland. This demonstrates that poster art serves as a communicatory tool within the subculture, not as a mass advertising technique. The question then arises: who is responsible for the authorship of these posters? Is it a participatory culture of poster and flyer making, or is it mostly done by a select few central to the scene? This also brings up the question of whether these posters in fact promote the subculture or whether they commercialize it. I found many DIY posters all around Portland, mostly on street poles and in windows. However, there was also a surplus of company made posters. For example, Mike Thrasher Presents (www.myspace.com/mikethrasherpresents) is a company that creates show posters as well as helps to bring bands to various venues around the Northwest. There are also countless other companies such as Seattle Show Posters (www.seattleshowposters.com) that specialize in poster creation and dissemination. Although not DIY, these companies do not commercialize the subculture, but instead serve to re enforce it. Most of these companies are local to the Northwest and are still very much connected to the artists themselves, and thus avoid commercialization. With the advent of internet technologies and media, the medium of poster art has become of a much more participatory nature. E-flyers now litter online communities like Myspace and of course the music blogging community.

With this modern approach to the making of show posters, we witness the importance of the medium to music culture as it transcends systems of communication. Flyers are ephemera: made only for a one night show or short festival, and are seemingly useless thereafter. In this sense, they mirror other forms of street art such as graffiti. Instant and in the vernacular of the subculture, flyers can be seen as fleeting and therefore perhaps unimportant. The medium has a kind of inbuilt obsolescence- without hesitation flyers are covered over and over until layers upon layers coat posts and walls, creating a kind of skin that indicates the history of culture.


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