Black Midi, Lil B, and Buzz in the Internet Age of Music

The chances are that you’ve probably heard the name ‘Black Midi’ bandied about over the past few months.

Indeed, the new darlings of almost every British music publication are proving impossible to avoid, touted from all corners of the internet as the most exciting new band in years. They’ve generated unprecedented levels of buzz for a group who only released their debut single, the jumpy, yelping Crow’s Perch, onto streaming services in late March of this year. After establishing themselves at Brixton’s Windmill, which also played host to early gigs from the likes of Fat White Family and new-found indie poster-boys Shame, they quickly garnered a reputation for their intensely visceral, watertight live act. Despite not having any named or officially released songs, nor any discernible online presence, within a matter of months they were the most fervently hyped-up act in the country, the first name on the lips of anyone and everyone in the know.

It is refreshing that their rise - precipitated by nothing more than word-of-mouth rumour of the quality of their shows and, more recently, some live recordings - has occurred in an industry increasingly reliant on the power of imagery and self-branding. It has also acted as an example of the sort of perfect storm which, it seems, could hardly fail to set the blogosphere and the forum-haunting music snobs of the internet into a frenzy. The band themselves have maintained in multiple interviews that their off-the-grid approach is less a marketing ploy, as it were, than a result of their own shyness, and that their music, a distinctly referential but nonetheless tricky to pin down blend of Post-Hardcore, Math Rock, Noise and Post-Punk, is simply what they have the most fun playing. 

However, it is undeniable that the enigmatic aura they have created for themselves has been key to their appeal, unintentionally or not. A cynic might observe that simply by virtue of their influences and associated genres, they have seemed destined for acclaim from those niches of internet music discussion prone to lamenting the death of guitar music. They are perennially ready to label any new band playing vaguely noisy songs in off-kilter time signatures the next Fugazi. Read the comments on any video of a live performance of theirs and you’ll find hyperbolic praise and reaching comparisons aplenty. Whether unwittingly or not, Black Midi have succeeded in cornering a large chunk of the internet’s self-fancied musical elitists in spite of, or, rather, perhaps partly because of, their relative lack of online presence. Make no mistake, their music has so far shown itself to be as captivating as, and certainly different to, what most current bands are producing. But one can’t help but feel that they have benefitted from the echo-chamber-like nature of internet-spread hype. Many of us have, I’m sure, observed at some point how Radiohead fans, for example, often tend to become all the more devout and obsessive for their constant patting each other on the back for their superior tastes.

Read the comments on any video of a live performance of theirs and you’ll find hyperbolic praise and reaching comparisons aplenty

The phenomenon of artists blowing up by means of catching the eye (or, rather, the ear) of the internet hivemind is something that has become increasingly prominent in the industry. Indeed, it often takes no more than a glowing review from an influential online presence, be it TheNeedleDrop or Pitchfork, to act as the springboard for the sort of acclaim and hype which only last year rendered Daughters about as close to a household name as an Industrial Noise-Rock outfit could conceivably be within mere weeks. Certainly, this is only one of the numerous ways offered by the convenience of the internet in which an artist might succeed in rapidly accumulating a fanbase of cult-like reverence and dedication. Now-gargantuan rap collective Brockhampton, self-styled for their forward-thinking approach, benefitted from such an initial launchpad, but it was their online presence and interaction with their burgeoning fanbase, especially on Twitter, often encouraging them to make Brockhampton-themed memes, which solidified much of their audience’s devotion. This has inadvertently produced one of the more obnoxious groups of hardcore fans, or ‘stans’, active in the music community today; it’s a fitting progression for a group who first met on Kanye West discussion forum KTT (KanyeToThe). Of course, the emergence of such self-identified groups of dedicated fans far predates the arrival of the internet and of social media, but these mediums have rendered it easier than ever for the canny artist to nurture an international following which borders on the obsessive even while only in the earliest stages of their career. 

The undisputed godfather of this art, the eccentric, notorious, and often description-defying rapper Lil B, has been cultivating such a community for almost a decade now. He is ahead of the curve in his use of promotion through memes, such as his trademark #TYBG (Thank You Based God), and encouragement of a fanbase which borders on the aggressive in its leaping to the defence of their musical (and, one can’t help but suspect, religious) messiah, his ‘Task Force’. Lil B may have perceived the potential for expansion the internet offers before most, but others have cottoned on in the past few years. The industry is now full of new acts who, intentionally or not, have taken advantage of internet-dwelling music fans’ predispositions towards hyperbole, towards the opinions of critics placed on a mental pedestal, and towards reinforcing each other’s enthusiasms to the point of obsession. The simplicity of becoming a musician in the age of the internet has made it harder for new acts to stand out, but the potential offered by it has given them more ways to do so than ever before.