New music gets you high. Like a drug.
The process is centered on dopamine, the “feel good” neurochemical associated with reward reinforcement. Increased dopamine levels in the brain produce the sensation of pleasure—ineffable, satiating pleasure. Dopamine enhancement is the motivation for the bulk of humans’ most basic behavior, like eating and sleeping and sex. And the search for novelty. Successful organisms seek out the new. That’s evolution.
Dopamine is also triggered by sugar and cocaine, both of which are detrimental to physiological function if taken in large doses. Music culture feeds on novelty, like an all-consuming attention snowball, gathering mass and momentum with every new song, video, meme and fad. We can’t look away.
Is our relentless quest for new music an unhealthy addiction?
We asked that question a lot over the last year. Our writers interviewed dozens of musicians, DJs, artists and curators—people whose lives revolve around the production, collection or dissemination of new stuff. We hoped to glean a homespun mantra or poetic revelation behind the unending demand for new sounds.
We heard vague replies about challenging assumptions, staving off boredom and making the world a more beautiful place. But again and again, the most honest, impassioned answers boiled down to the sensualist’s imperative, the one that’s simultaneously man’s ruin and salvation: Because it feels good.
Geneticists argue about the influence of the so-called explorer gene, a mutant strand of DNA present in 20 percent of the global population. The gene is linked with traits of curiosity and restlessness, and found more frequently in societies with histories of long migration. Likewise, anthropologists divide personality types into neophobes (those who fear novelty), neophiles (those who seek it) and neophiliacs (those who are addicted to it). Every day, it seems, we’re discovering new ways humans are hardwired to engage in novelty—to seek out the new, whatever the cost.
Novelty is a biological imperative. With that in mind, we compiled City Arts’ third-annual Best New Music list.
We recognize the need to elevate a small bunch of music-makers from the rest of the crowd. The unique, democratic nature of the Best New Music list (more on that in a minute) means its benefits extend beyond the simple service of plucking the sweetest snowflakes out of the attention snowball. This list distills the enthusiasm of the 80-plus local music industry professionals we polled for their favorite bands. It captures the creative optimism of the artists they picked. It champions the life-affirming, self-perpetuating value of music itself.
About those industry pros: These are people from all across the Seattle music scene—young and old, rookie and veteran, male and female—who feel a responsibility to share their opinions about the music they encounter every day. We asked each of them to name the five best acts they discovered over the last year—band, DJ, MC, producer, whatever—and then assigned points to each vote. Some 200 acts received votes. The 10 with the most points made the list. What you see here is egalitarian, definitive, opinionated and, most importantly, eclectic.
This year, for the first time, voters chose more female-fronted bands than male-fronted bands. Anomaly or bellwether? We believe the latter. When hope surprises the status quo, that’s novelty we embrace.
Despite economic obstacles, despite a noisy, distracting landscape saturated with gratuitous stimulation, artists and musicians push on, and City Arts shines a light on them.
Hell yeah, it feels good.
Best New Music 2013
4. Kid Smpl
6. La Luz
7. Rose Windows