Saturday, July 20, 2024

Battlemode performs Saturday at The Jungle in Somerville’s Union Square. (Photo: Mike Gutierrez)

The robots are coming, the robots are coming!

One if by algorithm, two if by spam.

There’s a lot of talk about the future impacts of the artificial intelligence boom. Industries – and, more importantly, the humans who work in them – are already experiencing those impacts in the here and now.

How might our local musicians be affected?

Let’s look at one aspect of the workaday life of a local musician: promotion. No one is coming to your show if they don’t know about it, so shout it out from every hilltop.

Ostensibly, there are more hilltops to shout from than ever before. As the tech titans love to remind us, we are flooded with social media platforms that are powerful, interconnected and free. But who are we connecting to? How many of these passing apparitions in the feed are real human beings? And where should artists be directing their message?

If only there were someone out there to guide us through this wilderness …

Say hello to Emily Knight, a “playlist maven” who promises free music promotion. She just liked your post about an upcoming show. Her smiling face shines through the profile pic of her social media bio. She’s a woman of few and extremely repetitive words. But she’s a maven, and if you follow her advice you’ll eventually find your way to the online storefront of SocialNovo.

Say hello to Isaac Grayson, a “playlist connoisseur” who couldn’t help but notice you posted about a new track. Grayson wants urgently to help you kickstart your music career and get discovered by major labels. Best of all, he gets results. If you follow his advice you’ll eventually find your way to the online storefront of SocialNovo.

Say hello to Emily Turner, a “digital music strategist” who can’t go another day without fresh beats. You get the idea … More advice that leads to SocialNovo.

And what does SocialNovo sell? Bot followers for your social media accounts. Bot salespeople selling bot followers to real people with real dollars. You can get, for example, 5,000 bot Instagram followers for $60. What a steal!

All of the above accounts pushing these deals are examples of the dumbest and most primitive form of predatory marketing. Most of these spambot accounts are easy to see through. A few examples can be good for a laugh. Too many become tedious. And the book is not yet written on the psychological toll that this new technology exacts on human beings in the long term.

Don’t doubt that a musician is in a vulnerable spot when promoting a show, or a song, or an album. They’re sharing a little piece of themselves with the world. Sure, sure, they’re tough! But when the response to their call is automated spam, a little piece of that little piece dies.

Now imagine that instead of the rudderless ghost ship that is your average spambot, we have AI-developed spambrains that trawl the Internet for targets. Imagine being a musician trading messages on the Internet about quality guitars or good places to gig, going pages deep in conversation before realizing that your partner in dialogue was a robot built to promote certain brands or venues. Imagine never realizing that …

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The AI disruption is coming. It’s already here. And the consequence will be more fragmentation for an already fragmented ecosystem of creatives. The mavens, connoisseurs and strategists are not here to help. The humans are. And your local club or concert hall is a great place to find them. Check it out.

Sunday: Conference of Non-Musicians (The Lilypad, Cambridge)

It will surprise no one to learn that the Conference of Non-Musicians is being organized by a musician and will be attended primarily by musicians. Real non-musicians don’t book events at music venues. But organizer G. Gordon Gritty’s “first of its kind” event has strong historical precedent dating back at least as far as the moment that DIY branded itself a movement rather than just the normal fumbling and stumbling that minimally schooled musicians do to feel their way into the music scene. Own the mediocrity. Who knows? Great American composer Glenn Branca (RIP, 1948-2018) was smashing trash cans on the Lower East Side one day and conducting his Symphony No. 9 with the Polish National Orchestra the next.

Feb. 1: Baker Thomas Band with guests Sarah Borges and Keith Voegele (Lizard Lounge, Cambridge)

What’s going on with Toad, the shuttered music venue in Porter Square? A sale to a “so far unidentified” buyer was announced last year, but on Saturday co-owner Charlie Christopher said the sale has not gone through yet. Various reports indicated the plan was to keep the music concept intact. How much time needs to pass before the new owner gets cold feet and turns the venue into a Taco Bell Cantina like Great Scott across the river? Maybe what all the decision-makers need is a warm reminder of the community that called the place home for decades. No better way than the Baker Thomas Band, which played a residency at the old venue as far back as 2009. A little folky, a little country, a little zany.

Feb. 2: Devon Gates (Regattabar, Cambridge)

Find any excuse to revisit the reopened jazz bar in Harvard Square. The spot has played host to giants of the genre such as Sonny Rollins and Herbie Hancock, while still keeping itself rooted in the local music scene. Case in point: the New Artist Spotlight series will showcase Devon Gates at the start of the month. The upright bass player and composer might arrive for load-in by foot rather than car. She’s a student in the dual degree program at Harvard University and Berklee College of Music. Okay, music is one half of the degree – what’s the other half? Anthropology. Smaht and talented, kehd. Don’t bring up Gordon Wood.

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The longer you live in the city, whether it’s Cambridge or Kyoto, the more you realize that it’s not for you, it’s for what passes in and out of it. A city is a part of a larger circulatory system. Cultural, economic, whatever you like. Cambridge is just one aortic valve in the beating heart of Greater Boston, Massachusetts, New England and beyond.

On Saturday all that lifeblood beat through the heart of The Jungle, the ex-police car garage turned local music venue in Union Square.

What counts as local? The epic, hard rocking five-band bill included two bands from Quincy: Pretty Late and Please Deal With Me. The sense of community apparent from the start suggested a deeper South Shore network was in play than Quincy alone. A brotherhood of Braintree. A cabal of Cohasset. A roundtable of Rockland. A duchy of Duxbury. So many tribal designations that get lost in the generic and often misleading descriptor in the social media bio: “Boston-based.”

A music community coalesced in The Jungle like a band of gypsies camping for the night on their way traveling from nowhere, to nowhere, and having a marvelous time in between.

One enthusiastic gentleman exercised himself in the pit with a single dance move that consisted of little else besides him punching into the blank air with all the force he could muster. Nobody seemed to mind. That’s a kind of love and community that you can’t (or shouldn’t!) program into artificial intelligence.

What did headliners Battlemode make of it all? The chiptuners looked like gerbil owners who thought they bought two adult females only to discover a brood of 14 hungry babies waiting in the wood shavings a week later. After four opening acts, though, Battlemode was just happy to have people in the room standing relatively upright and facing approximately forward. You take what you can get after midnight.


Michael Gutierrez is an author, educator, activist and editor-in-chief at Hump Day News