Saturday, January 8, 2011

Three Years Hard!

Happy new year to y'all and happy third anniversary to The Hard Data! 2010 was a year of significant growth for this blog, doubling up the average daily hits from the year prior and gaining a lot more recognition and yeah, hate mail. I'd like to personally thank you all, followers, casual readers and haters, for making this possible. But let's cut it out with the stupid formalities.
It's been three years of irreverent, sarcastic and ultimately honest commentary on Latin music, something I always thought the specialized media here in the US was missing big time. But not any more.
Let's do some history. I remember back in 2001 when I first moved to the US to join the team of La Banda Elástica music magazine, I was shocked about the almost absolute absence of first-person commentary, honest reviews, combative editorials, etc. And it wasn't just in that particular magazine, it was the same in all other media that covered Latin music and culture in general (and Latin alternative in particular). There was like a universal tacit agreement within "the industry," something like nobody should talk shit about anybody else out in the open (only behind closed doors or behind their backs, of course) because we are a small niche and we all need to help each other to make it grow.
I was of the opposite opinion, I thought there was way too much garbage produced and sold under the Latin label and the fact that nobody was pointing it out and labeling it as what it really was, was counterproductive to our main common goal. Nobody is going to really pay attention to the newest, most innovative, most cutting-edge Latin (but cool) music if they aren't able to distinguish it from the 99% of surrounding crap. So if you give only positive reviews to virtually every record on your magazine (nowadays, websites) how can people tell which ones are the ones that are really worth listening to, from the ones that the reviewer felt pity for, or the ones where he's is just focusing on the positive aspects because its record label pays for advertising?
I've always been of the theory that you need to be honest and say it out loud when you dislike something and people will trust you a lot more when you recommend something to them. Don't you think so?
The Hard Data may have started three years ago today with the birth of this blog, but the real Juan Data the hard writer actually debuted in the US in 2001 with a controversial one-of-a-kind editorial I wrote about Shakira's then-recent crossover to the Anglo market on the aforementioned magazine. We received so many e-mails and even some actual letters (handwritten, on real paper!) because of that editorial that soon I was allowed to write more button-pushing articles and reviews (like that explosive coverage article for the Latin Grammys of 2002). So I started building a tiny reputation as someone who would say things that apparently many others thought but wouldn't dare put in words. Of course, I knew that there were always limitations to my free speech because as they say, free press is only free for the owner of the press. I wasn't the owner of the media and the media was surviving on advertising--a big chunk of it coming from record labels. I knew the only way to be 100% honest was to manage my own media and write all the shit that I wanted without it having to be cut and polished by a responsible editor in chief. I knew that because, before moving to the US, I used to be a successful fanzine publisher for many years in Argentina's underground.
It took me a very long time between that realization and the actual inauguration of The Hard Data, three years ago. A very long time because I sort of took a partial leave of absence from the music industry between the years 2003 and 2006, when my interests shifted towards another industry, something more adult oriented... (oh, and don't bother googling juan data + porn, I did all that naughty stuff under other various aliases).
But the idea was still there and my love for music never faded away. In 2006 I was at LAMC promoting the release of Koxmoz's debut album when I briefly reunited with my former bosses from La Banda Elástica, then recently relaunched as a website, and I remember telling the publisher something in the lines of "I wanna write Vice magazine-style record reviews, but about Latin music." His answer was something like "you can't do that in the Latin niche because we are very few, we all know each other and people really get offended, they take it personal," and then he added "but if you ever do it, I'll definitely read it!"
After doing it sporadically and in Spanish for a while on my previous blog, I decided in early 2008 it was time to make the switch into English to reach a wider audience. Maybe not too coincidentally that was also the moment I decided to pursue a more mercenary-inclined DJ career. Up to that point I was mainly DJing at friend's house parties and small events where I got to play whatever I wanted, but during the second half of 2007 I started "selling out" and playing commercial events to be able to pay the bills. This changed drastically my perception of music, leaning toward a more utilitarian angle and forcing me to leave behind (at least some of) my snobbish attitude while embracing massive dance-floor oriented music. Also not at all coincidentally that was the copernican moment in Latin music history when all of a sudden cumbia started crossing over to the Anglo audience.
It felt like all the signs were aligned in that direction so I decided to clean up my act a bit by getting rid of all the embarrassing triple-x evidence of my dirty past, and start from scratch with a new (masked) persona and a new blog where I could expose all my un-journalistic, unedited, impulsive writing; all honest personal opinions, with attitude, sense of humor and total lack of respect for any big name or institution. In other words, the type of writing that I wouldn't dare submit for a "professional" gig.
I do still write professionally on the side, and I still do my journalistic duties of thorough research and virtual objectivity. But this blog proved to be a lot more fun. Here I can allow myself to play dumb, to admit my ignorance beforehand and still go ahead and make a (probably unfair) judgment, to make questionable politically-incorrect generalizations, to base my opinions simply on personal anecdotal experience or to even write a whole review without even opening the shrink-wrap of a CD and basing my judgment solely on the graphic design or the names of the songs. And then the real fun comes when readers (mostly casual web-surfers who are unfamiliar with the blog's dominant tone and just dropped by by accident) get offended and send me hate mail, like the three moronic merengue listeners from the East Coast who last week took it as a personal offense that I did not like Rita Indiana's album (I wish there were many more like them. They make this experience complete).
So here we are, three years later, still iconoclastic and impertinent, still not kissing asses, still a trusted source for brutally honest critique. Let's hope for three more, or actually a lot more years, of more unadulterated, opinionated reviews. And for the haters: you don't have to agree with me, these are just my personal views, you are entitled to have your own and free to open your own blog and share them with the world, just don't be a coward and sign it with your real name, as I do. After all, it's not so hard.

Juan Data

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