Tweetcore: Notes from a Scene

First, apologies for the title of this post. I was trying to come up with a name for a movement that doesn’t have obvious stylistic and/or geographic boundaries like the Seattle Grunge scene in the 90s or the Sound of Philadelphia in the late 60s/early 70s. And since I met most if not all of the musicians in question on Twitter—not to mention the fact that “core” seems to get appended to a lot of genres these days—I figured “Tweetcore” would get the job done.

Given its lack of traditional boundaries, Tweetcore is somewhat difficult to define. If pressed, I’d say it’s a term that applies to any group of musicians, songwriters, and recording artists who find and support each other on Twitter. It isn’t necessarily a single, focused movement, then, but a massive and ever evolving continuum of movements, each with its own ever-shifting center of gravity.

I happened into my own corner Tweetcore sometime in 2020 or 2021. I had recorded an EP called Introvert’s Delight and was looking for people who might enjoy it—and who might also be making similar music that I might enjoy. The only problem was that I didn’t know exactly how to classify my music. Bedroom Pop? Lo-Fi? Indie? Twee?

Somehow or other, I ended up following a band called Thee Rakevines on Twitter. It wasn’t exactly the same kind of music I was making, but that was the cool thing about it. I heard elements of what I was doing, but Thee Rakevines were doing something else. And they were often mentioning a lot of other bands that were likewise doing something similar but not quite the same: Fuzzruckus, the Negatrons, and the La La Lettes.  

And each of those bands started mentioning other bands and artists that I might also like. What I found especially meaningful about the interaction was that nearly everyone was discussing not their own musical output, but (for the most part) the music that other people were making. It was a fairly wide range of music, and my circle of online friends was growing exponentially with each new band or artist that I followed:  the Kintners, Eric Linden, Triangle Rain Club.  

The bands and artists come from far and wide. There’s Phil Yates and the Affiliates from Chicago, Laini Colman from Tasmania, Mikey J from Shanghai, and Scoopski from my own backyard in Philadelphia. They tweet about music and world events. They tweet about their lives, the challenges they face, the setbacks and victories. But most of all, they—or we, I should say—support each other.

Of course, it’s not just bands. I’m continually amazed at how many people support indie musicians out of sheer love of discovering new music. Jeff Archuleta’s Eclectic Music Lover blog springs immediately to mind, as does the entire You Haven’t Heard This Music Yet network along with Martin Holley’s wonderful Indie Musicians Talking Music YouTube series and the playlists curated by the ultra-talented Todd & Karen and the simply incredible Martina Dörner.

Along similar lines, Mike Five’s Lights and Lines music label is an inspiration. Lights and Lines Album Writing Club—open to all genres, free of charge—provided musicians from around the world a chance to complete and album or EP in the space of month, all while offering plenty of guidance, encouragement, and opportunities to chat with likeminded folks.

Brian Lambert and Marc Schuster — aka The Star Crumbles.

It probably goes without saying that all of the above inspired me to start interviewing musicians on this blog. It also gave me an opportunity to work with a handful of musicians that I really admire. I’ve played synths on tracks by the electronic music producer N Pa, keys on tracks by the aforementioned La La Lettes and Eric Linden, and I also added some keys and vocals to a track called “Kids” by Brian Lambert—and that collaboration blossomed into our full-blown project, The Star Crumbles.

I’m not the only one meeting and playing with a wide range of musicians across vast geographical boundaries. The Kintners’ amazing album, Collaborations, is a testament to the magic that can happen when people play together, as is their side-project with Mikey J, The Cheeky Mermaids. Likewise, Brian Lambert has been making some cool music with the Junior Mozley Collective while also doing a remix of Scoopski’s “Elon, Send Me to Mars.”

Speaking (again) of Scoopski, being part of our virtual scene has also given me an opportunity to get out of the house to see some live music in person. When Phil Yates swung through the greater Philadelphia area on his recent East Coast tour, Scoopski was the opening act, so I got a chance to see two of my favorite Tweetcore bands in a single show—and got introduced to two more acts: Bees and Graham Repulski.

Which is to say that the scene isn’t just virtual. It’s making ripples in the real world. Phil Yates played with Scoopski in Philadelphia. Brian Lambert played with Matt Moran in Denton (coincidentally, home of Rock Philosopher Dave Crimaldi). The Kintners played in NYC with Charu Suri.

All of this is happening in just the small corner of the Tweetcore universe that I’m privy to. Everyone I’ve mentioned above has probably borne witness to similar events—teaming up, sharing music, talking about recording techniques, pointing the way to new discoveries—in their own corners as well. It’s a wide-ranging, fluid, borderless movement with a horizon that stretches out into infinity.  

I suppose the point I’m making is that music is alive and well. And, I would argue, it’s a point worth making, particularly given the near-constant handwringing over the alleged death of the music industry. We’re still here. We’re still making music. And perhaps most significantly, we’re listening to each other, forming communities, and creating a supportive environment where music can flourish.

That last point is definitely worth emphasizing. I often hear that Twitter is a partisan cesspool of bickering and ad-hominem political attacks. While I do see a little bit of that when I’m on the platform, my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Maybe it’s karma—the algorithm’s way of rewarding positive activity with a positive Twitter feed. Whatever the case, I’m incredibly happy to have found a community on Twitter, to be participating in an ongoing discussion of music, and to be a part of a diverse and far-reaching scene.

Wherefore M. Zapatero?

As you may have noticed, my last few blog posts have included music attributed to M. Zapatero. It’s a name I’ve been thinking about using for a dozen years or so, ever since I found out that Zapatero is (more or less) Spanish for Schuster. I like the name for several reasons, one of which is that it begins with a Z and therefore reminds me of Zorro. I also like that the word “zap” is in it (as are the key ingredients of “zero“), and that it calls to mind the name of one of my musical heroes, Frank Zappa.

One of the reasons I decided to record (and write and perform) under another name is that a lot of my favorite performers have done the same thing: Elvis Costello (born Declan MacManus), Bob Dylan (born Robert Zimmerman), David Bowie (born David Jones), Gene Simmons (born Chaim Witz), Paul Stanley (born Stanley Eisen), and the Ramones (born Jeff Hyman, John Cummings, Doug Colvin,  and Tommy Erdelyi, aka Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy Ramone (not to mention Richard Reinhardt, Marc Bell, and Christopher John Ward, aka Richie, Marky, and CJ Ramone).

A bigger reason, though, is that I wanted to put some distance between myself and my artistic output. One thing I learned from writing a few books several years ago is that I hated the marketing end of things — “getting my name out there,” constantly trying to convince people to read what I’d written, and essentially turning myself into a product. But I kept at it anyway since, to some degree or another, I associated my success as a writer with my worth as a person.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t content to tell myself that I’d written books and stories that I considered good. Instead, I linked the quality of my writing to what people said about it. In this respect, risking a quick glance at Goodreads could be completely demoralizing, and so could visiting with certain book groups who had apparently invited me into their parlors for the sole purpose of raking me over some carefully arranged coals.

Yet while I certainly want to put some distance between myself and the slings and arrows of outrageous critics, the greater distance I want is between myself and the artificial persona that represents me online. The trouble with social media, as I see it, is that sites like Facebook and Twitter have a tendency to make us present ourselves in somewhat flat, two-dimensional ways.

Or maybe a better way to say this is that being on Facebook (and, to a lesser extent, Twitter) always made me feel like an advertisement for myself. Everything I posted always had to be awesome: pithy observations, links to interesting articles, exaggerated news of my literary accomplishments — all in the service of creating an oversimplified version of myself that was increasingly at odds with the real me.

Granted, a lot of people are good at being themselves online. I just don’t happen to be one of them. What I need for my own peace of mind is a construct that is explicitly not me — a character who shares many of my interests and concerns, but whom I can also hold at a critical distance.

Ultimately, then, Martin Zapatero is a fiction, kind of like the Demon, the Star Child, the Space Ace, or the Cat Man that the members of KISS became onstage, or like the character David Jones became when he became David Bowie and, in turn, Ziggy Stardust. I can send him (along with his music and writing) out into virtual world and go about my real life in peace.

Follow Martin Zapatero on Twitter: @ZapateroMusic

Read his blog: http://zapateromusic.blogspot.com/

z

How to Use Twitter to Tell a Story

By the time I read “How to Use Twitter to Publicly Humiliate an Attempted Adulterer” yesterday afternoon, the essay was already on its way to becoming the latest internet meme. Of course, I’m using the term “essay” loosely. More than anything, it’s a series of tweets strung together to tell the story of one woman’s encounter with a would-be adulterer. Yet over the course of 20 tweets, the woman in question, Melissa Stetten, gives us a complete (if somewhat tragic and embarrassing) narrative with a beginning, middle, and end.

What’s more, this brief narrative makes good use of Twitter’s unique format and takes full advantage of the application’s peculiarities. In short, it’s a piece written with both a particular medium and audience in mind: by playing to Twitter’s strengths, Stetten has written what is arguably the perfect Twitter narrative. By way of contrast, Jennifer Egan’s “Black Box,” which appears in the current issue of The New Yorker and which was tweeted with some degree of fanfare last week, is not.

This isn’t to say that Egan’s story is bad — not by any stretch of the imagination. “Black Box” is a highly engaging page-turner that does everything a good story should do. It gives us well-developed characters, creates a believable world, sets up tension, and resolves that tension in a satisfying way. Even on my best days, I wish I could write half as well Egan. My concern, however, is with the story’s form. Specifically, why was it tweeted? And why was the print version of the story made to look like a series of tweets — or cookie fortunes, depending on your point of reference?

With respect to the first question, I’m guessing it had something to do with the fact that this was the magazine’s special science-fiction edition, and what could be more sci-fi, more forward-looking and futuristic than telling a story via a medium that’s been around since 2006? Additionally, Egan is well-known for experimenting with different media to tell stories. One of the most memorable and moving chapters in A Visit from the Goon Squad, “Great Rock and Roll Pauses,” is written as a PowerPoint presentation, so conveying “Black Box” as a series of tweets probably seemed like a natural fit.

The problem, however, is that when Egan gave us a story in the form of a PowerPoint presentation, she took full advantage of PowerPoint’s unique qualities. Not only did she give us very few words per page, but she also gave us flow charts, graphs, blank pages, Venn diagrams, and other graphic representations of the narrator’s thoughts. That is, she pushed the PowerPoint format to its limits and created something new. She gave us art. “Black Box,” on the other hand, does none of these things, nor does it play with our understanding of how Twitter works or what it can do. In effect, it’s a PowerPoint presentation consisting only of text, a series of declarative sentences meant to be read in a particular order.

That is, it’s a traditional story.

That happens to be broken up.

Into short bursts.

To no apparent purpose.

Stetten’s tweeted narrative, however, offers more than a series of sentences, each of which is under 140 characters in length. Instead, it plays the same kinds of games that Egan’s “Great Rock and Roll Pauses” played. It gives us pictures and allows them to do some of the storytelling (as opposed to simply illustrating points). It offers links. It provides an IMDB bio and a revealing interview with the would-be adulterer. It also implies a degree of interaction between Stetten and her followers, as one tweet includes a response: “Yes, this is BRIAN!”

As readers — specifically as an audience steeped in the habit of reading tweets — we know how to fill in the blanks and figure out what’s going on in this short, sad narrative. In fact, we revel in it. Just as “Great Rock and Roll Pauses” was a joy to read because it forced us to gain our bearings and piece the narrative together little by little, Stetten’s narrative also engages by making us think not just about what we’re reading but, at some level, how we’re reading.

And this is where “Black Box” fails.