I recently talked to a demoscene musician who had just started studying electronic composition at university. He liked it, but felt out of place there. All of them knew sheet music, had parents who liked “high culture” and they actually liked Stockhausen and Cage. When teachers or students ask him about his past, he no longer talks about the demoscene. It’s just not worth the effort to explain it every time you talk to someone, because they probably won’t care anyway. In music universities anyway.
Elsewhere, like in advertising and programming, demoscene skills can get you a job. Some companies have even grown out of demoscene groups: Dice from the Silents, TAT from Yodel and haxx from Horizon. In the pirate biz there’s also a few sceners like Peter Sunde at Pirate Bay and the Megaupload-guy. But in the arts? Goodiepal springs to mind, but… yeah.
It’s a bit funny. I’ve argued before that demos are works of craft, not art. Demos are made for showing off and winning a compo. It’s about going to parties and not giving a fuck, screaming at dancing PETSCII-characters from 1992. It’s like rock before art/theory defined and confined it?
Is the demoscene the opposite to art? Well, many important things of software art (interactivity, generative systems, process) are almost completely missing in the demoscene. These things are going mainstream too, but still hasn’t really reached the demoscene. What artists and sceners share though, is the desire to do the impossible. There is an obsession with transgression in the new media art world too (going beyond the ‘system’), but the demoscene is so much ahead of everybody else that nobody gets it. Hehe.
I think that the scene is interesting to art people too. Interesting. But not relevant. Perhaps it sounds unbelievable to them that there’s been a network of A/V hobby hackers since the 1980’s. Maybe they feel stupid for not knowing about it. Or it’s more simple than that. They think that demos are boring crap. I’m bound to agree, especially from an art perspective. Although some things are definitely works of art (Deep Throat, Notemaker Demo, Rambo – A Chronicle of, Robotic Liberation, etc), that’s not the point with the demoscene. (besides, art is pretty boring too)
What is the point? Well, I really like the freedom of the copy party. Think of it as a hackerspace disco with lots of man-beer and old music. There’s no money and no bullshit. You don’t have to network with the right people and explain your work on their terms. It’s an odd soup of CEOs, graffiti writers, headmasters, schizophrenics and academics that is hard to find elsewhere. Some people are just quiet and make music, others are fixing some hardware while the Finnish BBS-d00d is puking in the closet. Then they all crash on the floor, covered in data noise. It’s like being 16 again all over, except for the SD-cards.
There are exceptions like Low-Level All-Stars. But the demoscene is tricky to use in the art world. When Rhizome (the sort of #1 digital art place) had a demoscene week, they had to invite others (like me) to write, which I think is rather telling.
The demoscene is the eternal underdog of computer art. It does a lot of low-level work (manual labour in computer land) but the skills to do this are not valued higher up in the hierarchy (e.g among the institutions that provide the $). Of course it can give credibility in some situations, but if you want to be an artist the demoscene is essentially a waste of time. Skills like tracking, pixelling and assembly coding are useful for many things, but they don’t give you any extra credit in the art world.
If this is true (it’s a bit speculative), there’s nothing wrong with that. Of course it’s frustrating that the demoscene talents get so little attention, but that’s the way it is. Eventhough other people should care, we’re quite happy with being left alone too. Then we can keep on voting for fart jokes and petscii porn without worrying what all you lamerz think. See you at Datastorm this weekend! DATAAAAA!