Before Spotify solved the problem with music forever, esoteric taste was a measure of commitment. When every band was more or less difficult to hear by virtue of its distance from a major label, what you liked was a rough indicator of the resources you had invested in music. If you liked the New York City squat-punk band Choking Victim, it was a sign you had flipped through enough records and endured enough party conversations to hear about Choking Victim. The bands you listened to conveyed not just the particular elements of culture you liked but also how much you cared about culture itself.
Like blasted pecs or a little rhinestone flag pin, esoteric taste in music is an indicator of values. Under the heel of the major-label system in the early ’90s, indie taste meant more than liking weird bands. To care about obscure bands was to reject the perceived conformity of popular culture, to demand a more nuanced reading of the human experience than Amy Grant’s “Baby Baby” and therefore to assert a certain kind of life. That assertion was central to my identity as a young adult, and I found that people who shared it were more likely to agree with me on seemingly unrelated issues. Like all aesthetics, taste in music is a worldview.
Streaming Music Has Left Me Adrift