by Tom Finkel
Hell hath no fury like an indie rocker whose cred is threatened. But if you’re the proprietor of a small indie label, any advertising is good advertising. Or so says Mark Fischer, the man behind Skin Graft Records, the label that put out local band Yowie’s first record, as well as albums by Dazzling Killmen, US Maple and Japan’s legendary Ruins (more on them in a moment).
Fischer is a St. Louis expatriate currently living in Austria; he’s also a frequent contributor to RFT. One of Skin Graft’s hottest bands is Montreal’s AIDS Wolf, which was recently name-checked in Rolling Stone magazine’s now-infamous Camel cigarette insert that may or may not be legal.
The fold-out section of the November 2007 issue is a “map” of the Indie Rock Universe done up in a cartoony fashion. According to Pitchfork, the insert is an editorial product that just happened to be placed in a long run of ads for Camel cigarettes’ ''The Farm: Free Range Music'' campaign, which is tied into “promoting & supporting independent record labels” (to quote the campaign’s tagline).
The problem, as several state attorney generals have pointed out, is that tobacco advertising intentionally directed at minors -- specifically of a cartoon nature, like the now-retired Joe Camel, or this Indie Rock Map -- is illegal according to the Tobacco Master Settlement Act of 1997. Anti-smoking advocates and the attorney generals are planning class-action lawsuits, and various indie scenesters are whetting their knives for online trench warfare about ethics, street cred and the misappropriation of culture.
Fischer is sanguine about the whole thing. “You know, years ago, getting mentioned in Rolling Stone wasn’t cool. It was the kiss of death for an indie band,” he laughs. “At this point I’m just glad to be mentioned.” Fischer hasn’t heard from any members of AIDS Wolf about their feelings on the matter, positive or negative.
What about that class-action lawsuit? “I’ll probably jump in just for the hell of it,” he says.
Our conversation is cut short by an urgent e-mail from one of Fischer’s friends. It seems Greyhound Lines has a new marketing campaign in XLR8R magazine that asserts you can take a bus to see certain underground bands just about anywhere in America. The ad takes the form of a four-postcard pull-out -- and one of the cards pictures Tatsuya Yoshida, the drummer of the aforementioned Ruins. Fischer paraphrases the e-mail, then howls with delight.
There is no mention on the postcard of Greyhound’s “no smoking” policy, or if it has stations in any corner of the Indie Rock Universe.