Having recently got into the rabbit-hole of using guitar pedals as external effects processors for my synths, this documentary came well timed! What follows is my perspective of looking at the whole phenomenon with a fresh set of eyes.
The first part of the movie is an interesting history of how different effect pedal types came to be, and the people involved in their creation and use. It’s an interesting story that follows the standard narrative of a documentary of this type, and whoever enjoys Rock music will likely find this bit of history interesting. Especially valuable is the insight into how much innovative effects processing goes into giving musicians an edge in creating their distinctive sound. Or at least this used to be the case anyway.
The second part of the documentary is where things start to get fuzzy. A quick synopsis would sound something like this:
Global consumerism gets turned up to 11 and small producers in rich countries are finding great success making products that used to be niche.
What follows is the obligatory narrative of indicating that people other than white males should also get in on the action. On one hand, it’s incredible that there is still a barrier to entry based on skin tone and gender. The film does state that there is, but spends little time proving the point. Being a white male myself (although not in or from a rich country) I’ll assume that there is. However, the much bigger issue is that this is a disturbingly myopic social cause.
Most boutique pedal makers base their marketing around the proud label of Handmade in <insert overdeveloped country> followed by images of non-factory workers soldering diligently in homey basements and shacks. Wampler has taken a step in the right direction, but what happens during the other 90% of the production process? Will we just gloss over the fact that the majority of parts are externally sourced, as are practically all the raw materials? Perhaps it might be wise to take a deeper look and pour some social justice on the supply chain as well, before championing the growth of producers among the privileged caste of this planet.
I suppose the assumption is that the disbalance of pillaging economically poor countries to sate the lust of consumers in the developed world will be magically fixed at some point in the future. Meanwhile, browse through #pedalboard and you’ll come across dozens of pedalboards that are worth more than what an average person spends in a year in some of those countries where the raw minerals are mined to make those very same pedals.
This is a fundamental problem of the global economy and is intrinsic to practically every item we use, but we’re not talking about food, medicine, or even transport. When you try to justify the production of an endless stream of toys for globally privileged ‘tone seekers’ is when reason begins to disintegrate. Especially when many of these toys are ending up with collectors and hoarders who barely, if ever, use many of them.
I’m not preaching from up high. I’m part of the problem, which encompasses the great majority of all music equipment produced today. Yes I do buy mostly used gear and I sell whatever I don’t use, but this review is a self-critique as much as it is a critique, with the hope of bettering the quality of life for people that are slaving away so that we can enjoy our hobbies.
So where do we go from here? Can we go anywhere? Are we just dumb consumer drones who will shrug off our responsibility and point to someone else to fix these problems? Who would that someone be and, if they were indeed capable of fixing the problem, what’s taking them so long?
Just some questions to ponder, as we indulge ourselves in Peak Consumerism, which will no doubt be a short lived period in humanity’s overarching story.
Feel free to share your thoughts on this predicament and what you thought about the movie in the comments below.
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