Sam Yager stands alone on the raised stage at Allston's O'Brien's Pub.
It's a Tuesday night, and the 24-year-old Allstonian is playing "Howolding Girls," a glitchy, psychedelic pop song fit for basement ragers. It's the sort of infectious jam that instantly incites dancing. But tonight no one is moving, because he is playing only to a crowd of four.
Yager is barely on the radar of Boston's music scene. But on the Internet, under the moniker "Birthdays," he has found a group of people who get him. From long-distance, he's found a grassroots community.
A few months after the O'Brien's gig, his song debuts on NYC-based Pitchfork sister site Altered Zones and North Carolina–based music blog Get Off the Coast. Impose magazine names him in their "Best new music of 2011" list. The day after Christmas, he heads out to play an underground music festival in California with friends he originally met via email — a collective called FMLY — with whom he then tours the West coast for a month.
"I feel like I am very much part of a really awesome, positive scene," he explains later, sitting on a yoga ball in the middle of his bedroom, sipping a Stevia-sweetened grapefruit soda. "But it's not where I live. . . . It's still very much a community and a group of friends, almost like a local thing. But it's not a neighborhood."
The differences between his FMLY shows versus Boston shows, he says, is "like comparing being at the best bar mitzvah ever with all of your friends to being in a bar by yourself."
As a segment of artists like Birthdays skip straight to Internet-based communities for support, local scenes are fragmenting. For these globally connected artists, blogs and platforms like Tumblr and Bandcamp are replacing dive bars and college radio stations.
Geographical communities have traditionally nurtured their own particular sounds, like riot grrrl in Olympia or grunge in Seattle. But now, globalized micro-genres like bedroom pop, chillwave, and witch-house are flourishing online, produced by kids making music in their bedrooms, connected by @replies on Twitter, "liking" each other's videos on Facebook, and re-Tumbling one another's demos.
Birthdays is a textbook case. Yager recorded his first EP, Mating Falls, in his bedroom two years ago, while living in Saratoga Springs. He used the Internet to connect with the global collective FMLY — a group of artists with similar experimental sounds and artistic values. He became an active member, often contributing to the FMLY blog, releasing music via the FMLY label, touring with FMLY bands like Vacation Dad and Truman Peyote.
He also connected with bloggers like Jheri Evans, who lives in Winston-Salem and writes about underground experimental music. Evans has blogged about Boston bands like Mutual Benefit, the Craters, and Dom, even though he lives 650 miles away. He even created the artwork for Dom's Sun Bronzed Greek Gods EP after the two became friends online.
"I think it is one community, as far as the music blogosphere," Evans says. "It's allowing people with a passion for music and DIY principles to become involved actively. . . . It's wild seeing how different people are, but still unified."