The Current’s Andrea Swensson on being a gatekeeper

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The Current’s Andrea Swensson reflects on what it means to be a gatekeeper as she takes over as host of The Local Show

It’s taken me a long time to get here, so I’ll do my best to keep my voice from shaking as I say this: My name is Andrea, and I’m a gatekeeper.

That’s right. I keep the gates. I make the tastes. Sometimes I lord over people, shoving my opinions down their unsuspecting gullets. Sometimes I stand up in front of classrooms full of hopeful music majors and rock-stars-in-the-making and wax philosophical about how they can shape their attitudes, Twitter pages, and personal brands to appeal to a tastemaker like me. And sometimes I write about a band on my blog, and they pull a quote from my piece and place it at the very top of their press release, hoping it will capture the fleeting attention of other gatekeepers in the scene.

Andrea Swensson // Photo by Nate Ryan, MPR

I used to cringe every time I heard those words, gatekeeper and tastemaker. It implied that I was seated up in some ivory tower, looking smugly down at the impressionable masses—or, at the very least, that I was egotistical enough to believe that my word should carry more weight than anyone else’s. Didn’t the people who flung these words around know that I was just a young woman with imposter syndrome trying to make her way in a dude-strewn industry? Didn’t they know that even I didn’t believe that I deserved to be there in the first place?

But over the years, something strange started to happen. Every time I thought that I had a pretty good grasp on the scope of the Twin Cities music scene—understanding the major players and hot bands of the moment, knowing the history of who came from where and why that mattered, and seeing the arc of the next big genre rise and cast its shadow over the city—someone would tap me on the shoulder and expose a whole other pocket of the city that I’d never seen before. Even the rock scene has its own underground movements, with bands that only play in basements and sounds that range from the most blistering hardcore punk to the most delicate psychedelia and folk.

But what about the EDM scene? The slam poets? The jazz heads? The metal scene? The blues singers? The cover band circuit? The legions of Hmong hip-hop dancers, or the rappers coming out of North Minneapolis? The high schoolers who can’t even get in to most venues, and the seasoned funk trailblazers still gigging in tiny bars week after week?

The fact is, there isn’t a singular Twin Cities scene. There are a multitude of scenes, messy and overlapping in some areas and deeply segregated in others. Some of them are on the radar of every major media outlet in town, and some are only being written about in niche blogs and community newspapers. There are bands who will go through the entire process of writing, recording, mixing, mastering, and printing a CD that will never be heard by anyone outside of their immediate friend circle. There are artists who will load their gear into the back of their van and trudge it all into a dimly lit bar tonight to play for the sound guy and a couple of regulars. There is music coursing like blood through the veins of this city, and no single person will ever have enough time, energy, and teleportation skills to hear it all.

As someone whose job it is to hear as much as possible, it would be paralyzing if it weren’t so awe-inspiring.

Every time the camera zooms out a little wider and shows me just how massive and productive this place is, it causes me to stop in my tracks and question not just why I’m doing this work, but how. And as I prepare to take over The Local Show this month, I’ve been doing a whole lot of reflecting on this bulging, busy city and its incredible communities. Some of my favorite music that I’ve come across in the past five years—from The Chalice to Hippo Campus, Perfume Monster, Dizzy Fae, and Bruise Violet—are artists that I first found on SoundCloud and YouTube. So what does that mean about the way a radio station or newspaper should solicit music? It’s clearly not enough to expect it to come to us; part of the job is going out and finding it. How do we know if we’re looking in the right places?

I’m not going to make any big proclamations or pledge to do things dramatically differently than how they’ve been done in the past. To be honest, I have big shoes to fill, as both of the previous hosts of the show, Chris Roberts and David Campbell, did tremendous work. And I am painfully aware of my own limitations, as both a white woman from small-town Minnesota who came up through certain scenes and communities to find a job at an indie rock–leaning public radio station, and as a human being who has completely subjective tastes, friendships, and desires.

But as I move into this role, and as the mail bins full of CDs take over my cube and my dance card is filled up with important concerts and events, I am keeping one commitment at the very forefront of my mind: I am a gatekeeper, and that comes with tremendous responsibility. I know a whole lot about Minnesota music—enough to fill books, really, and for some to even consider me an expert—but I will never know it all. And I will never stop asking questions.


This article was produced as a part of a collaboration between The Growler Magazine and The Current, Minnesota’s non-commercial, member-supported radio station playing the best authentic, new music alongside the music that inspired it. Find this article and more great music content at thecurrent.org.

Andrea Swensson, The Current About Andrea Swensson, The Current

Andrea Swensson is a music reporter at Minnesota Public Radio’s 89.3 The Current and the host of The Local Show and The O.K. Show. She has been covering music in the Twin Cities since 2005, including a four-year stint as the music editor of City Pages. Hear Andrea on the Current on Sunday nights from 6 to 8 p.m.

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