Thursday, 5 May 2011

Goodbye To All That

I've wondered what happened to this guy. Nice to see he's still writing. Looking back on when I was following this stuff and reading about it, I think he had a quiet influence on how I listened and talked about these things. His actual style wasn't quiet, mind. If I recall correctly, he got his break after a writing a long ranty letter to Melody Maker about racial bias in music journalism (the things that stick in the mind... I dunno). I quite liked the way he was willfully subjective about these things. There can be uncomfortable connotations to classifying pop music too much (HMV shelves can have a sense of apartheid to them). Being so based on emotion and personal meaning, its impossible to boil music down to simple aesthetics, never mind 'science'. Surely pop's 'x-factor' is the space opened (not conquered) between consumer and producer?

The most interesting, fruitful aspect of British pop in the 90s was when it was, well, mixed race; if not physically at least sonically. Any innovations (however minor), and the sense that you were hearing something said differently,  related to this (Two Tone had a more important social impact than punk: discuss). Considering this, Britpop was even more hideously reactionary than many assume, which may be why Gorrilaz are more listenable and inoffensive (in a good sense) than Blur. The chronic social/racial stratification of British pop since the end of the 90s sealed the lid on its coffin as anything relevant. If experience is anything to go by, 'the kids' are now more starkly divided into 'indie' (white) or 'urban' (black), with all the class division that implies. Once those terms weren't as racialised as they are now. Even the Great White Hopes of trad soul just re-sell costumes* without context, to the relief of those oblivious to the 'other side' (I bet Adele et al have a fair few EDL/BNP fans. They'd see no contradiction). The wares of Simon Cowell are even more ominous - a kind of state schlagermusik, a degrading caricature and consolidation of neoliberal pieties. 

The effect is that music fans over 40 tend to have more omnivorous tastes than teens now, which I find very sad. It may have something to do with the distortions of the 00s housing market, with its knock-on effect on education (but time prevents elaborating). However, Blairism's deliberate murder of subcultures (long story) has a lot to answer for. It may be no coincidence that the Vicar was so closely associated with the white identity movement** known as Oasis (the last time I was at a festival, we had to pack the car and do a runner as soon as their identikit fans conquered the territory - a terrifying mob). It wasn't the end of history, but the end of a history. The relationship of pop culture to reality has become an irresolvable divorce. It lost its ability to speak to life.

*Pop has also seen a restoration in gender and sexuality. The empty tableaux of a Lady Gaga are just repackaging pre-sold approaches used by glam, disco or even Madonna - herself an agent of desexualisation and decontextualisation.
**Oasis rewrote the meaning of the Beatles and Stones into something far more narrow and ignorant than those bands ever intended. It's somewhat creepy that many regard Britpop's non-event as an affirmative cultural epoch.


Alex Niven said...

Re. this notion of older people having more omnivorous tastes: I totally agree. It's a judgment worth reiterating over and over to people who think that the iPod has led to more catholic listening habits. I remember the '90s (and the very late '90s in particular) as being way more radically eclectic than they are now. Was thinking on doing a post about 1999 as the pinnacle of this sort of culture actually - I remember it as a time when the record industry was at a bit of a loss after Britpop had died down, hence an actually quite healthily messy, disparate scene for a couple of years (I'm thinking of Beta Band, late-Beastie Boys, Mogwai, Stereolab, Flaming Lips, Aphex Twin).

I can remember vividly being utterly disbelieving when the whole "Nu-Rock" thing happened around 2001. It seemed like a great narrowing, an even more circumspect retro trend than Britpop (which at least extended to Chemical Brothers dance territory, and Radiohead-style moderate experimentalism).

W. Kasper said...

I know what you mean. By about 2001, I'd pretty much lost any interest in British/US pop/rock; apart from the apocalyptic sound of Godspeed You Black Emperor, who actually did sound relevant to their time (ie Battle of Seattle to 9-11). I even (briefly) liked Radiohead then (their Low/Heroes phase), but now I can't help but see them as a continuation of U2.

But it was that 'messiness' that record companies, TV and radio conspired to 'clean up'. Rupert Murdoch's son even tried to monopolise 'underground' hiphop then (with Rawkus records). Anything left out in the cold of course found a live/internet audience. But there's no way of seeing this stuff as a popular 'continuum' now.