Friday, 30 November 2007


[DJ Dan English and I are listening to the superlative compilation of recent Chinese alt rock, Look Directly Into the Sun: China Pop 2007]

ME: China’s gonna be the most powerful country in the world in twenty years' time y’know.
DEEJ: Really?
ME: Yep.
DEEJ: But what about America?
ME: It’ll fall behind.
DEEJ: But what about us? What are we gonna do?
ME: Who knows Dan.
DEEJ: Sweet. So … we’ll just have to rinse it til then won’t we?
ME: Or we could look for ways of adapting to the new order?
DEEJ: Nah mate.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007


One Thing – Amerie
Independent Woman Pt.1 (Pasadena Remix) – Destinys Child
Heard It All Before – Sunshine Anderson
AM to PM – Christina Milian
Get Ur Freak On – Missy Elliott
Can’t Nobody – Kelly Rowland
Toxic – Britney Spears
The Boy Is Mine – Brandy and Monica
Promiscuous Girl – Nelly Furtado
Crazy In Love - Beyonce

Monday, 26 November 2007


Having put off the inevitable for some time now, it seems the moment has come to concede defeat: the eighties are now inescapably responsible for the larger portion of the present era’s apparently limitless fondness for cultural copyism.

Perhaps the sixties held on to the title of Most Shamelessly Plagiarised Decade for far too long (what on earth happened to the seventies?) however, cultural relativism being all very well and good, it is something of an imperative that people recognise what an unusually awful period of history the years 1980-89 for the most part were.

Abandoning all forward-thinking momentum for an unabashed glorification of the sixties (idealistic, perhaps a little bit insipid, yet relatively innocuous overall) might have been unfortunate, but applying the same principle of hysterical retrogressive fetishism to a decade that attained to previously undreamt-of levels of socio-economic callousness and artistic awfulness is something that quite frankly scares the shit out of me for what it says about where we are in 2007, and more to the point, where we might be headed in the near-future.

It appears increasingly likely that David Cameron will get in next time around. If that isn’t a worrying enough thought in itself, it seems that our society is developing an ominous anticipatory passion for anything redolent of the last great Conservative era. An updated edition of The Sloane Ranger Handbook has just been published (is it just me or are girls everywhere beginning to look just a little bit sloaney?) and a new TV version of Brideshead is imminent, meanwhile the newspapers are full of reports that application numbers for private schools are soaring. Fashion is quite blatantly referencing the eighties left, right and centre, not least in what appears to be an absurd, untrammelled consumeristic decadence fuelled by the wide availability of ultra-cheap high street clothing.

Musically, the repetition of history is evident in the fact that the vast majority of British recording artists seem to be guided by an undeniably Thatcherite (and drug-fuelled) tendency towards solipsism, hedonism and greed (see The Klaxons’ suggestion that pop is an exclusively ‘escapist’ form, as well as Lily Allen’s comments on the need for working class mothers to ‘get their arses off the sofa to make some cash’, cited below) rather than political idealism or artistic vision, as was at least partially the case in days gone by. Thatcher’s dictum concerning the non-existence of society has apparently been realised to alarming effect in the British musical world. Where once it was possible to talk about musical communities and collectives founded on insurrectionary principles, it appears that the eclecticism of the nineties has merely succeeded to the kind of paralysing fragmentation, individualism and relativistic apathy that well befits an increasingly hegemonic consumerist order.

Good-time party music, drugs, fashion, celebrity – this is the essence of British music, both ‘alternative’ and ‘mainstream’ (if that increasingly meaningless distinction holds any longer) in 2007. The pre-eminent sounds of the year – New Rave and Electro – have borrowed from the electronic music of the eighties, but only in the most superficial, lazily copyistic fashion, so that the residual spirit of sixties-style radicalism and experimentation that persisted in the work of artists such as Cabaret Voltaire, Gang of Four, New Order, Human League, and the later collectivism of the Acid House period, have been almost entirely lost in translation. Intelligent, subversive pop lyrics have been exchanged for facile iterations of the retrograde trend (see Calvin Harris) and nasty, narcissistic sneering. The year’s most representative line, both for its egomaniacal mean-spiritedness and for its frighteningly close-to-the-bone summation of the present state of things came from Bodyrox: ‘You think you’ve got it all worked out, but you don’t know nothing, nothing, nothing’.

The eighties weren’t all bad. If there exists any fantastic hope at all in the present case, it is that we might in our manic pilfering get beyond the fancy dress and recover some eighties-style anti-establishment tendencies. In addition to the shallowness of the corporate surface currently being mined, the decade was also notable for a powerful strain of opposition to conservatism – both political and musical – that was to a certain extent done away with in the nineties of New Labour and Oasis. You only have to look at Rick from The Young Ones for an example of how this kind of radicalism might descend to ridiculous levels of naivety, but perhaps a little impassioned anarchism, even of the unsophisticated sophomoric variety, would make a welcome change in the current climate? If the signs are correct, and a new era of reinvigorated Thatcherism is upon us, we are going to have to start thinking about where we might draw inspiration from in establishing a solid counter-reaction to conservatism in all its odious cultural manifestations. The oppositional fringe of the eighties, with its Red Wedge, its Factory Records, its belligerent and subversive NME, and its Rick Young Ones, might after all be a good place to begin.

Thursday, 8 November 2007


With the penultimate year of the decade fast approaching, we are still awaiting a band/artist capable of defining the epoch. In the musical world at large, and certainly within the UK, no-one has been able to produce a consistent and durable body of work, nor effect genuine, lasting artistic influence on any social or cultural milieu you might care to specify.

Perhaps the last band of this kind was Radiohead. Indeed, it says much about the paucity of the present era that a band formed in the early nineties should continue to occupy this increasingly isolated position at the end of 2007.

Of course, there are considerable advantages to such fragmentation, and obvious problems with a ‘top-down’ music scene organised hierarchically around a handful of Great Bands. Moreover, in the history of popular music, the genre has at all times been sustained by one-off acts of brilliance just as much as it has been by long-term artistic achievements, by small collectives and individuals as well as by big-name heavyweights.

Nevertheless, it is an alarming fact that there do not seem to be any bands that appear likely to inspire the kind of widespread, longstanding devotion to a cause that accompanied the careers of the most notable bands of the last half-century. When we look back at the first decade of the century, will there be anyone at all to point to as an instance of what was both unquestionably important to us and representative of our time? You might be able to rattle off a string of apparently suitable candidates – The Strokes, Eminem, Destinys Child; Franz Ferdinand and the Arctic Monkeys in the UK – but though these figures will undoubtedly evoke the era, they will surely not occupy (even allowing for the inevitable aggrandising force of nostalgia) the same relation as did the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, The Jam, The Clash, The Smiths, Michael Jackson, The Stone Roses, or even Oasis, to their respective epochs.

Taking British alternative music as a specific case in point, it might be reiterated that there has not appeared in the last decade anyone capable of challenging Radiohead’s position as the most artistically important band in the country, a band whose work is simultaneously reflective of its time and able to appeal meaningfully to a substantial fanbase both within the UK and abroad.

Why is this the case? As the above list of bands makes plain, since its inception in the late seventies British independent music has suffered no shortage of hugely influential, era-defining bands. Alongside The Clash, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Oasis, Radiohead, you could place The Sex Pistols, The Buzzcocks, Joy Division/New Order, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Happy Mondays, Blur, Pulp – the sequence stops abruptly with Radiohead. Why do we not have a similar list for the first decade of the twenty-first century?

Part of the problem lies paradoxically with the rapid growth in popularity of independent music in the UK since Britpop. Put simply, and partly as a consequence of the political climate initiated by the New Labour landslide of 1997, we have witnessed the large scale disappearance of significant minorities in our country, at exactly the same time as an insignificant majority has come to dominate our cultural and political life. In the world of alternative music, the effects of this can be felt in that we now have a series of bands who mean a little to a great number of people, and very few who mean a lot to the kind of sparsely populated small-scale communities that provide the conditions necessary for a band to evolve successfully.

Clearly, great bands do not arise out of snobbish bohemian coteries, the members of which can be counted on the fingers of one hand. However, one of the factors underlying the extraordinary fertility of British independent music throughout the eighties and nineties was its ability to achieve exactly the right balance of populism and exclusivity. Bands like The Smiths and The Stone Roses could rely on sizable and devoted communities of admirers in such a way that they were able both to sustain themselves financially and to develop artistically without the damaging effects of media scrutiny and industry hype. If The Smiths came out with ‘Hand in Glove’ today, it would go straight to number one, they would be touted by everyone from Elijah Wood to David Cameron, and Johnny Marr would soon develop a drug problem that would threaten the possibility of their second album ever seeing the light of day (I'm not trying to be facetious: this would happen. In fact, hasn't David Cameron claimed to be a Smiths fan? What is happening here!?).

The present climate is not one in which a significant minority (which in my mind is a term synonymous with the concept of a ‘great band’) is likely to flourish. Bands in the last ten years have either been too small to register or have been swallowed by an insignificant majority that seems to prevent any possibility of them attaining either real cultural influence or sustained creative development. In such a way, good bands that might in another era be capable of great things seem to peter out after an initial, wildly disproportionate deluge of interest. The Futureheads, whose fantastic first record fed into a second even more remarkable offering, only for their label to drop them because of lack of sales, represent an especially tragic instance of a pattern repeated elsewhere to differing outcomes in the narratives of Franz Ferdinand, The Libertines, The Strokes, and The Arctic Monkeys. All of the above have been or seem unlikely to survive for long past the frantic bursts of media attention that remove them from smaller-scale contexts in which they might be able to produce music of real worth for audiences that are worthy of the effort.