The Null Device

Notes from the international indiepop underground

Last night, Your Humble Narrator went to Bush Hall to see Pipas and The Clientele.

Pipas were lovely as usual; it was mostly a guitar-based set (with two guitars), though with a few canned backings on an iPod. They did old and new songs, including some from their Bitter Club EP. (For those who haven't seen them, they're a melodious indie-pop duo, are signed to US twee/indiepop label Matinee, have played in Scandinavia a fair bit and Lupe is going out with one of the Lucksmiths, which should give you an idea of where they're coming from.)

The Clientele played, appropriately, in a darkened room, with video projected over them (several iterations of an art film they did the music for, with lots of footage of sunlight in water, English countryside and such, as well as Chris Marker's La Jetée). They mostly did songs from their new album which has just been released; they sounded much like their previous two albums, if perhaps a bit more animated in places. And Alasdair's vocals sound every bit as floaty live as they do on record. At one stage, Lupe joined them on stage and read out a spoken-word piece about a photograph from 1982, as they played.

As one would expect, where was a good number of international-indiepop-underground coolsie types in the audience, with their bowl haircuts, black-framed glasses and button badges; in their late 20s and 30s, the audience for these sorts of gigs is half a generation older than today's post-post-ironic electro/new-new-wave/kill-the-whiteness-inside/disco-rock kids, and the milieu around this sort of scene seems, in some ways, to hearken back to an earlier age of indiepop, when one was more likely to encounter the adjective "summery" than "angular" in record reviews, understated pop songs with wet lyrics were an authentic reaction against the macho rockism of the "alternative" mainstream rather than part of the Coldplay/Keane AOR mainstream, the kids hadn't yet gotten into hip-hop, cocaine or trucker hats, and if you wanted to make music in your bedroom, you used guitars, Casio keyboards and a four-track, rather than a laptop. Or something.

That world seems to have since superseded by punk disco, ironic chav, the New Rockism, the NME garage rock revival, the Carling New Wave, spending hundreds on brand-name fashion, and relying on one's hipster knowingness as a free get-out-of-jail card, good for all crimes of unenlightenment from casual racism to meretricious consumerism. Or not quite; the mercenary mainstream was always there, and there is also always an underground; it's just easier to see yesterday's underground than today's. Partly because yesterday's underground gets recycled into, or referenced by, today's mainstream: the UK indie explosion of the 1980s gave us Britpop gave us Robbie Williams, XTC begat the Kaiser Chiefs, The Little Band scene gave us JJJ grunge gave us Killing Heidi, and such. Meanwhile, something new is always forming on the margins; and when the margins are strip-mined to death by corporate cool-hunters, something new forms off the map.

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