The Null Device

The ongoing 1980s revival

Simon Reynolds writes in the Graun about the 1980s revival that lasted an entire decade and is still going; starting off with electroclash and new-wave/post-punk and now having gone up to "yacht rock" and the Hall & Oates revival:
Electroclash went from Next Big Thing to Last Little Fad within a year. But it didn't go away, it just slipped on to the noughties pop-cult backburner, biding its time as a staple sound in hipster clubs. By mid-decade the "clash" was long gone; people just talked about "electro". This was confusing for those of us who'd been around in the actual 1980s and for whom "electro" meant something specific: that Roland 808 bass-bumping sound purveyed by Afrika Bambaataa and Man Parrish, music for bodypopping and the electric boogaloo. In the noughties, electro came to refer to something much more vague: basically, any form of danceable electronic pop that sounded deliberately dated, that avoided the infinite sound-morphing capacities of digital technology (ie the programs and platforms that underpinned most post-rave dance) and opted instead for a restricted palette of thin synth tones and inflexible drum machine beats. "Electro" meant yesterday's futurism today.
As such Discovery anticipated a quite different uptake of 1980s pop that would occur in the second half of the noughties: the ecstatically blurry and irradiated style of indie that's been dubbed "glo-fi". Compare Bangalter's remark with glow-fi godfather Ariel Pink, who says his pop sensibility comes from watching MTV incessantly from the age of five onwards (ie only a couple of years after the channel was launched in 1981). Pink went so far as to describe MTV as "my babysitter". As a result, on the many recordings he's issued under the name Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti – two of which, Worn Copy and The Doldrums, are among my favorites of the decade – his reverb-hazy neo-psychedelic sound is haunted by the friendly ghosts of Hall & Oates, Men Without Hats, It's Immaterial, Blue Oyster Cult, Rick Springfield. It's an approach to songwriting and melody he assimilated as an ears-wide-open child.
("Glo-fi" seems to be related to what others have referred to as "hypnagogic pop".)

Reynolds also cites a number of other aspects of the ever-unfolding 1980s revival:

Another 1980s-invoking hallmark of the new sub-underground is its cult of the cassette. Tape has a double association here. On the mass level, it was the 1980s quintessential format: far more than the CD, it was the way most kids would have owned music. But cassettes were also the preferred means of dissemination for underground 1980s scenes like industrial and noise. Tape was the ultimate in do-it-yourself, because they could be dubbed-on-demand at home, whereas vinyl required a heavier financial outlay. Today's post-noise microscenes like glo-fi maintain the tape trade tradition, releasing music in small-run editions as low as 30 copies and wrapping them in surreal photocopy-collage artwork.
And sums up with a list of things not yet mined from the 1980s
As someone who lived through the 1980s – it was the first decade I was pop-conscious and alert all the way through, from start to finish – it's enjoyably disorienting to observe all these distortions and retroactive manglings of the period, from the vocoder fetish to the fact that I really don't recall terms like "Italo disco" or "minimal synth" having any currency whatsoever back in the day. But what's also interesting is how much of the era has yet to be rediscovered or recycled: the Membranes/Bogshed style shambling bands, the Redskins-style soulcialists, goth, Waterboys/Big Country-style Big Music, and a half-dozen other scenes and genres. But hey, it's 2010, the first year of the new decade, which means that – according to the 20-year rule of revivals – we really need to get started on the 1990s.
It looks like there's a lot left in the 1980s to revive, though time is running out as the inevitability of 1990s retro looms. (Aside: back in the actual 1990s, I wondered what "1990s retro" will be like; I imagined a Hegelian synthesis of cheesy commercial dance (Technotronic and such) and grunge-influenced three-chord alternative-rock. It'll be interesting to see how close I was.) As such, I wonder whether they'll manage to get it all out, or whether parts of it will be left behind to be subsumed into the anxious echo, and forever lost to everyone except for wilful obscurantists. And if the latter, I wonder what the fitness function will be.

Also, while we're on Simon Reynolds' articles, here is an interesting one about the decline of "indie" into the morass of crap guitar bands and the simultaneous rise of interesting music from the awkwardly ineffable we'd-call-it-"indie"-only-that-now-means-lad-rock sector.

There are 5 comments on "The ongoing 1980s revival":

Posted by: Dennis Wheatley Sun Jan 24 03:41:56 2010

Phear the Hall and Oates revival!

Posted by: Greg http://spill-label.org/blog Mon Jan 25 12:27:45 2010

80s music history went something like: 1980-3 amazing "Cambrian explosion" of scores of great post-punk bands such as PiL, Birthday Party, Laughing Clowns, Human League; 1985 the last really good Fall album; 1986 the last really good Smiths album; 1987-9 slow devolution into grunge. I can't think of much I'd want to copy from post-post-punk.

Posted by: acb http://dev.null.org/acb/ Mon Jan 25 15:30:06 2010

What about the cross-pollination from acid-house/dance music in the late 1990s (which resulted in bands as diverse as Happy Mondays, Saint Etienne and PWEI), or the rise of shoegaze? Though I agree with you on grunge/1990s "alternative rock".

Posted by: datakid Mon Jan 25 22:58:17 2010

if I'm not mistaken Stone Roses Stone Roses came out in '89? I still think that record holds up well...

Posted by: acb http://dev.null.org/acb/ Mon Jan 25 23:45:59 2010

It does. You can blame Stone Roses for having paved the way for the oafish lad-rock that followed (one of the Gallagher brothers was a roadie for them, and you can hear the cocky testosteronal swagger in their sound, albeit in nowhere near as lumpen a form as their successors), but their first album does indeed hold up well.

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