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Prompted by a 1980s-themed end-of-term disco at her son's school, actual 1980s musician Tracey Thorn (of Everything But The Girl) has written a piece on how decades develop official versions, which often bear little resemblance to the experience of those who lived them. (And, being in the New Statesman, the subtext is that the official versions are a hegemonic discourse of the winners; the 80s are essentially shoulder-padded Thatcherism and Duran Duran, with not a Red Wedge badge to be seen; the 70s Abba, flares and disco, and the 1990s will inevitably be summed up as football-terrace Britpop and Tony Blair's reptilian smile):
Who decides these things? Is it simply that history is written by the victors, so that those who seemingly “won” a decade get to determine what it was like, what it meant? The airbrushing of entire eras has become almost Stalinist in its refusal to allow for complexities, alternatives, or the possibility that various things were happening at any one time. It’s apparently too difficult to understand that there was more than one point of view, one style of fashion, one type of record. Instead we simplify, and homogenise, and boil everything down to a few bullet points. Films and TV dramas are often guilty of this, representing the Sixties, for instance, in a house filled with Verner Panton chairs and Lucienne Day curtains. I grew up in the Sixties and, like most houses, ours was full of dark wooden furniture from the past sitting comfortably next to a recently bought, and therefore period-appropriate, coffee table.
My friend the writer Dave Haslam wrote a whole book (Not Abba) objecting to what he calls the “Abbafication of the Seventies”, in which he quite correctly points out how depressing and demeaning it is to have reduced that decade to a kind of fancy-dress parade of wigs and flares, platforms and glitter, averting our eyes from the vivid realities of “IRA bombs, PLO hijackings, overt racism, football hooliganism, Linda Lovelace, Mean Streets and Apocalypse Now . . .” Similarly I can see how the story of the Nineties is gradually shrinking and contracting, until pretty soon all that’ll be left will be Britpop, and a party that once happened at 10 Downing Street; everything else just a blur, or omitted completely.
Veteran video-game developer Jeff Minter took a break from being odd about ungulates to write up a tour of family computer ads of the early 1980s; you know, the ones with families standing around an Apple II or TI994/A, sharing a moment doing the household accounts on a TV screen, or just transfixed in awe at THE TECHNOLOGY OF THE FUTURE, IN OUR LIVING ROOM TODAY:
Back at the start of the 80s cocaine use was particularly rampant, as evidenced by this buzzing Atari family. The three adult members are plainly off their tits. Mom is clenching like crazy. Older Daughter has a grin that reminds me of Aphex Twin, and Dad is on the verge of drooling while his eyebrows attempt to crawl off his face. All he can do is gesture limply with his right hand, presumably to the mirror just out of shot on top of the TV, indicating that someone should get busy and chop out some more lines with the platinum American Express card.
Here the McPervert family are shown reacting upon the occasion of their first exposure to Goatse.
What you can’t see is that the dog is in this family grouping too. He’s just stuck his nose right up Mom’s skirt, and boy is his nose cold.
The latest nightspot in the old Sloane heartland of Chelsea is Maggie's Nightclub, a club inspired by Margaret Thatcher's decade in office. Maggie's includes photos of Thatcher and Ronald Reagan (I wonder whether there are any of her close friend General Augusto Pinochet), and speakers in the bathroom play a loop of the audiobook of the Iron Lady's diaries. The club has a £15 entry price and £250 fee for a table, and may or may not be ironic:
So, I ask the club's co-owner, Charlie Gilkes, is this the nocturnal equivalent of a neo-liberal manifesto? No, no, no, argues the Old Etonian, who opened Maggie's with his business partner Duncan Stirling earlier this year. "It's not a Tory club," he says carefully, but rather a tribute to the 80s – a bit of "childhood nostalgia for the decade of our birth". The reference to Britain's most divisive politician, he says, is tongue-in-cheek. "I know she's divisive, but I do admire her. She's a leader."
In this 80s, Thatcher-era themed club, bottles of champagne signed by the Iron Lady go for £5,000, but I make do with a Ferris Bueller Fizz, priced £10.50. A Super Mario mural adorns another facade and every table in sight has been made to look like a giant Rubik's cube, while a Neil Kinnock figurine takes pride of place next to Gilkes's own childhood collection of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.Regular attendees apparently include Adam Ant and Tony Hadley, frontman of Spandau Ballet, who soundtracked part of the Iron Lady's reign. It's not clear what the playlist is: I'm guessing it'd be heavy on the 1980s yuppie wine-bar sophistisoul, include a bit of Bryan Ferry, perhaps some Stock/Aitken/Waterman chart pop to get people dancing, and the odd piece by Lord Lloyd-Webber in the chill-out room, with perhaps a Billy Bragg tune thrown in for irony. (Momus' Don't Stop The Night would also be a good ironic fit, though might be a bit obscure.)
Perhaps in ten years' time, someone will open a place in Islington named Tony's, which will play only Britpop, D:Ream and the Spice Girls, and have an ironic map of Iraq on one wall.
The Times has re-stoked Thatcher-era allegations about "Communists in the BBC", with claims that left-wing scriptwriters wrote anti-Thatcherite propaganda into Doctor Who episodes during the 1980s. (Of course, being a Murdoch paper, they say that like it's a terrible thing...)
“We were a group of politically motivated people and it seemed the right thing to do. At the time Doctor Who used satire to put political messages out there in the way they used to do in places like Czechoslovakia. Our feeling was that Margaret Thatcher was far more terrifying than any monster the Doctor had encountered. Those who wanted to see the messages saw them; others, including one producer, didn’t.”
Under Cartmel’s direction, Thatcher was caricatured as Helen A, the wide-eyed tyrannical ruler of a human colony on the planet Terra Alpha. The extra-terrestrial character, played by Sheila Hancock, outlawed unhappiness and remarked “I like your initiative, your enterprise” as her secret police rounded up dissidents.The leftist scriptwriters also included, in another episode, a speech against nuclear weapons heavily influenced by material from those known comsymps, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Unfortunately for them, Doctor Who failed to bring down Thatcher, the show being canned before she was ousted in 1990.
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.
The Independent's Rhodri Marsden has an article about the Roland TR-808, the classic electronic drum machine which became a staple of everything from hip-hop to electronica, from post-punk rock to adult-oriented soft-soul, and now having lent its name to a Kanye West album (somewhat ironically, perhaps, as there is little evidence of any 808s having been used in the making of the album; those who bought it expecting to hear some sweet sidestick-and-cowbell action will probably have reason to be disappointed).
And once you know what you're listening out for, you'll hear the 808 on innumerable tracks. Unfortunately, one of its most widely heard manifestations is the cowbell effect that hammers away like a distressed woodpecker during "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" by Whitney Houston. "That noise is the bane of my life," says Simon Thornton, the producer of Fatboy Slim and countless other British dance acts over the past two decades. "It makes you wonder which person at Roland actually decided that it sounded any good."
But one man's trash is another man's treasure, and Jyoti Mishra, the self-confessed producer of "camp synth pop" and former singles chart-topping artist under the name White Town, considers the same noise to be iconic. "And so are the claves, and so are the handclaps. Of course, they don't sound like handclaps – but strangely, they have somehow become the sound of handclaps. Every drum machine produced since then has had to feature that same kind of noise."
By the mid 1980s, the 808 had helped rap artists such as Run DMC and the Beastie Boys to worldwide success – but it was also dusted off in studios to provide backing for more laidback tunes, such as Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" and "One More Night" by Phil Collins. "I got mine in 1983," says Mishra, "and immediately loved it. And those things it was criticised for – the limitations of its built-in sounds – are what ended up making it so popular."The 808 pillow in the photo, incidentally, has nothing to do with the article per se, but comes from this article.
Microsoft's latest attempt to shake off their stuffy, corporate image: selling MS-DOS-themed 1980s retro T-shirts. No, really.
Marketed under the name "Softwear by Microsoft", they come in two lines: one consisting of "classic" designs (the old MS-DOS logo, circa Windows 3.0, the original Microsoft logo, and Bill Gates' mugshot from his 1970s driving conviction) and one co-designed with rapper Common, and involving references to the 1980s; there's one with some rap lyrics set in a monospaced font after a DOS prompt, and one featuring a pair of black-framed glasses and a pair of fluoro new-rave sunglasses.
It's not clear who will wear these. Pointy-haired boss types on casual Fridays? Visual Basic programmers who always wished they could wear cool geek T-shirts like the Linux guys but never actually understood any of the ThinkGeek ones? The guy in the office who regards himself to be with-it because he listens to Coldplay? Zune owners sick of being looked down on by those smug Mac users? Or are they expecting people to start wearing them ironically?
They're now making a sequel to early-1980s hacker film Wargames. The Russkies have, predictably, been replaced with Middle Eastern terrorists, though the plausibility doesn't seem to have improved much:
In this updated version, WOPR (the uppity NORAD supercomputer) is replaced by Ripley (a sexy artificial intelligence that tempts terrorists out of the woodwork -- while defending Newt in her downtime). When the 21st-century equivalent to Matthew Broderick (Matt Lanter) ticks Ripley off, she decides to hijack a Predator drone armed with nukes (I knew they were around somewhere). The race is on to stop Ripley or see American cities wiped from the map.
After the recent wave of films reprising 1980s films. such as Indiana Jones and Rambo, some speculation on other sequel possibilities we may soon see:
"Back to the Future IV"
The sequel: Teenage Marty McFly Jr.* (Michael Cera) and best friend/secret crush Madison Tannen (Evan Rachel Wood) discover Doc Brown's DeLorean hidden in a storage shed and take it for a joy ride, accidentally landing in 1985.
In this only-loosely-tied-to-the-originals “reboot,” the two nerdsters attempt to fit in by adopting the styles and lingo of the day. (Madison: “Seriously, 'Gag me with a spoon?' People actually said that?”) They try on various period clothing in a mall-set montage and crash a raucous high school dance featuring Huey Lewis and the News.
The sequel: “The Big Chill” as envisioned by Judd Apatow. Screwball antics ensue when the original cast reunites at the funeral of Jake Ryan, tragically killed in a car crash. (In real life Schoeffling now makes furniture in Pennsylvania, so his character only appears in flashbacks.) Divorcée Sam has a teen daughter of her own and the father is—wait for it!—Farmer Ted.
A recollection of growing up as a heavy-metal fanatic in the British Midlands in the 1980s:
The drummer was called James and the singer was called Jez. We met at the Bavisters' a few weeks later and, as they got out of their car and started unloading their gear, I froze. They were both wearing spandex trousers and had long, impressive mullets. I'd never seen anyone as cool as them in real life before.
When we first saw Kurt Cobain, it wasn't clear that he was the assassin who'd come to slit our throats. He had long hair for a start, professed a love of Black Sabbath and, with his grubby bandmates, had made a snotty but hardly radical debut album called Bleach. That was OK; metal was assimilating the nascent grunge movement pretty well. There certainly weren't any lines in the sand - until Nevermind.
This last microtrend -- effectively a re-revival -- highlights one of the ironies of the 80's resurgence, for the 80's were the first era in pop in which recycling and retrospection became rife. There were vogues for ska, rockabilly, psychedelia and other musical antecedents. "With 1980's retro, we have reached the point of second-order recycling," said Andrew Ross, a cultural critic who is the director of the American studies program at New York University. "It's the equivalent, God forbid, of double quotation marks."
Modern digital technology is so sophisticated that producers make electronic music that sounds almost as if it were played by a live band, full of subtle rhythmic irregularities that create a humanlike feel and jazzy swing. But just as punk rockers embraced a raw, elemental music, rejecting the overproduced sound of 70's rock, today's electro groups use old-fashioned synthesizers and drum machines. They prefer cold tones and stiff beats because they evoke a period when electronic music seemed alien and forbiddingly novel. They are making machine-music and proud of it.
For many clubgoers, the 80's were a time when rock and dance music were in lively conversation with each other. Club music then was full of punky attitude and personality, a stark contrast to the functional music and faceless D.J.'s who dominate today's post-rave dance culture.
(There we have it; New Wave's Big Comeback.) (ta, Toby!)
A big list of fallen popstars of the 1980s, from Steve Strange and the recently institutionalised Adam Ant to the likes of Rick Astley and Jason Donovan, along with whatever happened to them. (Thankfully, 80s pop stars don't seem to share the 1970s-glam-rocker tendency to molest children.)
Yow! There's a new Human League album coming out. And it doesn't even look like they're going for the goth market, like so many former 80s synthpop stars (Marc Almond and Gary Numan come to mind).
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