The Null Device
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The BBC has a new documentary series about the history of indie music, specifically in the UK; titled Music For Misfits, it follows the phenomenon, from the explosion of do-it-yourself creativity unleashed in the wake of punk, running throughout the 1980s like a subterranean river, largely out of sight of the high-gloss mainstream of Stock/Aitken/Waterman, Simply Red and Thatcherite wine-bar sophistipop, channelled through a shadow infrastructure of photocopied zines, mail-order labels selling small-run 7"s and reviews in NME and Melody Maker (which, it must be remembered, had countercultural credibility back then, and were run by people whose business cards didn't read "youth marketing professional"), surfacing in the 1990s into the new mainstream of Britpop (much in the way that its American counterpart, alternative music, had become a few years earlier with the grunge phenomenon), before finally coalescing into a low-energy state in the new millennium as the marketing phenomenon known as Indie, a hyper-stylised, conservatively retro-referential guitar rock sponsored by lager brands. Though by the third episode of this series (the 1990s one), the BBC seems to succumb to this very revisionism of the term "indie", and, as Emma Jackson of Kenickie points out, retroactively edits almost all women out of the story, presumably because otherwise it wouldn't jibe as neatly with what modern audiences understand "indie" to mean:
It wasn’t just the lack of voices but the choice of stories that were included. No mention was made of the Riot Grrrl movement. Including the story of Riot Grrrl would have easily linked up with the previous programme’s section on fanzines and C86. Riot Grrrl also complicates the idea that British indie was in a stand off with US music. Rather in this scene bodies, music and fanzines travelled across the Atlantic and influenced each other. Also, while in indie music ‘white is the norm’ as Sarah Sahim recently argued, the Riot Grrrl moment in the UK also included bands lead by people of colour such as The Voodoo Queens and Cornershop (who had a number one on the independent Wiija in 1997).
Some major players were also missing. You have to go some lengths to tell the story of Britpop and not mention Elastica, but that’s what happened in the programme. There was a very short clip of them that flashed by. Or Sleeper. They were huge. Or PJ Harvey. Or Lush. Or Echobelly. Or Shampoo.Perhaps this is all a clever meta-narrative device, highlighting the issue of the blokeification of the term "indie" that is concomitant with it having ceased to be a structural descriptor ("indie" as in independent, from the major labels, from commercially manufactured pop music, the materialistic cultural currents/right-wing politics of Reaganism/Thatcherism, or what have you), and having become a stylistic descriptor (you know, guitars/skinny jeans/Doc Martens/Fred Perry/Converse/reverent references to an agreed-upon canon of "cool" bands from the previous half-century), and soon after that, a signifier of Cool British Masculinity, in the way that, say, Michael Caine, James Bond movies and various East End gangsters of old used to be. Perhaps it's a monumental oversight, inexplicable in hindsight, an oh-shit moment as the programme goes out. Or perhaps the original outline for the programme had sections on Bratmobile and Lush and Dubstar, which ended up on the cutting room floor after some risk-averse executive ruled that putting them in would weaken the narrative, confuse the audience or induce the Daily Mail to scream about "political correctness".
The equation of indie with retro probably didn't help. The seeds were sown in the underground 1980s, along with the rejection of the glossy commercial pop of the decade (which was partly a practical matter, with the kinds of high-tech studios the Pete Watermans of this world used to craft their chart-toppers costing millions, while electric guitars and Boss pedals were cheap), though became codified in the Britpop era, when journalist after lazy journalist equated the bold new age of British Guitar Rock with that last imperial phase of UK pop culture, the Swinging Sixties. Soon this became a self-fulfilling prophecy; things which didn't fit the narrative were pushed to the side, vintage Lambretta scooters and Mod roundels started showing up everywhere, and the Gallagher brothers, gazing down red-eyed from the heights of Snow Mountain, announced themselves to be the second coming of John Lennon, returned to bring proper rock'n'roll back to the people. Somewhere along the way, this retro rockism absorbed some of the retro sexism of the post-ironic lad mags of the time, marinated in the reactionary miasma inherent in the idea of a lost "golden age" (one before all this modern nonsense, when music came on vinyl and dollybirds knew their place was hanging on a geezer's arm, and so on), and so was born the New Lad Rock, whose name, in time, was lazily shortened just to "indie"; in its moribund terminal state, the Yorkie bar of music, right down to the "Not For Girls" label on it.
(Of course, the problem with looking backwards is often also the fact that those inclined to look backwards tend to fixate on forms rather than the processes that they emerged from (as the forms are the obvious thing to grasp, especially if one is not analytically inclined) and draw reactionary conclusions. For example, the fetishisation of the two-stroke motorscooter, a symbol of teenage freedom in the 1960s (it's probably no exaggeration to say that the Vespa was the
The equation of stylised "indie" rock with a retrograde "lad"/"geezer" masculinity seems to be firmly embedded in the culture of this day; only recently the radio station Xfm, which originated back in the day with an indie-music format, was rebranded, explicitly, as a blokey-guitar-rock station, without too much loss of cultural continuity. The next logical step would be would be to introduce a musical segment into the upcoming reboot of men-and-motors TV show Top Gear (which, of course, is already to be fronted by a Britpop-era radio DJ), where, between the high-octane stunts, a band of lads with guitars and Mod haircuts take to the screen and play something that sounds like a stodgily conservative take on the Beatles/Kinks/Clash/Pistols/Stone Roses.
The Independent has a pretty authoritative piece on the terminal decline of the genre of "indie" in the UK, from its origins as independent, defiantly noncommercial popular music (typically released on small DIY labels) in the late 1970s and 80s, through the Britpop hype explosion, and to the present day, when "indie" means formulaic, commercially-oriented guitar rock by image-conscious young Blatcherite careerists:
John Niven was an indie fan in the 1980s, an A&R man in the Britpopping 1990s, and is now the author of Kill Your Friends, a sadistic satire of the record industry of which he was once an enthusiastic member. "I was in Gap a few weeks ago and there was some sort of generic indie music playing," he says. "I was with a friend who's a promoter and a bit younger than me. After about three or four tracks I asked him: 'Whose LP is this?' And he said, 'No, it's a compilation.' Every track sounded identical. The guitars, the production; all these bands sound like they're made in the same studio with the same producer. It's such a ball-less, soulless, generic whitewashed indie sound. You could probably take a member from each band and throw them together in a new group and no one would be able to tell the difference. They're completely interchangeable. Scouting for Girls are like the sound of Satan's scrotum emptying. They're abysmal."
"[Britpop] was great fun," wrote the journalist Andrew Collins in a 2006 piece for Word. "But it wasn't indie, and it pushed a whole slew of workmanlike guitar bands centre-stage, where they were even expected to represent their rebranded country, giving the quite false impression that Cool Britannia was an Indie Nation. The essence of New Labour, indie was capitalism dressed up as revolutionary socialism."
These days the term 'indie' is little more than a generic sonic description for any band that plays guitars and probably wears skinny ties, skinny jeans, and skinny cardigans. Collins, a former NME writer and ex-editor of Q, says now: "'Indie' has become a meaningless term. It just covers guitar bands. But it was never meant to be about a type of music, it wasa spirit and an attitude. When I glance around the bands that are supposedly 'indie' today, I don't see any attitude. I don't see any content in their records, any political interest in the band members. They're a terrible generation, unfortunately, but they're becoming famous overnight and selling a lot of records. I've heard them called 'mortgage indie'. It's a career path – a way of making a lot of money very quickly. The Kooks did so well so quickly. Scouting For Girls, from a standing start, have become a really big band. The Fratellis have become massive in a remarkably short time."
Here's another term for the indie glossary: a "firework band". It means a widely touted young act whose label has a debut LP to sell. They begin their professional lives by exploding into the top of the charts, shine brightly, then drop out of sight. The turnover of new acts is terrifying. Parklife, lest we forget, was Blur's third album.Also in the Independent, an apposite example of "mortgage indie" as a career move, in which a Cambridge indie band named Hamfatter turns to venture capitalism to bypass the recording industry. Which is something I have mixed feelings about: on one hand, from a business perspective, this is as indie in attitude as it guest. On the other hand, when art is seen through the jaundiced lens of business, with market research and venture capital, business plans and promotional campaigns, that is somewhat saddening. What happened to art made for the sake of art, without commercial calculation? Is there even a place for it in the post-Blairite marketing society? The new indie revolution may be about allowing the little guys to be as soullessly mercantile as only the old, huge record labels could afford to be.
The Graun's Alexis Petridis is not impressed with the new Primal Scream album:
More baffling is the decision to foreground the vocals and lyrics of Bobby Gillespie. Never the highlight of any Primal Scream album, here they're inescapable: he is, as a rapper would say, all up in your grill. There's the usual torrent of drug-related cliches - "I stuck a needle in my baby's heart, she looked so hot and sexy," offers Gillespie, who is 46 years old - but the real problems come when he abandons the platitudes about junkies and veins and offers us something of himself, chiefly his famous political acumen. He has a tendency to address listeners as the lobotomised drones of the capitalist system. That sort of thing got a bit wearying coming from Crass, who were at least committed anarchists, squatting in an open house commune and apparently unable to play live without attracting unwanted police attention. Coming from Primal Scream, who are none of those things, but have been heard advertising everything from cars to clothes to Carphone Warehouse, it sounds, at best, pathetic. "Take a drive around the city, tell me what do you see? Empty houses, burning cars, naked bodies hanging from a tree," opens the title track, thus begging the question: where have you seen this, exactly? In Islington, where you live? No wonder property prices in N1 have levelled off.
At worst, however, it's genuinely insulting. "Congratulations, you live in a dream, in the dead heart of the control machine," sneers Gillespie, a man recently spotted confronting the grimy day-to-day reality of life on society's margins by attending the Mayfair launch of a $250,000 diamond and sapphire-encrusted ice dagger designed by Jade Jagger for use in the world's most exclusive bars, including Crystal, the London nightclub run by Prince William's Eton pal Jacobi Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe. He was probably there plotting the downfall of the dead-hearted control machine with his fellow guests, including noted revolutionary Marxists Alexa Chung and Davina Taylor. These are hardened insurrectionists, who, like Gillespie, know that there can be no social justice until the gutters run red with bourgeois blood. "We've got a noose if you want to hang around," he jeers, "maybe some torture to tousle your hair."In my opinion, Primal Scream appear to be a textbook example of Thatcherism-Blairism as an artistic ideology, a Hegelian synthesis of (the superficial aspects of) bolshy anti-capitalist agitation of the Thatcher era and the whorish mercantility of the Blairite marketing society, a culture, nay, a civilisation built entirely on appropriating and repackaging. And Primal Scream do it well; moving at the speed of spin from trend to trend (from NIN-lite industrial rock to meat-and-potatoes blues-rock that sounds like the Rolling Stones if they instructed their engineer to overcompress everything into a black blob of loudness to the ubiquitous vapid cod-Marxism that makes Sid Vicious look like George Monbiot by comparison), never making the mistake of investing enough of themselves in any one thing to miss the next shift in market research. Soon enough, listeners realise that they've been sold a turd in a can, but by then they've moved on to the next thing.
A survey of music sales from HMV outlets has revealed variations in mainstream musical tastes across the UK.
Pete Waterman — yes, that Pete Waterman — laments the overly commercial state of the music industry today:
One thing I find frightening about the modern music business is how it's all about money now. These kids, ooh, they have got it sussed. There's no room to see if anything happens by chance.Not that he's defending the purity of art from commercialism, mind you; Waterman makes no pretenses of being in the business of art. His argument seems to boil down to something like "we are all whores, but some of us are honest about it".
I have no problem with saying that pop music is about making money - that's what it does. But you have to entertain. To take the song one stage further and then have it all lined up so that it's a movie, it's a deodorant, it's a car line ad - that's shocking to me.
Musicians now take great pains to lead you to believe they're precious about the music. And then you see it as a car ad. It's offensive because it's a dishonest way of becoming famous. What we did was honest - we wanted to be number one and sell a million records. These guys want to be cool, and they want to take the money, but they don't want to say they want to sell a million records. I think that's dishonest.
The Guardian's (and Smoke's) Jude Rogers looks at how the meaning of the word "indie" has changed, and attempts to reclaim it:
Indie used to be such a simple term in the Eighties - a byword for an attitude, a subculture and a territory of music that was quietly, stubbornly, alternative. In the UK it meant anti-commercialism wearing a cardigan and glasses; a protest against the mainstream sporting twee hairslides. But now it has come to mean something entirely different. A few weeks ago, Big Brother contestant Emily Parr proclaimed, hilariously: 'There's a new music taking over this country and it's called indie.' Mario Testino shoots 'indie fashion' for Vogue and multi-platinum-selling guitar groups such as the Kooks, Razorlight and Snow Patrol are 'indie bands'. Indie is now a byword for something very different: for commercial savvy and success disguised as contemporary cool. It is no longer independent of anything: indie has become the mainstream.Rogers' first stop is, appropriately enough, a gig by Art Brut, who combine the shambolicism of "old indie" with the style and marketable coolness of "new indie".
Outside, a group of teenagers in velvet jackets are handing out flyers. They positively ooze indie. 'We're independent, not indie,' says Cyan, 16, with a studied world-weariness. 'We would've been, but indie means the Libertines and the View these days. We're more DIY.' He's in a band called I Am the Arm with his friend Aimee, and they both like Art Brut because the band doesn't subscribe to any notions of 'cool'. 'Indie's not difficult or energetic at all any more. It's just music for the mainstream. It's music for poseurs.'
That said, her friend Ben, 21, says, 'Indie is something to make you look better next to the chavs.' And Emma, 23, and Jo, 26, two very well-spoken, pleasant girls with thick fringes, like the term because 'being indie made you cooler at school, because you were wearing the right kind of clothes'. They agree this isn't the kind of indie that ruled back in the Eighties, but a modern, fashionable strand. And how would they define indie now? 'Cool guitar bands,' they say, before running down the stairs to hear Art Brut arrive in a flourish of feedback.
I catch a bus to the Young and Lost Club in Shoreditch, east London. I come here to investigate a related complaint about contemporary indie: that it has gone posh as well as cool; that the music of the underdog has been taken over by the rich kids, including ubiquitous gossip-column staple Peaches Geldof. Pop critic Simon Price recently complained about indie gigs being full of 'horsey young fillies canoodling with flush-faced bucks, fresh out of public school', deeming the indie gig the new 'social club for dressed-down debutantes to see and be seen'.However, there is hope; while the word "indie" essentially means "music that was considered "white" 10 years ago", and encompasses everything from Judas Priest to Coldplay (the other variety of music is "hip-hop", which includes reggae, funk and R&B—though not Rhythm and Blues, as that's "indie"), the term "indie-pop", lacking the sort of cocky stadium-filling swagger that brings the sponsors and advertisers onside, is still cherished by legions of purists and not of interest to trendy poseurs; which means that, by the new definition, they're not very "indie":
A large part of tonight's crowd come from the indie messageboard Bowlie, an international web community that grew out of the Belle and Sebastian and Jeepster label websites. Regular member Emma, 24, laughs as she tells me what a bouncer said to her recently: 'He said, "You're the most uncool crowd I've ever seen. You're like a disco for the computer club."' The messageboard's founder, David Kitchen, agrees. 'Indie initially was never about coolness. It was about the people that Pulp summed up so well - a little bit ugly, a little bit kooky, a bit fucked-up. It's for people who want to do things for themselves, and share things together, without fear of recrimination.'
HDIF founder Ian Watson is especially delighted that this culture is booming. Thanks to the internet, and a renewed enthusiasm for stuff away from the flimflam of popular music, he thinks we're now living in a golden age for DIY music. He mentions a new indie-pop festival, Indie Tracks, to be held in a station in Derbyshire this month, and how he keeps hearing about people setting up their own clubs, bands and labels.And here, rock critic Kitty Empire writes about the history of "indie" and how it won the world and lost its soul.
Kele Okereke, the frontman of new-wave-indie-art-rock band Bloc Party, has expressed his regret at signing to Vice Records, because of the, umm, vicious qualities of the Vice brand:
"The people that we work with are lovely, and they're a separate company from the magazine, but Vice the brand just fills me with dread, really. It's a real kind of nasty vortex, where any decency and general compassion to other people has just been completely obliterated."
It is rumoured that glamorous-romantic-nihilist-bard-of-contemporary-British-life and/or drug-addled waste of oxygen Pete Doherty, whose sole raison d'etre seems to be solely to provide the tabloids with "outrageous" antics of human depravity like some kind of Carling-sponsored Sid Vicious clone, has been signed by Domino Records. Which, if it is true, suggests that the once credible label (they put out the likes of post-rock obscurantists Hood) is in the final stages of its transition into late Creation Records, just before it was swallowed by Sony. Domino's Oasis is, of course, Franz Ferdinand.
According to NME, that Daily Star of Indie™, Oasis' "Definitely Maybe" is The Greatest Album Of All Time™. It is followed by lesser luminaries such as The Beatles (at #2. #3, #13 and #14; not bad for an earlier, imperfect form of what Oasis would become), The Clash ("London Calling" is at #12), David Bowie (#18) and The Smiths (#9). Elsewhere on the chart is a lineup of NME darlings from years past, including The Stone Roses (#7), The Strokes (#20) and glamorous-nihilists-with-really-good-stylists The Libertines (#15). That really says it all about NME.
A blog named Mocking Music has a primer on what "C86" is, both the original NME DIY-indie cassette and the genre (jangly and/or twee pop) it has, rightly or wrongly, become synonymous with:
C86 is a type of music, but what it describes is a contentious point. Its original meaning can be agreed upon at least. What it began as was a free cassette that came with issues of the British magazine NME in 1986 (hence, cassette 1986), later available for purchase as an LP through Rough Trade. Like its predecessor, C81, it featured a slew of up and coming indie acts. Unlike C81, this cassette's indie acts were far more indie and less established.
Says NME's website: "We [tried] to invent an alternative scene - our own version of punk you could say - by forcing a coterie of new bands onto a cassette called C86. It's not entirely convincing and you should get out more if you remember The Shop Assistants - but it nails our colours to the mast. We, it said, for better or worse, are indie."
Of course, NME is no longer indie, but twenty years of popularity will do that. Were C86 a cassette alone, it wouldn't merit much note now. But it became more than that. Although not all the bands featured on the compilation were stylistically similar, enough of them shared the same shambolic sound for C86 to quickly become identified as a particular genre, a movement, in independent rock. That sound is arguably twee, and definitively Jangly. Although many tweepop groups do grow from C86, the genre is, strictly speaking, jangle pop. Some have argued that, like Krautrock, C86 is more a time and place thing: late 80's British DIY indie, rather than a genre, but listen to the compilation, or any of the bands that became linked to C86 afterward, and you'll find that most of the artists have a shared, distinct sound (i.e. discordant feed-back laden guitars mixed with almost child-like vocalization of mostly cheery, sometimes political lyrics).(Of course, the statement "NME is no longer indie" is only valid if one uses the word "indie" in the purist sense, rather than the popular sense. In the other sense, NME remains the bible of "indie", but "indie" is no longer indie; instead, "indie" these days is the next generation of "alternative", a fashion-conscious, highly commercial and formulaic genre of music, upbeat, stylishly-distressed football-terrace anthems, sponsored by Carling and Clear Channel, and comprised of simple riffs and the catchier bits lifted from the underground music of yesterday, streamlined for mass consumption. But I digress.)
Mocking Music goes on to examine each track on the NME cassette (side A and side B); the descriptions are somewhat brief and in some cases cursory to the extreme (and contain a few mistakes, for example, "Bullfighter's Bones" is named in one place as "Bullfighter Blues"), though they do include MP3 links, and does explain who Nerys Hughes was.
IMHO, C86 is an interesting historical document, and worth a listen, though it is far from a list of either the best or most significant exponents of the zeitgeist that became known as C86. A handful of the tracks merit repeated listening (in my opinion, the highlights include Primal Scream's Velocity Girl, The Bodines' Therese, Stump's Buffalo, The Shop Assistants' It's Up To You and the abovementioned Half Man Half Biscuit song, (even though it's arguable nobody who hasn't lived in England during the 1980s has a chance of truly understanding HMHB, however, collecting their works and cribbing up on the soap actors and second-division football managers mentioned from online cheat sheets could be useful for Anglophilic oneupmanship); much of the rest is somewhat forgettable. On the other hand, I suspect that more recent NME compilations (Britpack anyone?) won't stand the test of time to anywhere near the same extent as C86 did.
The latest old musical trend being revived, after garage rock, new wave, electro and synthpop, is soft rock. No, really.
Orson and the Feeling's music is openly based on soft rock, the province of 1970s superstars Bread, Chicago and Air Supply, a genre that has a fair claim to be called the most reviled in rock history. You can't even claim that soft rock's critical reputation took a nose dive in the years after punk, because long before the Sex Pistols soft rock's critical reputation was as low as it could get. "Soft rock music isn't rock, and it ain't music," protested US comedian George Carlin at the time. "It's just soft." And yet, 30 years after its heyday, here it is again, propping up the top 10.
"I am unabashedly a giant supporter of Hall and Oates, Steely Dan and the Eagles," says Orson's vocalist Jason Pebworth, who turned to soft rock after failed attempts to launch the band in the image first of Radiohead and then the Strokes. "It's like the smell of warm bread. It totally takes you back. I think squareness is coming back in. Be square!"
The Feeling's frontman Dan Gillespie-Sells concurs, with the caveat that his band never tried to sound hip in the first place. "I've never understood the Velvet Underground," he muses. "I've got a massive record collection, but it's all naff pop music. That's what interests me."The soft-rock revival, if it is an actual phenomenon, could be partly a backlash against the tight/angular/jagged sounds favoured by a thousand indistinguishable NME bands in the past few years, without going as far as to make something original or truly challenging. There may well be an element of ironic machismo in it, with some hipsters flaunting their credentials by showing that they can get away with "liking" something more conspicuously uncool than the next guy. Though looking beyond that, there is the obvious truth that the semiotics of "alternative", "punk", "indie" and such have become so safely mainstream that they occupy a space not very far from the middle of the same road that the original soft-rock held in the 1970s:
But there is also the sense that an unashamed soft rock revival has arrived at a time when soft rock's mortal enemy, punk-derived "alternative" music, no longer seems terribly alternative. A decade after Britpop, the standard tropes of indie rock - the wall of distorted guitars, the anthemic ballads designed to be played when England lose on penalties - have become well worn, its influences familiar to everyone. "The edgy rock thing has gone round and round in circles for so long that people are looking for something new, something that's going to introduce you to music you haven't heard before," says David Balfour of Record of the Day, the website that first brought Orson to the British music industry's notice.
In addition, there is the real sense that "alternative" music has finally lost the moral high ground on which it was once predicated. Twenty years ago, indie music had strict rules: it was broadly anti-corporate; it ostensibly disdained the practices of the music industry. In recent years, however, all that has been eroded by alt.rock's desire for the kind of mass-market success afforded Oasis and Blur. Today, alternative music can't even claim to be an alternative to reality television; when Preston from the Ordinary Boys went on Celebrity Big Brother, not a voice from the indie scene was raised in protest.
The end result is that when Kaiser Chiefs sweep the boards at the Brits, there's none of the sense of shock that accompanied the Smiths' appearances on Top of the Pops. Instead, there seems to be something transgressive about unabashedly raiding the most critically reviled music in history for inspiration.And then there's this observation:
But then, as Rowley notes, causing nightmares for a rock fan of a certain age and musical bent could well be the point. "If kids grow up with their dad listening to the Jam and the Clash, where's their rebellion going to come from? How are you going to wind your dad up? Well," he chuckles, "playing fucking Supertramp will really wind your dad up."
Apparently, the founder of one of the original non-heterosexual indie nights in London, Popstarz, which provided gay indie kids one of their first chances to come out of the I-don't-like-disco closet, has passed away. No Rock&Roll Fun has this to say:
Hobart recognised that there was a massive unsatisfied market of gay and bi people who wanted to dance with their fringes over their eyes instead of their shirts off their backs. The feeling was that gay people had been liberated from the hell that theyd been in for most of their teen to adult lives, he said. So many people said to me it was like coming out of the closet for the second time.
The success of Popstarz led to a sudden blossoming of other non-straight indie club nights around the country, most notably in the form of Poptastic, although the lack of a large geographic catchment area meant a lot of the original bright-eyed provincial nights started to water down their indie policy: first Kylie would edge out the Mudhoney; then Sonia would start to take over from the Kenickie, until at some nights it could be difficult to remember you'd turned up on the promise of an alternative. Actually, that's not so very different from most straight indie nights, now we come to think of it.That is true. These days, indie kids are largely over indie music. They know about it, for sure, and can quote Pavement discographies chapter and verse and make allusions to Johnny Marr and Jarvis Cocker and such, but in a knowing, over-it way. Sometimes you may hear some obscure twee janglepop or what have you, but step into a night frequented by indie kids and you're more likely to hear old-sk00l Michael Jackson (if one were to compile a Coolsie Top 40, "Gotta Be Startin' Something" would be near #1) or crunk booty anthems or Eye Of The Tiger or something. Indie music serves its purpose, as the gatekeeper to the scene, but once you pass the test, you can put your Kindercore compilations back on the shelf, crack open a Pabst Blue Ribbon and get down to enjoyable top-40 cheese, knowing that everyone else in the room is as hip and knowing as you. The only people who still listen to indie music seem to be nostalgic thirtysomethings reliving their anxious adolescence.
Then again, the word "indie" is going the way the word "alternative" went in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Nowadays it refers mostly to hype-led, ultra-derivative new-wave/garage-rock copyists, who, if not signed to major labels, are pimped by multinational corporations like Coors/Carling and Clear Channel and have multi-million-pound advertising campaigns on the same scale as Robbie Williams. (See also: "new wave" and "art rock".) Perhaps it's time for a new term, one which deemphasises the problematic concept of independence (i.e., who is more "indie": Pulp (signed to Universal) or Bloc Party? Did Primal Scream and the Boo Radleys stop being "indie" the instant that Sony bought Creation?) and talks about the æsthetic and philosophical distinctions between the artists and music in question and the commercial mainstream. Perhaps "intelligent pop", or "art pop"?
From the Fly (a monthly free street press publication in London, with a bias towards populist NME/Carling/Xfm new-wave/garage rock; The Wire it ain't), and specifically, its review of the next Franz Ferdinand album:
"And yet, there was no warning in pre-Franzworld that artrock was just about to grab the world by its neckerchief and force it to put its dancing shoes on."Which is proof that "artrock" has lost its meaning. It used to mean artistically conceptual rock music, from Bowie to Radiohead. Now, "artrock" is a fashion stance, copying a small subset of actual art rock bands from around 1980, and a narrowly circumscribed checklist of elements. Staccato guitar line lifted from an Interpol record? Check. Describable as "edgy" or "angular"? Check. Sharp suits? Androgyny or sexual ambiguity? Check. It's artrock. Just like The Killers, that NKOTB of the Carling New Wave.
NME darlings The Libertines tried to organise an anti-drug concert last year -- but pulled out to avoid being sued for slander by Pete Doherty, the band's drug-addled, bandmate-robbing former frontman and/or the first great primal rock'n'roll hero since Iggy Pop/Sid Vicious:
"At that point, Pete was embroiled in drugs and they assumed it would be on the offensive regarding his drug-taking so his lawyers contacted us and said no.You can't make this up.
The 13th of October has been designated John Peel Day; there will be more than 300 tribute gigs to Peel across the UK. (It remains to be seen what proportion of these carry on the spirit of Peel's eclecticism and championing of novelty more than, say, last year's "Future's Burning" compilation of "tight", "angular" NME/Xfm-formula "new-wave" "indie" "garage" "art rock", which was, perhaps rather opportunistically, dedicated to the then recently deceased Peel.) There will also be events in Europe, North America and New Zealand on the day.
The day before, there will be a tribute concert in London featuring New Order, The Fall, the Super Furry Animals and a reggae outfit named Misty In Roots.
As part of the 10th anniversary of Britpop*, the BBC looks at what became of the Britpop stars. It's interesting to see that two members of that most hype-driven of Britpop bands, Menswear, are still in the UK music hype industry; one of them managing NME-Carling-MTV2 darlings Bloc Party, and another being news editor at rigidly playlisted commercial "indie" radio station Xfm. The singer, meanwhile, seems to work in a mobile phone shop or something.
* well, the Blur-Oasis thing which defined it in the media's eye.
As the 10th anniversary of the Blur-vs.-Oasis stoush approaches, John Harris (author of the definitive Britpop history The Last Party) looks at Britpop's legacy:
Frischmann is about to begin life as a mature student in the US. Cocker called time on Pulp in 2002, and seems to have settled into a life of semi-retirement. The lion's share of Britpop's mid-table attractions - Sleeper, Gene, Shed Seven - have split up. By the time you get into the bands who fell at the first hurdle, you begin to wonder whether they ever existed at all; who, aside from the most hard-bitten trivia buffs, has any clear memory of Powder, Northern Uproar, Laxton's Superb or Octopus?
The world these people built, however, has endured. It's where just about every worthwhile British band aspires to be: that speedy production line that takes promising musicians from their local pub venue, introduces them to the NME, and then - if everything goes to plan - inducts them into the head-rattling world of mainstream celebrity. The idea that there was ever an "underground", where bands could ply their trade without paying any attention to the world of commerce, seems almost laughable. Less than a year ago, for instance, the Kaiser Chiefs were an unknown, transparently Blur-influenced band from Leeds. Now, their small handful of keynote hits has become inescapable, and their fans include Paul McCartney and Richard Gere.
It looks like the new Doctor Who will be attired in a suit, a trenchcoat and sneakers, in what the BBC are calling a "geek chic" look; in other words, somewhere between John Constantine in the Hellblazer comics and Jarvis Cocker sans glasses.
For a while they had me worried that the BBC were trying to jump on the NME New Wave Glamorous Indie™ Art Rock™ Revival bandwagon and making the Doctor an emaciated androgyne in a tight-black-suit/black-shirt/anorexically-thin-red-tie combo.
NME/MTV2 art-rockers Franz Ferdinand's latest affectation is to decide that their next album will have the same title and artwork as their first, only in slightly different colours, and their subsequent albums' packaging will differ only by colour scheme. Which probably means that the Future's Burning compilation (a compilation of highly formulaic and stylised NME-favoured "indie"/"art rock"/"new wave of new wave" bands which, ironically enough, was dedicated to John Peel) would be an unofficial part of the series.
US satellite radio network Sirius is about to start broadcasting BBC Radio 1 in the US, time delayed to sync up with local time. Now Americans frustrated with the Clear Channel monoculture will be able to catch John Peel's heirs playing all sorts of eclectic music at odd times of the night.
Meanwhile, back in Britain, Xfm (which, for the Australians in the audience, was once the closest thing Britain had to 3RRR, but now has turned into a Carling-flavoured Nova FM, playing the latest NME darlings on heavy rotation) is shedding one of the last vestiges of its alternative heritage, by merging with Kerrang-style hard-rock station Storm; both stations are owned by the Capital Radio group.
Republican-linked U.S. megacorps tighten their stranglehold on the British live music market, as Clear Channel is set to buy out Mean Fiddler, the company behind the Glastonbury and Reading Festivals. Rumours that Glasto will transfer its support of Greenpeace to pro-life groups, or the next festivals will be headlined by Toby Keith and Britney Spears respectively, have not been confirmed.
John Harris (who wrote The Last Party) on how popular music has been subsumed by corporate globalisation:
For musicians whose sensitivity to such chicanery places them a few notches up the evolutionary chain from Busted and Avril Lavigne, the implied contradictions can be pretty hard to swallow. Put bluntly, Anglo-American popular music is among globalisation's most useful props. Never mind the nitpicking fixations with interview rhetoric and stylistic nuance that concern its hardcore enthusiasts - away from its home turf, mainstream music, whether it's metal, rap, teen-pop or indie-rock, cannot help but stand for a depressingly conservative set of values: conspicuous consumption, the primacy of the English language, the implicit acknowledgement that America is probably best.
As the record industry's corporate structure has hardened into an immovable oligarchy - EMI, Time-Warner, BMG, Sony and Universal - so the range of musical options on offer has been dramatically scythed down. In 2004, there are but a handful of international musical superstars: Beyoncé, 50 Cent, Justin Timberlake, Eminem, Norah Jones, Coldplay. To characterise the process behind their global success as top-down is something of an understatement. MTV may have initially been marketed with the superficially empowering slogan, "I want my MTV"; more recently, with billions gladly hooked up, it has used the flatly sinister, "One planet, one music". Those four words beg one question: who decides?
Such, to use a phrase beloved of the Bush White House, is the cultural aspect of the New American Century. How long, I wonder, before Halliburton and Exxon start sponsoring festivals?
xrrf reckons that Jet are the Australian Oasis. And there I was thinking that Oasis were the Datsuns of their time. (via Graham)
A BBC article on the much-hyped New Saviours of Rock; i.e., the Strokes/White Stripes/Vines (oh, and the Datsuns too, Jen).
Form your own "new rock" band You will need:
- To be thin
- To be male
- To be white
- To have dark hair
- To have a band name starting with "The..."
- To wear tight T-shirts or leather jackets
- To know a maximum of three guitar chords