Usually I would not do this. My intention is to put things on here that have been published via the tastes of someone else, but in good faith I believe this piece was published, just not in a format that is favourable to the web, i.e. on paper. The piece itself Rip It Up And Start Again was written for a magazine a friend of mine was running in his local area. Said friend moved to Korea, so I’m not really sure what happened next, hence my desire to share.
Rip It Up and Start Again
The papers are writing about Brit Pop and Cool Britannia. Nirvana have performed to a sell out crowd. Football pundits are talking hot weather, the world’s best players, the World Cup. Everyone’s fed up with the government. Everyone’s obsessed with the economy. Is it 1994 again? No. It’s nostalgia town.
So much has been written recently about how 1994 was the year it all came to end; the year music began to regurgitate a repeat of a repeat of a repeat. Isn’t this a little too simplistic though? Isn’t this lazy revisionism? Each generation likes to position itself in opposition, but maybe the Brit Pop era really isn’t so different from those of Punk or Glam?
Ever since Elvis Presley inspired Cliff Richard and The Shadows there’s been a trans-Atlantic call and response that has fuelled and shaped both the American and British rock scenes. For decades it’s rolled on in cycles inspiring everyone from The Beatles to The Libertines. The Brit Pop era, however, is seen as the first time British Music didn’t look to move forward and create something new, but instead chose to insulate itself in the sounds and styles of the past. Whether it was Suede channelling Bowie’s glam via the orchestral theatricality of Scott Walker, or Damon Albarn unleashing his inner Ray Davies, Brit Pop, it’s said, was the beginning of the end. Today we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s never been so bad. The synth drenched soundscapes and tinny beats of the 80s used by The XX and London Grammar, the throbbing bass and heavy drops of early 90s dance incorporated by Coldplay and Rita Ora, are all supposedly a result of Brit Pop. This however is merely a half-truth, and one, which has some obvious flaws.
If one considers the musical landscape of 1994 it is not hard to see the then appeal of Brit Pop. Madchester had been and gone. The Stone Roses were on an enforced hiatus. Grunge dominated the charts, and the Spice Girls were just a few all-singing all-dancing boy bands away from world domination. A noticeable vacuum existed. Something had to fill it. Something had to remind Rock and Roll of what it had been and what it could still be. Enter Brit Pop. Just as Punk had been a reaction to the tired sounds of Prog-Rock, so Brit Pop, wrapped in irony and a Union Jack, was a reaction to the sound of feedback and synchronized dance moves. Bands like Blur, Oasis, and Pulp, dominated the charts and rode the waves of success all the way to Downing Street, while spawning several bands in their wake. (It’s perhaps this obvious embracement by the establishment that causes many people to have a problem with Brit Pop. Sadly though, this embracement is true of any era, and almost vital to any longevity. Members of The Beatles and The Stones are now Sirs, Bowie’s endorsed his own credit card, even the punks, at one time so staunchly anti-establishment, now dust off the leathers and re-unite for seemingly routine reunions.)
When one also considers the small time frame of the Brit Pop era it is hard to imagine why it still remains so relevant for so many. By the time Oasis released Be Here Now (1997), just three years after debut album Definitely Maybe (1994), the curtains were already coming down. Blur were shifting towards a sound inspired by the very bands they had rebelled against, Suede were becoming caricatures of themselves, while others were simply imploding. The critics were shifting their attention to bands like Radiohead, and by the turn of the century bands such as The Strokes and The White Stripes, themselves no strangers to raiding the musical attic, would become music press darlings.
It seems the main problem for today’s artists is the perception that they are not doing anything new, though this does them a great disservice. Take The Horrors and the Arctic Monkeys for example. Here are two bands who have harnessed an array of different styles, whether it is the hypnotic drone of shoegaze, the throb of desert rock, or the rolling metamorphic beats of dance and hip-hop, and have managed to fashion something uniquely their own. Like the best of those before them, such as Joy Division who channelled the rawness of punk with the sci-fi groove of Bowie, or The Velvet Underground, whose dark, kaleidoscopic cabaret of drug-fuelled songs, was an antidote for those weary of the good vibrations of the mid-60s, these bands demonstrate music’s unique ability to re-make and re-model itself.
Looking back from 2014, it’s tempting to say 1994 was the year everything became a bland repeat of a repeat of a repeat, but this is folly, and it lets us off the hook. If the trailblazers of today really are nowhere to be found, then it’s down to failures of our own generation not a previous one. If the music you want to hear, the books you want to read, and the films you want to see are nowhere to be found, make you own. Use the past as your guide, your inspiration, the benchmark you must surpass. Nostalgia will never go away, it’s in our nature to look back. Sometimes though, you just have to rip it up and start again.