A year or so ago, I got into downloading music podcasts to listen to while running. This was of course primarily a way to distract myself from the grinding drudgery of physical exercise, but also a way to reignite the inexhaustible passion for discovering new music that I had as a teenager (and perhaps even regain the physique).
Before that, I’d spent a good ten years going back in time, when ‘new music’ only really meant ‘stuff I’d not heard before’. I got into blues, New Orleans soul and piano music, Northern Soul, Southern Soul, psychedelic rock, French pop and. But I wanted to find something new – I can’t bring myself to believe that it’s all been done and that nothing will ever top the music from twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years ago. I wanted to find some bands I could go to see in small venues, bands you could make a real connection with, that when you went to their shows, it didn’t feel like you were watching a video of someone else having a good time. I started to go to shows that weren’t merely about reliving my youth, or someone else’s.
Two podcasts were selected – the Guardian and Steve Lamacq’s Roundtable. I discovered artists like Stealing Sheep, Melody’s Echo Chamber, the Amazing Snakeheads, Lucy Rose and Ty Segall.
A year later, only Steve Lamacq’s Roundtable remains, although in all honesty, the Guardian one never really got more than a couple of listens. The main reason was the arcane list of scenes and genres that Petridis and guests nonchalantly yawned into existence. Chillwave, dreampop, brostep, zombie rock, cloud rap, witch house, outsider house. It wasn’t just the try-hard terminology that was bothering me, but more the fact that I had become so cynical due to the continuing fragmentation of music, shrunk down and dissected to a point where it doesn’t really mean anything, where there are no real rallying points.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the appeal of a badly named scene as much as any extravagantly bearded yet short of trouser Shoreditch denizen. I gleefully participated in 1994’s ‘New Wave of New Wave’ scene and even dipped a snakeskin loafer clad toe into Romo a couple of years later. It’s just that it feels like the innocence of all that was annihilated by a combination of Britpop and the internet.
Before that, it was possible to will a new scene into life and for its participants to create enough hype for it to gain some kind of momentum. Punk was created by a bunch of people hanging round a shop. Like any crowd scene, if you angle the camera properly, you can’t tell how few people are actually there. You can dress it up and make it sound more exciting and dangerous than it really was. Post-Britpop, a small scene was no longer good enough – if it wasn’t shifting millions of records it would never survive. In an internet world, your scene will get rumbled pretty quickly – everyone can see exactly how few people are participating, thousands of professionally grumpy music forum contributors can declare it the ’emperor’s new clothes’ and finish it all off before its even got going. There’s no room for the charlatans (note small c) and chancers that make the whole thing so much fun.
There was something pure and innocent about the days of scenes which took the music press by storm. The couple of good bands, the crap ones gleefully jumping on the bandwagon, the hours spent trying, and failing, to replicate the look in a time where all high street clothes shops were rigidly mainstream.
In today’s world, the chances of failure are greatly magnified but it’s almost impossible to fail utterly gloriously.
And that’s a real shame.
Where are the schemers? Where are the dreamer? Where are the believers? There’s loads of great bands, but hype has become a whole lot harder and that seems a shame. In times past, the hype was in the hands of people who were really good at it, like Tony WIlson, Alan McGee, Bill Drummond, Neil Kulkarni, Simon Price or Taylor Parkes, people who could make it sound like a bomb was about to off at the bottom of your road. They could make you believe, and that’s what being a teenage music fan is all about. Print the myth, don’t let facts get in the way of a great story. There’s an exchange about Catholicism in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited – “You can’t believe in something just because it’s a nice idea”.
“Why can’t I?”.
Flawed is beautiful.