Britpop, the shocking truth
This evening I was being as lazy as possible in order to survive the heat-wave we’ve had over the last few days. I found myself staring at the TV, channel hopping. I then dropped onto a program about Britpop - my face lit up, and I hunkered into my bean bag ready for a trip down memory lane. Before seconds had passed I was singing along to a backing track (Blur - Chemical World, at that point) and feeling great. Before long old tracks I’ve not heard in years were playing, and I was singing along to those too, glee written across my face. Then, the shocking truth hit me like a Bruce Lee two inch punch. The commentator uttered words which I paraphrase here:
Britpop first hit the scene in 1994, when Blur released the massively influential ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’, which didn’t get the commercial success it deserved, but which changed a musical landscape forever. The TV shrunk like that fish-eye effect from the Jaws movies. My maths couldn’t be right, so I quickly went over the sums again. No matter what, I kept getting the same answer. It’s 12 years since I bought Modern Life is Rubbish. Twelve years seems like an eternity, and then I quickly tried figuring out how old I must have been. Turns out I was 13.
Now, in my head, the guy that I remember clutching that CD case, singing along to the songs and making music the definition of my world is the exact same guy that’s sitting here now, writing this post. That person in my memory is a 25yr old guy. He’s not 13. The shocking truth is that Britpop began half my life ago. The tunes that defined my experiences, that dominated my thoughts and emotions, that are even now a core part of myself, a part of my life that came crashing back to reality upon hearing long forgotten tunes…it’s all over a decade old. What the hell happened?!
I can put myself back then right now. I can see myself and Dan Myatt, at his house, listening to his latest viynals. Delicatessen, Blur, Ash, Elastica, Spiritualised, Suade, Pulp, Primal Scream, Supergrass, Strangelove, Kula Shaker, Radiohead, The Verve, The Charlatans… It all felt focused, alive, a little revolutionary. Then Oasis turned up and Britpop hit it’s peak with the ‘Blur vs Oasis’ wars. I seem to remember at the time like everyone was part of that culture. It felt genuinely monumental. And then, it all died. Blur went a different route to commercial success, spitting out The Great Escape (which, at the time, I didn’t like. But hear it now and it sounds amazingly intelligent and ahead of its time). Oasis failed to learn a fourth chord. Britpop died in a wave of ‘girl power’, and the then mostly underground Dance scene took over the reigns of the ‘enjoyable and credible popular music’ scene for me. What is left of Britpop now? There’s nothing to replace those early sounds. There’s no modern equivalent of ‘Parklife’ or ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, we are floating in space’. No ‘Northern Soul’. Nothing that speaks to me. Instead Britpop has bastard son representatives like Keane, Kasabian, The Arctic Monkeys, Keiser Cheifs, and other boring ‘by the numbers’ fluff bands appearing to lack inspiration and heart. There’s no edge anymore, no movement, no unified voice because there’s nothing to say. Britpop was an introspective of Britain. It was multiple bands writing new, experimental and raw music, talking about the little things that make British life what it is. Jogs through the parks. Sunday dinner. Shopping. It said ‘this is Britain, it’s not brilliant, but we’re proud of it’ while breaking out the Union Jack and catching the mood of a nation, for a few years. What exists now has no focus. Music needs focus and intent or else it’s just noise. Rock was a rebellion. 60’s pop was a statement of intent. Britpop was a social commentary. Dance was escapism. Now, there’s no obvious target for music to aim at.
The same sort of rise and decline happened to dance/trance about five or six years after Britpop. Dance, in the 1998 - 2001 era was a phenomena. It went straight for your soul and pulsed white hot euphoria through your veins. It was simple and direct, building on it’s late 80’s and early 90’s predecessors. But then it died too. Murdered by commercial success, formulaic builds and sound effects, generic vocals. It became aimless and soulless. It became that blue frog playing as every idiots ring-tone.
I’ve been going through something of a retrospective musical voyage over recent months, and I’m finding more soul in the past than I can see in the present. That’s a worrying state of affairs, except for one thing. It means the next unified musical statement can’t be too far away…I can’t wait!