Feature: IPC Sub Editors Dictated Our Youth

Britpop, Blur, Oasis, Elastica, Music

A recent Guardian article drew the attention to this.

A comprehensive guide to the Britpop years. Hey, everybody! Remember ‘Britpop’? Crap, wasn’t it?

“Well, that depends”, you may respond, “on whether you construct a picture of an era from various sell-through compilations and poorly-recalled media events or whether you maintain a vivid, quasi-synesthetic recollection of the era in your own imagination.”

Growing up in small country town in an unfashionable corner of England and clowning through a poorly-rehearsed adolescence at the time, music was more of a balm than a lifestyle choice. I fall into that latter group. Glancing over the track listing of Common People, then, two things leap forth:

  1. The era does not require a three-disc retrospective.
  2. Despite having moments, the track listing is terrifying.

So, how can such a period of musical history be boiled down into a disappointing Ragu of nothing?

“Because it was crap”, so the footnote goes. “Besides, I was heavily into Bark Psychosis and Autcehre at the time.”

In fact, it was great. But great in spite of, not because of, Echobelly. All manner of strange and joyful things were taking place. There was every kind of exciting, forward-looking music, the kind which would manage to remain gleefully entertaining and which, while perhaps being less commercially successful as other times could, at the very least, have expected to find itself on a three-disc compilation in 2009.

Recently, I read somewhere of John Peel’s negative influence during the punk years. How essentially what began as a DIY explosion of enthusiasm became one man’s idea of what was and was not cool. Likewise, would Ocean Colour Scene’s ‘The Riverboat Song’ still be licensed for a compilation in 2009 were it not for Chris Evans? Whatever the probable outcome, there’s little arguing that a certain template was set and media coverage duly granted to the bands, labels and writers who elected to, in the words of Lester Freamon, follow the money.

History therefore records that popular British music of the 1990s was, for the most part, fairly derivative guitar music, derived if not from some distant iconic touchstone, then from one another. Your scene leaders – your Blur, Pulp, Elastica, Suede, Oasis – clearly distinguish themselves from this, but what of the supporting cast, the seething mass of pond life in the garden of the Britpop house party? Why are Geneva, Powder and Shed Seven considered representatives of a decade, even on a three-CD set? Nobody EVER listened to Shed Seven. Even Shed Seven probably preferred Gene.

Let us apportion blame. Let us lay it at the door of the long defunct Melody Maker who, in July 1995, decided that standardisation was in order.

Up to around that point, it was anyone’s guess where things were going. It’s well documented that British folk were buying home grown British music again after a period of American domination, (though this in itself is clearly another fallacy, but that’s another story for another time). The fact is, all kinds of British music was shifting. Stern-faced crusties The Levellers and electro-boffins Orbital were playing to as many people as Suede, Tricky and Tindersticks and were on as many magazine covers. And the music was duly cross-pollinating. Remix work for the Chemical Brothers, guitars lurking on dance floor tunes by Underworld or FSOL. Everyone was on Top Of The Pops, whether they wanted to be or not.

Melody Maker called time on this. Publishing that cover feature on Britpop gave a name to something which previously had been an amorphous groundswell, and the feature itself divided the then current welter of artists into three tiers; those to watch, those to tolerate and those that were shit. Those not included were definitely not Britpop. One magazine’s idea of what was and was not cool, set in stone. ‘One poorly selling magazine’s idea’, you may retort, but an idea which has nonetheless endured.

Everything else that happened has been covered in great depth. What it all adds up to is, even with 54 tracks and five or six years to cast a net over, that the end result bears little or no resemblance to the period as I remember it. The net, apparently, is full of holes.

So with the aid of Spotify I have constructed a (one-disc) playlist which I think resets the balance a little bit and maybe captures a little bit of the unpredictability. If you were too young for it, or if you’ve somehow forgotten everything, the actual period was far more fun than Commerical Marketing, Melody Maker of Kula fucking Shaker would have you believe.

So – please enjoy British music of a specific period in the 1990s

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17 Comments

  • Posted June 29, 2009 at 8:11 am |

    Mulder & Scully remains one of the most irritating songs I have ever heard.

  • Posted June 29, 2009 at 8:56 am |

    No Gene? Madness!

  • Graham Clarke
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 10:00 am |

    No space for pretend Morrissey.

  • Posted June 29, 2009 at 10:19 am |

    Breaking down the two melded abbreviations ‘Brit’ and ‘Pop’ we’re left with ‘British Popular’ – which would apply to stuff like The Lighthouse Family, Robson & Jerome and Mark Morrisson.

    Which is quite depressing.

    There should maybe be some Verve (Northern Soul) era on your compilation?

    Watching Kasabian at Glastonbury on the TV, it struck me that it can’t hurt to be nostalgic about them, in their prime… (let’s forget last year’s comeback for the moment)…

  • Graham Clarke
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 11:02 am |

    I suppose we all have our favourites. I like a lot of the second Sleeper album, but to include them would probably undermine the point.

    I think the Verve were just a big jam band in search of a tune, and when they weren’t they were kind of overly-sincere ‘rock fantasy’ Clapton-esque nightmare proposition. But that’s just my view, and I preferred Bis anyway.

    Plus, The Mac was a proper breath of fresh air in ‘96, as I recall.

  • Posted June 29, 2009 at 11:27 am |

    Lovely piece.

    Anyone read Phonogram by McKelvie and Gillen? Basicaly a britpop retrospective with added anthopomorpisation of musical genres and magic. Is quite good.

  • Posted June 29, 2009 at 11:35 am |

    Vones, sounds interesting…

    GC – The Verve had good lyrics. Biblical size tunes with quasi-religious word moments… and the guitarist was ace.

    They shat on Sleeper.

  • Graham Clarke
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 11:47 am |

    ‘They shat on Sleeper.’

    An arresting mental image, one which I will now consider in depth for half of an hour.

    Phonogram the graphic novel? It does look good.

  • Posted June 29, 2009 at 11:54 am |

    Even as someone who was more interested in Slayer during the britpop era, it was a rather good read. Massive ammounts of Kenickie fandom too, and anything involving Lauren Laverne is good in my book.

  • Posted June 29, 2009 at 11:54 am |

    - GC – yes.

  • Posted June 29, 2009 at 12:02 pm |

    Imagine Richard Ashcrofts anus gently contracting around a bolus of faeces, pinching the cylinder’s surface until it breaks away from the mothership, falling in slow motion on to the astonished face of Louise Wener.

    That is genuinely what happened, in 1997.

  • Graham Clarke
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 12:23 pm |

    Yes, I remember it well. It was on the O-Zone, wasn’t it?

  • Posted June 29, 2009 at 12:36 pm |

    Yes. Yes, it was.

  • Posted June 29, 2009 at 4:45 pm |

    As I can’t access Spotify at work (fascists) I am unable to disagree/agree with your alternate Britpop playlist.

    I fought the Britpop wars single-handedly from behind the counter of the good ship Our Price Bath, making sure Country House triumphed by pretending we’d sold out of Roll With It. I WON!

    Plus, I deterred many an uneducated prole from purchasing music by Kula Shaker, Dodgy, Echobelly et al by rolling my eyes and sighing heavily if they tried, leading to many a shamefaced customer to return said CD to the shelves and scurrying away, apologising for their miserable existence.

    In secret though I quite liked Shed Seven. Especially Getting Better…

  • Posted June 29, 2009 at 4:55 pm |

    Oh, great article btw. It is easy to forget how much great music was around at the time, and how shit much of the music under the Britpop umbrella was.
    *tips hat*

  • Posted June 29, 2009 at 5:23 pm |

    The snooty record store guy is a lost figure in many a teenagers life. (I was one for a while too…)

    I think there should be something on iTunes that yells at you whenever you are about to download something shit…

  • Posted June 29, 2009 at 8:15 pm |

    I was a drunken 24 hour garage attendant, serving wotsits pissed in the dead of night. If that helps.

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