Sunday, December 16, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #44]

BRITPOP AND THE BRITPRESS
Request, May 1996

by Simon Reynolds


Right now, the British weekly music press--New Musical Express (NME) and Melody Maker (MM)--is going through one of its periodic phases of feeling self-important. The reason, of course, is Britpop. The weeklies didn't create the movement, but they did name it, and for two years now they've given Britpop their unconditional support. The official line is that 'we've never had it so good' (an echo of a famous political slogan from the '60s); that Britpop is a golden age for UK music, and that if you want to keep tabs on this fast-moving scene, you've got to buy the weeklies.

Grunge wasn't a bad time for the UK music press (in fact Melody Maker
was way ahead of American publications in picking up on what was happening in
Seattle). But the Brit-press is happiest when it can cover stuff happening
on its own doorstep, on a week-by-week basis. If a band is local, it's so much easier to kickstart the hype-cycle that so appals Americans: the group's discovery at a live gig by a cub reporter ('I have seen the future'), its endorsement by a more established writer, the granting of 'Single of the Week' honors, the pricking of major label A&R interest, the full-page debut album rave, the front cover, and so
forth. So accelerated is the hype-cycle these days that stages are often
skipped; buzz bands sometimes make the front cover before they've even released a
record.

Being so USA-based, grunge interfered with this process. NME
and MM rely on record companies to pay for trips outside the UK,
which means that most American bands are already signed by the time the press write about it. Grunge also goaded the Britpress' patriotic pride, triggering
its reflex-resentment towards America's domination of pop culture.
After an initial anti-grunge backlash in '93 (Suede's defiantly Anglophile blend of glam Bowie and glum Morrissey),Britpop really got rollin' in '94. There was the neo-Merseybeat swagger of Oasis, Blur's unexpected self-resurrection out of the 'has been/never-was' dumpster, and Pulp's strange and wonderful ascent to cult popularity, after 15 years in the wilderness. In '95, Britpop went into overdrive: Elastica, Supergrass, Bluetones, Cast, Gene, Shed Seven, Menswear, ad infinitum, ad
nauseam.

The Britpress will seize on any excuse for a fit of
chest-swelling, tub-thumping jingoism. Britpop was ideal, since its aesthetic base--the mid-60's, filtered through its late '70s echo, New Wave--had hitherto been strictly an indie style, and thus the province of the weeklies. At the same time, Britpop bands are overtly anti-experimental and pre-psychedelic; they combine a playsafe 1966-meets-1978, three minute pop aesthetic with a doctrine of
stardom-at-all-costs, making them highly desirable to record companies and
extremely radio-friendly. Because the bands it deals with now hit the charts,
the prestige and morale of the Britpress has been boosted; for the first time in
15 years, people turn to them as tipsheets on future stars. For instance, this
January a grubby little gang of sub-Oasis oiks called Northern Uproar
appeared on MM's cover one week, and on Top Of the Pops the next (TOTP being the UK's premiere pop TV show, based around that week's new chart entries). Furthermore, Britpoppers behave like pop stars; they make strenuous efforts to give good face and good quote, all of which makes
the music papers' job much easier.

That job is basically to convince the readers that stuff is happening.
Now, you might think that ain't so hard, given the plethora of scenes and sounds
generated by the merry postmodern tumult of the 1990's. But the Britpress readership is deeply conservative, and its idea of what's relevant
is decidedly narrow. Look at the NME and MM annual readers polls in the last 15years and you'll invariably find the Best Band position occupied
by a white, all-male, British guitar band: the Jam, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Smiths, the Stone Roses, Suede, Blur, Oasis. The Top 10 Band, Album and Single categories usually feature no women, no blacks, no dance music, and rarely any Yanks (although REM and Nirvana did briefly challenge the Anglocentric bias).

The Britpress has to give its readers what they want, i.e as many pieces
as possible on the 10 or so Big Brits (pegged around the single, the album, the
tour, any excuse whatsoever basically), plus features on Brit-pop 'contenders'--younger bands waiting in the wings for fame and fortune to take its toll on the established Brit biggies. That still leaves a fair number of pages which have to be be filled by token coverage of 'minority' interests like techno, hip hop, weird guitar experimentalism, American rock, and other stuff which market research shows the readers are simply not interested in.

The big problem for the weekly music papers right now is that the
very commercial success that's vindicated their Britpop boosterism is also making
their own role redundant. A few years ago, NME started its Brat Awards
as a sort of parody-cum-riposte to the Brit Awards (the UK record industry's official, Grammy-like honors). In the beginning, NME could
justifiably argue that the truly vibrant pop of the day was being ignored
by the Brits, in favor of MOR artistes like Elton John and Phil Collins,
whose awards were basically rewards for their contribution, via international sales, towards rectifying Britain's trade deficit. These days, both Brits and Brats are alarmingly similar in their fixation on the triumvirate of Blur/Oasis/Pulp; yesterday's alternative has become today's mainstream.

Because of this, everybody is writing about Britpop--from the newspapers
and tabloids to glossy teenybop mags like Smash Hits. With their traditional turf usurped by other mags and by TV, the weeklies don't know
where to go next, how to reclaim their unique role. Do they carry on
scrabbling to find the next Blur or Oasis ahead of the slower-moving monthly magazines, a strategy which is already dredging up lame xeroxes and runts-of-the-litter like Northern Uproar? Or do they dare to drift left-field, and discover/dream up a new alternative?

Another reason why the weekly papers have been obliged to narrow their
focus is the vast range of music media now available in the U.K., from specialist
publications (dance mags like Mixmag and Muzik, metal mags
like Kerrang, cutting edge eclectics like The Wire) to the 'general interest' music monthlies like Select, Q
and Mojo. The last three are owned by the publishing group EMAP, and are designed to take the reader from cradle to grave: Select is
targetted at indie-loving teens and colledge kids, Q is for late twenty-to early thirtysomethings who buy maybe ten CD's a year, while Mojo is
a largely retro-oriented magazine aimed at the 30-plus market
who've given up on 'modern music' but are still passionately interested in the graying rock'n'rollers who soundtracked their youth.

NME and Melody Maker are deadly rivals,
which is odd because they're owned by the same media conglomerate, IPC,
and are situated just one floor apart inside IPC's King's Reach Tower.
Once upon a time, this emnity was based on ideological differences. Today,
the rivalry is sustained out of habit more than anything; Britpop unites
all in its engulfing mediocrity. In truth, the papers have a
complementary relationship. Since the late '80s, MM has
been ensconced in the role of discovering new bands first; the bigger-selling NME bides its time and usually reaps the benefits of timing its coverage closer to the point at which bands break into the mainstream.

Writing for a weekly music paper offers writers cachet and power,
but little financial reward or career prospects. There's a constant influx of firebrands who arrive, make their mark (usually by crusading on behalf of a particular scene or genre) and then burn out. There's a definite type that's attracted to the weekly music press: almost always male, almost always middle class,
over-educated, a bit emotionally retarded. (I speak as someone who's written
for Melody Maker for ten years, and certainly don't exempt myself from this
description!). The Fall's Mark E. Smith tagged this breed with his phrase
'hip priest'. Throbbing with will-to-belief and gifted in the arts of messianic
rhetoric, these angsty young men gravitate towards the music press, where in
previous generations they might have chosen revolutionary politics,
poetry or evangelism.

See, thriving (as opposed to eking out a living) in the Britpress
requires a weird sort of doublethink: the knack of participating in the conscious
construction of a 'happening scene', while simultaneously believing in the reality and righteousness of the figment you've created. A good example of this syndrome is Romo, the pipe-dream of two of Melody Maker's brightest journos,
Simon Price and Taylor Parkes. Short for 'Romantic Modernism', Romo is not,
the duo stress, merely a revival of early '80s New Romantic
synth-and-eyeliner pop, but "a renaissance" of the quintessentially English aptitude for artifice and androgny. No matter that the one Romo band I've seen so far, Viva, were quite dreadful, a cut-price Roxy Music; Price & Taylor's manifesto-mongering and sheer will to hallucinate into being an alternative to the increasingly prosaic Britpop are admirable. It's what the English music press does best, and doesn't do often enough these days.

British music hacks engage in this kind of scene-making partly
for glory, partly out of dissatisfaction with pop's stasis quo, and partly in a purely generous attempt to make things seem more exciting than they actually are. Ideas are thrown down, as a challenge and a reproach,
and in the hope that someone will pick up the baton. There's no profit
to be had from these crusades; only the bands who get signed by majors thanks
to the hacks's efforts, and the A&R scouts who do the signing, make any money out of the hype-cycle.

The weekly nature of the Britpress, the sheer number of pages
that require filling, and the swarm of young egos hungry to make their mark--all this contributes to the infamous "hothouse atmosphere" of the UK music scene: the
rapid turnover of scenes and styles, the histrionics and overheated prose.
The readers don't particularly like these qualities, but they kinda expect them;
they're locked in a peculiar love/hate relationship with the weeklies, and tend
both to overestimate and underestimate their power. NME and MM can't break bands on their own, without radio play, nor can they significantly damage successful bands. But the papers do have a huge influence on the record companies' A&R policy (several Romo combos have already been signed!),
and a more subliminal effect on British music culture itself. By creating a critical climate in which certain ideas and attributes become highly charged, sexy, de rigeur, the music papers shape the aesthetic universe in which a young band develops; by the time they're getting written about, the bands are spouting the buzzwords, dropping the references, reciting the litany. Dreampop, the post-My Bloody Valentine wave of Lush, Slowdive, Ride, etc, is a good example of this syndrome.

In the end, the Britpress's virtues are the same as its vices.
It is volatile, venomous, fickle, pretentious, lacking in perspective, frothy with premature exaltations and disproportionate fervour, absurdly polarised in its judgements, prey to the most pernicious kinds of boosterism, and an utter stranger to fact-checking. Wholly un-American, in other words.
[Bring the Noise deleted scene #43]

BRITPOP
Frieze, December 1995

By Simon Reynolds


'Britpop'--just in case you've been in a coma for the
last year--is the music papers' buzzterm for an alleged
rejuvenation of the charts, with the likes of Oasis, Blur,
Elastica, Pulp and Supergrass displacing American
grunge/faceless rave/super-annuated AOR in the higher reaches
of the Hit Parade. 'Britpop' has become a rallying cry, an
excuse for chests to swell with patriotic pride. It's even
made the tabloids and the News At Ten. Back in August a
cabbie told me he'd only ever bought four records in his
entire life, then--unprompted--brought up Blur and Oasis.
Even he'd heard about their big battle over whose single
would enter the charts at Number One.

So everybody--industry, media, 'the kids'--is frothing
with excitement about Britpop. Why? The music biz, which
was having trouble building long-selling careers off the back
of dance music and had lost ground to the post-rave indie
labels, is thrilled because the Britpopsters are guitar-based
bands who willingly constrain themselves within the 3-minute
pop single format and radio-friendly, trebley production.
The music press is buzzing 'cos Britpop's aesthetic base--
the mid-Sixties, filtered through its late '70s echo, New
Wave--had hitherto been strictly an indie style, and thus the
inkies' province. At the same time, the bands are overtly
anti-experimental and pre-psychedelic; they combine playsafe
1966-meets-1978 aesthetics with an almost doctrinal ethos of
ambition and stardom-at-all-costs. Because the bands it
discovers now hit the charts, the music press' prestige and morale
has been boosted; for the first time in years, people turn to the inkies as
tipsheets! Moreover, Britpopsters behave like stars, make
an effort to give good face and good copy, and this makes the
journos' job easier. And 'the kids'? Even the youngest
surely sense, on some subliminal level, that the sound of
Britpop harks back to the days when Britannia ruled the pop
waves, while the attitude evokes an era when being young was
a real cool time. The glory-lust of Oasis' "Champagne Supernova",
the insouciance of Supergrass' "Alright", seem mighty
appealing, even as they fly flagrantly in the face of the
socio-economic facts.

As it happens, I think Britain IS the place to be, pop-
wise; it's just that this state-of-affairs has NOTHING to do
with Britpop. Relatively unheralded by the media, another
generation of Britons are waiving the rules. There's the
post-rock experimentalism of Laika, Pram, Techno-Animal etc;
the trip hop of Tricky, Wagon Christ and the Mo'Wax label;
the 'artcore' jungle of 4 Hero, Dillinja, Droppin' Science,
the Moving Shadow label; the art-tekno weirdness of Aphex
Twin, Bedouin Ascent, et al. All these strands of UK
activity are either offshoots of, or deeply influenced by, club
music and sound-system culture; sonically, they're informed
by the rhythm-science and studio-magick of dub reggae, hip
hop and techno. And all speak eloquently if non-verbally of
the emergence of a new hyrid British identity, a mongrel,
mutational mix of black and white.

Britpop is an evasion of the multiracial, technology-
mediated nature of UK pop culture in the '90s. If it started
a few years ago as a revolt against American grunge (Suede's
fey fusion of glam Bowie and glum Morrissey), now it's
extended itself into the symbolic erasure of Black Britain,
as manifested in jungle and trip hop. For Britpopsters, the
Sixties figure as a 'lost golden age' in a way that's
alarmingly analogous to the mythic stature of the Empire vis-a-vis
football hooligans and the BNP. Even more than the insularity of
Britpop's quintessentially English canon (Kinks, Jam, Small
Faces, Buzzcocks, Beatles, Smiths, Madness), it's the sheer
WHITENESS of its sound that is staggering. Take Elastica,
whose singer Justine Frischmann confessed that she could only
think of one form of black music she liked: ska (the
jerkiest, most New Wavey form of black pop ever!). And take
Blur, whose homage to the U.K's music-hall pop tradition
manages to sever The Kinks from R&B, Madness from ska, and
Ian Dury from the Blockheads' fluency in funk and disco.

Damon Albarn's pseudo-yob accent testifies to a
nostalgia for a lost white ethnicity, one that's fast eroding
under the triple attrition of America, Europe and this
nation's indigenous non-white population. Like his hero
Martin Amis, Albarn fetishises London's vestigial remnants of
authentic white trash as "the last truly English people you
will ever know" (to borrow a lyric from Morrissey, another
feller with a dubious penchant for skinheads and villains).
Mozzer is right, this is a dying breed, already displaced by
a new generation of London youth who speak an alloy of
Cockney/Jamaican patois/B-boy slang, watch American sci-fi
movies, grapple with Japanese computer games, and listen to
sampler-based music like jungle.

It's these kids--the kind you'll find at drum & bass
hang-outs like Speed and AWOL--who are today's mods, not the
sorry-ass mod revivalists at Camden's Blow Up club. Mod
originally meant 'modernist', meant having utterly
contemporary tastes in music, clothes, everything. Today's
junglists, trip-hoppers and techno-heads share their '60s
ancestors obsession with records (the obscurest track, the
freshest import) as opposed to bands; the same orientation
towards Black America and Jamaica; the same anticipation for
the future. Camden is supposed to have brought back the idea
of Swinging London, but for five years now pirate radio has
been making a clandestine cartography of the metropolis,
bringing the scent of enchantment to forsaken places like
Peckham and Dalston, as MC's chant out the listeners' paged-
in "big shouts" and "'nuff respects".

Perhaps even more than race, it's covert class struggle
that underpins the Britpop phenom: the fetishising by mostly
middle class bands and fans of a British working class
culture that's already largely disappeared, is really a means
of evading the real nature of modern prole leisure, which
remains overwhelmingly shaped by rave. Blow Up's avowed
anti-Ecstasy stance symbolises this perfectly. Not only did E
usher in a new and still unfolding era of psychedelic music
based around the drugs/technology interface, but the drug
also permanently altered the mentality of vast tranches of
da youth, blasting away reserve, inhibition, emotional
constipation, everything in the English character that holds
us back. E and rave transformed the UK into one funky
nation, but you wouldn't be able to tell that from Britpop.
From Blur's rickety arrangements to the raunch-less
turgidity of Oasis, Britpop is rhythmically retarded, to say the least.
Partly, it's the result of cultural inbreeding, of a white pop tradition
that's long since distanced itself from the R&B roots that
made the Beatles and Stones dance bands; partly, it's a
deliberate avoidance of anything that smacks of lumpen rave.

Thanks to rave, the most vital sectors of '90's UK
subculture are all about mixing it up: socially, racially,
and musically (DJ cut'n'mix, remixology's deconstructive
assault on the song). Returning to the 3 minute pop tune
that the milkman can whistle, reinvoking a parochial England
with no black people, Britpop has turned its back defiantly
to the future. Here's hoping the future will respond in
kind, and remember Britpop only as an aberrant, anachronistic
fad--like trad jazz, the early '60s student craze that
resurrected the Dixieland sound of 30 years earlier. Perhaps
Oasis will one day seem as inexplicable as Humphrey
Lyttleton!

Where Blur's The Great Escape and Oasis' What's The
Story) Morning Glory
bask in the setting sun of England's
bygone pop glory, Tricky's Maxinquaye and Goldie's
Timeless gaze into the future. Both Tricky and Goldie are
black British B-boys mindwarped by the drugs/technology
interface; both share a strikingly similar set of
miscegenated influences ranging from art-rock (David Sylvian,
Kate Busy) to ambient (Eno) to the black avant-garde (Public
Enemy, Miles Davis); both made the Top 5 of the Album Chart.
Reflecting what is really going on in Britain in 1995,
Maxinquaye and Timeless offer two versions of a modern
inner city blues. Dark, discomfiting, devoid of the callow
cheer of yer Blurs and yer Supergrasses, yet it's these
records (and, believe me, a horde of other trip hop, jungle
and post-rock releases) that are the real reasons to be
cheerful about British popular music in 1995.

Friday, December 07, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #42]

JON SAVAGE INTERVIEW / TECHNO-PUNK AND D-GENERATION
contributions to "New Wave of New Wave" issue, Melody Maker March 26th 1994

by Simon Reynolds


SAVAGE VERDICT: Jon Savage interviewed * on the New Wave of New Wave

Jon Savage's England's Dreaming, the first proper history of punk, is
often cited in interviews and overviews of the New Wave of New Wave. It seems
to have made the Sex Pistols adventure available to a whole new generation, just at
the point at which the saga was fading from folk memory. So does Savage, a
veteran of the original era as both participant and commentator, take any
credit for the current resurrection?

"Well, S.M.A.S.H. were very excited about England's Dreaming, and that
was very flattering. I mean, if you're a writer, that's the ultimate--to be
told that you've inspired someone else. I always intended England's Dreaming to be a kind of primer, presenting the data and saying 'this is how it's done'. The idea was not to push myself to the foreground, but to provide all the sources, the books and records that inspired the original punks. I don't know
if the book influenced the other bands, just that S.M.A.S.H. say they were
influenced. Thank God they're really good! Hahhahaha! I like S.M.A.S.H. a
lot. They've got good songs, cheekbones, short hair--a classic suburban English
mod band. Very exciting live--after I saw them live I stayed awake til 3-AM
just buzzing on adrenaline, and that's pretty late for me. And they have a
song called 'Shame', and that's a very English thing to write about."

Why are we still so obsessed with punk? Ever since 1978, most Brit-rock
activity has been conceived, and judged, as either a return to, or swerve away
from, punk--as either a resurrection or a 'betrayal'. Punk revivals have almost
been annual occurrences. Why are we still hung up on happenings 16 years time
ago--it's equivalent to the Pistols being obsessed with pre-Beatles pop, Billy
Fury and Adam Faith! Why is it that British rock culture can't bury punk, break
free of its ancient agenda?

Savage's explanation is that "the years 1976/77 are a bit like 1966/67--years of fantastic compression, too much happening too quickly. It takes years to unravel all that. And so those moments of breakthrough and upheaval always cast a long shadow. With punk, it took about 10 years to work through all that stuff. Beyond that, punk is simply a classic English archetype--with precursors in Dickens, in Graham Greene's Brighton Rock, in the Angry Young Men, in The Stones and The Who. And that archetype is so potent. The punk movement was very powerful, very ambitious, so it's no wonder that pop keeps coming back to it. Punk was all to do with sex, which is still a very charged phenomenon in England; it was about bondage and going into the nation's subconsiocus to bring out all the violence and filth. There's a huge gulf between the reality people live and the media edifice that's constructed over that reality. The simple fact is that all the things that were talked about during punk are still there and still need to be talked about. Nothing's changed.

"It's like with the fashion side of the current interest in punk--in a
sense, people are 'trying on the clothes' to see if they fit, and finding that
they do. The 'clothes' are all about anger, confrontation, hostility, and they
fit because there is a mood today similar to '76. The punks, and the
hippies in their own way too, posed certain questions that haven't been
answered. All great pop movements pose those questions, in slightly different
ways. Even rave culture is born of frustration, a desire to break out.
England is still a very claustrophobic, class-ridden, static society. And I'd
hate to be 18 now."

Arguably, it's much worse today than in '76. Not just economically but in
the sense that in the past 16 years all the little spaces of freedom have
contracted--what with the assault on dole culture, the impoverishment of
students, and of course, the forthcoming Criminal Justice Bill with its virtual
outlawing of squatting and its draconian clampdown on raves and warehouse
parties. The government seems determined to extinguish all the bases of an
oppositional popular culture. Today it's not even a question of 'No Future',
but closer to Hendrix' lament: "ain't no life nowhere".

"If I was 18 today, I'd be incredibly conscious of the hegemony of the
babyboomer generation. Because so much of the commentary on pop is by people
from that generation, and most of them wouldn't give a band like S.M.A.S.H. a
chance, 'cos the attitude is 'we've seen it all before'. And of course that's
totally irrelevant since, as any fule kno, when you're 20 you haven't seen it
all before."

Are there any parallels between 1976 and 1994, in that there's an
apocalyptic vibe--a feeling that something appalling is lurking on the horizon,
the spectre of social collapse, and its corollary, the resurgence of fascism?

"I don't know if that's actually happening, but it is a very teenage thing
to think that. Also--it's like, 'hello, it's 1994, the Millenium is coming'.
Punk was a millenarian movement, absolutely."

One of the interesting things about the New Wave of New Wave is the way
it's resurrected punk's ethics of drug use, ie. speed = good (cos it increases
IQ, self-confidence, aggression), dope and E = bad ('cos they make you mellow,
quiescent and full of love). Amphetamine is the perfect drug for messianic
fervour and tunnel-visonary crusading zeal, but its downside is paranoia (which
adds to the Millenarian, Doomsday vibe) and, at the extreme, psychotic
reactions.

"Well, amphetamines are very bad news. I only took it four times during
punk and it made me feel so peculiar. Whenever a pop movement gets overtly
based around one drug, it gets stupid. Speed is a dangerous drug. Several
friends of mine from the punk era ended up either psychotic or dead, because of
speed and heroin. Then again, if These Animal Men want to talk of burning for
two years then crashing, that's their prerogative. There's a grand tradition
there, a classic rock'n'roll trajectory,--Sid Vicious is the obvious example."

My reservation with these bands is that they're a too literal recreation
of punk. Really, they're like the pub rock bands that paved the way for punk:
back to basics, except that in this case "basics" means Situtationist slogans
and McLaren-like masterplans. But any real successor to punk would have to go
as far beyond 'nouveau punk' as the Pistols went beyond the white R&B
fundamentalism of Dr Feelgood et al. Another thing: the NWONW is
Nth-generation whiter-than-white rock, mod filtered through punk filtered
through the Manics. It completely ignores anything that's happened musically
since 1978: black or white, rap or rave.

"From an outside perspective, maybe that whiter-than-white rock can seem a
thin option compared to the wealth of stuff around, whether it's black-derived
or not. But why not make white-boy music? It doesn't make you racist, in
itself."

It's interesting the way that ambient techno has provided these bands with
a readymade enemy, the '90s subcultural equivalent of the mid-70s hippies. As a
punk vet whose current favourite music includes Aphex Twin, Richard Kirk,
Seefeel and Biosphere, what does Savage make of the nouveau punk critique of
ambient: that it's just aural sedatives for a defeated, spineless generation?

"I can understand their arguments against ambient. But I'm not at an age
where I need to define myself by the music I like. I've grown out of that
partisanship, cos I've been lucky enough to have lived within it. But the NWONW
is music that demands that kind of partishanship, and I can easily imagine that
if I was a kid who'd gone to see S.M.A.S.H. I might be inspired to want to
change my life..."

And throw the ambient LP's and Rizlas in the bin?

"Well, what the punk critique of ambient misses--and it's a fault shared by
all politically-engaged rock--is that there's a politics of sound that's just as important as explicit politics in lyrics. And the best ambient is streets ahead in terms of sound, the way the music makes you feel, the moods and images
it conjures. When rock gets too puritanically concerned with stripping
down to just the message, you end up with the Tom Robinson Band, who I
always had problems with--great politics, shit music. But anyway, at my age
I don't have to choose between ambient and punk. Ideally, the best of both
worlds would be great--ambient punk!"

TECHNOPHOBIA! The New Wave of New Wave versus d-generation

The great failing of the nouveau punk bands is their willful denial of the music of the last six years. The Sex Pistols had a relationship with both their era’s chartpop (glam’n’glitter like the Sweet) and its underground rock (The Stooges). Any band hoping to have the same impact today would have to take on board the innovations of sampler-based music, from rap and rave to ambient and avant-rock. A Nineties Pistols would be something like a cross between The Prodigy (this era’s Sweet), The Young Gods (this era’s Stooges) and Public Enemy (the black Clash).

Another big failing is that the NWONW’s refried Who riffs lack any kind of relationship with contemporary black music. Although the influence of roots reggae and dub really came through musically in 1979, punk had a spiritual kinship with reggae: both punk and Rasta were about exile and alienation. A Nineties punk should also have an awareness of, if not alliance of, today’s black British subcultures. And that means ragga and jungle techno, music of pre-political rage and urban paranoia. If These Animal Men are really into speedfreak music, they should be making 160 bpm ardkore jungle, which is driven by a rage-to-live that’s pure punk. THIS is the sound of youth today, whereas These Animal Men’s “This is the Sound of Youth” is the sound of youth yesterday: 1966, or worse, that year’s dismal replay in 1979, with neo-mod bands like Secret Affair and Squire.

We need real modernism, not mod revivals. So let me introduce: d-generation. As the name suggests, their music is informed by, but also a swerve away from, the music of the E Generation: “the corrupt modernism” of dark techno, jungle, ambient and ragga.

“We would have been punks in ‘77”, admit d-generation, “but today we can’t see why anyone would ignore modern music.”

They call their sound “psychedelic futurism, techno haunted by the ghost of punk”. It sounds like Ultramarine gone noir: ambient drones, lonesome dub-reggae melodica, stealthy junglist breakbeats. Like Ultramarine, d-generation deploy imagery of “Englishness”, but instead of pastoral quirkiness, the vibe is urban wasteland, influenced by “the dark, expressionist, deviant tradition” of Wyndam Lewis, The Fall and Michael Moorcock.

On their yet-to-be-released EP Entropy in the UK, ghostly allusions to punk are omnipresent. “73/93” turns around the sampled phrases “eroding structure, generating entropy… no future”. “The Condition of Muzak” (the title is from a Michael Moorcock novel) goes even further, using Johnny Rotten as a stick to beat the rave generation. A sample from the Pistols’ last performance at Winterlands is turned into a techno riff: Rotten’s famous “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated” and mirthless cackle “ha ha ha”. Perfect: if this was played at a rave, it would start a virus of disaffection that would undermine the whole subculture. So many ravers have a cheated look on their faces, sometimes cos they’ve been sold dodgy E, mostly cos they’re burned out and can never get as high as they used to.

Rave is full of submerged utopian longings (“living the dream” etc). But because they aren’t articulated, the culture ultimately functions as a safety valve, releasing frustration at the weekend then returning you to workaday drudgery.

It’s not a culture of refusal, but an anti-culture that defuses. d-generation suggest one way that a true successor to punk (rather than a mere replay) could operate: as spies in the house of the loved-up, sowing seeds of discontent, making a grim dance of our national decay.



* Owing to a major cock-up by the copy editors, a massive chunk in the middle of the Savage interview was left out of the version as published, so this is actually the first time the piece in its entirety has appeared.