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Kevin Shields us from Brit Pop Pestilence
Want some terrible news?You never had it so good since the music was bad.The later 1990s and the 00s might not have felt great to most people, but were a Golden Age.A growing economy sluiced more money than ever before into the Treasury. It was a once in a century chance for the UK to change gear into a healthier, stronger and fairer future.Like the Nordics, we could have shifted the balance away from the dole, property porn and dumb bling banker greed, and towards education and infrastructure. Instead a toxic personality conflict at the top and a sick strategy of "creating" make work jobs like "Police Community Support Officers", broken websites and pointless schemes like the Olympics burned the cash.And they didn't even bother building any housing.The party ended without joy, into the bleak dawn of Now.It felt different at the time. Just like the fag end of the 60s, a dumb optimism combined with the power of marketing and media to create an international illusion of "Cool Brittania". And a "New British Invasion" of 90s pop was the figurehead.The 90s were not a great time for tunes in the mainstream, overall. Note I say "mainstream" and "overall". There were many, many brilliant bands, and better music. But for every Loveless there sure were a lot of commercial grunge-alikes, stadium big beat bozos and played out karaoke hip hop. But on these cold shores, one movement, in both the cultural and bowel senses dominated like a bum bully in a prison shower.Brit Pop.The defining sound of the 90s. But what was it, and what did it do?The first thing Brit Pop did is what every other marketing shorthand subculture does for good and ill - it crowded out what was there, and towered its glittery guts above the green shoots of other ideas, killing them in the process.Brit Pop was reacting against the most recent crowd out - the one in the flannel. The overplayed retread of Sonic Youth, Late 70s Neil Young, The Pixies and Husker Du that was Grunge blew away hair bands and closeted, crypto-racists like Guns N' Roses from the airwaves and mixtapes. This was a very good thing.Media, people and politicians like categories for things. It makes them easier to sell and understand, but there is always collateral damage.Psychedelia crushed traditional R & B focused rock, Prog smothered other interesting directions such as those taken by Dr. Feelgood and The Stooges under a carpet of pretension. Punk curled out a load of rich kid safety pin scat on glam and the more original rock attitude of bands like DMZ. Disco dumped most soul, funk and Black American music into the bin labeled "old". Garage gobbled up an audience that should have realised Drum and Bass is bliss. And on and on.That said, some of these buggernauts are bigger than others, and do more permanent damage.Brit Pop is a particularly nuclear WMD example.What do we mean by Brit Pop? Let me plagiarize from the not always reliable Wikipedia:"Britpop is a subgenre of alternative rock that originated in the United Kingdom. Britpop emerged from the British independent musicscene of the early 1990s and was characterised by bands influenced by British guitar pop music of the 1960s and 1970s. The movement developed as a reaction against various musical and cultural trends in the late 1980s and early 1990s, particularly the grungephenomenon from the United States. In the wake of the musical invasion into the United Kingdom of American grunge bands, new British groups such as Suede and Blur launched the movement by positioning themselves as opposing musical forces, referencing British guitar music of the past and writing about uniquely British topics and concerns. These bands were soon joined by others including Oasis, Pulp,Supergrass, Sleeper, Elastica and The Verve.Britpop groups brought British alternative rock into the mainstream and formed the backbone of a larger British cultural movement called Cool Britannia. Although its more popular bands were able to spread their commercial success overseas, especially to the United States, the movement largely fell apart by the end of the decade."It's not a bad take on the rape, but I take issue with the terms "independent" and "alternative"."Independent" from what, exactly?Just because Creation was smaller than Reprise, does not make it some kind of Sun Ra commune. It's a business, and a business that due to certain indulgences needed some cash, fast."Alternative"? To what, to whom? D:Ream? These bands appeared on Top of the Pops. That places them firmly, damningly in the mainstream.At least The Clash refused to mime the Hits for fucks sake.Here were a bunch of acts that took their inspiration from around 1967 - 1973 in pop culture. Of course the reference points were not Scott Walker, David Bowie or The Creation. Donovan, a parody of the BeatleStonesRutles and all that meant were as far as it got. Nostalgia warmed over like a twice microwaved Rustlers Cheeseburger.I was there.I never got that dirty. I never bought an Oasis record as my odd Black Flag/Public Enemy/Pixies/Pink Floyd/Goldie/House/Peter Gabriel mixed aesthetic (let's just forgive an earlier Hair Band and Yacht Rock flirtation, ok) made me wonder if Definitely Maybe was Definitely Mockery on some level.Still at Glastonbury 1995 I cheered with the rest when these glue sniffing thugs played "Whats the story morning snory". I had the first couple of Blur albums, and preferred them to Oasick. Maybe because Damon and friends were more like people I knew.And I bought an Elastica CD. Not just because I wanted to make the front woman very very very happy, but because it sounded good.Then the long gone SELECT magazine let me in on a secret.Some old band called Wire was suing them and #winning.I realised I'd been conned, and got copies of Pink Flag/Chairs Missing/154. Which blew my stupid teenage mind like a cheap fuse.Throughout that era the NME Tape of the Weak had plenty of other "bands" or, rather "brands" as part of the same melange. Sleeper, Suede, Echobelly, Menswear, Boo Radleys, Supergarse, more than I can type without losing my lunch. It all seemed increasingly sexless, so I took refuge in electronic dance stuff, old sounds, and the Bristol Product.Meanwhile a bunch of my cooler mates, who also got infested to the point that some had Menswear T-shirts, turned me on to another band.A band that got lost in the crowding out and was already a legend. Named after a semi-decent Canadian horror flick and louder than a 200 megatonne H-bomb.My Bloody Valentine."Shoegaze" is a rude term.There were a bunch of bands that did not get infested with the "hey let's pretend our part of the country is not depopulating and fucking up so fast Detroit looks like Hong Kong" baggy Mongchester hype. They shunned flanner and big hair, too. This handful of ambitious artists began to emerge in the late 80s, and made no effort to gain a pop audience.These acts were closer to early Sonic Youth crossed with Television, Robert Fripp and Coltrane with feedback. This was "independent" of any contemporary sense of Pop. "Alternative" to 4/4 verse/chorus/verse structure.Just like Post Bop Jazz, trouble was you couldn't necessary dance or hum to it, and there was no category to fit it all in. And before anyone realised there was a lot more to it than staring at the floor, it was gone.The Jesus and Mary Chain (slept on, totally), the first Ride record, Swervedriver, Slowdive...all these were blown away in a wind of plastic wack Union Jacks and style over scatty substance. And oddly, it was if Black America and Black Britain did not sonically exist. These products had less sense of Soul and sacred Reggae than the Heston Services on the M4.Gliding over them all was My Bloody Valentine.Led by the wilfully obscure and enigmatic Kevin Shields, I am not able to write about them objectively. They created something beyond music, a kind of abstract expressionist moving bleeding painting you can hear.By the time I was turned on to them, they were allegedly working on a followup to Loveless and much like Brian Wilson sightings of Shields and MBV on obscure compilations kept up the magic mystery. Of silence and absence.In a rare and unmissable interview, Shields playfully mentions the fact Brit Pop was packaged up and pushed by the government as a classic bread and circuses exercise. The Man is not that smart, it was just a chance to sprinkle stardust across the New Labour regime and market a potted, easy to sell "Britain" internationally.At least MBV survived. Many other bands and artists did not and could not, and many may never have tried. In a world of faux Lennons and mockney Donovan's, why bother even attempting to make art?Ever generous, Kevin if anything lets Brit Pop off too easily. It's not about MI5. It's about what was crushed, ignored, missed and died in the obscene State Sponsored pantomime of it all.
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