Picking up my recent predilection for comparing now with then, I’ve toyed for a while with the idea that now (with indie rock on one of its cyclical highs, and grime and dubstep keeping the underground/urban/pirate scene fresh) is a bit like the mid-90s (where grime = trip hop, dubstep = jungle and indie rock = er, indie rock). Well, no more.
This silly, tunnel-visioned article in the Guardian today made me rethink my theory. Suddenly, it’s clear to me that something of a clash of aesthetics has been raging in the British music press for the last few months. Flick through any broadsheet’s music coverage (and today’s Friday, so it’s a good day to be doing that), and you’ll see a thick black line scored down the middle of the page. On one side are the Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand and Pete Docherty (and Paul Weller). On the other Kano, Wiley, Dizzee Rascal and Sway.
Both sides have vocal advocates, who are granted frequent space to open their hearts to the nation. One side takes the opportunity to hyperbolise absurdly, the other frets at the failure of the wider public to hear what they hear.
And never the twain shall meet. Whether her intention or not, articles such as Natalie Hanman’s, linked above, unconscious of almost the entire musical universe apart from the four records nearest the door in HMV, sound almost deliberately ignorant. They doth protest too much. Much as I enjoy my pop rockers as much as the next man (except the Kaiser Chiefs – in whose case the next man is a fool) I’m utterly baffled by the exaltation these bands receive. Arctic Monkeys the fifth best British album of all time?! Lots of journalists are buying wholeheartedly into their own myth, and the only reason I can find for this extreme historicism is fear.
It seems to me that recent rise in public awareness, press coverage, and downright talent, within the British urban scene has prompted a sort of seige mentality amongst rock critics. What’s more, even the non-rockers have started to buy the hype.
So, is 2006 like 1994? Well, no. In the mid-90s, as a regular reader of NME, Melody Maker and Select, I don’t believe there was the same ideological divide between the guitaristas and everyone else. Tricky, Goldie and Massive Attack appeared on the same page as Manic Street Preachers, Blur and Pulp. I heard as much electronica at my indie club as I did grunge or britpop. Eclecticism, non-tribalism (big beat’s greatest gift to the UK music scene, incidentally) was the way to go. Now, the opposite is the case, and we keep digging the trenches deeper.
UPDATE As has been pointed out to me, Natalie Hanman also wrote this astute piece on grime at the end of last year, so regardless of the flaws in her more recent article, I concede that she subscribes more to the broad church approach that I admire than I gave her credit for. Sorry.
Whether this completely kills my argument or not, I’m not sure – I need to give this half-baked notion some more thought…