Sunday, February 05, 2006

WHAT THE POP PAPERS SAY: The week the world, apparently, went indie

A couple of decades back, Paolo Hewitt provided one of the irregular flashpoints for the NME letters pages with a front page story "Why black music in Britain doesn't stand a chance." Naturally, the debate quickly crashed off into Morrisseyiana (was "burn down the disco/ hang the blessed dj" a racist attack on black music or simply down to him being too nervous to sing "burn down radio one and hang Simon Bates" while relying on the BBC's patronage, the crux of Hewitt's claims were pretty solid - black music in late 80s Britain wouldn't thrive because daytime Radio One (then, the only game in town) didn't play black music. You might or might not have agreed with his logic from there - Steve Wright wouldn't touch much beyond I Just Called To Say I Love You because the network was inherently racist - but you'd find it hard to disagree with the evidence.

Last week, Hannah Pool essayed a similar argument in the Guardian Weekend magazine - her thesis, though, was the British Black Music had been badly mangled and left for dead. She mainly blamed the record companies for not allowing black talent to develop, the media for not giving black music the airtime it deserved, and white indie guitar boys for cluttering up the place. The trouble is, she didn't manage to make any of this sound like a conspiracy against black artists, and never stopped to consider that young white artists have pretty much the same challenges to face.

Yes, the big record companies don't invest much in British black talent - but they don't invest anything in any new talent: how many pop artists, black or white, have had two albums on a major label without a top forty hit and been invited to make a third?

Secondly, of course, if the big labels do have a racist release policy, who is putting out all these Tupac and BIG and Diddy and 50 Cent records? Likewise, if the media won't touch black artists, what are those acres of MTV programmes about rap and hip-hop artists showing off their houses about?

Third: Yes, there are a lot of Arctic Monkeys type stuff around at the moment, but it's not like we've had solid guitar rock for years and years unbroken: it's not so long back we despaired of ever seeing a drumkit, never mind a fringe, on Top of the Pops ever again.

The basic problem with Pool's theory she did at least touch on when she admitted that fans of the British dance and rap world don't consume music in the same way as pop fans do; they don't go out and buy a single on Monday. Pool was attempting to measure success of a type of music using the wrong tools: if you want to know what the kids on the street are listening to, and if its thriving, you don't look at a list of what's selling most strongly in HMV. That's like trying to tell if your Sunday joint is cooked using a sextant and compass.

There was another curiosity, too - Pool complained that for young black kids, "your best chance of having a hit is by fronting a white rock group" (she was thinking of Kele Bloc Party here): but why should a young black lad not front an indie band? Surely Pool wasn't suggesting that black British youngsters should make only dance and rap music?

She looked back to the happy days when Misteeq and Craig David were riding the top ten: but perhaps that's the problem - British black pop music is suffering because people lost faith in it. Because if you have a choice between Misteeq and Destiny's Child, which would you go with? There are loads of talented black musicians in Britain, but they have better things to do with their time than work at the level of Cleopatra Comin' Atcha. There are massive desi and rap acts in the UK who just don't care they're not going to be introduced by Fearne on a Sunday night, any more than even a really great plumber would expect to turn up on Top of the Pops installing a toilet.

However, Pool is right that the charts are crammed with indie kids right now - indeed, for the NME, it has been The Week The World Went Indie. (In other words, they've put the Arctic Monkeys on the front page again.) And the nation has, indeed, gone indie-crazy, although it's that curious sort of indie that wouldn't know a run of 200 seven inch flexidiscs if it fell over them. They had an interview with someone queuing outside a Sheffield record shop to buy the Monkeys album when it went on sale at midnight - Sally Altoft explaining that she hadn't been able to get to the special, small hometown gig that evening as she had to sit in the queue to make sure she bought the album right away. Sally, Sally, Sally: if we assume for a moment that the band are still remembered at a point in the future when you're bouncing rosy-faced grandchildren on your knee, do you think they will want to hear about that legendary gig on the eve of the album's release, or you sitting in a small knot of people at 11.45 waiting for a shop to open?

We love the idea that the punk equivalent of this would have been that everyone over the age of 30 would now claim to have been sleeping on a campbed outside the Arndale HMV while the Pistols were playing the Free Trade Hall.

Meanwhile, there's the first interview with Preston since he left the Big Brother house. It was the first one he gave, although the excited "talks exclusively to NME" splash was kind of undermined by the ragged-out front page of the Sunday Mirror also featuring an exclusive interview with Preston. There's something about Preston that is a little less warm outside than he seemed on the show: "I was saying vote for her [Chantelle], not me, she's the non-celebrity." Yeah, Preston, because prior to your appearance on the show, you must have been beating the requests to be the face of The Gap and invites onto Parkinson with sticks.

Nobody, it seems, was that fussed about claiming an exclusive with Maggot; it's a pity, because Maggot really does seem to have come through the experience unscathed, without having his entire worldview recast through a Barrymore-Rodham shaped lens, still able to see how fucked up everything was: "I thought George Galloway should be representing his constituents rather than representing Pete's coat."

Naturally, in the week the world went indie, Peter Robinson had to take on an indie giant. But they were all busy, so he made do with Alan from The Rakes instead. The Rakes once got trapped in a Travelodge lift. Mmm. Come on indie, you've got the world's attention; to keep it, you'll have to do better than that.

Mike Batt - yes, Mike Batt of the Wombles - took the trouble to send an email complaining about "the twattish proses of Andy Capper" - see, that's the sort of turn of phrase Katie Melua's writer brings with himself to the party. Batt then describes the NME as "the creators of nothing" before calling Capper's birth "a waste of water and towels" (presumably Batt has never actually seen a birth taking place, or has confused confinement with swimming.) And what has led to this flow of slurried invective? What icon had Capper set out to defile which left Batt forced to curse the very mother of the son? Erm... Capper had been rude about the Brits. We can only conclude that Batt doesn't get out much and the thought of the one evening in a year when he goes out and actually gets to set his Sky+ to record Emmerdale being held up to public mockery was just too much for him to take.

ladyfuzz - london buffalo - "flailing recorder solos and kazoos"
babyshambles - cambridge junction - "'Albion' shines as a call to arms for all of the lonely sailors who have lost faith in the good ship Albion"
the spinto band - liverpool evol - "utterly fantastic"

the open - statues - "frankly, all over the shop", 8
the academy is... - almost here - "rigid adherence to the emo sound", 5

totw - the raconteurs - steady as she goes - "two friends having the time of their lives"
tatu - friend or foe - "like incidental music in Neighbours"
madonna - sorry - "a bit shit"
the darkness - is it just me - "comedy bands die the death they deserve"

and finally, it had to happen: slashfiction goes mainstream, as the NME offers a two page spread to the stuff. One page, admittedly, is given over to a lovely picture of Carl snogging Pete's face off, and we suspect the main motivation for the piece was to politely sneak in a mention of sleepingwiththenme. It's surprising just how many people want to see Jarvis Cocker fucking somebody, anybody, mind.

We wonder if heavy porn users write stories about the regular models in which they take up careers as musicians? "Ben Dover unfurled himself and withdrew his enormous plectrum from his tiny pocket. 'I'd love to do a double-anal, boss, really I would - but I've got a jam session with Roweena Fleshpussy down at the Marquee in just an hour..."


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