# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Miscellaneous - March 2013

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 23 / 2 / 2013

Miscellaneous - March 2013


With many music journalists pessimistic after the recent Brits, Ben Howarth in 'Condemned to Rock 'n' Roll' asks if the music industry is in as unhealthy a state as they say it is

The Brit Awards rolled around again recently, and the media treated us to a potted history of shocking moments from its (in)glorious past – Jarvis Cocker mooning Michael Jackson; Chumbawumba soaking the Deputy Prime Minister; lots of people swearing. No-one could possibly have imagined anything similar would have happened this year. There was a time when the Brits were broadcasted on a time-delay so editors could chop out anything unsavoury (anyone watching the 1996 Brits at home saw only a slavish tribute to Michael Jackson’s doughty fight against world hunger and had to wait until the next morning’s papers to find out about Jarvis’ antics). Now, editors can safely show the event as it happens. I don’t mourn the end of stage-managed controversy – either of the crass ‘Lady Gaga in a shocking outfit’ variety or the boorish ‘Prodigy recommend domestic violence’ strand. But – notwithstanding the expensive haircuts – there is nothing to truly separate an Emile Sandé or a Ben Howard from a 1950's variety show act. It’s not that I personally care. As a teenager, I used to get angry at the popularity of the Spice Girls, but pop music has compartmentalised itself to the extent that even an active music fan can be entirely ignorant of who is in the charts. Music may be my main non-essential economic outgoing, but I have never consciously listened to any of the best single nominees (though I’m sure I have unconsciously heard them in a supermarket). Admittedly, almost everyone reading this will have heard Adele’s 'Skyfall', but not me. I hate James Bond. As with most music industry activity, the Brit Awards’ anomalies are its most interesting feature. For example, why were only three people nominated for ‘Best British Producer’? Could the organisers only name three? The implication of this is that there is literally nobody else working in British recording studios presently worthy of having their name printed on a Brit Awards press release. Could they really not think of five producers to nominate? Aside from madness like that, the only part of the Brits I care about is the response to all this from the bit of the music industry I care about. There was one clear consensus – faced with all this bland emoting, the true artists are surely out there somewhere, organising a putsch. In 'The Guardian', Tim Jonze wrote that the main conclusion to the Brits was that “there is surely a revolution coming”. In 'The Times', Caitlin Moran wrote that she envied her 12 year old daughter – she compared modern music to the dark days of 1988, but predicted that this could only mean that a similar wave of creativity as exploded with baggy and acid house in 1989 was surely coming. Music critics love these cyclical theories. But they might be wise to note that even historians who subscribe to such notions rarely claim to predict the future – we may recognise cyclical patterns in the past, but we lack enough understanding of the present to see where we sit in the cycle. In hindsight, punk rock’s pawns were shuffling forward throughout 1975, but the very reason punk was so exciting was that nobody – not even its key players – spotted what was happening until it had happened. Just as the selectors of the England Cricket Team wasted the 1990s fruitlessly searching for the new Ian Botham (that rarest of cricketing gems – someone whose batting and bowling were good enough to win matches on their own), so music critics today are wasting their time endlessly searching for the new punk. Critics want not just a new sound and a new look, but a comprehensive challenge to the conventions of the music industry. The presumption is that everything is broken, and we need a ‘saviour’ – but this ignores two realities: firstly, that punk didn’t last very long and was quickly followed by the new-romantics (a musical movement with precisely nothing going for it) and secondly, that there were as many landmark albums made in the years immediately preceding punk as there were during it. A new youth culture movement may emerge – but we’d be safer not to look for it. There are historical precedents, with Britpop the obvious example. Critics actively invented this ‘movement’, opening the door to mediocrities that didn’t deserve the attention. For every Elastica, there was an Echobelly. In the preceding decade, critics searched desperately for a punk revival, and briefly championed C-86. Most fans were unconvinced, and, rather than be humiliated, critics ruthlessly turned on bands they had briefly championed. And yet – by cover of darkness – that scene became a durable subculture that survives to this day. In 2013, are we really so badly off? Reaction to the Brits – as was the case with the Mercury’s last year – was alarmingly pessimistic. I presume that anyone reading this could instantly reel off a long list of bands far more deserving of accolades than any of the Brit winners. There may not be a grand-unifying band to excite devoted musos and casual pop pickers in equal measure, but there are records released every week that I am desperate to hear. That is more than enough. If you find the Brit Awards boring, do what I did, and don’t bother watching them.

Also In Condemned to Rock 'n' Roll

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