The 1990s in Modern Music
ILLUSTRATION CREDIT: LOZMULHEARN
Pure Nostalgia or Genuine Progression?
MAYBE neither of those words apply to why…
ILLUSTRATION CREDIT: Jack Dylan for Pitchfork
the 1990s is coming back in force to music. I am inspired by an article from The Guardian that asked why Britpop is back on the scene. That movement, to me, seemed to define a time when British music was at the forefront of the international priority list and bands such as Oasis and Blur were spawned and there was a lot of hope in the air. There are some, mind, who feel Britpop was shambolic:
“That's a grotesque simplification, of course. But it's also fitting, because a grotesque simplification is what Britpop became, a collection of lowest common denominators that ended up setting music back: a slavish devotion to a set of signifiers that included 60s music, mod fashion, football, and intoxication. None of those are bad things in isolation. But put together they resulted in a generation of bands and fans who resembled nothing so much as a parody of the football hooligans of a generation before. The racism of the hooligans was verboten, but the sense of Little England loomed large. While literal flagwaving – Noel Gallagher's union jack guitar aside – was a rarity, the concentration on Britishness in lyrics, dress, attitudes was at odds with British pop's historic magpie internationalism. Everything that made inspirations such as the Kinks or the Beatles interesting – their borrowings from black culture, filtered through suburban English eyes, or their wide-eyed sense of exploration – was left undigested”.
Maybe things were not as heady as when The Beatles and The Kinks ruled music but there was a unity and patriotism; a feeling the country was on the same page and the music coming from Britpop was genuinely world-class. There is a reason why we have an appetite for reformed bands like Cast and James (who have been going all this time so I can’t really say they are reformed). Earlier this month, Cool Britannia ran and it is a festival that brought together 1990s stars such as Space and Dodgy. The punters got to belt out hits they grew up with and the dance tent at the festival features a lot of legends from back in the day. Many might say the festival is nothing more than nostalgia and trying to relive the past but, given the reception and popularity of Cool Britannia; I feel this will lead to some movements and changes in music. The article I mentioned at the top of this feature brought together Cool Britannia organisers, Davis Heartfield and Jack Gray: Gray spoke about the 1980s and how many bands from that time are coming back:
“If you go back to the 80s thing, when Rewind started, Martin Fry from ABC or Tony Hadley [from Spandau Ballet] were playing small venues,” he continues. “Now they’re doing the Royal Albert Hall with an orchestra. I now want to give that platform to these [90s] artists”.
Bands like Sleeper vowed never to record another album and go back on the road but, after only a few gigs, they found themselves heading for the studio – it seems like they are back on the rails and embarking on a new creative phase.
This idea of reformation, as The Guardian explains, is more than a novelty – people have a definite fondness for the 1990s bands and new generations are turning onto their hits:
“It is clear that the era’s bands are indeed reforming or reactivating their recording careers to a noticeably warm reception. Last year, Shed Seven’s first album since 2001, Instant Pleasures, was critically well received and made the Top 10; Embrace reconvened after a lengthy sabbatical from recording in 2014 and both their subsequent albums debuted in the Top 5. “Our fanbase is amazing – they’re just so loyal,” says the band’s guitarist Richard McNamara, while waiting for his band’s turn on the Cool Britannia stage. “We’ve always been kind of the underdogs – we never really got the recognition that they all think we deserved – so that sort of magnetises them to us a bit more”.
The need to retreat and find comfort in solid bands with great hits during troubled times is understandable. We have dispensed with the flag-waving and jingoism of the 1990s but have retained a lot of the stalwart bands. Maybe Oasis will not reform but Blur are still (just) going; Ocean Colour Scene and The Bluetones are still playing and there are countless artists who were popular during the decade still going today. It is obvious why many are returning to the 1990s and want to bring the music back: it was a time when the country was still together and we did not have Brexit, Trump and all the other sh*t we have to deal with right now. Maybe there is escapism, in some part, but it is not mere nostalgia.
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images/Rex
Bands are not as popular and evident as they once were and music has changed drastically. Whether you like modern Pop and Indie; it is clear we have fewer iconic artists and sounds that remain in the head and have the potential to last for decades. I grew up listening to all the Britpop magic but was obsessed by the Dance music of the time. The bangers back in the day – everyone from The Prodigy to Urban Cookie Collective – filled my ears are still with me today. I listen to the equivalent today and do not hear anything as fresh, varied and long-lasting – maybe it was a sign of the times or technological development means we will never hear Dance that good again! Look at all the classic albums from the 1990s and we still take guidance from then today. Not only are festivals like Cool Britannia bringing in 1990s die-hards and new generations but modern artists are keeping the era alive. I hear shades of bands like Oasis and The Verve in modern artists; the best Pop and Dance of the time is being mutated and moulded into a 2018 template. Listen to what is happening in music and you cannot escape the fact the 1990s is back – maybe it never went away! For some, there is that need to escape from what is happening now and recognise a time when they felt safe and the music was of the highest quality.
IN THIS PHOTO: The Prodigy in the 1990s/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Rex
Britpop was all about the pride of Britain and celebrating some terrific sounds. I guess the Union flags and some elements of the movement were flawed and are best left in the past but you cannot deny the sheer quality and innovation of the 1990s. Britpop alone seemed to be the last time we had working-class bands at the forefront and shining bright. There was chart jostling between Blur and Oasis and Britpop outsiders – not quite as mainstream as the big guns – were dropping fantastic albums and classy anthems. You had the great Dance and Electronic songs; the Grunge movement and American guitar music. Check out the critics’ choice of the 1990s’ best albums and the brilliance you get is eye-watering. Pop legends like Michael Jackson, Madonna and Prince were entering new phases and producing great work; we still had Top of the Pops and music T.V.; MTV was still going and music magazines could be bought and digested. Music, in many ways, was much more human, involving and connective than it is now. We discussed the bands of the day and swapped cassettes/C.D.s around school. We could read a music magazine and read the latest news and watch the artists of the day bringing their hits to T.V. I hope 1990s festivals and the big bands recording new material leads to a change in the industry.
There is some great music being made now but there are definite holes and gaps that need to be filled. The lack of working-class voices at the top is one. We do not have the same sort of bands as Pulp and Oasis that were talking about society and life as we know it – maybe IDLES are replacing them but there are few other bands supporting them. I look at Club music and Dance tracks and there is nothing that spikes the mind. Given the fact that the nation is in a poorer state and we are more divided than ever; a revocation of the 1990s would not be a bad thing. Perhaps the iconic bands that are reforming and playing cannot spark that revolution themselves but they act as a guide to new bands and musicians coming through. Whether it is the Dance music scene retuning and improving or a swarm of great bands providing anthems and nation-uniting songs that will be remembered for years, I know something needs to be done. I mentioned how I can hear the 1990s in modern music and it is true the decade has never really gone away. I interview artists all the time and they often name-drop bands like Oasis as fountains of inspiration; others are drawn to Grunge and artists like Nirvana and Pearl Jam (more Alternative-Rock than Grunge I guess!). In terms of quality, the 1990s was far stronger than this decade and the '00s and there are a lot of lessons to be learned. Ironically, embracing a decade whose pop culture and music have stood the test of time and provided so much joy might be the way to…
IN THIS ILLUSTRATION: Noel Gallagher/ILLUSTRATION CREDIT: Biggi De
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