My Old School
1994-1999: A Personal Musical Awakening
MAYBE I have covered this before but I am feeling…
a little bit nostalgic. There is more to this article than mere nostalgia, I assure you. Actually it is twenty-five year since I started high-school and twenty years since I left. That makes me feel really old because, in many senses, it is almost like it happened yesterday. I think music has the potential to change us at all stages of life - but I do feel like the early teenage years are the most important. It is the stage where we have absorbed our parents’ music and we are stepping into a scary new phase of life. I remember when I started high-school in 1994. I was being exposed to a lot of the fantastic Dance music of the early-1990s and, the year before, I had my first Walkman. The groundbreaking device turns forty tomorrow and it has got me thinking about the Sony Walkman and how it made music more mobile for me. Although 1993 is a bit late to come across the Walkman, one of the first cassettes I bought was Now That's What I Call Music! 24. It was released in 1993 and it remains, sadly, one of my favourite albums ever – so many diverse sounds and artists in the same compilation! 1994 was a time when I left the relative safety of middle-school and went into ‘big school’. I was a bit scared and had to say goodbye to some old friends but, luckily, some old friends came with me and took a big step themselves.
Not only was it hard navigating a new environment but music helped me to tackle all the social cues, responsibilities and challenges of being eleven. The period between 1994-1994 saw Dance and House music continue but give way for Britpop, Grunge and other genres but, happily, by 1999 there was this new wave of Dance. I maintain 1994 is the best year of music ever because we had bands like Oasis and Blur battling it out. The former released their debut, Definitely Maybe whilst Blur brought out Parklife: two of the most iconic albums of the 1990s. At a time when I was opening my mind to music, the mighty clash of Blur and Oasis was wonderful. I was more in the Blur camp but, looking back, and it is hard to separate the bands. Before 1994, I was more used to chart music and Dance but I was discovering this new sensation. In Britain, there was a great thread of Britpop but there were also bands like Portishead bringing genius albums such as Dummy. In America, Grunge acts such as Soundgarden were rubbing shoulders with bands like Hole, Green Day and Beastie Boys. Music was a big part of the social contract and, with every massive release, me and my friends would excitedly chat and share the music. I might have graduated to a Sony DiscMan by 1994 but the Walkman was definitely in my life – I had the both and revelled in the portability of music.
The start of high-school was scary and uncertain but music helped me through and allowed me to bond with my peers. By 1995 and 1996, I was settling in, getting more confident and starting to find my feet. As I got a handle of academic demands and was playing more sport – an after-school football club – I was finding time outside of school incredibly beneficial. 1995, in the second year of high-school, brought great albums such as Pulp’s Different Class, Supergrass’ I Should Coco and Björk’s Post. If the daily life of school threw up some challenges and tough times (I have mentioned the bullying in other posts), then music was a balm and friend. As it is the anniversary of me leaving and starting high-school, I feel I need to nod to the music that shaped me. Elastica, Alanis Morissette and Leftfield all brought out big albums in 1995 and that clash of the Britpop outsiders/players and America’s best was truly inspiring. 1996 and 1997 were tough years because, aside from some struggles and getting closer to sixth-form college, there were some tragedies occurring in my life. Again, music soundtracked some of the best days and helped me cope with the bad. Beck’s Odelay and DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing..... took my mind somewhere special and helped foster a love of sampling in music – I was aware of Hip-Hop classics from the late-1980s but the newcomers mad me step back and re-examine the golden albums from that era.
1997 was a pretty bad year due to a couple of deaths but, away from that, I was turning fourteen and opening myself even wider to music. Music, again, was providing to be a social lubricant but it also gave me direction and peace in those moments when I needed it. Dig Your Own Hole by The Chemical Brothers furthered my curiosity of Electronic and Big Beat music; it seemed bolder and darker than the Dance music of the 1980s and early-1990s but was a nice bridge between the early innovators and what was coming in 1997. The Prodigy were another big band whose big beats and snarl got into my head. I had picked up on them prior to 1997 but The Fat of the Land provided a unique soundtrack. I cannot remember if I have mentioned it before but my after-school football sessions at a friend’s house around the corner where I lived were essential. It was a way to blow off steam and get that release. Anthems from The Fat of the Land, like Breathe and Firestarter, gave me a new lease of life and seemed to define a more mature and daring time in my life. I was getting older and facing the same challenges as most teenagers (hopeless crushes and troubles) and the music of 1997 provided me with stability and balance. The wonder of music heightened again in 1998 when I was getting nervous about leaving high-school.
PHOTO CREDIT: Horst Diekgerdes
My favourite albums from the year were Madonna’s Ray of Light, Beastie Boys’ Hello Nasty and Fatboy Slim’s You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby. The big tracks and new sounds were a revelation. Around this time, there were school dances and events and I am so glad this all happened in 1998 – at a time when music was really smoking and memorable. Garbage’s Version 2.0 and Pulp’s This Is Hardcore were other big albums and I have remembered all the songs; they are all connected to these special times, both good and bad. As I entered high-school in 1994, I was looking out to music to give me some comfort and a link with people around me. It was rather daunting and unsure but music was invaluable. The same dilemma faced me as I left high-school in 1999. In fact, things were more nerve-wracking and that step from high-school to sixth-form college was a nervous one. There were particular albums that helped make the last months of high-school bearable and pretty inspiring. Blur’s 13 was released on 15th March, 1999 and this was a case of a band that scored my earliest days of high-school helping to end them. The Chemical Brothers’ Surrender came out in June and was one of the last albums I got a hold of before leaving high-school for the summer.
I was always into the music being made by girl groups but, when I needed some groove and uplifting music, great albums from TLC and Destiny’s Child were put into the world. TLC released FanMail: a banging album with hits like No Scrubs and Unpretty was a really helpful and important album when I was readying myself to say goodbye to some loyal friends. The same is true of Destiny’s Child’s The Writing’s on the Wall. That album was released in late-July and, whilst I was on the summer break, Bills, Bills, Bills was released the month before and it was a stone-cold hit that gave me a much-needed smile. If the start of high-school was notable because of testing the water and entering a new stage of life, there was this bittersweet aspect of saying goodbye in 1999. I mentioned how I was a fan of Dance music and 1999 provided two essential records. I sort of missed the beauty of the 1993 compilation and the brilliant House that followed me through middle-school. 1999 was a time of change and evolution and, until the likes of Basement Jaxx and Cassius came along, Dance was a little stale and colourless. I have memories of my leaver’s ball where we all had a dinner at a country club. It sounds fancy but there was this cool dancefloor and tracks of the day – including hits from Sixpence None the Richer among the pack – gave everyone there a last hooray.
I was especially enlivened and excited by Basement Jaxx’s Remedy. The new duo of Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe paired Latin boogie and original expressions into Dance. Before, it had been a bit grey but Basement Jaxx changed things. Dizzying cuts like Rendez-Vu and Red Alert were intoxicating jams – the latter was another song that was played during my leaver’s ball. Remedy was released a day after my sixteenth birthday and it was a nice musical gift. Listen to songs like Bingo Bango and darker broods like Yo-Yo. Although some have been a little hostile towards Cassius’ 1999, it linked alongside British Dance innovators like Basement Jaxx. In fact, Cassius’ debut arrived a few months before Basement Jaxx’s. There is so much to enjoy on the album and I especially love the bubble and hypnotism of Cassius 1999. When I needed something warming and uplifting to end my time at high-school, the French duo of Phillippe Zdar and Boom Bass were up the task. 1999-2000 was another big leap where things got even bigger and scarier but I didn’t feel as anxious as I could have been. Not only did music soundtrack some of the best days, idle times and tough moments at high-school but the songs have remained to this day. I have been thinking a lot about entering and leaving high-school because of the big anniversaries – twenty-five and twenty years seems daunting but, as I say, the brilliant music makes the memories clear.
I am not sure whether there is any anniversary happening at my high-school but it seems like a shame if nothing happened. My old high-school is still standing and looks relatively unchanged after all of these years. Maybe the fact I am in London and entering another new phase of life has taken my mind back to high-school and the music that started my life there – and the brilliant stuff that was still fresh and relevant in 1994. From the Britpop and awakenings of 1994 to the new players in Dance music, a lot of sensational music made my best days wonderful and the worst days bearable. Of course, family and friends helped but music was so important to me. I do wonder whether I was still have memories of high-school a decade or two from now and whether the songs of the time will still be in my head. One cannot always look back and live in the past but one needs to acknowledge the past and its importance. Music has this immense power that can change lives and I think the most important discovery period is when one enters high-school. I wanted to look back to show which albums/artists were accompanying me from the ages of about eleven through to sixteen and, to anyone reading this, have a think about your high-school days and which albums were important to you. Whilst it is sad those school days are so far in the past, the memories from that time…
PHOTO CREDIT: Mario Testino
ARE still with me today.