Wednesday, September 02, 2020

About landfill indie

I’ll be honest, by the time the likes of Razorlight, Kasabian and the Pigeon Detectives were being touted as musical Next Big Things, I was already of an age where it would have felt undignified to care. So the Vice story about The Top 50 Greatest Landfill Indie Songs Of All Time was only of interest as an academic curiosity; I’m fascinated by the formation of cultural canons and this seemed to be a tongue-in-cheek exercise in imposing a hierarchy of significance on a genre that, the authors asserted was never particularly significant in the first place. The subhead refers to “the best most average songs in British music history”, which feels right. The fact that this came hot on the heels of the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Britpop – which really was significant, even if you didn’t want it to be – is another kick in the tender parts to The View, The Enemy and The Wombats. No useful book about Britain in the 1990s can fail to mention Blur and Oasis at length. I wrote a book about The Noughties and guitar bands of the era (I namechecked the Libertines and Franz Ferdinand) earned a single paragraph, which also feels about right.

But Maximo Park and Larrikin Love still have their doughty defenders. Step forward one Mark Beaumont, who was writing for NME at the time those bands arrived and is still somehow plying his trade within the cavernous husk that remains of that title. Beaumont asserts that even the use of the term “landfill indie” is “pure snobbery... sneeringly reductive”. To which the only sensible response is, Mark, you say that like it’s a bad thing. Snobbery and reductiveness are what ensured the NME mattered in its glory days in the 1970s/80s. It might not have been kind, it might not have made sense (aesthetic, cultural, historical, even financial), but it was critical statement, a line in the sand, a declaration that some things are good and some things are bad. Beaumont’s defence of Hard-Fi and The Holloways rests pretty much on the fact that people enjoyed them and it’s a bit horrid to say they shouldn’t have:
Don’t let all these jaded old gits tell you that your youth wasn’t as brilliant as theirs – I was watching you losing your shit to ‘Killamangiro’ from the Club NME DJ booth and it absolutely was. The ‘00s UK rock scene was as exciting, energised and unpredictable as Britpop or punk, and far more varied than both.
There’s a distinct sense here that Beaumont is not only asserting that the music mattered and still matters, but that he, Beaumont, also still matters, because he was there and the Club NME DJ booth was really the Lesser Free Trade Hall and The Good Mixer combined and you’re a jaded old git if you disagree. If only such a desperately quixotic, gloriously muddle-headed rage against the dying of the light had informed the music at the time, it might have been more interesting.

PS: In similar territory, Joe Muggs responds to Mic Wright’s interview with Conor McNicholas, which I mentioned last week:
The NME could and should have become a British Pitchfork, but the diminishing of it to a wilfully illiterate fan letter to sub-Libertines, sub-Strokes haircut bands in the 00s - a total cultural reductionism at a time when alternative music was defined specifically by diversity - ensured that would never happen. The NME should still be relevant to the musical offspring of the exciting scenes back then - Trash, Green Man, FWD>>, the birth of grime, etc etc - instead it only speaks to a tiny cluster of wankers in Doherty trilbies pissing on their own shoes and repeating Chris Moyles jokes at some “sheeeeeyine” festival somewhere. Ugh.
PPS: I’ve just remembered, two decades ago I also indulged in a bit of narcissistic scene revisionism.   But at least I was aware of my own ridiculousness. At least I hope I was.

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