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Popular Music History lecture on Britpop and independent music in the UK

Popular Music History lecture on Britpop and independent music in the UK

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  • 1. Independent Music & Britpop John Williamson Popular Music History 17th April 2007
  • 2. Lecture Content
    • Background
    • Industrial re-organisation of independent music in the U.K. the 1980s
    • National identity & ‘Englishness’
    • National roots
    • Types of ‘Englishness’ in pop music
    • Dominant characteristics of Englishness
    • Britpop : sexism & xenophobia
    • Conclusions / the end of Britpop?
  • 3. Independence: Punk to Britpop
    • Punk bands may have been absorbed within the major companies - but independent labels & distribution networks came out of punk
    • Notions of independence were predomiant part of pop music discourse during 80s.
    • Indie : ‘no genre had ever before taken its name from the form of industrial organisation behind it’ (Hesmondhalgh, 1997: 35)
  • 4. Independence: Punk to Britpop
    • Small record labels seen as preferable to vertically integrated majors. Creative autonomy.
    • Advent of independent charts - based on distribution.
    • Aesthetic and Institutional politics
    • Oppositional approach - ‘significant challenges to the commercial organisation of cultural production favoured by the majors’
    • Other characteristics of post-punk / independents: whiteness / image/ videos
  • 5. Independence: Punk to Britpop
    • BUT signs the many independents were entrepreneurial rather than oppositional.
    • Virgin deal with EMI in 1992
    • Many of the independents went out of business - e.g. Rough Trade
    • Others became absorbed by majors - e.g. Creation, One Little Indian
    • Britpop - eventual appropriation of independents / independence as marketing tool.
  • 6. National Identity
    • Can pop music be ‘quintessentially English’ (or British)?
    • Albarn : ‘If you draw a line from the Kinks in the sixties, through The Jam and The Smiths to Blur in the nineties, it would define this thing called Englishness as well as anything’
    • National identity is socially constructed - a specific type of English identity
  • 7. Music and Identity
    • Frith : ‘The experience of pop music is an experience of identity: in responding to a song we are drawn, haphazardly, into emotional alliances with the performers and the performer’s other fans’
    • Frith : ‘The first reason. . We enjoy popualr music is because of its use in answering questions of identity: we use pop songs to create for ourselves a particular sort of self-definition, a place in society.’
    • Identity as a process - songs, etc. help form social groups
  • 8. Music and Identity
    • Negus : identity is tied up in consumption rather than production of music
    • Identity can also be seen as:
      • Interaction between artists, industry and audience
      • Process of inclusion and exclusion
    • Choosing one identity is to reject another - Britpop as example of exclusion as well as inclusion
  • 9. Britpop and National Identity
    • National identity has been prominent in recent debates:
      • Devolution in Wales, Scotland, NI
      • Nationalism
      • Appropriation of by musicians
  • 10. Britpop Roots: The 60s
    • Little that was identifiably English in early rock’n’roll
    • The Beatles marketed in the States as British
    • Later work seen as more identifiably ‘English’
    • The Kinks:
      • Altham : ‘the epitome of English rock’n’roll’
      • Albarn : ‘The Stones were pornographic. The Kinks geographic.’
    • Kinks & Small Faces set parameters for English pop:
      • White, male, importance of lyrics
  • 11. Britpop Roots: The Kinks
    • Unable to tour in America due to unions - studio based
    • Experimentation: ‘we had so many ways of doing things’ (Dave Davies). Both lyrical themes & music.
    • ‘ Sunny Afternoon’ - upper class accents:
      • ‘ I didn’t want to sound American. I was very conscious of sounding English.’
    • ‘ Autumn Almanac’ - rejection of internationalism
      • ‘ I like my football on a Saturday/ Roast beef on Sundays, all right/ I go to Blackpool for my holidays/ Sit in the open sunlight.’
  • 12. Britpop Roots: The Kinks
    • Idealised Englishness of ‘The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society’
    • ‘ a culmination of all those years of being banned from America. I just wanted to do something English. It was a final stand.’ (R.Davies)
    • Art school influence / influence on the Who
  • 13. Britpop Roots: The 70s
    • Little evidence of English/ Britishness in glam/ prog/ pop acts of early 70s
    • Quadrophenia - reflected on 60s mod subculture
    • Punk also seemed to have embedded Englishness:
      • Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK / God Save The Queen
      • The Clash - English Civil War, This is England
    • Savage: ‘a noisy revolt against the slow death and suffocation that is the emoitional experience of living in England’
  • 14. Britpop: The 80s
    • Some evidence of punk as xenophobic, nationalistic
    • ‘ British invasion’ of America
    • Post-punk acts - Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, Madness
    • Locality & national identity - UB40, Ian Dury, etc
    • Oi / Blood and Honour / Skrewdriver, etc.
  • 15. Britpop Roots: The 90s
  • 16. Britpop Roots: The 90s
    • Flirtation with skinhead imagery / football casuals / Union Jack etc
    • Finsbury Park concert: wrapped in flag, skinhead backdrop
    • Kelly (NME): ‘Morrissey has always had a backward-looking and somewhat rose-tinted view of England/ Britain and has often chosen to express that view through association with various youth cults.’
    • Morrissey: ‘the sight of streams of skinheads in nail varnish, it somehow represents the Britain I love.’
  • 17. National Roots: The 90s
    • World Cup 1990 - World in Motion
    • Suede -
      • ‘ an instant English classic, all decaying council blocks and weird sex’ (Spencer) / ‘in essence, the classic English band’ (NME)
      • Seen as challenge to grunge & dance music of the time
      • Anderson: (England) ‘is beautiful and maddening’
      • Ambivalence about marketing of group
  • 18. National Roots: The 90s
    • Blur ‘Park Life’ - ‘holds a mirror to the seamier side of English life as the Jam and Kinks did for earlier generations’ (MM)
    • ‘ Modern Life is Rubbish’ saw band reinvent themseleves in tradition of Kinks, etc
    • Davies : ‘They’re in a tradition of English music, they’re part of what I call the British Movement.’
      • England = Britain
      • Realism / authenticity
      • Anti-technology
  • 19.
    • Englishness
    • Why the claims of Englishness in the early 90s?
    • ‘ There was a long period in the 80s when people were confused about what it meant to be English. . In the Thatcher years, things were changing so fats that nobody really understood what was happening.’ (Albarn)
    • Change in political climate made expressions of Britishness/ Englishness easier.
    • Pop music played a part in construction of mational identity in the 90s
  • 20.
    • Englishness
    • Cloonan suggests 5 types of Englishness:
    • Ambivalent Englishness
    • Overt Nationalism
    • Little Englishness
    • Leftist/ folk Englishness
    • Non-articulated Englishness
  • 21. Characteristics of Englishness
    • Urban: pop music centred on cities - contempt for rural / small towns
    • Class: plebian articulation, often middle class backgrounds. Pop needs to speak in voice of the majority
    • Redefinition : can be redefined - European? Global? New ‘mythical spaces’
  • 22. Englishness v Britishness
    • Conflation - ‘A very British pop’ vs. ‘classic English pop’
    • Blur can be British - but Runrig, The Proclaimers as British?
    • Union Jack rather than flag of St.George used - though attempts to reclaim both from right wing
    • Exclusion of non-English - but other groups also excluded
  • 23. Non-white English
    • Non-white English artists rarely viewed in the same way as white artists - e.g. Asian Dub Foundation, Sway, Cornershop, etc. They are commenting on England, but rarely identified with it.
  • 24. Women and Britpop
    • Largely a male preserve
    • Some exceptions - Elastica, Echobelly, Shampoo - but viewed not in terms of songwriting - rather sound, background or image.
    • ‘ Lad Culture’ / Loaded magazine - ‘traditional masculine values’ and reactionary views of women
  • 25. Anti-Americanism
    • CP in 1951 attacked American ‘commercial dance music’ and attack on British culture from ‘arrogant gum-chewers’
    • Blur - example of ambivalence about USA - ‘Magic America’, ‘Look Inside America’
    • Sullivan : ‘they revile the US as a place of shopping malls and charmless low-brow culture’
    • Albarn: ‘My biggest hang-up with America is that it is a one-sided thing. They sell their culture wholesale to the rest of the world and they’re not interested in anyone else.’
  • 26. Anti-Americanism
    • Xenophobia or cultural critique
    • Difficulties of British acts in translating their success at home into other markets.
    • ‘ sharpness’ vs. ‘scruffiness’ of grunge
  • 27. Modern Life is Rubbish
    • Britpop / Englishness often has issues with technology
    • Britpop came along at time of popularity of different forms of dance/ black music
    • Refusal of modernity throughout lineage of British pop
    • Sullivan : Blur ‘a throwback to the days when a band could write a song utilising verses and choruses and not get called Luddites’
    • Harris: ‘balding techno musicians in boiler suits’
  • 28. Modern Life is Rubbish
    • Nostalgia is integral to English pop
    • Kohn : ‘being sentimental, nostalgic and easy-going’ (on Madness, 1983)
    • Davies: song were ‘nostalgic in that they were about an England that probably never existed in the first place.’
    • Nostalgia excludes those who cannot remember, but also those who have arrived subsequently.
  • 29. The End of Britpop / Cool Britannia?
    • Bands moved on, record labels lost interest
    • Initial surge in record sales / short-term boost for UK record & concert industry
    • Reaction to media hype over New Labour and some of the artists (chart battle etc) / Britpop as media creation
    • Decline in overall sales, magazines / media outlets etc.
    • BUT notions of Englishness/ Britishness have not gone away
  • 30. The End of Britpop / Cool Britannia?
    • In early 2000s, The Libertines emerged on re-constituted Rough Trade label.
    • ‘ One of the greatest achievements of The Libertines was to articulate this yearning for a maverick Englishness without a breath of jingoism or racism’ (Kitty Empire, Observer, 7 May 2006)
    • Carl Barat: ‘No-one gives a fuck about the values I would die for.’
    • Libertines heavily involved with Love Music Hate Racism
  • 31. The End of Britpop / Cool Britannia?
    • Doherty: ‘I fall in love with Britain every day, with bridges, buses, blue skies . .but it’s a brutal world. Man’
      • “ I don’t feel myself to be representative of a general feeling of Englishness. I’m interested in William Blake. In the same way that I immersed myself in the Smiths, I did the same with lots of aspects of English culture. I was obsessed with certain writers, certain styles of film. Those kitchen sink films like Billy Liar, hit me right in the heart. They were about a pride, a dignity and a respect for people who you feel you belong with a community and a mutual respect.’
  • 32.
    • The End of Britpop / Cool Britannia?
    • Cycle of interest in notions of British/ Englishness in media. Current revival?
    • Blair : ‘the Google generation has moved beyond the idea of 9 to 5, closed on weekends and bank holidays. Today’s technology is profoundly empowering.’
    • Another reaction to technology & US cultural imperialism - or is is hankering after the past increasingly anachronistic?
  • 33.
    • Conclusions
    • Notions of Britishness/ Englishness are contested when they enter pop music
    • Britpop as media creation
    • Xenophobia / Small mindedness - but also brought important issues of national identity to the fore
    • Pop does not cause these phenomena, but can underpin them
    • Reaction to political climate - Tories, globalisation, etc
    • Industrial changes
    • Was ‘Britpop’ a passing phase or part of a cycle?