Britpop

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

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  • Britpop

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

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