I came home from work last night weary and tired as usual for the end of the week. The television flickered into life and I perched on a rather uncomfortable, if familiar, stool in the kitchen whilst the kettle bubbled away impatiently. I suddenly realised that I was watching Top Of The Pops. The reason this took a while to compute is that (apart from the oppressive tiredness!) there was a real band playing on the show. With guitars! They were beavering away making a polite racket, the audience moving their heads equally politely to the music. It didn’t take too long to work out that this was Hundred Reasons and suddenly it all made sense.
I’m not overly familiar with this band but over the past 12 months or so I’ve become increasingly aware of their name and image which is often coupled with the tag ‘Emo’. As you may have guessed, this never held much promise for me so I refrained from further investigation. However, last night I was reminded of how dire rock has become. I realise the irony here – a well-worn statement which suffers from exactly the same problems that it attempts to rail against – stagnation.
So what was so bad about the performance? Well, the singer jumps up and down as if he’s suffering from withdrawal symptoms from his skateboard, the drummer looks like Pop Idol Will’s metaller brother and the guitarist stands on his monitor without a hint of irony. In short, they’re making all the right moves! They’re in the top 20, they’re a bunch of hard-working unpretentious young men who ROCK! And hey, at least it’s not sophomoric post-rock or whiny new-acoustic gaylordery! The same applies to another band on the tip of everyone’s tongue at the moment – the Cooper Temple Clause.
Now I’ll get to my point. Plenty of people who should know better (or perhaps not...) can’t get enough of this decidedly sinister and calculating new mutant child of rock. Nu-metal is clearly now beyond pastiche – the Indie Crew quickly saw the cynical marketing strategy aimed at the pocket-money market for what it was - but what they didn’t allow for was that the same thing was happening to them through the likes of Hundred Reasons and the Cooper Temple Clause. It’s pretty simple really, you get a gang of not-too-bad-looking lads, slowly and dogmatically build up that crucial discerning fanbase and WHAM! You unleash them on TOTP and watch them get massive. Then you watch the people who ‘saw ‘em in 2000’ argue relentlessly with their younger siblings who only appreciated them once they got on TOTP whilst everyone forgets that this is a band completely bereft of tunes and, heaven forbid, passion!
Some may argue that the same can be said of the Strokes or even my beloved Nirvana. However, there is a subtle but huge difference. If you really can’t see why then just listen to the former’s ‘The Modern Age’ EP or the latter’s version of the Wipers’ ‘D.7.’. Whilst these are quite different performances, both share a certain vivacity and an ear for a rather good hook that is sadly lacking in the bands I’ve been talking about.
This problem in itself is not that bad but some of the fans of these bands believe that this music is somehow the start of a musical, and consequently social, revolution. These are people who see themselves as the next Everett True, a champion of the underground scene or, even worse, ‘punk rock’. Oh yes... punk rock...
Punk is a very convenient label for people who will tell you in the next breath that that they ‘don’t agree with labelling, maaan, ‘cos that kinda thing can lead to differences and war and war is sooo not cool maaan...’. If punk ever meant anything, it meant freedom according to the people who were there at the time. Apologists will now tell you that punk means fighting the mainstream or hating anything popular (except the Cooper Temple Clause who aren’t popular at all, of course!). Punk now means nothing. To me at least anyway. It’s become such a malleable and over-used word that there are far too many contradicting connotations attached to the word. In the post-grunge era there has been such a blurring of the 'underground' and the 'mainstream' that I fail to see how one can somehow ‘subvert’ the other when they’re both so intrinsically linked and bands constantly hop from one side of the divide to the other.
The whole arena of underground and mainstream music thrives and subsides in cycles. An underground label or band will invariably grow in popularity and profits and become part of the mainstream. Whilst this seems great at first, the fact is that it will eventually become as stagnant and corporate as what went before. Human nature being what it is, there are few people who can keep true to their ideals once they’ve had that sniff of success. Just look at the whole Alan Magee/Creation/Oasis fiasco a few years back. This is reality and unfortunately we all have to compromise in the end or suffer the consequences. The underground can’t bury its head in the sand forever hoping that it will never have to liase with the corporate ogre for those dastardly distribution deals and MTV plays yet its scruples dictate that it can’t openly embrace the mainstream.
For these reasons, any hope for an underground revolution is a naive one. This isn’t apathy, this is simply being pragmatic. Pop has had its fill of genuine revolutions. The closest we’re going to get to 1976 will be something completely different from what went before and the chances are that most of you will be listening to someone shouting about a Panzer attack and miss the whole damn thing.