Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Reflections on the Rip it Up book launch

Up to Boogaloo, ex-Highgate pub now fashionable events venue getting a reputation for itself (Nina Infinite and Mark K-Punk were sitting on the exact couch that two Libertines made up on a week or so earlier). I arrived not late but too tardy for a decent perch; not for the first time I would have to go to the periphery to get an angle on the main proceedings. The air was thick with expectation as well as cigarette smoke, with journos and music biz young and old (a Bill Brewster here, a Simon Price there) eager to hear the words on music.

Though the evening lacked any structure – Simon Reynolds seemed to ask questions as they occurred to him and Paul Morley, Gina Raincoat, Richard Boon the Buzzcock and John King of Gang of Four answered them just as informally – this was no great problem. Morley went off on welcome tangents, revealing that he had got to the stage in the 90s where he felt he could no longer write about music. But then he realised everyone else was at it, so why not him? Gina Birch rightly emphasised the female experience of the era; King how the band still own the rights to each of their songs.

The theme of the book and thus the launch was the possibility of the era – ie, rip up the pop rulebook and start again, please. Literary and philosophical theories, political ideas and arthouse posturings were woven into the verse and chorus, marketing concepts manipulated, music for music’s sake was not tolerated (and much of it got into the charts, where TOTP was another element to be fucked with). But as he half-admitted, Morley and co with their subsequent situationist treatment of music contributed to the loss of such ambition, leading eventually to a music that is valued merely on its terms. With pop having ate itself, we ended up with indie like JAMC (their noise signalled the end of meaningful experimentation, they like their adherents would just look back through musical past), the pure pop of the corporatised Scritti and, later, websites that can go on for ever about one song.

Here, not surprisingly reference was made to the new brand of imitators – your Killers and Franz Ferdinands. For me it’s not that their music is so bad it’s that there is nothing in it to talk about other than their music – where is the context, the ideas? (their referencing of the early 80s is merely cyclical – new bands now are of the age where they will look to that period as that’s just beyond their adultescent listening experience). All I can say about Bloc Party is that their drummer is good. She’s Hearing Voices could be a canny treatise on bipolarity but I can’t make out hardly any of the words.

A few hours in and things were brought to a halt after they fielded questions from the audience, just as well really considering most people’s attention span had snapped; back to their in-crowds and in-jokes. My knowledge and appreciation of many of the hallmark bands of 79-84 is still limited (Stickboy from Leeds has been ably filling me in these past few years), but when I hear something like Go4’s Damaged Goods, that seems me to have the same energy as a jungle tune. This is simpatico with some of the night’s final thoughts, that looking back over the era is no nostalgic trip if the referrers are looking for clues, inspiration and tools to tackle our current corporate miasma. Someone recently scrawled “The Specials/2-Tone” on an alleyway near my flat. Perhaps the uth are finally seeing value in the era’s high-minded urgency.
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