Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Review: British Music Experience, O2

It’s only right that in a modern ‘British Music Experience’ you have to walk past scores of chain restaurants to get to the venue. That’s the case for said show at the 02 in North Greenwich, just another place to bet on our alienation via overconsumption. Maybe that’s why the BME takes part in the ‘Bubble’ area of the revamped tent. And has anybody been to the Matter club there yet?

Immediately noting the suspiciously mod-ish livery, the exhibition is divided roughly into the ‘Core’ of individual attractions and the ‘Edge Zone’, which takes you through the decades from the earliest postwar transatlantic exchanges, as well as the Gibson-sponsored Interactive Studio (which presumably has been updated since we went with acknowledgements of Les Paul’s passing). Most of the edge zones with their interactive audio-visual spaces I found superfluous, stuff most of us dripping in pop culture history are largely familiar with, memorabilia seen elsewhere (but always good to see some of the glam and punk gear), facts to scroll over that are forgotten as soon as they're read, such is their soundbite nature.

There was better stuff. ‘Manda boogied on down in Dance the Decades and watched the holographic playback, we paused for a moment to look at the glass cabinet of vintage tape and record players, TVs and music centres, while I lost time in the Hey DJ virtual flick through the crates – yet found many of the classics to be American and there was an irritating habit of stopping just as they got going if the sensor noticed the slightest movement. In the interactive studio, I got the bass guitar line to The Bravery’s Honest Mistake down before getting bored by the slowness of the instruction, and twanged a lead guitar and smashed a drum pad or two for a while, preferring not to have the tutorials. There are also circular areas in the zone with four or five talking heads reviewing a particular scene, I listened a while to D Double E, Kano and the like go on about grime’s germination.

The experience’s finale ushers you into a ‘live space’ for a very noisy but ultimately futile attempt to distill the decades' worth of British music’s live icons through clumsy audio-visual elisions. Shall I raise my lighter and wave my arms and risk the virtual Liam’s opprobrium? No, I’ll shrug my shoulders and wait for the doors to open. For me, the best bit comes after the merchandise shop. No, not in Giraffe, or the Argentine and south-east Asian food joints, or the roller-skating rink, but after the bus ride home when you get to log in to their site (another chance to have more encrypted details on the web!) in order to get your three free downloads via iTunes. That’s £2.50-worth redemption on what I think was a £15 ticket – still dead dear overall. I got my three tracks straight away and none of them are ever likely to be incorporated into the ‘BME’.

All in all, we could have spent more time here if we had it to spare. The ‘experience’ will have some worth for curious youngsters who don’t have the UK-M experience down pat like many of us blase olders. Though maybe not, the last 8-year-old I met had Subfocus on his Walkman so it may be a generational irrelevance for many. Yoots should also be aware that this is very much the approved, Londoncentric, major-label version of British youth culture down the decades.
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