Whether it’s the easy-listening/strangled-cat noises emanating from the ITV studios during episodes of ‘X Factor’ or the majesty of Congolese rumba. The hissing snarl of Siouxsie and The Banshees or the prosaic soundtrack to the film Titanic. Eclectic febrile techno beats or the immortal genius of The Beatles’ 1964-1970 output. Everybody out there finds something to love in music...
In London we have been somewhat spoilt by the quality and breadth of offerings we’ve been given over the years. But what strikes me most about music scenes in London are the elements of cultural crossover characterising them. Nowhere else, barring New York, do we see such divergence of taste and cultural meaning. Most of the crowds you see spilling out of drum’n’bass raves at Fabric on Sunday mornings at 6am are middle class white kids, perhaps studying Politics at LSE. Now drum’n’bass was not originally invented for middle class white Politics undergrads. But try telling them that…
The same could be said of the reggae and ska scenes in London in the 70s.
However, while crossover is frequent and fluent in the capital, it is not a 'given'. There have been scenes, deeper and darker within the London ‘underground’, which the middle classes would love to have penetrated but simply could not. The UK Garage scene of the late 1990s/early 2000s was perhaps the last real musical genre innovation the world has seen. It transformed House music into something all-together more challenging; rhythmically, lyrically and culturally. Blossoming on pirate radio and flourishing in the kind of Stratford, Tottenham or Elephant & Castle rave venues the mainstream media do not publicise; Garage remained a scene entrenched in working class culture. Characterised like all London scenes by the fashion, drugs, language, attitudes and behaviours that grew up around it, Garage quickly moved (regrettably) away from the skunk, champagne, designer labels, party atmosphere and Croydon facelifts it began with, down a path of So Solid influenced crack cocaine, guns, bling, cars and gang violence. Yet some of the white-label records cut in that era are unquestionable classics and will live on strong in the memory until one day the Garage revival returns or the template is used to create another groundbreaking movement.
The era in time we currently occupy has diversified the range of music we can identify with and claim. On New Year’s Eve, at a considerably artistic party, alongside 60’s R’n’B and contemporary electro, DJ sets also included cheesy 80s pop classics like Erasure’s ‘A Little Respect', Tiffany’s ‘I Think We're Alone Now' and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing In The Dark’. Now, back in the mid-90s when we were all obsessed with our cool reputations and kicking against what had gone before, playing such songs at a trendy party, as opposed to say Suede, Nirvana or Happy Mondays would have cleared a room in seconds and led to permanent social ostracism. Nowadays, you can go to the trendiest bar in Shoreditch at 1am on a Friday night and dance to Hall & Oates’ 'Maneater'. This is a wonderful thing and we are lucky to be blessed with the luxury of hindsight and retrospect.
You’ll have noticed most of this blog concentrates on music of the past. I do not apologise for this and won’t even begin to talk about the current scene. I’ll leave that to the contemporary music publications.
I began this piece by saying music is purely personal. In order to demonstrate this, I will keep my heartfelt pronouncements to a minimum and instead resort to a fun little game we all love to play which illustrates the individuality of musical taste. I’d like you to all join in at home and play along. Below is a list which I have filled in. Simply copy and paste it into the comments box filling in your own answers. I’m handing it over to you. If you play along it makes this blog a whole lot more interesting. If you don’t, well, you only have yourselves to blame! Ciao for now….
First song you ever heard as a child
'Our House’ by Madness
First single you ever bought
‘Love Changes Everything’ by Climie Fisher (on 7” vinyl from Woolworths on Junction Road, Archway. I don’t know how this came about, and to this day I still don’t know who Climie Fisher are. I am neither proud nor ashamed of this purchase but I do see this in some ways as a confession).
First album you ever bought
(Some internal debate here). It was either ‘Whitney’ by Whitney Houston or ‘Faith’ by George Michael. As ‘Whitney’ was released a few months earlier I’m going to go with that. On tape cassette, obviously. But not from Woolworths this time, from Our Price (remember that?!)
Your top 3 albums of all time
The Beatles – Revolver
The Smiths – The Smiths LP
The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed
Your top 3 songs of all time
(Subject to frequent change. But currently...)
The Smiths – Ask
Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights
Prince Buster – Ten Commandments
Worst song ever recorded
‘What’s Up’ – Four Non Blondes
Worst song lyrics ever
"We came in spastic. Like tameless horses" (Billy Joel – ‘Saigon Nights’ - yes, he said the word 'spastic' on a pop record)
Your ‘nostalgia’ tune
This is always difficult. Can I have two? It’s my blog....I’ll have three!
Direstraits – Brothers In Arms (title track)
Vanilla Ice – Ice Ice Baby
R.E.M – Radio Song
And there you have it. So, what are yours…?