Doing stuff ‘before it was cool’ is – generally speaking – a sound principle. Being that it might include such coups as seeing Blondie at CBGBs, or, I dunno, buying that JK Galbraith book before everyone knew it was JK Rowling, that sort of thing. But living in East London ten years ago? Please. This is not something to be proud of. It was flippin’ awful.
There was nothing trendy about living amongst dirty chicken emporiums, crackpot evangelical churches, unlit streets of bleak empty warehousing, derelict bombed-out wasteground (and some council estates you wished the Luftwaffe would return for), Pat Butcher lookalikes, Eels, liqour sauce, stabby pubs, handy shops where you could buy wigs and transfer money abroad all in one place, prozzies, squatters with rotweillers, Mitchell Brothers lookalikes and an overground train service that ran every other Tuesday, weather permitting.
Those were the days. The good old days before the overground when you had to spend three hours getting to Clissold Park only to find you were 10 years too early and were then unceremoniously lynched by 13 year-olds in Kappa.
“Oh, but what about gentrification? I was a ‘real’ person who had no money and had to live here. I’m not gamourising it. I’m legit”. Oh, congratulations. Here – have a medal. It’s from the people of Glasgow congratulating you on your working class credentials. I hear there’s a plaque with your name on it in the Miner’s Welfare in Merthyr Tydfil now, too.
Let’s not forget: You weren’t born East. If you’d have been born there, you’d be now residing in Chingford, topping up your perma-tan, glad to be finally rid of the life-sucking hell-hole once and for all instead of cycling round Stokey complaining about peak beard.
Someone on teh internet once said that ‘Dubstep sounds like robots having sex’. There was a time when that would have been a great thing. We could have worn a tinfoil space outfit from Cyberdog and been all over that robot sex vibe. How times have changed. Nowadays, the idea of ‘quality’ in Dance music has shifted to the warm, classic-sounding stuff: Deep House, New York Disco, Ska, Rock n Roll, Golden Era Hip Hop, anything with analog synths, anything with 909s… All that EDM and Brostep rubbish sounds, well, rubbish. What happened?
Up until a couple of years ago, Dance music only ever looked forward. The rate of progression from Rap to House to Rave to Hardcore to Jungle to DnB took place over the course of just 10 short years (roughly speaking, 1986-1996). Top DJs were expected to play all the latest releases and a track would be jettisoned from your record bag after 18 months, regardless of how good it was. White labels, dubplates and pirate radio all contributed in their own way to the vertiginous turnover of sonic palates, pushing music faster, harder, further. Dance music was the sound of the future and it left most Rock music light years behind in terms of innovation and originality. I remember DJing in the early 2000s and listening to old House and Hardcore records with their ‘primitive’ 909 beats and thinking how dated and badly produced they sounded. Those same records are now the ones we eulogize about with misty-eyed nostalgia. The futuristic robot music of Skrillex or Knife Party just sounds like some kind of aural discharge. The future is over.
The reason we hate EDM is that we are now living in the end times. We are coming to the end of Western civilization. Although the current economic recession appears to be lifting – through such ugly and desperate measures as fracking and selling off the NHS – we are surely witnessing the last death throws of the Anglo-saxon empire. As Russia comes knocking at Europe’s door once again and Latin Americans catch tantalizing glimpses of life beyond America’s stranglehold, it’s fair to say we are entering a new age. It is no surprise, then, that we are also caught up in a collective cultural nostalgia trip.
The warm, cosy world of the 20th Century is a far safer place for us to abide than a 21st Century where China holds the cards and hoverboards are conspicuous only by their absence. It is also no surprise, that the only music ‘we’ judge to be worthy is the good old classic-sounding stuff. The new breed of American Dubstep with its hyper-wobble distorted basslines or glitzy EDM with its catchy choruses and hands-in-the-air Euphoria are deemed to be beyond the pale.
We have fallen out of love with the future, because we know deep down that we do not own the future any more. Is this something to be pessimistic about? Hell no! Just as in 1453, as Constantinople fell and Christendom lay in tatters, Italy looked inwards and backwards and came up with the Renaissance, it might be that we need a deep and long recession to remind us of what’s important in life. It’s probably time for the West to take a rest. Once the fracked oil has been bled dry and the locusts have moved on to India or China, maybe we will finally be left in peace to build a sustainable future where we don’t have to keep running blindly forwards in the name of progress. If Skrillex is the future, isn’t it better to stand still? I for one would rather stick on a shellac, pour myself a martini with an olive in it, and get back to the sewing. As long as I can keep my iphone.
LIKED THIS? NOW READ: WHY ROCK MUSIC CAN’T CHANGE THE WORLD
Sometimes it feels like a day doesn’t go by when my Facebook newsfeed doesn’t contain the words “When are the new Public Enemy/Sex Pistols/Rage Against The Machine going to appear? We need music with a message instead of all this meaningless pop crap…”… I find this sentiment so quaint. It’s almost cute to think that there are some people for whom The Pirate Bay never happened.
If Punk Rock taught us anything, it’s that people love to feel rebellious and will pay good money for ripped jeans, albums about fighting the power, Che Guevara posters and the $375 Urban Outfitters jacket pictured above. Teenagers love to consume the ideology of rebellion. After all, it’s so much easier than actually Fighting the Power. Remember in Withnail and I when the drug dealer complains that they’re selling Hippy wigs in Woolworths? It’s what they used to call recuperation in the olden days of Socialist yore. Or, as the Clash so elequently put it, turning rebellion into money.
What – let’s call him ‘Facebook Guy’ – doesn’t realise is that sitting on your arse listening to Billy Bragg is no more subversive than sitting on your arse listening to Justin Bieber. Whether it be Britney Spears or Bob Seeger, any major label record purchase is essentially an act of fellatio on a huge corporate penis. Facebook Guy thinks he’s rebelling by listening to Public Enemy, but he’s really sucking Vivendi Universal Music Group dick.
At the end of the day, Bob Dylan didn’t end the Vietnam war any more than The Hoff brought down the Berlin wall. The Economic machinations of the Geopolitical power nexus massively dwarf any ideological merit which accrues through someone – even the Lennons and Strummers of this world – writing a pop song.
If, like Facebook Guy, you are waiting for the next Public Enemy, I think I may have found them. It’s YOU. You can share, bootleg, steal, lend, swop, blog, give away, mashup and remix music. Become a producer instead of a consumer… (and you don’t even need to leave your armchair!). But if you can’t be arsed, don’t worry. Some kid from Hackney with Fruity Loops and a Twitter account is doing it right now. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
If Mr Nibblesworth can play ‘Imagine’, so can you.
Wouldn’t it be great to play the piano like this cat? Yep, but in the words of Gordon Gecko: Time is money and life’s too short to smoke bad crack.
Instead of spending 10,000 hours hunched over the ivories, memorising chords, building muscle memory or – worst of all – learning to sight read, you could be chillin’ with your homies, sippin’ gin and juice and partyin’ with dirty naked freaks. Just learn to play one of these songs. It’ll take, like, two days. Promise.
1. Beethoven – Moonlight Sonata
Wow your dinner party guests with this incredibly simple, yet ridiculously effective piece.
Based on simple right-hand arpeggios and two-finger bass chords, this piece can be begun in a day, learned in a week and perfected in a month by any beginner who’s willing to put in the effort. No-one can argue with Beethoven, let’s face it.
In a word: Beautiful.
Skill factor: **
Wow factor: *****
Cheat factor: *****
2. John Lennon – Imagine
In spite of enjoying being photographed in soft focus in empty rooms with huge, white, kitschy pianos, John Lennon was not much of a piano player.
The song is based around long, slow chords of C and F and only includes one black note. If it’s good enough for Mr Nibblesworth…
In a word: Easy peasy. (OK, that’s two words, but never mind.)
Skill factor: *
Wow factor: ***
Cheat factor: ****
3. John Cage – 4’33”
Probably not a good one to bash out at a dinner party, unless your dinner guests are European intellectuals or Zen monks.
Four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence is not the most challenging of pieces to play. In fact, it’s much harder to listen to than to play. This one takes a second to master, but a lifetime to understand.
In a word: Deep.
Skill factor: *
Wow factor: *
Cheat factor: *****