State of the indie nation… all a bit detached

Along with the celeb watching, the absence of a pub quiz forced a debate in the Cornerhouse bar last night. And the topic was the state of British indie music, something close to any true Englishman’s heart.

It was prompted in part by the very loud party upstairs that had one of those ‘ironic DJs’. That is, the type that play stuff that’s so-bad-it’s-good like Van Halen, which people jump around to while saying, ‘it’s only a bit of fun’. True music fans sit on the sidelines looking down their noses, pitying the fools. The DJ dropped in Arctic Monkeys’ I bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor and somebody mentioned Ordinary Boys’ Boys will be Boys. A true indie music fan only likes bands nobody has heard of, so I’m obviously well into Assistant, who haven’t even got a record contract. And funnily enough, Jonathan, their lead singer, is debating all this on his blog. He claims to like Arctic Monkeys. Hmm.

There’s little doubt that people have real problems with these bands and it’s not that they dislike the music. It’s tempting to say it’s an age thing. When I saw the Ordinary Boys at V they were a little cheeky, perhaps even rude about ‘middle aged’ people being in the crowd (they’re only kids) and I said: ‘Great fun, but if you’re going to cover the Ramones and Buzzcocks, you should expect some of your fans to be sporting the odd grey hair and middle-aged spread.’

I was wrong. It’s people who remember the style first time around who feel uncomfortable. It’s a musical Ground Hog Day. I’m too young to properly remember the 1970s, but I know that Bad Manners were always a novelty band – good fun – but always a novelty band. Ordinary Boys are Bad Manners taken seriously.

I’m up for a Ska revival. But Ska meant something at the time. It came to Britain with Jamaican immigrants and was blended with pop. In the late 1970s, the National Front was on the rise and Ska bands were at the forefront of the anti-fascist movement. The music had a history and roots. It represented a blending of cultures and had something to say. So while I enjoy the Ordinary Boys, I can’t help feeling there’s something missing: a social and cultural context.

It’s less obvious with Arctic Monkeys, but the issues are there all the same. I Bet that you… is a great little pop record. But it’s still a facsimile of something from decades ago. We’re still waiting for someone to invent a music scene that captures today.

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