Back in 2014 Taylor Parkes, former Melody Maker journalist, wrote a piece for the Quietus which was, ostensibly, about Britpop and “Parklife” but which was, in actuality, a lengthy attack on both things. I’ve tried to respond to some of the arguments made by Parkes in his piece…but, as you will see, I’m not half as clever as what Taylor is so I’ve probably only succeeded in making meself look all foolish.
The British: so proud of the things they have a right to be proud of. The stand against National Socialism, the birth of the welfare state, the establishment of the National Health Service, the contributions to literature, art, music, science, philosophy and engineering. Yet, willing to admit to the darker, bloodier and uglier aspects of their past and, arguably, of their present. Some people will tell you that nothing is ever going to change, unless it is to get worse. Don’t listen to those people. Britain is still, despite its myriad flaws and failings, a wonderful country. Patriotism isn’t nationalism. Love of ones own country isn’t the same thing as hatred of the countries of others. I wouldn’t ever leave.
Over the past four years there has been much discussion of Britpop and Britain in the nineties. The years between 2014 and 2018 mark the 20th anniversary of the last great pop culture movement. The last time that working class kids, middle class kids and, well, just kids created, crafted and lovingly curated a “scene”.
The media has been full of it. That isn’t surprising really, many of those kids were able to forge careers not just in bands but in journalism, television, film and the arts in general. That couldn’t happen now. For all sorts of reasons. Taylor suggests that these people are “…the usual bores saying all the usual boring things.” which suggests that Taylor is, at least a little, jealous that it isn’t him who is saying boring things in boring ways. After all…he was there too, why hasn’t asked him? Apart from the Quietus of course. He admits as much when he says this;
But all those nodding dogs with fuck all to say, they’re the “experts” now. The simplistic, smugly flippant nature of what passes for media commentary on popular culture is testament to that. Everyone else is excluded from the discourse, because God damn it, they complicate things.
Ah yes Taylor. All the people having their say on the time in British history that you covered week after week in the pages of the Melody Maker are simply “…nodding dogs with fuck all to say”. Right.
He seems particularly exorcised by the fact that Britpop was commercially successful and, for him, this is evidence to support his contention that far from being a time when youth culture scored a remarkable victory over the establishment (which includes the now defunct journal he once wrote for) it was, instead, the exact opposite of this. It was a terrible defeat for youth culture. Which will come as a surprise to those of us who were living it…as opposed to writing about it.
Taylor Parkes, and journalists like him, have a problem with youth culture and it is this; they are non-participant observers. Worse still they may even be the eunuchs in the harem…there every night, watching it being done every night but completely incapable of joining in. Their job is to fill column inches and so they stand on the sidelines watching, observing but not actually feeling or participating. A couple of lines of coke in the toilet of the Good Mixer with the bassist from Menswe@r isn’t the same thing as being a kid from Kirkcaldy who finally felt like he was part of something.
Here is his “wider view” of Britpop…
Here’s a wider view: Britpop was the willing soundtrack to – and yes, enabler of – the final destruction of everything Britpop ever claimed to love. All the glories of its precious 1960s; the idea of “youth culture” being something more than swank and competitive consumption. It managed this by posing as vital while systematically stripping away whatever made British pop music interesting or valuable, syncing with ruinous cultural trends and then, with its preposterous bulk, blotting out the sun. Worse, it left an indelible mark on millions of young white middle-class men – which in cultural terms, alas, is as good as poisoning a reservoir. Damn right we’re still suffering now. And these are Britpop’s deep dark secrets, rarely told, because history is written by the winners, who saw nothing: all the important stuff was happening in the cloud of dust behind them.
But you see that wasn’t my experience.
Britpop was the willing soundtrack to something.
It was the soundtrack to all those slightly peculiar, slightly too Northern, slightly too feminine and slightly too other crashing into the mainstream. It wasn’t about swank and consumption. I didn’t know anyone who knew what swank was and none of us had any bloody money. I was either a student or a part-time worker in McDonalds for the entire duration of the era.
The vitality of Britpop wasn’t a pose.
“The Drowners” was vital.
“I need to be myself, I can’t be no one else” was vital.
“Do You Remember the First Time” was vital.
The raucous, riot of “Caught by the Fuzz” was vital.
Elastica and their hymn to erectile dysfunction “Stutter” was vital.
Hearing “Bellyache” for the first time was vital…then seeing Sonya Madan and wondering why you didn’t see more women like her on Top of the Pops was vital.
Believing that you could be in a band was vital.
Watching kids who had taken the piss out of you at school for being a bit weird suddenly turn to you for style tips and record recommendations was vital.
I could go on.
Nobody is suffering now because of Britpop.
“White middle-class men” haven’t poisoned the reservoir of popular culture…this tired, albeit more subtle than usual, attempt to bring race into any discussion of Britpop is just wicked.
But Taylor doesn’t want to tell the story of Britpop.
Not my story anyway.
Or yours I suspect.
You see Taylor is better than me.
He sees things I’ll never see.
Things like this;
This is not the story of how Britpop “made us proud to be British again”. This is not about Alex James curdling cheese and writing a column for The Sun, or two million people on the telephone trying to make credit card bookings for a monstro-gig in someone’s country estate. This is the other Britpop story, the one where Britpop steps on a rake and helps to destroy the post-war consensus.
Don’t you love it.
Alex James makes a few bob, decides to become a farmer, makes some cheese and suddenly he’s the devil incarnate.
I hate that contempt for the success of other people and for the choices they make.
Try focusing on your life and your choices.
You’ll instantly become happier.
I didn’t realise as I lay on my bed listening to “Some Pop” by Mantaray that I was actually contributing to the destruction of the post-war consensus. I just thought I was a young bloke listening to a record. I bet the lads in Thurman feel dreadful about their part in this too. And I can hear Kevin from The Flamingoes wailing and begging God to forgive him for his part in it all too.
Let’s not get too bogged down in whether or not a post-war consensus ever actually existed.
It’s not the time.
But the crimes of Britpop don’t end with the destruction of the post-war consensus.
Taylor has a long list of pop culture atrocities that can be laid firmly at the door of Damon Albarn…including this;
About the beginning of – or at least a sharp acceleration in – the dumbing-down and depoliticisation of what used to be known as “alternative” culture; a sudden aversion to principle, and a redefinition of the word success.
An aversion to “principle”!
What is so ridiculous about that is that later in the article he praises, grudgingly, Damon Albarn for seeing through the snake oil salesman that was Tony Blair. That would seem to be a fairly principled stand…apparently not.
I genuinely don’t see how people selling lots of records is a bad thing either…certainly not when the records were being made by people who actually wrote, played and performed them. Isn’t that why people form bands? To sell records? To become famous? The alternative to that is to become U2. I’d rather have Oasis with their gargantuan success and absolute ambivalence to politics…other than popping over to number ten for a quick glass of Champers.
Horses for courses.
Interestingly, as Taylor attempts to eviscerate bands for being successful he is performing the most British of all games…knocking people down for daring to be successful, for refusing to accept their “place”, which seems a funny sort of position for someone who clearly defines himself as a socialist to take.
His ugly diatribe isn’t over though because he continues with this little gem;
The one where Britpop, trying to be nice, prepares the ground for a pop scene where the children of the landed gentry trill bucolic bollocks while the rest of us survive on long, long, piss-wet streets of chicken shops and Poundlands and closed-down fire stations, breathing in spores in rented bathrooms, stuffing ourselves with Mr Mash and a source of phenylalanine, knowing we’re probably going to die somewhere that’s even worse than this.
So now children of landed gentry are not meant to “trill bucolic bollocks”. I wonder if Taylor realises that those posh kids he so clearly despises didn’t choose their life of privilege? It was an accident of birth. While I may not have much in common with the likes of Florence Welch or the blokes in Mumford and Sons with their home counties accents, private education and the opportunities they were given as a result I certainly don’t see how their singing songs has created the dystopian Britain that Taylor describes here.
I also don’t accept that Britpop had anything to do with any of this…even if it were true. The link seems to be that Britpop came before Florence and the Machine so they must be responsible for Florence and the Machine. That’s a leap too far for me.
Thurman didn’t put New Labour into power.
Lick didn’t plunge the country into the global financial crisis.
Bis were not responsible for the war in Iraq.
All the ills of society…culturally, politically and socially…that have followed in the wake of the tsunami that was Britpop were not linked to that phenomenom, I would argue that the joyful energy that engulfed the nation at that time is exactly what is missing from our fractured society today.
We need Britpop now more than we did then.
Britpop was never really about Britain, anyway, was it? It was about London. More specifically, it was about London as seen through the eyes of new arrivals, because most of those bands had recently relocated in order to seek their fortunes. And no wonder they were giddy: London was still a city of people, still wide open, still astir. It was here if you wanted it; it was what you made of it. Twenty years later, it’s well on its way to becoming a dead city, culturally – just another rich-kids’ romper room, like Paris or Manhattan. Anyone not gainfully employed in the manufacture of human misery can get the fuck out, while those who stay must pay for the purchase of water cannons, meant for them, in case they have too much to say for themselves.
Britpop really was about Britain.
Kids like me, who had never been to London, were as much a part of it as anyone else. Pulp were not writing the “cor blimey” faux cockney nursery rhymes that Parkes seems to believe were all Britpop traded in…they were writing about universal themes and experiences. Suede created a grand, operatic, heartbreaking, outsider, small town, big dreams vision of life anywhere but London. Oasis couldn’t give a flying one about London. The Bluetones were dealing in joy, love, heartbreak, dreams and nightmares…not dressing up as Pearly Kings and regaling us with cover versions of “Rabbit”.
It really wasn’t about London.
What actually happened was that the entire country found a common identity…Britpop and it’s social, political, cultural and musical forms bound a country together and then, amazingly, brought down a Government and then put a new, brighter, shinier one into power with a record majority. That was a government, by the way, that up until Tony Blair decided he liked bombing third world countries, introduced a minimum wage, invested record amounts in the NHS and determined to tackle social exclusion.
I’m no apologist for the New Labour government, heaven knows we are paying now for some of the worst of their actions and inaction. But to deny that some good was done and to cover the whole thing with a blanket made of tears and anguish seems, at least a little, disingenuous and hyperbolic.
Parkes does acknowledge, eventually, that none of this was actually the fault of Britpop…sort of;
Britpop didn’t make this happen, but it didn’t do nothing. It did worse than nothing.
A musical moment treated in the same way as the ordinary citizens of Nazi Germany…guilt by implication, by association.
It is a dangerous mindset this, to see things in black and white only. To be incapable of seeing the nuance of things. To deny context and intent. Down that path lies cultural, and political, authoritarianism.
Black and white is fine for a debate about who is better Radiohead or Daphne and Celeste (the correct answer is Daphne and Celeste in case you were wondering) but it isn’t such a good idea when you are attempting to make sense of the complexities of the socio-economic and moral failings of a country.
Maybe it’s just me.
Now Taylor turns his terrible tirade in the direction of “Parklife”. This is an album that, for many of us, is made of some corking pop music and fabulously catchy choruses and which defines an entire chapter of our lives.
Not for Taylor.
Here are a few of his thoughts on “Parklife”.
On the back cover of Parklife, Blur pretend to enjoy themselves at the dog track: this is Walthamstow Stadium, all lit up and buzzing with life. Back then, the presence of well-spoken, shiny-haired young artist types in Walthamstow was a novel and faintly humorous idea. These days, as the working class residents of “Awesomestow” are forced from their homes to the winsome sound of ukeleles, there’s not so much laughter – except from estate agents and buy-to-let landlords, who are in fucking hysterics. And in case you’re interested, the stadium closed in 2008.
I don’t get this.
Blur go to the dogs in 1994.
Walthamstow Stadium closes fourteen years later.
I’m not seeing the point or the link.
Maybe it’s one of those David Icke conspiracy theories.
Is Dave from Blur actually a lizard from another dimension?
“Yes of course, Blur’s artistic gentrification was a stunt, a gimmick – just a bit of fun. The problem is that things feed into other things; culture is made up of a million tiny ideas, and when too many of them move in one direction, the current can sweep things away…”
Right, so going dahn the dogs was just a stunt…but that then fed into something else…and that something else then caused something else to happen…which then meant that the dog track in Walthamstow shut down.
Is that it?
In that case we might as well lay the blame for all of this at the feet of Ray Davies right? Because “Village Green” was the blueprint for so much of what Blur were doing at that point in time…his thing fed into another thing which led to “Parklife”…
At this point I’m not entirely sure how serious Parkes is.
This seems like the sort of rambling, stream of consciousness, nonsense, polemic rot that I deal in here!
And I’m an idiot.
“Parklife is ahead of its time in at least one sense: dehumanisation. That is to say, the conversion of people’s lives into remote cartoons, where things go boom but it doesn’t really matter. Just like those now profiting from the breaking up of London – buying and selling what used to be called “homes” but which are now called “property” – the worst songs on Parklife are weirdly oblivious to the smell of death: the death of London, the death of Britain, the death of culture.”
“Parklife”…the smell of death…the death of culture…dehumanisation…the death of Britain.
From a pop record.
Then we get a near track by track deconstruction of “Parklife” with a lot of swearing and grand, but damning, statements about how evil the whole thing is and how Britpop was shit and blah blah blah blah blah blah.
Tucked on the back of this lies Taylor’s real issue with the whole thing…
“From 1993 until the start of 1998, I was working for Melody Maker, what we used to call a “music paper”, even though we knew that it was really an indie rock paper – more open-minded than that might suggest, but still lashed to a student audience who wouldn’t buy anything with black people on the cover, and whose ideas about “real music” were as stubborn and stunted as old-time religion.”
The first accusation of racism!
It took a while but there we have it.
People don’t like rap…racists.
It’s not useful that kind of thing.
I was one of the “student audience” who was buying the Melody Maker when Parkes was writing for it…I owned more records by Aretha, Marvin, Smokey, Jimmy Cliff, John Holt, Toots, Public Enemy, Run DMC and more besides than he did. I guarantee it. And I wasn’t getting them for free…or using them as a means of showing everyone else how “edgy” I was. One could argue that people like that are the bona fide racists…using and utilising black culture as a means of differentiating themselves.
Another “argument” that Parkes delivers in support of his assertion that Britpop was the death of everything is found when he says;
“What really happened in the 1990s was that one side stopped pushing. By 1994, it was rather uncool to be bothered about anything much. A whole generation playing dumb? Dunno what you’re on about, mate. Cheery sexism? Shut up love, it’s only a bit of fun. The armour-plated smugness of a new liberal bourgeoisie? Chill out you knobhead – have another line. Meanwhile, the other side were busy consolidating all the gains of the hated 80s, privatising and deregulating, getting ready to take this shit to the next level, unopposed. What did the heroes of Britpop have to say about that? Bupkis at best”
Taylor, who were you hanging out with in the 1990’s?
Where did you find these awful people who have so poisoned your view of a time the rest of us hold so dear?
I was buying records by Kenickie, Elastica, Fluffy, Brassy, bis, Echobelly, Sleeper, Skunk Anansie, Catatonia as well as holding onto my precious Huggy Bear, Voodoo Queens, Breeders, Throwing Muses and Kate Bush records.
Is this about Loaded and lad culture?
I think it might be.
Those things are separate things.
They happened at the same time as Britpop…but they were not Britpop.
Ah…but Taylor has got us here hasn’t he because one thing leads to another.
As soon as you accept that part of this article you are goosed if you try to present an alternative position. Thankfully most of us see through that sort of wannabe intellectual, critical theory, non-sense and understand that things sometimes really are as simple as dancing, singing, listening and loving.
A new liberal bourgeoisie!
Is this the Quietus or Socialist Worker?
Is there any difference when it comes to Britpop?
If there is one thing that the Quietus really seems to despise it is bands who embrace the idea of success…especially if by success they mean selling records and making a few quid. It’s all “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” ’round their way.
I really like it when bands I love get really successful.
Love it in fact.
When I saw Shed Seven had sold out the Castlefield Bowl I gave myself a little high five.
20000 people standing in a field…having a great time.
Then the people responsible for that good time making a few quid, paying their mortgages, buying a new car and taking the family off on a holiday.
Everyone’s a winner.
Not for Taylor.
For Taylor that is the thin end of a really ugly wedge.
Unless of course you could swap Rick Witter and co at the Castlefield Bowl for him on a stage at a literary festival discussing his bestselling novel which was about to be made into a film for which he was going to receive a producers credit and a slot on the Graham Norton sofa beside Benedict Cumberwhatshisface and that funny Miriam woman.
That would be very different.
This whole article is just a bitter symphony.
Just the awful stench of bitterness, joylessness and jealousy.
“Orgasms were being faked all over the place, as well. Looking back, Britpop is almost unique among those musical trends which lasted half a decade or more, in that you couldn’t fill a Nuggets-type compilation with genuinely good tracks. Trying to find twenty memorable singles from twenty different Britpop bands, you’d end up on the very fringes of what anybody ever meant by “Britpop”: ‘Get Yourself Together’ by Velocette? Possibly. ‘CF Kane’ by Delicatessen? No, no, they were something else. And these differences matter, as much as any of this rubbish matters.”
Twenty genuinely good tracks by twenty different Britpop bands?
- The Wild Ones by Suede
- For Tomorrow by Blur
- Live Forever by Oasis
- Babies by Pulp
- Stutter by Elastica
- Olympian by Gene
- Bellyache by Echobelly
- Caught by the Fuzz by Supergrass
- Girl A, Girl B, Boy C by My Life Story
- Keep the Home Fires Burning by The Bluetones
- Violent Men by Marion
- Lenny Valentino by The Auteurs
- On and On by The Longpigs
- Into the Blue by Geneva
- Bitter Sweet Symphony by The Verve
- Becoming More Like Alfie by The Divine Comedy
- Chasing Rainbows by Shed Seven
- I Wasn’t Built to Get Up by The Supernaturals
- Time for the Rest of Your Life by Strangelove
- Statuesque by Elcka
I could give you another twenty from the bands who never really registered or that people are a bit sniffy about now but which make my heart soar every time I think about them…never mind actually listen to them.
This little nugget reveals another awful truth about Taylor.
He was that kid in school.
You know the one I mean.
Desperately trying to build a personality and an identity around the fact that he knew about bands you didn’t…or ditching bands he loved as soon as Sandra from the third year wore one of their t-shirts to the end of term disco.
A terrible, terrible snob.
Don’t believe me?
Try this on for size…
“Even in the high Britpop summer of 1995, I’d crawl home and listen to Joni Mitchell, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Fleetwood Mac… or else the eerie delirium of pirate stations playing music which sounded like now, but which I never wrote about because (thank God!) I didn’t understand it, so I couldn’t explain it. So it couldn’t bore me rigid.”
That is exactly how it was in 1995 for the young man about town that was Taylor Parkes.
Crawling home from the Good Mixer where he had tried to use the fact that he was a journalist and could get backstage passes to see a band he now professes to loathe in a desperate attempt to get a girl who looked a bit like Louise Wener to talk to him for longer than five minutes…
He gets home and puts on some Lee “Scratch” Perry…or bathed himself in the “…eerie delirium” of pirate stations playing music he can’t actually name.
What is the point of living a life like this?
Such a desire to present yourself as being better…being above…being more than the rest of us. Instead of actually being honest and, you know, living life.
Lies masquerading as intellectual superiority.
Tell you what Taylor…why not hum us a bit of John Coltrane?
Or give us your favourite song in 5-4 time?
And now for some more loathing of success…
“Britpop’s sudden, shattering success created an orthodoxy overnight. Even at the time, it was depressingly obvious that this was going to shut down British guitar music, creatively, for a long time to come. It was the perfect inversion of punk: a giant contraction, a kind of implosion, British guitar pop collapsing in on itself so tightly that nothing could get in or out, for years and years and years.”
But you see, Britpop wasn’t a sudden success.
It had been preceded by shoegaze and the new wave of new wave and other little bubbles of guitar pop and roll…including “Madchester”…for about six years. And wasn’t Taylor telling us all at the start of this how one thing feeds into another? In that case how come Britpop isn’t the “fault” of Slowdive?
Then the ghost of punk is summoned.
So similar to Britpop in so many ways…and yet ALL of the Britpop bands were better than their punk forefathers! Blur were better than The Stranglers. Oasis were better than the Pistols. Pulp were better than The Damned. Suede were better than The Clash.
Because they were mine.
When he says that British guitar music has collapsed in on itself what he actually means is…he’s got old…and out of touch…and to compensate he’s trying hard to convince himself that’s because things ain’t what they used to be.
“Britpop was ridiculous. This could not even pass itself off as postmodernism: there was nothing bold about it, no sense of adventure in amongst the ruins and the masks. This was the bourgeois aesthetic in sound, a musical equivalent of mock-tudor houses and crap from the Franklin Mint.”
You are ridiculous.
Quite why passing itself off as postmodernism would have been a good thing is beyond me. Postmodernist literature, art, political thinking and philosophy is nasty. Nasty and unpleasant…and inaccessible to the sorts of kids who formed bands in the nineties and got record deals and sold a few records and kept the wolf of working in Spar from the door for a couple of years.
You can almost taste his distaste for the people who buy Franklin Mint bric-a-brac. A loathing for my gran sat in her council house buying stuff she’s seen in the back of the newspaper. Plates and dolls and assorted ornaments to prettify her home in an ugly part of town.
Not for Taylor.
For Taylor it’s crap and she should know better.
She should be reading “Invisible Cities” by Italo Calvino while she listens to Will Self using words like “imbroglio” and “epiphenomenal” on Newsnight.
Piss off Taylor.
“So, in the summer of 1996 I went to see Oasis at Knebworth. Standing in the mellow sunshine, surrounded by kids who seemed genuinely moved when Noel announced that as the largest audience ever to pay to get into a rock gig, they were “making history”, I tried to make sense of what the hell was going on. In the end, I had to do exactly what Oasis wanted me to do – that is, stop thinking. Instantly, everything made perfect sense… it wasn’t good, but it did make sense. I was struck by an almost unbearable poignancy; I wrote my review in a kind of melancholy daze. Our generation was fucked, I said – bullshitters, wasters. “Still, we had something. At some point, we had the time of our lives.”
They were making history you insufferable arse.
It was the largest ever audience to pay to get into a rock gig.
That, whether you like it or not, is a historic moment.
It’s not Obama becoming the first black President but it is a moment in history all the same.
In order to enjoy being at a gig he hadn’t paid to get into…in fact, a gig he was being paid to attend…he had to stop thinking. Which really means that all the other losers in the crowd that night were unthinking drones. Were you there? Did you enjoy it? If you did then you couldn’t have been thinking. Also…it wasn’t any good. You know how you remember it as a defining moment in your life? Nah…it was shit mate. You know that buzz you got as one rock ‘n’ roll banger after another washed over you? That was crap too. Remember how happy you felt as you started to make your way home? Bullshit pal.
IT WASN’T GOOD.
An entire generation “fucked” because they enjoyed a gig in a field.
He finished off with something about Princess Diana.
I’m too exhausted to bother writing about it.
I know this is old news and I know that nobody is going to read this but I had to write it.
I had to write it because there has to be a response to this somewhere.
Otherwise his twisted, nasty, sneering, snobbish, rotten, ugly, brutal, version of a moment in time that was, in fact, the polar opposite of what he has described will be left unchecked and someone, somewhere, sometime might read it and think that’s how it really was.
It was great.