The Lord of the indie dance party, Steve “Evening Session” Lamacq, has lovingly curated a collection of “lost” nineties alternative music which will be released in just a few weeks. Four discs and seventy-one tracks that drag you grinning through a pop hedge and leave you on the other side looking like an indie kid who has been dragged through a hedge backwards, frontwards and maybe even sidewards. Seventy-one songs that all failed to breach the upper reaches of the top forty but that contain more spirit, passion, creativity and pop nous than anything in the top ten today.
Oh good grief, that last sentence makes me sound very old and very boring.
I am very old and very boring of course but there is no need to advertise it, or confirm it with things like that.
Can we all just try to pretend it didn’t happen?
Here then are my thoughts on what lies within disc one.
“Take me for a ride, away from the places I have known” sings Mark Gardener on the first track, “Chelsea Girl”, from Ride and that, really, could be the mission statement for this whole endeavour from Lamacq. To find songs that take us, that took us, away from wherever we were, or wherever we happen to be right now. Odd little songs from odd little people, written and performed for other odd little people, like me, to enjoy in their bedrooms as they lay daydreaming of something better. Of course we all know now that there isn’t anything better than laying on your bed listening to “Chelsea Girl” but we didn’t know it then.
The rest of disc one is made up of those pre-Britpop, shoe gazing, baggy surviving, C86 worshipping bands who stood alone against the likes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Without their efforts it is impossible to imagine how Britpop could ever have happened.
The Charlatans are here with “Indian Rope” a single from early 1990. This was peak “Madchester” and Lamacq has also chosen some of the bands from that era who didn’t garner the same level of attention as The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays or the Inspiral Carpets. His eyes and ears are, instead, focused on Northside, Flowered Up and the gloriously named New Fast Automatic Daffodils. All of these bands were a major part of my introduction to the world of indie music thanks to my mate Dave when we were in fifth and sixth year of secondary school.
I can remember sitting on the floor of his bedroom looking at this cover for “Fishes Eyes” and thinking; “I don’t know what this is.” It looked so different to the covers of the Rick Astley albums I owned. I couldn’t figure out whether the band were called “Fishes Eyes” or “New Fast Automatic Daffodils”. Dave told me that nobody was calling them that anyway, apparently everyone was calling them “New Fads”. By everyone Dave meant him, Russell (who also liked something called Fugazi) and his older mate John. Listening to the record was even more bizarre and life changing…it was trippy, hypnotic, weird, unsettling and brilliant all at once. I may not have known what it was but I liked it.
Things move on quickly in the music business and so Madchester is discarded after these tracks to be replaced by the introspective, sullen and diffident pop and rock musings of the shoe gazers. Out go the curtains and bucket hats and in come ludicrously long fringes, shoes and gazing. I never really got the likes of Slowdive and Curve…it all seemed to lack a bit of glamour. Where was the sunsheeine? Couldn’t we have just a little bit of glitter? What about, and I know this goes against the fundamental principles of shoegaze…a hint of melody, something I could dance to?
The first disc finishes off with a quick visit to Rrrrrrrrrriot Grrrrrrrrl and the agit-pop of the likes of Daisy Chainsaw, Voodoo Queens and Cornershop.
This is a very good thing indeed.
Riot Grrrrl was an absolutely essential part of the early nineties music scene, combining radical feminist ideology and punk’s DIY aesthetic the bands produced music that was, at times, brutal, both lyrically and musically but it was also absolutely on point when it came to addressing some of the more unpleasant aspects of the music scene for women; drunken boors grabbing at your body in the pit, tall men deciding that they are going to stand directly in front of you just because, bores and boors looking askance at the very idea of a woman at a gig that involved music being played by men. Not for the riot grrrls…female only gigs, female only mosh-pits, songs that addressed sexism and, shock horror, womens issues!
There is no place for the mighty Huggy Bear on “Lost Alternatives”…not even for “Her Jazz” from “Taking the Rough with the Smooch” which, as everyone knows, is one of the best songs of the nineties but the pain of this terrible omission is soothed by the inclusion of Voodoo Queens and “Supermodel Superficial” which may actually be the best song of the nineties that you haven’t ever heard.
Voodoo Queens were more playful, more humorous and more melodic than some of their contemporaries and their 1994 debut album “Chocolate Revenge” showcased all of those qualities.
Any collection of nineties music that doesn’t include something from Cornershop isn’t worthy of your time or money, thankfully the Lamacq is well aware of this and rounds off disc one with “Waterlogged”, one of the earliest Cornershop tracks from the time when, before anyone else really believed it, were calling Morrissey out for his “views” on race and identity.
There we have it, from the man who would play a key role in promoting and pushing so many of the bands who would come to define nineties popular culture on the “Evening Session” a collection of songs from bands who, because of the juggernaut of Britpop, have, at least in some small part, been unfairly consigned to the dustbin of history. Collected together here though it is possible to reflect, and accept, that there was more to nineties music than the knees up Mother Brown-isms of some Britpop records. Much of what is here is “indie” in a more sincere and honest sense than several of the bands who would lay claim to the label and go on to dominate the charts and the columns of the music press for much of the decade.