Britpop is 20 years old, and Kurt Cobain is 20 years dead, and I have specific memories about both those things. But I also, like every other middle-aged man being sold a media package that claims to be his youth, have objections. Britpop was far from everything. It was important – I still remember my brother saying that he didn’t want to live in a world where Blur beat Oasis to number one – but it wasn’t the stream I was swimming in, even as a good Select-buying indie haircut student. Things are left out of the picture.
In Jonathan Lethem’s fantastic The Fortress of Solitude, the narrator is perturbed by the promiscuous rewrite of history on classic radio which pretends that white rock was played next to black funk when, in the 1970s of his boyhood, they were strictly segregated. No sharing of airwaves, no sharing of fans. My problem with the repackaging of the 1990s is the opposite; Britpop is separated, teased out, from the musical landscape that surrounded it. In reality, and in the pages of Select and on its cover-mounted cassettes, Britpop traded tricks with trip-hop and dance-pop and hip-hop and everything else. The Chemical Brothers, in that brief period of being The Dust Brothers, were in the same music collections as Blur and Oasis and Pulp and were part of Britpop. There was no segregation.
The memories of 20 years ago are sparked by this track, in two ways. Specifically by that clattering breakbeat imposed on everything around it, a feature of the early 90s. I first heard it return in Emile Sandé’s Heaven and, music being highly mnemonic, it took me back to feelings, memories of feelings, the social situations the music became part of it. It will happen to you or has happened to you; the rockback sensation of something from your lifetime being revived, of this being the second time around and nobody caring. The breakbeat and its incongruity, the harshness of it over the warmth of the piano and the vocal, shocks the song over the barrier into dance music, into music with a clubland purpose rather than lingering on its own prettiness.
The second way in which it reminds me of the past is that it doesn’t align to a scene. So much didn’t and so much doesn’t. Underworld, the great bridge for me from indie to dance, The Chemical Brothers, Primal Scream, Bjork, Leftfield, Tricky, those acts that had no idea where they stood or what genre they were in. Didn’t care. And we are, in this decade nobody’s yet calling the Teens but will, in a similar moment. The music magazines, whether monthly or weekly, are gone or irrelevant so there’s nobody to police the genre boundaries anymore. Maybe Britpop was the last scene, in that sense; nobody packages music to sell like that anymore.
It was a hard song to place on a compilation – the previous song only made it on to complement this one – because of that failure to fit, the great warm slow piano chords and the insectile beat. And the vocal line seems cut and pasted from somewhere else altogether, beginning by being indulged by the rest of the song, everything else making space for those fantastically long lines, and ending in fragments, snips of voice subsumed by the beat, the pain in the lyrics trampled on, disregarded.
There’s a lot of stuff around that doesn’t fit at the moment. More than usual, to my aged eyes. That pleases me; the maelstrom, the work that eschews classification, is often superior to the work that comes afterwards when the genre’s been defined. When it fades.
Artist: Jakwob featuring Maiday
Compilation: Coyote Summer