Saturday, October 16, 2021

"I have vintage interests, but modern values" - the Nineties time capsule man

 via this Dissensus thread on 'The Meaning of the '90s',  a Daily Mail story about a "retro-obsessed man" who spent "£5,000 transforming his home into a time capsule complete with retro TVs, pine furniture, landline phones and a very chunky laptop.... complete with dated Ikea furniture, VHS players, telephone alarm clocks."

"Jack Walter, 23, from Bakewell, Derbyshire...  even drives a 'G reg' Austin Mini Metro.  The illustrator often scours charity shops and eBay while wearing high-waisted Levi jeans and Sweater Shop jumpers and says he finds comfort in the era and hoped to recreate the 'cosiness' of his parents' house from when he was a child - though he admits people think he's 'mad' for not enjoying the present day.

"And due to living in the countryside, he claims his 90s phone with extendable aerial ensures he gets better signal than his mobile phone.

"'I never really enjoyed modern decorating with all the greys. It didn't have the homey quality, and I wanted to replicate that.

"'When we moved into this current house two years ago, it was super bland and white. 

"Jack loves nothing more than watching TV shows from the era such as Absolutely Fabulous, Men Behaving Badly and The Vicar Of Dibley and 'always' plays his Now That's What I Call Music cassette tapes.

"Other photos show his home full of Ikea catalogues from 1997, old Nokia phones and a bulky, square laptop displaying Windows '95.

"He believes the 90s had the 'perfect balance of enough technology to keep us entertained, but not enough to feel like an overload' - though he admits he has to explain what his VHS tapes are to younger relatives.

"Sharing videos of his time capsule home on TikTok where he 'pretends it's the 90s' has earned him more than 5,000 followers as people have fallen in love with his obsession and he's met other fans.

""I'm probably at the charity shop once every two weeks, and I probably spend about £30 max,' he added.

"'The most expensive item I've probably brought is my 1980s television in my living room. 

"'That was £155. Not that expensive really, but for an old TV, people think I'm mad. A friend told me I probably could have gotten one from the tip.

"''I decided to share my house on TikTok initially because I was bored in lockdown and wanted to have a bit of fun.

"'Then I had a lot of people saying they remembered a lot of the items in my house, and that they feel the same way about the 90s.

"'There was a nice feel to it too, knowing that I'm not a weird person and other people enjoy this stuff too.

"Jack lives in the three-bedroom cottage with his parents and his partner of two years, Matthew Whiting, 28.

"For Jack, who admits he used to get 'funny looks' for wearing his 90s jeans, the decade offers an escape from modern life whilst also accommodating a lot of his interests.

"Jack's phone is pictured. He says 'I love my home telephone. I live out in the sticks, so I get awful mobile phone signal. A home telephone works for me

"Jack said: 'In the 1990s, we had enough technology to keep us entertained, but not enough to feel like an overload. Now we have so many different media outlets that it can get a little overwhelming. It's nice to have an escape from that.

"'I have my old television hooked up to an Apple TV which is hidden around the back. I have loads of old taped TV programs on YouTube.

"'But I also enjoy videos of series like Absolutely Fabulous, Men Behaving Badly and The Vicar Of Dibley.

"'At a push, I'd say my favourite item is probably my radio-alarm clock-telephone. It's very mundane, but I always feel a bit glam taking calls from my bedroom.

" 'I love 90s music. I always play the Now That's What I Call Music cassette tapes from 1998 to 1999. It's very 'Mum music'.

"'I obviously love the Spice Girls too - Gerri Halliwell being my favourite.

"'I'd say that any point between 1996 and 1999 is my favourite era for decor and music.

"'It's an escape from the modern world. Some people go to the gym, some play video games, this is my thing.

"'My partner is massively into video games, so he has all the original Nintendo consoles. We overlap in our interests there, so that's nice.'

"Jack said: 'I usually get one of three reactions from people when they come around and see my house.

"'There'll be some people who get nostalgic and remember things from my house from living through the 1990s.

"'Then you get people like my niece. She's only young so it's all new to her and she didn't believe that my phone or telephone worked. I had to explain to her what a VHS was.

"'And I get some people who walk in and don't get it at all. They think I'm mad, and they'll ask why I'm not enjoying what we have now.

"'They'll say that I should buy new things as they're better quality. In my opinion, it's cheaper for me to live like this and everything in my house has a story. They last a lot longer too.

"'I'll have some people online who will tell me it's not accurate. They'll say 'That TV is from the 80s, it's not 90s'. I think people forget that back in the day, people bought things to last.'

"Jack said: 'I do get some funny looks when I'm out dressed in a 40-year-old Sweater Shop jumper.

"'Some fashion trends from the 90s are coming back around, whilst others aren't. I've had people say to me 'It looks like your jeans are back in fashion', because when everyone was wearing skinny jeans, I was wearing high-waisted Levi's. People thought I was a bit weird for doing that.

"There's definitely a lot of people online who share my interests. I even met a mate online who has a house that is completely 70s.

"'I know I probably wouldn't have fit in during the 90s though. Being a gay man and having no internet, I probably wouldn't have met my partner. Gay men weren't portrayed in the media at all.

"'I have vintage interests, but modern values.' 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

pre-echoes of Retromana (3 of ??)

(This was the title I submitted the piece under - the Graun used something else)


The Guardian (1990)

by Simon Reynold

 "1990: A New Decade". So proclaimed the title of the second Soul II Soul album earlier this summer. But just as much as being the year of the Manchester explosion and the indie/dance crossover groups, of a new vibrancy and a sense of anticipation in the UK pop scene, 1990 has also been the year of... just about every other year in pop history.

     Launched last month, new rock monthly Vox is a concerted and calculated attempt to lock into the retro-Zeitgeist. Like its rival Select (which was launched earlier in the summer), Vox is aimed at a "twentysomething" market midway between the highly-committed, gig-going readership of the weekly music press, and the sedentary, partially-lapsed, semi-detached rock fans who read Q. Q's constituency is those who want to read about 'dinosaur bands' (Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Phil Collins, Clapton etc) who are still "going strong" in their third decade.  Vox, on the other hand, is less concerned with "living institutions" than with relics: the myths, memorabilia, and above all highly collectable music of Rock's Glory Years.

 Vox is targetted at a readership that divides its time equally between stockpiling the past pinnacles of rock history and keeping abreast of the latest developments.  Each issue of Vox contains a "free" magazine called "Record Hunter", which is aimed at the trainspotter types that are the backbone, the silent mediocrity, of the music press readership: collectors, curators, completists, fact-compilers. "Record Hunter" includes such anal retentive treats as: guided tours of the collections of stars (this month, the Jesus and Mary Chain) who are fanatics themselves; a paean to the collectability and "audiophile" quality of Japanese pressings;histories of the Two Tone label and The Doors' first year;comprehensive reviews of the latest reissues; a guide to record fairs; a column where readers write in with queries about discographies and related trivia.

     If this wasn't enough, the main body of "Vox" displays a pronounced retro-warp. The first issue contains: a completist's appetite-whetter of an article on legendary "lost albums" (e.g. The Beach Boys "Smile", Prince's "Black Album", Bruce Springsteen's electric version of 'Nebraska); a beginner's guide to blues pioneer Robert Johnson; a piece about Bob Dylan's eccentric studio behaviour based around anecdotes related by his former collaborators; Part One of a 'cut out and keep' Encyclopaedia of Rock; classic shots of The Stones and The Clash; 50 Things You Never Knew A James Dean.

     For those of you thought rock'n'roll was all about the exhiliration of living in the present tense, about cutting loose from the ties of the past and burning up like there's no tomorrow, all this necrophilia might seem like the final proof of rock's advanced state of rigor mortis.  But the makers of 'Vox' have shrewdly grasped the fact that there's a substantial market of young rock fans who feel they've got a lot of catching up to do. For neophyte rock consumers, the 10 or so outstanding records of each new year, compete with the 10 "classics" of each of the 30 years of pop history. The present just can't compete with the past. Not only is it outnumbered, but it is fighting a losing battle with more exciting eras, periods when rock seemed to be in some kind of direct altercation with the outside world.  Consumers who invest heavily in old Stones, Hendrix or Velvet Underground records are buying into myth: they are pledging allegiance to a golden age when rock seemed transformative or subversive rather than simply self-reflexive.

     For all the rhetoric about a New Age, a new "positivity" and hope for the future, 1989 and 1990 have been dominated by the "re"prefix. There have been REformations: Crosby Stills Nash, The Allman Brothers, The Buzzcocks, The Byrds, The Turtles, rumours of Velvet Underground and Stooges REunions, plus David Bowie's Greatest Hits tour.  There have been REturns to form by old codgers and spent forces: Brian Wilson, Neil Young, Lou Reed and John Cale, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead.  There's been REtrospection: a series of tribute albums to artists like Hendrix, Young, The Stones, Byrds, or labels like Elektra, with their classic songs being covered by young bands.  Every year sees a fresh spate of anniversaries with their attendant glut of memoirs, biographies, documentaries and biopics. Above all there's the fact that back catalogue classics, RE-issued obscurites, and "best of" compilations (e.g. Led Zeppelin and Simple Minds' upcoming deluxe editions) now account for a hefty proportion of record sales.

     Even dance music, allegedly the most happening sector of the UK dance scene, relies to a  disproportionate degree on cover versions of classics. In the last month alone, the charts has harboured Adamski's version of "All Shook Up", Soup Dragons' cover of The Stones' "I'm Free", Bombalurina's "Itshy Witsy Polka Dot Bikini", Lindy Layton's "Silly Games", Beats International's "Just Be Good To Be Me", ad nauseam.  Even Happy Mondays, who have many claims to being the most "contemporary" and "street credible" band of the day, had their first big hit with a cover of the Seventies boogie stomper "Step On You Again", while their next single is a version of Donovan's "Colours".

     Of course, the REworking and REmotivation of elements of its own history, has long been the name of the game in pop, and goes back at least as far as Bowie's glam post-modernism in the early Seventies. But now it's the norm, oppressively.  Virtually all new groups invite you to play the reference game.  The only scope for originality lies in the use of recondite source material, or incongruous juxtapositions.  At best, this can be witty and moving: e.g the David Lynch-esque retro-nuevo rock'n'roll of The Pixies, or Primal Scream's "Loaded" (a cross between "Sympathy For The Devil" and house). At worst, the stench of deja vu is overpowering.   

Of course, for young recruits to the ranks of pop consumerism, the appeal of rock's past isn't nostalgia, because they were only a twinkle in their parents' eyes at the time. The past is just one of a range of options that the record industry profitably services, as part of the new "boutique" approach to record retailing (a plethora of genres and taste publics rather than a mainstream).  Magazines like Vox are designed to be handy consumer guides through this post-modern 'mire of options', where the great anxiety is to avoid missing out on any source of pleasure, past or present.

    Vox reflects the fact that rock has degenerated into something to collect, something to document, rather than an ongoing cultural project. Rock is dying of CONSUMPTION.  There's a vast heap of stuff to check out, get into, purchase, but what's been lost is a sense of the big picture, of meaning and direction. Rock is disappearing up its own back passages. For good?

Monday, October 4, 2021

pre-echoes of Retromania (2 of ??)


(from 2001, Unfaves,  off the old website A White Brit Rave Aesthete Thinks Aloud)

I was enjoying the Avalanches show at SOBs, NYC, late 2001: not the full band playing live, but the two DJs doing their mesh-it-up back-2-back across four (or was it six?) turntables thingy. Really enjoying it, actually, but somehow through the pleasure I could sense what I can only describe as "lameness on the horizon". The set was consistently surprising and clever, full of delightfully incongruous-yet-apt juxtapositions and montages, all executed with consummate turntablist skill. You couldn't help smiling when "Like A Rolling Stone" surfaced out of the midst of some banging house track, like nothing could be more natural.

But as I say, there was something vaguely disquieting at the back of it, a premonition of disappointment, ennui, sort of "is that all there is?" mixed with "how much longer can this kind of thing carry on being exciting/worthwhile/surprising." At the end of the day, everybody's got cool records, everybody's got interesting taste and provocative ideas about links and secret connections. (Well, not everybody, perhaps-- but most people I know, and most people reading this, I suspect). In a certain sense, everybody could do what The Avalanches do--maybe not with anything approaching their degree of flawless dexterity, but then again, seamlessness is over-rated, donchathink?.

I felt a similar split response to Gold Teeth Thief, DJ Rupture's highly-regarded three-turntable mix-CD, which mashes up a taste formation that's right on the money vis-a-vis my personal audio-erogenous zones (post-Timbaland R&B, street rap, dancehall) spiced up with some Ambush-style splatterbreaks and bhangra for nice non-obviousness. It's a great selection, and technically dazzling, but once again, doesn't quite transcend the hey-I've-got-some-wicked-tunes-wanna-hear-em? syndrome. (Coldcut's celebrated Journeys By DJ mix-CD of many seasons ago, always left me underwhelmed for similar reasons. i.e. the ultimate lameness of "eclectic" as concept/praise word).

Sort of on the same tip, and inducing a similar ambivalence, are all those Kid606-and-friends homage-through-defacement/dismemberment jobs on Missy Elliott, NWA etc: these are well-intended expressions of genuine enthusiasm for mainstream black pop, and because that music is often underestimated and patronised within IDM circles, there's a certain heretical-polemical edge to these releases. And yet in the end all they're really saying is we really REALLY like these Missy Elliott records. Plus there's a certain pathos to the tribute-cum-desecrations: if only we could be this cool, if only we could pull off the avant-garde yet massively popular/potent balancing act too.
Now wouldyabelieveit, in the interval between starting Unfaves early in the New Year and actually completing the bugger, an entire subculture, nay movement, has sprung up that gives my premonition of lameness-on-the-horizon all-too-solid form. I'm talking about the bootleg/"bastard pop" craze, of course.

Well, that was my initial knee-jerk reaction, and having checked out some of them, it's only been slightly tempered: reams of poor man's plunderphonia, cackhanded and so-very-far-from-alchemy (ie. the kind of transubstantiation which the Avalanches's actual album achieves), leavened by the occasional mass-cult chimera (The Normal + Missy Elliott = Girls On Top's "Warm Bitch") that sounds genuinely striking and even makes an interesting meta-pop critique by linking two apparently remote yet secretly compatible artists.

It's tempting to speculate wildly on the phenomenon. Bootlegging as the expression of subconscious ressentiment on the part of the peon-like punter, a desire to somehow cut down to size the tyrannical uber-pop that invades our consciousness, literally fucking with it by forcing pop stars into kinky congress (a preview of the inevitable D-I-Y movie-remixes to come: Cameron Diaz fisting Brad Pitt while he reams a donkey, etc). Bootlegging as a reversal of the monologic vertical structure of the music industry: the force-fed consumer answering back, with regurgitation. Or (a more positive punk interpretation, this) bootlegging as an attempt to participate in pop, which is otherwise delivered from on high, totally out of reach and inaccessible; the DIY impulse achieving that million-dollar sound the only way it can, theft.

Actually, the fad seems driven by little more than the age-old phenomenon of fandom: people who like music, all sorts of music, and the only way they can think to express that all-gates-open (a nice way of saying "uncritical"?) enthusiasm is through arranging it into different patterns, except now they have the technology to do it in a much more extreme way, and live in a time more inundated by pop past and present than ever. Bootleg as more compressed form of the mix-tape-for-your-mate, in other words. Take Osymyso's "Intro Inspection"--a witty and expertly executed montage of hundreds of famous pop intros, from "The Message" to "Love Cats", Sinatra to Spice Girls. It is possibly the zenith of the bootleg phenomenon, if only because in 12 minutes it manages to cram in all the enjoyment and all the incipient-lameness-ahoy! that the Avalanches DJs mustered across a three hour set. It's impossible to listen to "Intro Inspection" without a fat grin creasing your face for most of its duration, and also impossible (for me at least) to not feel a certain shame tainting the glee. Cos that Cheshire grin is a smile of recognition ("oh, yeah that's X... isn't that Y... ah!...nice!"...) and as sensations-that-pop-music-can-induce go, it's all a bit cosy and self-congratulatory and selling yourself short.

Not wishing to resurrect some ancient notion of creativity ex nihilo, but underlying and unifying all the above, I sense a tendency towards entropy: indistinctness, inertia, ultimately indifference. Whether it's good (Since I Left You) or bad (most bootlegs), what we're witnessing is the kind of sonic grand bouffe only possible during a late era. Could it be that the age of retro-mania/file-sharing/sampladelia--where time has effectively been abolished--enables us to use the abundance of the past to obscure the failings and lacks of the present? Well, it's a thought...


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

NOW-ism - Nik Cohn and George Melly's thoughts on youth culture

from Nik Cohn's Today There Are No Gentlemen, a shadow history of social change in the UK as reflected in men's clothing

cf this earlier post about George Melly's Revolt into Style and youth culture's NOW-ism


What I commented then

When a few years ago I first read these passages from George Melly's Revolt Into Style -- specifically
 the lines about pop culture being "the country of 'Now'" and the insistence that youth “denies having any history. The words 'Do you remember' are the filthiest in its language" , but the other stuff too, pages of it -- I thought, "yes, yes, this is me, this is where I'm coming from".was written in the late Sixties (seemingly between the end of 1966 and early 1968)  * so it's about the Sixties, with a little bit on the Fifties-as-Sixties-prequel, the lead up to the Sixties. And really it's about the early-to-mid Sixties: that neophiliac surge,  1963-1967, the youth-affluence-confidence drive to jettison-the-imperial-British-past (the Victoriana and Edwardiana of psychedelia is not nostalgic, Melly argues convincingly but blithely iconolastic, making a merry nonsense of jingoism and propriety and stiff 'n' starched formality - that's the meaning of the Lord Kitchener poster, the brass bed-frame wheeled around London in The Knack, shops like Granny Takes A Trip and I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet).

Born in 1963, I assimilated all this through my pores as a small kid, as sense-impressions, absorbing by osmosis the cultural-myth-in-process -- Beatles movies on TV , "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "All You Need Is Love" and "I Am the Walrus" heard on the radio, mini-skirts and hot pants and hippie hair in the streets, Dee Time on teevee. And then in the Seventies I  solidified and fortified this ideology through my pre-teen and early teen cultural choices: Monty Python and satire of various kinds;  science fiction of the New Worlds / inner space kind. Comedy (the post-Goons, absurdist-surrealist-taboo-busting kind I gravitated towards) and the mind-expanding and consciousness-raising sort of s.f. (i.e. anti-fantasy, the absolute opposite of sword'n'sorcery Tolkien-in-space) were both part of the same Liberation current in which music played such a huge and central role during the Sixties.

And then when I got into music, it was the renovated version of that ideology (postpunk ) that I embraced, while equally discovering and exploring the Sixties as very recent and still to some extent unfolding history (I devoured Playpower, The Making of a Counterculture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition, The Dialectic of Sex, Life Against Death and Love's Body, Leaving the 20th Century: The Incomplete Work of the Situationist International, The Female Eunuch, Bomb Culture, etc etc... watched If... etc etc...   listened to The Doors, the Stones, and now with conscious ears, The Beatles).

A child, a creature, of the Sixties -- that's me.

There are those now who would say the ideas and the ideals, the epistemic horizon of thought and sensibility, represented by that vague term "the Sixties" (really a blurry longer period from the mid- Fifties through to the mid Seventies, with its after-echoes and resurgences that  include postpunk, bliss-rock, and rave), they would say it was all illusion, all delusion. Unrealistic. The cultural superstructure to an unsustainable substructure of prosperity and growth fueled by cheap energy and big-spending governments dedicated to long term exploratory projects.  A bubble.

But for better or worse, it's been the wind beneath my wings, the energy that has propelled me through all I've done.  It's my make-up, my make-believe. Too late to get off that bus now.  The process of identity-formation is complete!

I do wonder what generative power the current "everything is a remix"/"nothing new under the sun" episteme will prove to have over the long term -  rooted as it is in an insidious downscaling-of-expectations, an implicit defeatism. Recycling might be sound and sensible, but it doesn't promise to be spectacular.

* Of course Melly is "wrong", in the sense that his insistence that pop is inherently anti-nostalgic and intrinsically forward-looking / present-focused would be disproved very soon indeed. His "country of Now" claim in Revolt Into Style is deployed again the section on trad jazz, which he argues was never  a true pop phenomenon, despite its exuberant energy and informality,  because a/ it wasn't the exclusive property of youth and b/ it was a a revival. But by the time Revolt gets into the bookshops, pop is deep into its own revival - the Fifties rock'n'roll revival -- proving that pop has an inherent capacity to fold back on itself, succumb to nostalgia for its own youth, the era of its emergence.  Melly didn't see that coming. (Nor did he envsion the "historical turn" represented by The Band, Fairport Convention, et al - where the past is not turned into a plaything, but is taken seriously).  Nonetheless I think Melly is right to identify the Now!ist, neophiliac, generative-not-reiterative side of pop's soul as its primary motor. Certainly the  righteous side of its soul, the side worth siding with.


The full pages from Nik Cohn's Today There Are No Gentlemen