Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Retromania Revival !

There's been something of a spate of pieces on retro in pop culture in recent weeks and months  - Lauren Cochrane's thing on "old school", the "does dance music have a problem with nostalgia" piece,  from earlier in the year this NPR one on "Pop's New Old Sound: Retro Without Rules", others I'm struggling to remember...  And now this one from Cuepoint / Medium by one DJ Louie XIV, titled "Pharrell, Bruno Mars and The Age of Pastiche Pop".

It's a decent effort, and  also has the decency to quote me (as indeed most of these pieces do, either from the book or approaching me direct for soundbites). 

Nonetheless, and ironically, it does have a little bit of the air of the retread about it, let's be honest. Recapitulating points in the book or in the articles I wrote around the book. 

But I suppose - and I'm repeating myself here too - this is where we are at: deadlock. The same conditions persist; the same critiques get run and rerun.  

One interesting thing alluded to in the DJ Louie XIV piece that was new to me was this keynote speech lecture given by Malcolm McLaren at the Handheld Learning Conference, not long before his death (his last public talk, in fact). Titled "Reflections on Learning", it riffs on what he calls Karaoke Culture - i.e the practices of recycling, reenactment, parody, fan-fiction, mash-up....   

Techniques, McLaren notes wryly and dryly, that are "all unencumbered by the messy process of creativity". 

Interesting that McLaren refloats the concept of authenticity as the opposite of all that recreativity cack:

"It's about discovering, I suppose, something that is real - that can only be achieved through a struggle - that adores, romanticizes, and  actually makes that 'messy process' a romantic and noble pursuit"  

McLaren explicitly connects Karaoke Culture's "everything is for sale" worldview with the attempts of Tony Blair to "rebrand" the U.K.   

Recreativity as the noncultural or anticultural superstructure to Third Way managerialism / finance capital 's substructure.  

Both equally vaporous. Simulacrum, through and through.

"Authenticity" -  and I've been saying this for years on the other blog - is a concept that "we" are all too educated and self-conscious to have any truck with...  I remember being embarrassed by the concept and repelled by the word (authentick - yuck!) in all its earnest dourness back in the 1980s.... But it is nonetheless an indispensable concept.... a concept, that far from being on its last legs, is going to have a comeback. 


  1. I'll just quote myself here I think. This was from a month or so back:
    'This seems to be going over old ground that perhaps you have covered yourself Simon, doncha think? Nostalgia for articles about nostalgia for articles about nostalgia.'

    Are we not only condemned for all eternity to repeat, rehash and revive ideas in music, fashion, art, architecture, furniture etc. but now we're also repeating ideas on the analysis of the malaise of ideas of revivals. The revival analysis spiral.

  2. So you're repeating yourself, I'm repeating myself, these writers are repeating me to one degree or another - a vicious cycle of redundancy.

    But in a sense an apt parallel - wheels churning in mud, unable to get purchase and get out of ditch - for the paralysis seen elsewhere in society and politics. Viz, the general election in the U.K., the same battle lines as in the 90s, 80s, 70s... the same underlying intractably pitted interest groups and inertial attitudes and divisive issues (public spending, devolution and Scottish nationalism, Europe - In or Out?, immigration).

    Pundits irresistibly comparing the results to 1992, or 1983...