Monday, June 27, 2022

retrotalk2022 - bringback culture

 A piece by Rachel Brodsky for Stereogum addressing the Kate Bush "Running Up That Hill" hoo-ha and other signs that "everything old is new again, and everything new is out of luck"

It references the Ted Gioia /Atlantic piece titled “Is Old Music Killing New Music?” from earlier this year (which I discussed / quoted here) and likewise explores the "resurfaced" life of old tunes off the back of TV needledrops, TikTok memificaitons,  the sale of legacy artists's catalogues for "hundreds of millions", the dominance of deep catalogue in streaming stats.

Brodksy writes; "I think what separates earlier instances of “bringback” culture from the one we’re currently in is that this one feels much more permanent. We might see more microtrends b/w/o dance challenges and memes, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that older music is way more accessible for all in 2022 than it was in 1992. That’s why “genre-fluid” musicians such as Billie Eilish, Post Malone, and Lil Uzi Vert have been popping up right and left over the last few years. Today’s popular artist frequently draws influence from across the genre spectrum because they’ve spent their lives immersed in 10 record stores’ worth of material. It used to be that rap producers had to go crate-digging to find obscure funk and soul tracks with which to build a new song. Today, it’s literally never been easier to find old music and treat it as new."

This discourse is itself becoming a kind of revival movement, a deja loop, a groundhog grind!

 I wonder if this creeping anxiety about retro-as-necrosis and Zeitgeist failure will ever fade? 

It's like the collective muscle memory of a generation that still has some faint lingering feeling for ideas like the Next Big Thing, forward-facing movements in music, the supercession of styles and era-epistemes etc. 

But presumably for people who have only ever known atemporality - younger people - these kind of complaints and worries will not compute at all, by a certain point. The past and the present will coexist as this flattened field of stuff to dip into at will. 

Perhaps then, finally, the well of retrotalk will dry up. So there might be a retrotalk2023 series of posts, and retrotalk2024.... But retrotalk2030?


  1. If you would have asked me in 1985, or even 1995, who would be headlining Glastonbury in 2022, I would have tried to have conceived of some unbelievably strange type of music which was just beyond my imagination. There is no way on Earth I would have said Paul McCartney.

    I can actually foresee a future when all these bands are actively competing in the charts again, but in an even more intense, chronologically-desegregated way. Where e.g. "Golden Brown" is vying with "Unfinished Sympathy" to become No.1. This will especially be the case if a cheap, discrete physical product comes into being that has the same function as the 7" single, to make proper charts viable again.

    Would be quite funny if youth cults start to develop that put bands of different eras and different styles together. A scene that is built around Duran Duran and Hawkwind for example, spotting stylistic similarities that were impenetrable to their original audiences.

    The atemporality thing is also reminiscent of how people in places like Japan have consumed Western music for decades already - they are not aware of the all the cultural delineators and taste hierarchies of "sophisticated" Western consumers, and so have always treated Western pop culture as a smorgasbord. Perhaps we are just catching up with the Far East in this sense.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I feel like paragraph three has already been happening in hipster music for a while - someone like Ariel Pink does all these era / genre crossing atemporal hybrids, or alternative-history pop counterfactuals

    And para 4 - well there's actually a whole chapter on Japan in Retromania, about the record collector culture there and the approach to recycling and recombining Western pop and unpop. Not exactly the angle you mention but more like Japan as the hipster vanguard - anticipating how the rest of the world will later learn to process culture.

  4. With Japan there was also this thing in the 1980's and 90's where bands that had been "forgotten" in the rapid-obsolescence pop culture of the UK and US could actively tour there and still be "famous" - bands like The Human League, ABC, etc.

    There was also this thing going on where bands could be more actively commercial, and appear in TV adverts etc. and not be found out, this kind of behaviour being still somewhat taboo in the West. IIRC Iggy Pop did an advert for Suntory Whisky in Japan way back when rock stars just weren't supposed to do that kind of thing.

    The Japanese didn't view what were "old" bands in the West with nostalgia, because they didn't have that inherent notion of obsolescence to being with. I think that is what is happening on in Western culture now - the old bands aren't surviving and thriving out of nostalgia, it is just that the old notion of cultural obsolescence has withered away. This is quite disorientating for those of us who were very invested in that notion!