Friday, November 25, 2005

The magazine that made the band that changed the way indie kids dressed. Oh and rejuvinated alternative pop music.

Reading the article on the all-new Strokes today made me want to remind everyone just how important they are for alternative pop music today.

Remember 1998-2000? Remember the crap that passed for popular indie music back then? Remember what we wore??!! Jeans you could house a three-generation family under and a hoodie. Stylish. Oasis, Blur and Pulp were dropping off the scene, and in the musical wasteland that ensued (and I'm talking chart indie here, there's always good stuff operating below the radar) emerged nu-metal. How did we let this happen? Linkin Park's 'In The End' was a number 1 hit for goodness sake!

The came The Strokes, and skinny ties were (re)born. Just look how smart indie kids are today - always wearing a suit jacket and white shirt! And a word to Converse - have you ever thanked The Strokes? The huge rise in sales of your All-Stars is ENTIRELY down to them. Musically, they led the 'resurrocktion', as I believe Zane Lowe dubbed it (who, by the way, also owes his job to the Strokes). They paved the way for all the huge indie bands of today and for the fact that rock outsold pop last year. Without the Strokes being big, the White Stripes would never have been big, the Kings of Leons' stupidly young bearded faces would never have graced MTV2 and the Libertines would never have reacted against the American invasion with an album stuffed with glimpses of King Arthur's albion, the Kinks' sunny afternoons and Chas and Dave's... rabbits.

But they couldn't have done it on their own. Even more important than The Strokes is the magazine that made them - NME. Putting some underground, Velvet's-obsessed group from New York on the cover of their magazine after just one single shows how desperate they were to release the world from the grip of nu-metal, and, seeing as though the second single got to No. 16 over here, it's obvious the buying public were getting pretty bored of the Chester Bennington wail too. But it's not just that - the fact is, NME has a monopoly over the taste of the indie-pop youth which verges on brainwash. It wasn't long before the resurrocktion that the Jack White was NME's whipping boy for saying something along the lines of wishing he could have been a black man in the 1930s so he could play the blues properly. How easily we forget. Even writing a song for Coca-Cola can't take away the cool NME has decided he now has.

But maybe the mighty NME's influence is waining - and it's all down to the dear old t'internet. Arctic Monkeys are, apparently, this year's saviour of rock. I think they're pretty boring myself ('you're from Sheffield? Great, me too....'), but try telling that to their 4718 friends on myspace and all those who went out and bought I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor, getting it to number 1. Despite what they might lead you to believe, this had nothing to do with NME, and everything to do with word-of-mouth and internet savviness. The times they are a-changing.


Deano said...

The NME is a horrible, horrible excuse for a magazine though. It's just part of the build-them-up then knock-them-down school of journalism, and the speed at which they've been doing this recently is astounding.

Occasionally the new band they decide to build up is doing something new (or something old - The Strokes as you say. Although at this point in time they were also hyping up The Polyphonic Spree, and seemingly every other band that started with the word "The") but nine times out of ten it's another indie/rock college band with three or more of: singer, gutarist, bassist, drummer, keyboard player.
It's all so depressingly dull and forumlaic, and matters not one jot as six months after building this band up they're tear them back down again.

You're very right about the internet though - bands can be made purely through internet word of mouth these days, there's a couple of other rock examples that I can't remember but at the other end of the musical spectrum GLC owe a large debt to the electric internet.

Me, I'm just happy I no longer have to choose between buying the NME and reading teletext every day just to find out when my favourite bands are touring.

(Oh and 1998-2000 I spent discovering the brilliance of James, since I missed them the first time round. Didn't really listen to many other bands then)

AnnaWaits said...

The NME is awful, and yet I still seem to gravitate towards it every single Wednesday. I think it has improved slightly recently - the Radar new music section is interesting and they seem a bit more open to talk about acts that aren't four skinny guys with guitars. But not that much. They've proclaimed Rufus Wainwright the best songwriter of the generation, but we're not going to see him on the cover are we? Not while Test Icicles or some other flash-in-the-plan are around to be built up.

Paul Fuzz said...

Here's the thing. Like Tescos, or Microsoft, the NME has a complete monopoly over it's particular market, the alt. music weekly, and this is BAD FOR EVERYBODY.It adapted to & survived the Linkin Bizkit wasteland before INVENTING CONVERSE ONE STAR ROCK n ROLL and DESTROYING it's only remaining competitor, Melody Maker. The NME was better at what it did than the other leading brands, and it won out. That's called good business. Fair play to them. But as with any market where one company has total dominance, the (discerning) consumer loses out. Where do you go if you think skinny, jerk-punk chancers suck? Where's the dissenting voice? Where's the alternative to the NME? There isn't one. This is unhealthy; it makes them lazy, unimaginative and conservative. I remember the early 2000's doledrums as well as anybody, but I think the perception of the period as a total bust is innacurate, and plays dangerously into the hands of the NME, whose interest it is in to propgate the idea that we're currently experiencing a 'golden age'. This is fundementally dishonest; I don't remember them throwing their hands up and admitting everything was rubbish at the time. I don't recall their being an editorial apology and a suggestion that I come back in 2 years when the Strokes are around. They were perfectly happy to pretend everything was ace back then, too. What's ironic is that during this time the NME was a far, far more open-minded publication than it is now; as the NME desperately scrambled around to find/invent a bandwagon which could sustain the business they actually mananged to be a reasonably eclectic paper. We had Destny's Child & The Beta Band & The Regular Fries & Gomez & Nas & At The Drive In on the front covers. Maybe you think they all suck, but at least it wasn't a different white guitar band every week. But the NME keep reminding us that before The Strokes turned up EVERYTHING SUCKED, and we should be thankful to The Strokes & the NME for saving us. So here's the thing; if you think we're gonna look back at The Editors or The Paddingtons or The Cribs or Cut Copy or anybody else on the last cover CD they put out any differently to how we look back at Cast or Menswear from the last GOLDEN AGE, then you're very much mistaken. I buy the NME every week, have done for 10 years, and it has never been more self-regarding & arrogent than it is today. After boom comes bust, and I figure we're due one right about now.

AnnaWaits said...

Ah Mr Fuzz, how nice of you to stop by :) I thought you may have a word or two to offer on this subject.

Deano said...

I once read an interesting theory that the NME never actually had a 'golden age' and it's always been shit.
The so called 'golden age' that everyone thinks exists is when they first read it and believed everything it said, before discovering that there's lots more better stuff out there.

Paul Fuzz said...

Howdy blog hombres.
Eyeballed a couple of things in this week's exciting installment of the NME which got me thinking 'bout this whole IS THERE SUCH THING AS AN NME GOLDEN AGE ramalama. Dig it:
1) Singles Of The Year since 1989 list: It's hard to dispute the idea that the NME lost focus in the late 90's in the face of these stats. Singles Of The Year 98-2001: Beastie Boys/Aphex Twin/Eminem/Missy Eliott. Whether you dig these cats or not, you gotta admit they ain't standard NME fare, at least by todays standards. I don't recall Amerie, or even Kanye West, (I might be wrong?) being on the front cover this year, despite the number of NME hacks quoting '1 Thing' in their personal Top 5s. No, no room for RnB or Techno cover-stars this year. b
2) The review of Eminem's 'Curtain Call' Hits comp. Lots of references to Limp Bizkit, Korn, Travis etc. Interesting to note the 'millenial' angle to this, which I'd sorta forgotten about. Much was being made at the time of 'millenium fever' and the idea that pop culture was all used up, that there was NOTHING LEFT TO SAY. The NME reacted to this by throwing its weight behind random genres invented out of thin air (Stool Rock, anyone? Skunk Rock?, desperately trying to get a handle on where THE END OF HISTORY left 'em.

So as to whether that meant that in some perverse way the NME was a better paper, I don't know. What I do know is that at the time there were a lot of complaints on the letters pages from disgruntled indie kids bemoaning the insult of having Destiny's Child on the front cover. I couldn't understand this at the time, and I still don't. As far as I'm aware, the NME has one remit. The coverage of NEW MUSIC. It's right there in the name. They were fulfilling that remit alot better in 2001 than they are now.

Rik said...

As for the Arctic Monkeys, 'Scummy' is a much better song. Though the video for 'I bet...' is nice. The weird thing about British music journalism is: why is it promoting a saviour every year? Is it simply a desire for quantity? Protesting the flood of good (and better) American artists?