This week's theme was chosen by Dave who, like me, is pining a bit for our ace student days again, but he's whining like a bitch about it whereas I am being a man and handling it with a quiet grace.
Week 2: British Indie 2002-2007
2002-2007 spanned almost our entire teenage lives - ages 14-19 - and so it a pretty important time for emotional growth blah blah blah. The picture is from back in our first year of Uni; I'm the blonde lad who looks a bit special and Dave is the creep in the foreground. We'd been to a You Say Party! We Say Die! / Los Campesinos! gig and the band were DJing afterwards in a local club called the Cooperage, which is a very narrow, very tall and very old building down on the Quayside - or was, until local residents complained about "noise pollution" and had it shut down. Cunts. Anyways, literally the only people there were us and the bands. We got really drunk, Dave became a Ninja, and him and Jez told the lead singer of Los Camp! he was an emo and to get a haircut; he did and wrote a blog about it. Bloody emo.
Anyways, me & Dave have each done a ten-track mix (I can't be arsed to do tracklistings, yo'll have to read the essay Dave has written), both of which approach the theme from very different angles.
My teenage years were a happy time, a time when post-punk revival guitar bands roamed the earth. Me & my mates would have houseparties - which basically consisted of drinking Fosters and dancing around like tits while singing like lads. So it's only fair that my mix reflects that - so I'm more than happy to include demos & early tracks from the likes of Bloc Party, Arctic Monkeys, The Rakes, Franz Ferdinand, The Cribs et al. A better time? One that I certainly miss, but one which I am also happy to have grown out of (there's that emotional growth shiznit again!) - the post-punk revival allowed me to discover the original post-punk. Anyways, it's nice to reminisce. Enjoy.
I hate to say it, but the truth of the matter is that the Yanks have us licked. From the noise-pop emanating from LA to Brooklyn's psychedelia, the music, both in terms of breadth and volume, pouring out of the US has come to dominate the twilight throes of the noughties. And what's more, the prognosis remains bleak. The UK dithered too long in the post-punk revival sparked by the "new rock revolution" and when it eventually emerged, bloody and bruised, it found that a new wave of synth-pop bands had stolen its car and was sleeping with the missus.
Just how did it come to this? It's especially sad, as at one point, it looked like we might be developing the closest thing a national scene has come to self-sufficiency since the dawn of the internet. Thus, my mixtape focuses on an important and tumultuous time for the British indie scene, but one that will no doubt be forgotten when the era is reviewed in decades to come. I'm talking about the bright young things that made up the class of '05.
While angular guitar bands continued to dominate during the period, it was clear they'd reached their zenith, and that it was mostly downhill from there. That's not to say that successful developments stopped being made, hence the presence of Maximo Park and Good Shoes on the mix, just that the initial explosion of frenetic energy that characterised England, and London especially, at the start of the decade, launching bands such as The Libertines and Bloc Party had all but dissipated. Swagger and pomp had returned to rock, pushed it further towards the mainstream and, like it had done before, made a lot of people very bored, very quickly. Albion? Arcadia? Band of the people? The dream had died, the entrails picked over and smeared across the tabloid headlines as the new indie struggled to keep for itself what it had created and worried over the morals of even attempting just that.
Oh well, whatever, waa waa waa. Taking inspiration from New York's understated but over-publicized anti-folk scene, and with Thamesbeat’s urn under one arm, a clutch of singer-songwriters got ready to save England. They very nearly managed it, too. Nearly. Y'see one of the problems with the bright young things of '05, was that the operative word was definitely 'young'. The manic British press had been steadily working itself up about the most youthful artists they could find for quite some time, no bad thing in itself. I'm all for celebrating youth and all that, but the British press, in their hurry to observe everything, often end up crafting as well as just looking and it has proved time and time again to birth something that is essentially unsustainable.
Now, here's the point, many have cited the youth of British artists as the reason the vast majority of them fail to achieve longevity, but this isn't the case. It's because they're not allowed to grow up properly. Far from being overly cynical, as many have accused the various magazines of being, they actually placed too much faith in those 17-year olds. They play a few gigs, upload a few scratchy demos, and the blogosphere starts to rustle. The gigs start to fill up, all fine and dandy, but suddenly one over-zealous NME journo shows up and the next thing you know, Kate Nash is signed to a major.
After the resulting exploitation happens, and albums are showered in gloss they didn’t need, it's really very difficult to persuade people that these guys were any good, ever. But they were. In those original demos lay the strength and the advantage these artists had with their youth, their happiness at being able to play songs, the exuberance of sincerity and the distilling of that already-present accented singing really made them look like the future. This reads like an epitaph, but really, not one of them actually survived the attention they got with their souls fully intact. No respectable music fan will now admit being a fan of Jack Penate or Kate Nash, but there really was a time when they weren't bent over.
For me, that little epoch represents the best that England produced during the period these mixes are covering, a true representation of the youth of the day, whatever they went on to (fail to) achieve, I'll remember them as the people they should've been.
Emmy the Great, whose slow-burning, cautious attitude towards 'the biz' saved her from the majority of the damage contributes the XFM version of 'Two Steps Forward'. A showcase of her hyper-literate song-writing, the lyrics sum up for me (I'll admit in a rather self-satisfied manner), what exactly the problem was. Jack Penate, much maligned for his white-boy reggae influences similarly contributes an XFM session song in the form of 'Torn On The Platform', a tune in which you can tell he really meant it, despite the dreadful lyrics (as ever, Jack). Los Campesinos!, whose debut possibly suffered the most at the hands of over-production have the demo version of 'You Throw Parties, We Throw Knives', possibly the biggest statement of wanton, joyous intent (or lack thereof?), any of the groups managed to produce. Jamie T, despite being a Wimbledon trustafarian to his core displays great self-awareness in his cover of Bragg's 'A New England' somehow reinventing the sacrosanct blue-collar anthem by barely changing it. Laura Marling's delicate re-working of Dylan's 'Lay Lady Lay', 'Tap At My Window', which was sodomized beyond belief when it resurfaced on her debut appears here in its wonderful original form, as heard on her debut EP. Good Shoes' 'Morden' and Maximo Park's 'The Coast Is Always Changing' show that if more bands had just thought before they spoke (ahem), the post-punk revival could have truly achieved something great. 'We Dress Up Like Snowmen' and 'Big House' by The Wave Pictures and Thom Stone respectively, represent artists that kept their dignity only because the scene collapsed before anyone had noticed them. And The Maccabees, the one band to truly thrive (for one album at least), lend their most representative song 'First Love', to a mix that celebrates naivety, grass-roots musicians and, more than anything else, the sheer elation of being young with all the excitement, foibles and worries that it brings.
I have one final thought, and it's a depressing one. When the all-too-shiny official releases from these artists brought down the very thing they had sought to prove, they did more damage than even I initially thought. It is now virtually impossible to find a great deal of the rough demo and session material that represents the 'golden' period, searching the internet for it will merely bring up the newer, more sterile, versions. When I started ear-marking songs for this mix in my head, there were a number that I then subsequently, simply could'’t find. So wherever you are, Kate Nash demos, Jeremy Warmsley 7” tracks, Simon Mastrantone originals and practically every track by O Lousy Tired Gal, may you rest in peace.