How Bands Are Sleepwalking Through The 80s

Glo-fi? Skweee? Sissy bounce? Pah. Here’s a far more pretentious genre name to drop: hypnagogic pop.

Coined in an exhaustingly high-minded article by Wire mag writer David Keenan, hypnagogic pop refers to the practice of taking 80s pop songs, slowing them down, and refashioning them as hypnotic drones.

It’s essentially 1980s-inspired psychedelia, and its aim is to evoke that fuzzy dreamstate in which you listened to the radio as a child, as chart hits reached you, muffled, through your bedroom wall.

Obviously it sounds like a ludicrous hipster hoax – the kind of thing Nathan Barley might fall for (“keep it hypnagogic, yeah?”) and I’m not pretending it’s a massive mainstream deal. Come Father’s Day, you’re unlikely to see a TV-advertised 3CD box set entitled The Best Hypnagogic Album In The World… Ever!

But it’s a real thing, sure enough. Standard-bearers for the scene include Nite Jewel, Ariel Pink, Pocahaunted, Emeralds, Gigantic Spunkbubble (one of these may have been made up).

You’ll be familiar with the concept if you’ve heard Washed Out’s ‘Feel It All Around’, which is basically the first ten seconds of 10cc’s ‘I’m Not In Love’ (OK, technically that song’s from the ’70s) as heard from inside a flotation tank filled with cotton buds. It’s also a slowed-down version of this obscure track from 1983.

There’s a playlist here in case you still think we’ve made it up. Because it does sound spurious, I admit. But I’d also argue that hypnagogic pop (and bear with me here), is – for better or worse – the most representative music of our times.

After all, consuming popular culture in 2010 can seem like a waking dream of your ’80s youth. There’s the ubiquity of synth-pop, obviously (La Roux, Hurts etc), but also the endless remakes – The A-Team and Karate Kid at the cinema, Doctor Who on TV, the rise of retrogaming.

The album of the moment, Arcade Fire’s ‘The Suburbs’, is filled with longing for a vanished ’80s childhood. Nostalgia is now so pervasive – a pseud might call it the defining aesthetic of our age – we’ve started to feel affection for things we never even liked in the first place. Zola Jesus, who does a nice line in Xeroxing ’80s goth, calls it an “artificial state of nostalgia for the decade”.

I’ve noticed this at club nights such as Yacht Rock, but also at festivals – tents full of people screaming, bug-eyed, along to Meat Loaf, Don Henley, Bonnie Tyler. What do these songs have in common? Chuff all, except for the fact they remind us of being young.

Those old tunes elicit a sort of hazy, non-specific elation, and it’s interesting how a song can transform from something you once loathed as a 10-year-old into something that, as an adult, leaves you quivering with dewy-eyed sentiment.

What hypnagogic pop does is take 80s music and strip it of context, meaning, politics, leaving only a woozy, heavy-eyelid ambience. If it had an defining mood, it’d be that of lying on your back, watching clouds scud across a Superman-blue sky.

In that sense it chimes with other trends at the moment, chiefly the return of slacker, and the rise of beatifically blank acts such as Wavves.

There’s something a bit weird about this, grown men and women whose music summons the urge either to a) get stoned and trail your toes in a swimming pool, or b) be a pyjama-clad child bedding down after watching Ghostbusters.

But it’s understandable too. Faced with the big bad world, it’s a natural instinct: to want to snuggle down in your memories, blanketed in a half-remembered dreamworld, aching for an eternal summer that never was.

Someone ought to write a song about it. Or, if that’s too much like hard work, find an existing song from the 80s and remix that.