Mark, My Words: from Britpop to ‘landfill indie’, the lockdown is forcing us to face our musical pasts

The algorithms relentlessly parade 'best bits' from our glory days. It's tempting to be embarrassed, but don't disown the songs that made you smile

Cometh the crisis, cometh the man. And that man, as always, is Johnny Borrell, riding a dark horse out of time’s swirling mists to remind us all of the unfading pleasures of necking cheap Merlot miniatures – oh, lost nectar of the gods! – until 3am in the Hawley Arms in 1998.

The saviour we’ve been waiting for, he unleashed a 10-year-old unreleased Razorlight song called ‘Burn Camden Burn’ this week: “Camden Town, burn it down…I’m gonna watch it all burn” he sings, like a mocking letter, written in ash, that the evil Camden Market arsonist of 2008 might have sent to the stumped detective on his trail.

“Camden is memories of speed, heroin and people in bad make-up,” he told NME of his experiences there as a teenager, posing the question: was he even at the same Camden Town as me? I remember Camden in 1998 as being about 98 per cent Wannadies.

Advertisement

At the same time, my Facebook timeline fills with days upon days of my friends’ top 10 formative albums posted without any explanation (thank god), my Twitter feed with people reminiscing along to classic records in Tim Burgess’s virtual vinyl den and my waking nightmares with indie ‘all-stars’ doing a charity Gal Gadot all over Shed Seven’s ‘Chasing Rainbows’, seemingly in aid of the NHS department heroically treating the most debilitating cases of lockdown hair. Valiant work all round, obviously, but all part of the current, relentless series of blasts from the past (not least to the days when our health service was funded well enough not to have to rely on the couch-sprawled efforts of Northern Uproar).

Lockdown has become a near constant barrage of nostalgia. Understandable really, since everything is nostalgia now. Remember pubs? Ticket barriers? Trousers? Friends? Our glory days are so recent that the STDs are still to kick in. I find myself pining for the halcyon days of early February, when Britain was merely skipping happily towards a pointless and self-defeating economic catastrophe, and wasn’t yet clapping dutifully along to an intentional nationwide eugenics experiment that’s horrifying the entire world outside of our North Korea-worthy propaganda machine. And when Piers Morgan was still wrong about everything.

When the future is so uncertain, it’s only natural to escape into happier history. That’s why Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties are such a communal pleasure, and why I welcome Borrell reminding me that, though I might not have set Camden aflame with my deranged hedonistic outbursts in 1998, I certainly gave it an inexplicable limp. But there’s a more insidious factor at work too, turning lockdown into a period of enforced reflection, a re-evaluation of our lives so far, like prison or self-isolating with Louis Theroux.

See, the algorithm has our name, number, age, weight, voting tendencies and pornographic peccadillos logged. It knows how many Arctic Monkeys songs you can name from emojis alone, and don’t think it isn’t talking to Spotify about you behind your back. The more we nuzzle into its welcoming electronic snuggle-onesie in these isolated times, the more it subliminally feeds us what it thinks we should want. And with society ground to a halt, lockdown has forced the internet to show its hand, blow its entire data load. It can no longer say ‘This is what you should be’, or ‘This is what you should think’, but only ‘This is what you were’.

Hence, we’re being relentlessly confronted online with our more ignominious pasts, in deeply unflattering lights. Snow Patrol kitchen livestreams, Baz from The Fratellis miming the ‘Chasing Rainbows’ guitar solo on a bass, rediscovered Oasis demos that sounded a whole lot better before I listened to them. As the musical greats put off their big new releases for more tour-friendly times, the  one night stands we’d rather forget have come out of the woodwork en masse to fill their space in the spotlight. And the internet, with so little else to churn out, is showing every one of us what it thinks we think are the ‘best bits’ of our sonic youths and demanding we rate our experience out of five.

Judging by the content directed at me these past six weeks, I’d give my life two-and-a-half stars. Yes, I can name all of those sub-par Britpop bands from their logo font. Yes, I can complete all of those Bloodhound Gang lyrics. I’ve been haunted by my lifelong tendency to chase the rush of the new, because the new very quickly becomes old, then chronically unfashionable, then faintly embarrassing.

Advertisement

Even reconnecting with old rock mates over Zoombooze comes with a sting of sonic shame. In video reunions for noughties NME staffers, we jovially chastise ourselves at our mutual responsibility for ‘landfill indie’, a grotesquely patronising phrase which has been deployed to negate an entire generation of enthused, inexhaustible and largely excellent guitar pop and the bloody great laugh we all had along to it on brilliant drugs. The cold sobriety of lockdown has a way of sucking the colour and joy from the jetstream of youthful abandon. Did I really waste my life in the hands of crap rock’n’roll bands?

No, I refuse to be pandemoralised. If I’m forced to assess my musical life and loves thus far just because the world pressed pause, I’m going to replay the biggest hooks proudly, be they by Foals or The Farm, by REM or, yes, Razorlight.

In fact, there’s never been a better time to own and appreciate the past decades of music’s ever-shifting sands without any genre snobbery or scenester sniffiness. To salute the shoulda-beens – the Tigers, Silver Suns, Johnny Boys and Animals That Swam – and celebrate the heroes that fashion forgot. To acknowledge the wild, dizzying ride we’ve had, take a brief vomit break and prepare to leap straight onto the next one.

Advertisement
Advertisement