Double Dip Recession? It’s the Best Thing For Music

Economists have warned that the country is heading back into recession – but John Doran reckons bands sound much better when we’re all skint

The Bank Of England announced last week that we could be about to slip into a “double dip” recession. Meaning that things are going to get more tortuous than the plot to Inception. But, for once, the music industry is ahead of the curve, given that it has been hurtling into cash-strapped oblivion itself for a decade now. Musicians can no longer be allowed to hide behind thousands of pounds’ worth of expensive production. Instead, from the smallest of bedroom artists to stadium superstars, the austere and the inventive are inheriting the earth.

The punters who were non-committal about Arcade Fire’s Bruce Springsteen-fronting-U2 extravaganza, ‘Neon Bible’, have already embraced its Tom Petty-on-a-shoestring follow-up with open arms. Comparing early sales, lean and mean LP ‘The Suburbs’ is already outselling the band’s second album by about two-to-one. More importantly, just one listen to its comparatively unfussy arrangements tells you that they’ve recaptured the ragged romance that made ‘Funeral’ so special.

Arcade Fire

The xx have taken this bare-bones approach to its logical conclusion. Their sound and image are minimalist perfection. Even their graphic identity – white cross on black background – is a work of less-is-more genius. And talking of The xx, have you noticed how bands simply don’t bother replacing members who leave any more? They have joined bands such as NYPC and Mystery Jets in electing not to fill the space left by the departing bongo player, figuring that a tape player does the same job, takes up less space in the Transit van and uses a lot less hair gel.

During the crippling recession of the ’70s the concept of DIY was revitalised by punk. In 1976 the fanzine Sideburns printed an incendiary cover with the immortal call to arms: “This is a chord… this is another… this is a third… now form a band.” This revolutionary fervour is once again in the air. The modern equivalent is a blog stating: “This is a cracked copy of Acid… This is a copy of GarageBand… This is a YouTube demonstration of how to chop and screw hip-hop… now form a band.” We’re not suggesting that all the acts who appear in Radar steal their software, but if you wanted to have a go at sounding like Washed Out or Salem, you’re only a click away from soft synth technology, FX and sequencers at the very least.

No-one can afford to think of Spiritualized’s ‘Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’ as a blueprint any more. Something which is being explained very angrily to sock-faced Richard Ashcroft this very second, after ‘United Nations Of Sound’ apparently came in 10s of thousands of pounds over budget yet sounds like Wyclef Jean having a nervous breakdown in an indie disco.
But overall it’s good news for us, because the idiots are disappearing as the cash does. To quote Talking Heads, who inspired this column, and their anthem ‘Once In A Lifetime’, we’re “into the blue again, after the money’s gone”.

This article originally appeared in the August 21 issue of NME

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