Starting the year by being crowned our Godlike Genius, Johnny Marr gets to sign it off with his alternative Queen’s speech. But if you’re Spotify, David Cameron and Haim… well, best stick to Her Majesty’s effort.
2013’s been great, but it’s also been a bit of a blur: shows, shows and more shows, on the move all the time, bus, city, bus, city non-stop. But releasing ‘The Messenger’ and winning NME’s Godlike Genius Award was a good kick off to the year. The reaction to the album was amazing, and the NME Awards was a fun night: it’s good not to take accolades like that too seriously, but it was humbling.
It’s been a strange time for music in general, though, especially with the debate about Spotify. I’m not a supporter: I think it entirely hampers new bands, and the situation that Thom Yorke and Beck have been criticising makes the old record companies of the ’70s look like cottage industries. I can’t think of anything more opposite to punk rock than Spotify. I have no answer to the economic side of the modern music industry, but I do think we certainly shouldn’t stop valuing what bands do. I don’t like great things being throwaway. Pop culture isn’t just about ‘the music, man’. It’s a way of life, and an aesthetic, and it’s not just about pressing a button and getting something entirely for convenience. Put it this way: we’re soon going to start seeing the difficulties of innovative music trying to swim in that huge tide.
But I’m an idealist, so I always think vive la resistance. And without a doubt one of the most heartening things has been the great new bands coming out. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about playing festivals this year is seeing bands like Childhood or Palma Violets who are actually on the same page as their audience. A few years ago, I didn’t get that feeling, but it really bodes well, I think. There’s obviously a lineage there that goes right the way through from The Libertines to The Smiths and The Clash of singing for, and from, your audience. That was the feeling that I got, and you feel like there’s a lot of good records still to come.
Politically, the problem is that we just don’t have anyone that seems authentic. The politicians are stuck in the cult of celebrity and they’re years behind the times in terms of how they relate to the public. It seems like they’ve completely forgotten to do that. I’m almost resigned to the fact that policies are out of the control of the vote, which plainly happened with tuition fees. I’m still sore about that. Not only was it a trick, you’re just creating cynicism in people who are going to have to live the next 10 years of their lives paying off that debt. That’s still unresolved and they should reverse that.
The politicians think they’re able to fool everyone through their mass media platform; I may be naïve, but I think they’re mistaken because more and more people are turning away from it. What’s 2013 going to be remembered for? The bedroom tax? What a disgrace. Shame, shame, shame. Greedy and mean. And that’s my problem with the government for the last few years: where’s the kindness?
But I’m always completely in admiration of the way young people are dealing with these times. Sure, there’s an argument that a lack of decent career opportunities enables alternative culture, and having something to rail against and free leisure time allows you to create art. Great. Hip-hip hooray. People need careers. Young people need to do jobs that they like. It seems are if people are just being stranded: thrown into the deep end, and left to swim on their own.
As for Haim, having their photograph taken with David Cameron? It’s really simple: they made themselves look like idiots. It’s ridiculous. No one put a gun to their head. The Conservatives tried to do the same thing to The Smiths, to re-appropriate us in a false way, to be cool by association. And let’s put it this way in the case of Haim: it’s uncool by association.
In comparison, the likes of Grimes and Chrvches’ Lauren Mayberry speaking out in opposition to misogyny: it’s about time. Speaking personally, I come from a culture in the early ’80s where if a girl was up onstage in a band and anyone shouted anything suspect and yobby at them, they would have been ostracised by everybody. It would have been unthinkable. I wonder why we’re going backwards in that regard. I don’t want to get too highfaluting about it, but the ’90s has a lot to answer for, and when you start getting into “ironic laddism” then you’re getting into dodgy territory. That’s what all the old racist comics used to trade off: “It’s just a joke.”
I think alternative culture can be seen as tribal, and that’s a good thing. Pussy Riot can remind all of us of what music can do. I don’t think a song can close Guantánamo Bay, but it doesn’t half remind you of what side you’re on. And who’d want to go through life without your comrades, eh? So for 2014, we all need to realise how important live music is and not take it for granted. We need to not take the fun out of being in a band, and liking bands, for granted. We need to start ignoring the crass mass media by not engaging with and not believing in it.
And we need to celebrate what pop culture is. Bands can be more about liking music if you want it. To be criticised for bringing other aspects into it, like politics, is a bullshit argument. I don’t argue with people who want to just hear a few tunes in their car on a Sunday morning. That’s fine. But people shouldn’t point the finger when anyone attach ideals to pop culture. And if people who like the same music and who dislike the same attitudes can stick two fingers up to the loudmouths and the bigots, regardless of how powerful they may think they are, then we have a responsibility to do that. It can be a good, nice, big ‘fuck you’ to the stiffos.
As told to Ben Hewitt