I’ve dined with the devil, sure, more times than I care to mention. His after-dinner mints come with a kick, believe me. I’ve drunk with the devil too, stared Him down over a can of wine (His round). I’ve zorbed with the devil, backpacked round Belgium with the devil and there was that time that me and the devil showered together at university, but we don’t talk about that. What I’m saying is, we hang out – He wasn’t my best man or anything, but we’ll have a catch up whenever he’s topside. Best avoid Brexit with Him, I find. Smug bastard.
More than anything, I’ve danced with the devil, sometimes by the pale moonlight, mostly down Cargo (He used to work there, setting the bar prices and filing down the wine measure tubes). Anything you’ve heard about Him having the best tunes is true, but he keeps those to himself; He works in far more mysterious ways than that. So when Lucien Grieves, co-founder of The Satanic Temple – focus of a new cinema documentary called Hail, Satan – listed his favourite devilish songs for NME last week, we had to cackle. Zeal & Ardor, Iron Maiden, ‘Sympathy For The Devil’… as if he’d be so obvious. Like he told me one Wetherspoons ‘steak’ night while offering me a vape (still gives you cancer but you can advertise it, one of His proudest recent works), all those black metal divots, horn-waggling grunters and doped-up rebel rockers are just a smokescreen, diversions from His real musical arts. He clicked two five-knuckled fingers and, instantly, ‘Galway Girl’ began to play…
Because the devil’s music is far more insidious than a load of black-clad patsies making records in the Sharon Tate house or nicking their new masks from an am dram Phantom. It’s the Samsung ringtone that sounds like the whistle of a long-dead 1940s window cleaner. It’s the pleasing four-note trumpet fanfare you hear when paying ten quid for an ‘exclusive’ in-game plough, the sound of all of your personal data magically transporting itself into a Moscow basement. It’s the snippet of ‘Bonkers’ that Dizzee Rascal flogged to Ladbrokes, the “eh-o-eh-o-eh-eh-o” bit of a Bastille song that you have to remove from your brain with pliers at 3am, or a washed-up noughties indie band re-recording an old Britpop song just differently enough that a payday loan company charging 25,000 per cent an hour will be allowed to use it in an advert full of cute old-people puppets. You know that sweet, newsy tinkle that plays while Fiona Bruce is introducing Nigel Farage, Trump’s rimming roadie Piers Morgan or the Daily Mail’s chief Lying About Brexit Funding correspondent Isabel Oakeshott on Question Time? The lovely piano refrain that makes you think their views are just as respectable and based in fact and reason as the rest of the panel and that they’re not just going to lie, bully and bullshit to your face for the next hour? That’s one of His.
His long-term musical goal, though, has always been to turn the world’s young, impressionable music fans into listless, hopeless, led-by-the-nose wretches, unable to think for themselves let alone resist his subliminal Facebook whispers to vote for his good friends Plague, Pestilence and Private Health Insurance as your Brexit party MEP. That’s why He worked so hard to develop that EDM drainpipe noise that acts as an off switch for the teenage brain, and why He’s so happy His plans for streaming have paid off.
It was Him, between wiring in pub wi-fi and scheduling another ITV2 re-run of Celebrity Juice, that visited the head of the UK Official Charts Company in their sleep and told them that the Spotify autoplay algorithm randomly playing 100 people a track has exactly the same value as one person buying it. Then He infiltrated the dreams of the head of Spotify and hissed that, for those 100 plays, they should pay musicians far, far less than the proceeds of one sale, so that only those mainstream major label acts selected for heavy rotation on Radio One could afford to continue making music. Finally, He tripped gleefully into the nightmares of the heads of Radio One, kicked aside a million visions of tumbling listener figures and boomed “you must compete with the internet now! Let streaming figures be your playlist guide!” His fait accompli complete, He sat back, gave Lewis Capaldi a sense of humour and watched the singles chart, and its dutiful music media followers, become His bland, diabolical recruiting ground.