If ever you needed a reason to doubt the veracity of any religious text after thousands of years of exaggeration, reinterpretation and ideological wrangling, just look at what’s happened to Britpop. In less than 30 years, one of Britain’s most thrilling and well-documented musical eras has been rewritten as a dreary catch-all. With only maybe 20 actual Britpop bands to play with, compilation compilers, listicle writers and documentarians, by necessity, expanded the edges of the scene to take in swathes of bands that had arse all to do with it: The Verve, Manic Street Preachers, Radiohead, Ocean Colour Scene, Reef.
Britpop – that bright, intense fission of reactionary anti-glamour, pristine melody, societal cohesion and drug fuelled/wardrobe sex that set off an explosive chain reaction of trumpet, light-up dancefloors and Keith Allen – has been reduced and homogenised until the word now just means any band that played guitars in the ‘90s. It’s become tainted with the foul, mushy effluent of The Seahorses. But at least it’s still celebrated, a moment of national pride. Even, apparently, the Kula Shaker bits.
Now they’re coming for the ‘00s, but with far more nefarious intent. The ‘00s, it seems, must be eradicated.
Last week VICE put together a list of its 50 Greatest Landfill Indie Songs. Landfill indie. Roll the phrase around your tongue for a second, savour its notes. Laaandfill. Iiindie. Taste the tang coming off it? That’s the distinct flavour of ageing bitterness. The words ‘landfill indie’ roll off the tongue with the malicious wheeze of a garden fork puncturing a football. And they are repeated, ad infinitum, in order to insist that an entire generation, for the first time ever, feels ashamed of its youth.
A brief history. In the wake of The Strokes and the New York invasion of 2001, Britain’s moribund post-Britpop guitar scene came alive with brilliant, inventive new music. Geysers of originality and vitality burst from every corner of our slanty-fringed isles.
In Glasgow Franz Ferdinand strutted out the suave art pop of the New Scottish Gentry. In Leicester Kasabian concocted unstable new formulas of electro-ladrock. In the North East The Futureheads and Maxïmo Park battled for pseud-rock supremacy. In Yorkshire The Cribs were revitalising garage punk, The Long Blondes were reinventing retro chic and Kaiser Chiefs’ Britpop revivalism led to Leeds being officially announced 2005’s UK City Of Brilliant.
In Liverpool the cartoon psychedelia of The Coral and The Zutons turned the Mersey neon and in London The Libertines, Bloc Party, The Rakes, Razorlight, The Mystery Jets, The Others and their various ramshackle micro-scene coteries were injecting the veins of the city – its squats, tube carriages and Whitechapel whiskey pits – with untested, effervescent serums. From Cardiff to Dundee, Sunderland to Skegness, Wakefield to Hackney Wick, Britain thrummed.
Then, in the wake of the monumental success of the Arctic Monkeys’ debut album in 2006, a fresh influx of more formulaic acts – The Pigeon Detectives, Milburn, The Fratellis, The Rifles, all a bit scruffy and plumberly and, y’know, working class – tipped the dadmag crew over the edge. The throwaway phrase ‘landfill indie’ was picked up by commentators of a certain age, likely bored of guitar bands since about Catatonia and feeling lost, confused and out-of-touch amid the rock tsunami of the ‘00s. For years to come, they used it as a brickbat with which to hammer young people out of their dratted fun.
Everything with guitars, they insinuated, was disposable rubbish, and clearly nowhere near as brilliant as the guitar music from their own youth, like Stiff Little Fingers, The Field Mice or Northside. It was a phrase that put a dressing gown over its pyjamas at 11.30pm, stuck its head around the corner of a rammed and raging indie club night in 2008 – of which there were many, right across Europe – and snarked, “Oh, grow up”.
As barely even a late-summer chicken myself, I understand the desire to crush the spirit of the young. Your beauty and optimism, freedoms and ambitions, pristine livers and shagging apps make the piss boil in my colostomy bag. But even I balk at the idea of labelling an entire generation of music fans as moronic, taste-free dicks, largely because songs they liked ended up on The Inbetweeners. And yet, this week, that’s exactly what happened.
That VICE listicle was the result of a Herculean effort to rummage around in the lower reaches of ‘00s guitar music for forgotten greatness, unsurprisingly finding a surplus of classic material to work with. Its heart, though twisted, is in the right sort of place.
But its success is deeply entwined with its folly; engaging with the ‘landfill’ concept at all. It sets its starting point at 2003, by which time only The Libertines, Franz, Bloc Party and maybe The Cooper Temple Clause had established themselves in the new UK rock scene. Everything with a guitar on it that followed, it so wrongly claims, was identikit shit, for the entire decade and beyond.
So that’s The Cribs. The Futureheads. The Maccabees. The Rakes. Even bits of Arctic Monkeys. All worthless, indistinguishable ‘landfill’ trash. The emotional, windswept Wall Of Sound bombast of Glasvegas, it ascertains, was basically the same as The Ordinary Boys. It was impossible to tell the difference, it implies, between The Automatic screaming about hill-scaling monsters, Editors brooding enormously in Birmingham basements or Paul Smith of Maxïmo Park reading poetry from a massive book while doing star-jumps. The compilers of this list think that Scouting For Girls were considered in any way alternative, and were virtually interchangeable with The Paddingtons or Babyshambles. They think that ‘Chelsea Dagger’ by The Fratellis, a laughable pastiche of the entire decade, defines it.
It’s an exercise so sweepingly, sneeringly reductive and dismissive that it’s like asking your Grandad to explain the relative merits of each individual Pokémon. The fact that The Horrors, easily one the most derivative act of the era, don’t get a mention is proof enough that the bands selected for VICE’s decade-wide scrapheap were chosen for their nondescript trousers and haircuts – and thus, subliminally, for their social backgrounds – rather than the actual sounds they made.
Its core intention, though, is denigration. To lump together an entire decade of largely fantastic music into one easily dismissible mass and try to convince you that the brilliant time you had to it should be the source of a lifetime’s embarrassment. As if the teenagers and twenty-somethings of 2005 didn’t have enough to worry about with their rising student fees, rocketing rents and withering wages, now they’re expected to shamefully accept that their youths were wasted (or asted-way, as true veterans would say). Their formative tastes and experiences were illegitimate and foolish, that they fell for the ultimate musical con trick by having the time of their fucking lives at The Enemy gigs.
Fact is, even when the charts were swamped with guitar bands by 2007 or 2008, there was enough amazing music floating to the surface that it was easy to ignore the chaff. I couldn’t tell you much about Milburn or Little Man Tate, but I can tell you that both Holloways albums were utterly magnificent, that Larrikin Love are one of the greatest lost bands of all time and that, in decades of gigging, I’ve rarely seen crowds go as shitcake crazy as they did to Hard-Fi and The Wombats – there were nights of bouncing, euphoric devotion down Brixton Academy in 2006 that Kim Jong Un can only dream of.
Great music was so abundant that I ran a club night called Year Zero, where we only ever played songs released in the previous 12 months, then smashed them with a hammer when they reached their first birthday. And we managed to fill the whole night with massive, chart-busting bangers each and every time.
Don’t let all these jaded old gits tell you that your youth wasn’t as brilliant as theirs – I was watching you losing your shit to ‘Killamangiro’ from the Club NME DJ booth and it absolutely was. The ‘00s UK rock scene was as exciting, energised and unpredictable as Britpop or punk, and far more varied than both. It was a golden age for indie rock as bright as any before or since and you were lucky to be there for it, not least because the shadow of ‘landfill’ has since crushed the opportunities and exposure granted to alternative rock, to the point where current generations are rationed to one or two new breakthrough guitar bands every couple of years.
So bitter was the fallout from ’00s guitar rock that opinion on a Fontaines DC, Wolf Alice or IDLES has to be unanimous across the media boards before they’re allowed to succeed. The Pigeon Detectives, goes the attitude, must never be allowed to happen again.
Hands up, it was our fault for not giving the whole, glorious mess a name at the time, so the haters got to name your youth. But don’t let them own it too. Don’t give in to the shamers, bat away the ‘landfill’ sneers and consider it a mark of deep pride that, yes, you’ve had the same jeans on for 12 years now.