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Give me music and give me noise....

Saturday, 2 April 2011

My music's better than your music

"You're only saying you don't like it because it's popular."

It's the usual charge. If you get any kind of reputation for liking "obscure" or "underground" music sooner or later you'll be accused of being a snob who affects a dislike of the mainstream on principle. You're "biased" against it. You say you don't like Radiohead or Franz Ferdinand because you want to strike a pose, to be "superior", an elitist.
Shame on you. Shame on me (yes, dear reader, for this has happened to your poor correspondent on more than one occasion).
The mainstream strikes back! And the mainstream is nothing if not powerful. An element of this is that there always seem to be those who'll voice something close to resentment if you don't like what they like. Years ago I once "admitted" to someone I worked with (in a record shop no less) that I regularly listened to John Peel. "You don't really like that! You can't. That's not music, it's just noise."
Yeah, that's right, I was just pretending to like the programme, name-dropping Microdisney and Big Flame but really liking INXS and Tina Turner. What a faker! Amazingly, my accuser was actually angry as she said this. What a nerve I had, living this lie and (presumably by implication) attacking her far superior musical tastes.
It's the same with cinema. Dare to ignore the big new releases and you're subtly marked out in the middle-class workspace as a wilful outsider. A (gulp) non-team player. Dangerous ground this. Next you'll be cornered into admitting you didn't watch The Killing or The Wire! What are you? A weirdo?
But so what, you might say. Just carry on listening to your crappy music and watching your miserable arthouse films and stop going on about it. (Which I will).
But it's not quite as simple as this. Few people like being labelled elitist. Even I'm uncomfortable with it! Witness the Gordon Brown Artic Monkeys affair. (Why didn't he just say he didn't have time for pop music because he was, you know, kind of busy running the country?)
So, anxious not to be aloof and judgmental, one ruminates on these matters, as one looks through the french windows at one's rather nice (but "nothing special") two-acre garden. Yes, one likes to be fair to all sides.
And what does one do? That's right. You give in, go down the bloody record library, get the bloody Razorlight/Interpol/Antony And The Johnsons CD out and bloody well play it. You do this not because you genuinely think it's going to be especially good but because you say to yourself: "Well, they've got a point. It's true. I haven't actually heard their stuff. I shouldn't write them off." And of course, it's totally underwhelming. Or worse. From numerous examples of doing this the one notable exception for me has been the Missy Elliott Respect M.E. CD, but there was a lot of chaff to go with this wheat.
Is genuinely popular music ever actually any good? Course it is. But not very often in my opinion. And what else is there to go on really, other than our own biased, judgemental, reductive and blinkered opinions?
OK, someone like Paul Morley can pull off the rare trick of appreciating Kylie Minogue right alongside Alvin Lucier, but it's not my style and not what I actually like or listen to. (I do harbour a strong affection for Sinead O'Connor's Nothing Compares 2 U, but that's a different story ...).
Meanwhile, the heavy artillery of the mainstream can batter the best of us into submission. It's fairly common to hear denunciations of "Shoreditch types" and "hipsters" even (or especially?) among people who are fairly hip (in some sense) and do actually hang out in the bars in Shoreditch in east London. The age of the self-hating hipster is upon us.
Snobbery affects us all and I'll admit to my share of it. It's true, I probably find it slightly harder to like (say) the Pixies' music after they reformed and everyone starting talking about them all over again. And when a band I enjoy and go to see fairly often "graduates" from the 50-person, £5-in venue to a bigger KOKO-type place then ... well, I part company. Snobbery maybe, but also a dislike of bigger auditoria, over-enthusiastic lighting, large PAs, crowds ... and a strong intuition that the band will begin to soften the edges, fill in the gaps ...
LCD Soundsystem's Losing My Edge brilliantly nailed a certain kind of competitive hipper-than-thou-ism that certainly exists. I'm probably guilty of it too. But in the end I say: to hell with the mainstream and let me listen to my elitist music in peace.


  1. Yeah if you don't want to swim with the fishes you gotta jump out of the pond

  2. True, very true, Mr AWD Restoration.