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Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Keeping it unreal

I've always thought "authenticity" in music made no sense.

And here is my totally authentic account of why I'm right, of why I'm no faker ... and I'll be saying it all in a fully convincing voice that's absolutely my own. And, not only that, because I'm "street", am genuinely working class and never went to art college, everything I say is more valid than what you say, you middle class poseur.


Amongst a certain age group (mine!) you get people complaining about "manufactured" bands at every tedious pub-bore juncture.  "It's all image now", they bleat, hankering after a time of "real" groups, "real" musicianship.

Top of the pile, for the "reality" krew, tend to be rock bands, ideally ones with blue collar cred. Bruce Springsteen, Motorhead, AC/DC, Bon Jovi, Guns 'N' Roses, maybe U2 and Queens Of The Stone Age. That kinda ting. Also Status Quo, wearers of denim, that tried and tested signal of roadhouse authenticity (later flannel shirts or simply heavily-worn band t-shirts).

During punk, bands that weren't punk enough were "plastic". It was The Stranglers (real) v XTC (phoney), The Ruts v The Boomtown Rats. As Jon Savage observed, there was always a depressing "social realist" tendency in punk which meant that Joe Strummer's strained vocal emoting was "authentically" punk while the more mannered delivery of (say) Adam & The Ants was not.

Roll forward a few years and the people that disparaged bands like Altered Images or The Human League for being "fake" (in reality code for "they're not using guitars", or "I think they're gay") were struggling against the sparkly sight of New Romantics and the sacreligious sounds of Roland synths.

After that, hip hop, house and things like (ahem) Stock, Aitken & Waterman must have seemed just like further proof of the continuing descent into an inauthentic, plastic-flamed hell. Nothing's ever been good enough for them since ...

It's all fake though! I don't buy the authenticity thing at all. Musical acts aren't called that for nothing (what, you thought Seasick Steve was a genuine guy, a real hobo?) So, OK, Woody Guthrie might have been a real-life "Okie" who sang dust bowl ballads about other Okie refugees, but there are plenty of great musicians who didn't have such a validating exposure to harsh reality. I blame the blues. There's a Louis Armstrong record where he intones the fruity preamble "Listen boy, I gotta right to sing the blues".  Blues surely provides the template for the authenticity/music formula. If you were poor and black and came from Mississippi then ... well, then maybe you had a "right" to play blues music. But what about if you were white and British and actually a bit middle class (Mick Jagger)?

The other day the Guardian (of all papers) used "middle class" as a pejorative in relation to "Indie" music. Reverse snobbery is all the rage in music these days. Grime is accorded a respect that seems to have a lot to do with the fact that it's made by mostly working class black people, rather than whether it's any good.

I personally don't care whether you're from Mississippi or Middlesex, and I don't mind whether you're a poor, 75-year-old black man playing a steel-string guitar or a white trustafarian twenty-something programming glitchy beats using a Mac. Like Mr Scruff, I just want you to keep it unreal man. And I really mean that.

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