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Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Not music for airports

Here's a postcard-sized post from the rain-soaked runway, the drizzle-drenched airport apron ...

It's a coffee-drinking-length capsule of pure bitterness. About one of my favourite topics: music and commerce. The traffic in sound as a product, and as a means to shift product. Pile 'em high, crank up the Spotify playlist.

Anyway, what I'm talking about is the co-option and "absorption" of the energy/aura of music by endless cycles of marketing. Yeah, I know, it's a hackneyed theme. (But nevertheless ...). Like commerce and capitalism itself, this process never tires (No sleep till the till) and never quite ceases to appal.

For example, my teeth were gritted all over again yesterday by the sight of an "executive"-style coffee bar at an airport (in the UK) adorned with "iconic" band names - The Beatles, Motorhead, The Sex Pistols. Yep, choke over that as you try to swallow one of their over-priced sandwiches.

This Hard Rock Cafe memorialisation of music is well beyond a death knell. It's the reek of the dying flowers in the music mausoleum. Post-death. Heritage's after-life.

Except ... I reckon the raw power (ahem) of music is not quite tameable in this way. The owners of departure lounge coffee franchises might see the value of a few rock posters and band tags to help sell their crappy products, but even 10 loud seconds of  Bomber or Pretty Vacant would upset the staid, highly manufactured "atmosphere" of these sterile places. (Good).

I think music actually played out loud (rather than silently represented with photos etc) is always potentially a bit too "heavy" for commerce. Or rather, while music's used ubiquitously on TV ads or in clothes shops, a lot of the most powerful music is, I reckon, just too "excessive" for the lightweight business of selling. Adele might work for Topshop but I don't think heavy abstract acid-house would. Ditto Jerry Lee Lewis, Dizzy Gillespie, Iggy & The Stooges, Crass, The Fall, Melt Banana, Bolt Thrower, Uncle John & Whitelock, Gum Takes Tooth, The Rebel ...

Or am I wrong? Capitalism is famously able to appropriate anything and everything, recyclying even the sternest challenges - the fiercest music - and playing it back as the mere soundtrack to its own money-making world. So yes, I can quite easily imagine Anarchy In The UK blasting out of the tacky shops along Oxford Street, the familiar Rotten snarl chiming with the bleeps of card scanners and the self-satisfied chat of the shoppers. Neutered, neutralised. Just another of Oxford Street's many aural ghosts.

But I can't quite imagine the creepier PiL stuff being used in this way. Lydon's sinister whining from Fodderstompf put on the soundsystem to help flog cheap tops and shiny shoes? (Even though by all accounts McLaren originally saw the SPs as exactly this: a vehicle to help promote his clothes shop and ... sell over-priced trousers). No, somehow this music is not quite the ticket.

And back in the deadened, oxygen-restricted atmosphere of the airport departure lounge, even a few chords of serious music are too much for this sterile place. (I think I did hear Queen being played yesterday, but this is a non-music and doesn't really count). Instead, what we're left with is the faintest of faint traces of what the music once was. And all this might, it's true, prompt bitter thoughts as you stir your bland, milky-excuse of a coffee. But don't despair! There are also a few soggy crumbs of comfort down at the bottom of that oversized paper cup. Music doesn't always sell that well. And not all music is suitable for airports.

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