Monday, 16 November 2009

The Night "Indie" Broke

One of the most annoying documentaries in recent years was the BBC’s “The Seven Age’s Of Rock” – where the history of rock was split into 7 neat packages. The episode about Prog Rock was interesting, Punk on the other hand only concentrated on London and New York and stopped at the start of 1978, in other words missed out on the really interesting bits. “Indie” Rock (my god, how I hate that term) suffered the worst in terms of re-editing of History. According to the programme “Indie” was invented by The Smiths and saw its peak with the Brit-pop years. Utter Tosh.

“Indie” – if we have to use that term – was a by-product of the Punk ethos of anyone can do anything, including setting up your own label. Stiff, Chiswick, Rough Trade and Fast sprung up in the immediate aftermath of Punk, following in the footsteps of New Hormones. The “Indie” charts sprung up soon afterwards, followed by the “Indie” standard-bearers throughout the 1980’s – Factory, Mute, 4AD and for a bright period ZTT. During this period “Indie” defined an attitude rather than a genre, of outsiders looking in. Bands on Independent labels did have hits, but they were few and far between – New Order, The Smiths, and Depeche Mode were the most successful.

However 20 years ago this week, this cult period came to an end as bands on Independent Record labels all of a sudden came into the mainstream. Manchester having had a heritage in producing fine bands was about to go into its vintage period. The first two bands to emerge released records on the same date – and appeared on the same edition of “Top Of The Pops” 20 years ago this week. In the day glow corner was the latest band from Factory, the Happy Monday’s. They had 2 albums under their belt (“Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile(White Out)” and “Bummed”), their release was the era defining “Madchester Rave On EP” – lead by “Hallelujah”. Madchester went on to be the tag given to every band from the Manchester area which emerged over the next 12-15 months or so (Baggy seemed to be applied to bands outside the Manchester area – major label backed Blur were initially a “Baggy” band).

In the paint splattered corner is the Stone Roses. They were a much more rock oriented outfit than the Monday’s and had released only the one album. “The Stone Roses” though was well on its way to being acclaimed by wannabe music journalists as the best album of the decade. Their release was the double a-sided “Fools Gold” b/w “What The World’s Been Waiting For” – with Fool’s Gold being the track most played and the one performed on the afore mentioned edition of Top Of The Pops.

For both acts, appearing on Top Of the Pops was the point when both bands sales took off. Fools Gold went top ten, and the follow-up, “One Love” got to number 2 in the summer of 1990. For the Monday’s, commercial success did not happen with the Madchester ep, but with the follow-up release “Step-On”, released in March 1990. This moment also ushered in a “golden period” for Independent record companies, as many of the best records released over the next 18 month period were not released by any of the major record labels. “Getting Away With It”, “Enjoy The Silence”, “Dub be Good To Me” & “What Time Is Love?” all examples of the calibre of records released by the “Indies”. Even the choice of act to record the official England football teams World Cup record seemed to chime with the zeitgeist, as New Order, under the guise of Englandneworder, went to number one with “World In Motion…”.

I suppose the thing which brought this period to a close was just there started to be a gradual deteriation in the quality of the records released with the “baggy”/”madchester” sound. Pretty soon, people moved on to the next thing, Grunge and the sound of Seattle. For the Independent record industry, things wouldn’t be the same again. They were all no longer part of a cottage industry where all that mattered was quality. Sales became more and more a part of the equation, especially as Britain fell into recession in the early months of 1991. Invention was the first casualty of this new reality. Creation had been releasing albums from artists heavily influenced by the 1960’s – then one of their acts (primal Scream) took the revolutionary act of getting a DJ to re-mix one of their albums. The result – Screamadelica – won the inaugural Mercury Music prize. Creations next release was a pointer for where the “Indie’s” were going to go. “Bandwagonesque” by Teenage Fan Club was full of references to the Beatles and the Byrds and harked back to an era in British music where British music was the best music in the world.

The road to Brit-Pop had begun.

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