Over the past 10 years alternative music went overground… and, sadly, stayed there

Over the past 10 years alternative music went overground… and, sadly, stayed there

It’s quite unbelievable how quickly we become nostalgic. The ‘N’ word was daubed on market T-shirts and stitched onto crap woolly hats as we braced ourselves for Millennium-Bug-A-Geddon. The noughties, providing we survived our clocks thinking it was the beginning of time again, were going to be as cool as their Big Breakfast/Lad Culture name. New Year came and our clocks survived, but ‘the noughties’ soon buggered off‚”until a month or two ago when we realised ‘the teens’ were coming. Now we’re using the ‘N’ word as if we have been for a decade straight. We’re recounting how exciting it was when The Strokes saved rock’n’roll‚Ñ¢ (which it most certainly was), and how the advent of MySpace changed music promotion forever; how Glastonbury became a number one holiday destination (perhaps due to its holiday prices), and Pete Doherty gave us a nihilistic, good looking rock star of our own, as silly and stylish as Sid Vicious or Iggy Pop. Naturally, there’s plenty that we’d rather forget when looking back at the last ten years, like how rapidly Big Brother went from Nasty Nick-tastic to Jade Goody-shit, scarring us with a Heat culture that made Tony from frozen veg every bit the celebrity that Abi Titmuss is, although perhaps not unfairly where that comparison is concerned. Ultimately though, ‘the noughties’ were brilliant! Of course we’re going to siphon out the mountains of crap that stank up the air surrounding our personal highlights – we’d probably kill ourselves if we didn’t – but impossible to ignore is the state of ‘indie’ as we approach a fresh-faced decade.

The Strokes did save rock’n’roll, but in many ways they also killed it. At the time of ‘Is This It’, the NME called the slew of guitar bands capitalising on the success of ‘Last Night’ and thin clothes ‘The New Rock Revolution’, and while the praise heaped was deserved by some (The White Stripes, The Libertines, Yeah Yeah Yeahs), for most who soon threw their (porkpie) hats in ring (The Cooper Temple Clause, Von Bondies, The Vines) it really wasn’t. Unbeknown, that was the start of the end for ‘indie’ music as an alternative to the norm. Its most fatal blow though – its big fat iceberg moment – was the day Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Take Me Out’ charted at number 3. Parents were humming it, radio was playing it and TV was, overnight, editing sport montages to that guitar riff. It’s to blame for the Kaiser Chiefs, Razorlight, The View, The Fratellis and even The Ting Tings. It’s the reason Topshop has a Marshall amp and an electric guitar in its window display, and you can’t buy a ticket to see a band without texting Vodafone first.

We would say that – listing bands that no one thinks are cool anymore, kicking the un-credible mainstream while it’s down – but what’s worrying about the corporatisation of alternative music is that throughout the past 10 years it’s shown no sign of slowing. Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen? Isn’t bad pop music meant to spring into action when more than a dozen people get sick of guitar music? That’s what happened post-Brit Pop, post-Punk, post-Rave – Robbie Williams, Boy George and MC Hammer nudged those subversive genres out. The problem is that no 12 people are sick of guitars, clearly. At the risk of sounding even more like a jowly contributor to the BBC’s Grumpy Old Men series than I already do, there’s festivals sponsored by ice cream companies these days! Indie (yes, that term that has now lost all meaning) has unwittingly become the shit pop music default that fills the gaps until something truly alternative and exciting comes along, and over the top of our rose-tinted bins, we can all see that it’s been that way for a majority of ‘the noughties’.

The good news is that things are eventually getting better. You just have to look to the DIY set to see that. In fact, thanks to Myspace, home recording equipment and the super-savvy forming their own fully independent record labels, alternative music in ‘the teens’ is looking likely to be its most hardened to corporate corruption in years. L’Or√©al will no doubt compose their own garage lo-fi sound-a-like track at some point in 2010, and the majors will most definitely dress up a few new signings as “huge fans of Black Flag”, but after a year that’s had us calling Florence & The Machine ‘indie’, and a decade that’s had us looking on as alternative trends are bastardised to straddle the high street and Nokia Skin-Fest, we’re in the best state we have been since New York was cool for the first time around.


Originally published in issue 13 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. December 2009

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