Issue 237 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published January 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review
'We need a radical departure from the norm' Charles Shaar Murray: music
In the field of popular music, what I hear at the moment is the sound of culture hitting the buffers. I don't hear any innovation anywhere. A lot of the movements within popular music seem to have got caught into this terrifying loop of repetition. I see an awful lot of young white rock bands stuck in the 1960s and 1970s. They obviously feel that to go anywhere with that style of music you have to go back to the last place where anything interesting happened and try to set off again from there. Most of them sound pretty much like they're marking time.
Hip hop, which was the most wonderful, explosive, transgressive force, lost its way in terms of content with the whole gangsta thing. When I first heard it I thought this total digital expropriation was wonderful, but again that's been degenerated by the likes of Will Smith and Puff Daddy into effectively karaoke versions of old songs. Dance music's collapsing into a welter of identikit beats.
There is a real need for something else that's going to be as startling and as revelatory as movements like hip hop, punk or digital dance music when they first happened. We need a radical departure from the norm, and at the minute I don't see it anywhere. The orthodox music industry is not going to supply it.
When punk started in the US it was a very localised phenomenon in New York. It was a few people in a few city blocks--maybe 200 or 300 people. When it happened in England it started that way but it went nationwide really quickly, and suddenly it became a central part of the consciousness.
Today I don't see people looking for expression. What I sense overall is an air of cultural passivity, which may be linked to political passivity: the proportion of people whose attitude to culture is essentially passive at the minute is too high to provide a critical mass for something new. If I'm wrong, I'll be delighted to admit it.
People are dissatisfied with the state of culture but they are going to have to demand something better. Remember, they tried to stamp out punk but they couldn't, so they climbed on board and eventually killed it the other way. And the same thing happened with hip hop. If you can't beat it, buy it.
If anything good is going to happen it's going to have to come up from the grassroots--the streets. Because it's sure as hell not going to come from the orthodox industry as currently constituted.The future feature compiled by Nicolai Gentchev, John Parrington and Beccy Reese