After my lovely tour of duty at Radio 3 came to an end and I no longer had to bury my head in the on-line Goves to come up with something intelligent to say about all that beautiful classical music, I bounced out into the world of pop. It felt like nitrous oxide after the rarefied air of Broadcasting house but also played into the teenagery feel inside my head since turning forty.
I booked myself a batch of festival tickets and scrupulously avoided all but one of the Proms this year. Dancing was in the air. And as I jigged around in the sunshine or in the sweet darkness of the night, I wondered whether the culturally significant music of the 21st century would be pop or classical. Would cultural grandees of 2110 talk about George Benjamin or Vampire Weekend?
I have no illusions about the power of contemporary classical music compared to that of pop. Much as I love the music of Tom Adès, it will never have the social resonance of Dizzee Rascal or the XX. For the millions of young people who grow up bouncing or swooning to the latter, there is only perhaps a dozen who levitate to the former.
And let’s not pretend that great pop music is easy. One of the most inventive and brilliant musicians on the scene at the moment was a scholar at the Guildhall School of Music – and yet Micachu‘s music is a million miles from Anna Meredith’s. It’s pop brilliance grated through a feedback-slicer.
I was mesmerized by her debut album for about two weeks. It crept up on me and gnashed me from within. In the same way that albums from my teenage latched onto the inside of my head. In the same way that listening to Talking Heads as a teenager made me feel justified in my (gay) eccentricity, there was something about several of the bands I got into this summer, that made me feel like a better person.
Maybe it was just the pleasure of being contemporary. As Rimbaud insisted, Il faut être absoluement moderne. And while this dictum as a lifestyle is exhausting and, as Rimbaud’s life illustrates, unsustainable, it should certainly be adopted as an aspiration as often as possible.
When Joshua and I stood infront of the little Lake stage at Latitude in July and bopped around to four geeky guys from Manchester, I also felt like I’d found the new modern.
Everything Everything are part of the New Manchester scene (a label they all hate) and like Micachu seem zapped in from Planet New. Falsettos, polyrhythm, impenetrable lyrics. All the things I love and have always loved since my Talking Heads days. With Micachu they also share that home-made feel which is so satisfying to me.
So much music nowadays is made outside the purlieus of the Musical Industrial Complex. Bar the X-Factor Empire there is more independent, creative music being made than ever. Independent labels account for more than 28% of worldwide music sales and while downloading has decimated CD sales, the massive exposure that Spotify, Pandora, Soundcloud and Shuffler create allows for dedicated fanbases and income from live performance. In recession-plagued 2008 the music industry grew by 4.7% largely on the back of live gigs and merchandising.
I am living proof. I’ve shelled out at least £400 on gig and festival tickets this year and I have lovely green Yeasayer hoodie because it was getting nippy one evening at Latitude.
Aside from socio-cultural imperative, I also love pop music. Dance music in particular. This may have something to do with my lurch back towards teenage certainties as my middle age rides into view. One of my all-time favorites – James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem – sums it up elegantly in one of his tracks
Sound of silver talk to me
makes you want to feel like a teenager
until you remember the feelings of
a real life emotional teenager
then you think again
The luxury of dancing to teenage music while feeling the serenity of being 40 is hard to beat. There is a poignancy too (a poignancy which can shade into being patronising, so I rarely chose to share it): seeing the raw, aching emotion of a 20 year old through the prism of another 20 years of life makes it even more delicious. First love is so much more moving from the perspective of 11th love.
So when we stumbled into a little shack-like stage at Bestival at 11 at night, awash with serotonin and cider, to listen to the four members of Egyptian Hip Hop (who are infact teenage as I recall), we all felt a delight in their utter distainful, mardy truculence in the face of their enthusiastic audience. A sort of bastard love-child of dance music and god-knows-what, they seemed to be channelling something that evening. It doesn’t really come across on record but I reckon they’ll be washing us away soon enough.
But I suppose the ultimate vouchsafe of pop music is the fact that we listen to it in groups. I press-ganged my teenage friends into endless evenings at my house playing the latest Beefheart discovery or Philip Glass oddity. Now, it’s much simpler. You go to a gig, a field, a festival and spend a whole hour, night, weekend dancing and necking with people. Oddly considering how we’re all meant to be chained to the internet and shrivelling into isolation, music seems to be the one thing that gets us out and together.
And so Sunday evening at Bestival when the mighty Murphy took to the stage for a heart-elevating hour-long set and the drilling piano riff of All My Friends kicked in, I felt a teenage tear on my cheek.