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British Rock - Forgotten Heroes & Where We Went Wrong (Palma Violets, The Strokes, Muse Feature)

Friday, 22 March 2013 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

Stereoboard's Jonathan Rimmer analyses the current lack of buzz for British guitar bands and how we let a whole generation of talented bands pass us by.

Every couple of years, the British music media in its infinite wisdom will bestow upon us the new ‘face’ of British rock. You know the drill: endless rotation on MTV2 (since VH2 has now sadly passed away); Radio 1 DJ Jo Whiley will identify them as her new “favourite band”, usually parading the vocalist as the new great orator of our time; oh, and Zane Lowe will provide his not-so-sonorous tones to the inevitable TV spot that highlights the six songs they’ve ever written.

Then comes the hype. Oh, you’ve got to love the hype. They’re playing the live lounge next week you know. Oh my god, did you hear their cover of ‘Call Me Maybe’ – it was so funny and ironic because the singer looks like Ian Curtis. If Ian Curtis liked Coldplay and Oasis. Or Mumford & Sons. Oh, and doesn’t he really channel Morrissey in his lyrics? Gosh, he really does represent a whole generation.

ImageWe don’t deserve to be fed that baloney, right? Don’t read me as too cynical – we should be proud of the songwriters that this country has produced, and Morrissey is one of the first names on the list. Nevertheless, since the assembly line has fabricated another set of lads for us to drool over, I thought I’d do them the courtesy of inspecting them. The track above is by a band called Palma Violets, and their debut album 180 dropped around a month ago. One shouldn’t approach such records with bias, even when they’re essentially a product of the reputable music source that is the New Musical Express, but I was unsurprised nonetheless. The NME called this record “the new soundtrack to your life”, and if we’re talking about exposure they’ve been given I guess they’re right.

There is no distinct personality on show, just a set of musical features that tell you what a popular UK indie band should sound like: up-tempo guitar sequences, husky vocals, attitude but, y'know, not the sort you'd find in punk music; a couple of generic hooks and the odd faux-poetic lyric that authenticates the rough and tumble lifestyle that they indulge in. The tragic charade that this is “real rock n' roll for lads” has been perpetuated by the media to sell copies, and to try and create some sort of buzz around British music, but only as long as the music in question is safe, trendy and marketable. I'm no fool, I know that these techniques have been employed in journalism since the dawn of time, but the domino effect that this strand of hyperbole creates is particularly sickening. For all their faults, at least American publications such as Pitchfork continue to cover music that occasionally has a propensity to innovate, but our biggest sellers just seem to fall into this trap time and time again.

Don’t get me wrong Palma Violets fans, this is just one man’s review, but let me ask you a few questions regardless… Does this album accomplish anything that hasn't been accomplished before? Do Palma Violets have their own sound, or do they rehash the same turgid ideas already expressed by The Libertines or The Strokes? Are they adventurous or unique in any of the following ways: melodically, structurally, rhythmically or sonically? Are the songs distinct and memorable? Is 'Best of Friends' really the song that you'll remember 2012 by?

But let’s go back a little bit. At the turn of the millennium, we were told there was a change coming. Rock music needed something exciting, cataclysmic even, something that would change the direction of the entire mainstream in a positive way; something that would kill rap metal in its tracks and hammer that last nail into grunge’s coffin. That fresh, dynamic group were apparently New York band The Strokes, whose debut LP 'Is This It' was a huge critical and commercial success and heralded a post-punk revival that would dominate the British scene for a good decade. And yet... I cannot be the only one who thought that album was aptly named.

The onslaught of “landfill indie” that followed is enough to make you weep. The Enemy, The Twang, The Pigeon Detectives, The Kooks, The Kaiser Chiefs, The Courteeners, The Vaccines, several more “the’s” - the list goes on. Bands like The Libertines were hailed as geniuses, but they were just in the right place and the right time (well, God knows where Pete Doherty thought he was, but you get the picture). This generation felt they could say that they had their band at last. Something tangible. Their own Clash. Their own punk heroes. Their own voice. Bollocks. The idea that they were filling some kind of void in British music was a myth, as was the notion that there was some kind of dearth of talent in British rock. Good music never went away, but post-Britpop, the UK industry just lost focus.

Flash back to 2002 - the same year 'Up the Bracket' was released, a band named Hundred Reasons won the Kerrang! award for best album, beating some rather overblown American competition – think Sum 41, Nickelback and Puddle of Mudd. Of those that remember Hundred Reasons, a band who played Top of the Pops and whose debut 'Ideas Above Our Station' reached #6 in the UK Charts, some of you may scoff. With the singer’s poodle haircut and songs about teenage love, they hardly seemed the most sophisticated proposition. Okay, they weren’t necessarily this generation’s Radiohead, but they demonstrated an authenticity and passion for music that appeared quite absent from this new wave of post-punk imitators. Whilst Razorlight’s Jonny Borrell was bragging about driving through “Mulholland drive with the radio on”, Reuben’s Jamie Lenman was singing about how labels had abandoned them and, somewhat prophetically, that he’d have to “get a real job at the office.” (See song below)

Despite coverage from Kerrang and Radio 1 heads like Zane Lowe, not to mention selling out shows the country over, the likes of Reuben, Hundred Reasons, Hell Is For Heroes and Kinesis were gradually phased out of the mainstream. Forget record sales, or their growing fanbases, the scene was cut at the umbilical cord. Artists such as Biffy Clyro – who, yes, made some superb post-hardcore releases – had to streamline their sound to get a sniff of success, some carved solo careers that were infinitely more successful, such as a certain Frank Turner of Million Dead; and underground heavyweights Oceansize and McLusky were simply swept away with the tide. If you weren’t marketable, you had to go. Do I just harbour resentment for the industry for ignoring the underground? No, I resent them for missing a trick. The underground will always exist, and certain forms of music will always be restricted to their own scenes and demographics, but how long will it take us to admit that British guitar music needs resuscitating?

Forget “indie”, the biggest British rock group over the past decade has been Muse without a doubt. Again, we’re talking about being in the right place at the right time - Matt Bellamy’s operatic voice, virtuosic abilities and all round faux-gothicism, contrasted with the fabricated image of “unpretentious” garage rock pedalled out by four lads in Sheffield somewhere. Sure, they have gradually descended into parody, but a part of me still quivers in delight at the fact they decided to throw a symphony at the end of one of their recent releases. And when Bellamy decides to write a song about cowboys on Mars (see below), or dispense with his latest Ickean theory that the royal family are lizards, we love him for it.

The industry is only self-regulating to some degree, so what can we do? Support your local bands, yes, but also make the effort to go to that gig by that band you really rate who’ve travelled up to your region. Use social media – don’t just mention to your mate about that mathy support band you saw that are “surprisingly really good”, post them on facebook where hundreds of people can see. Arctic Monkeys fans got the formula right when they created a big online presence – why has that not really happened since? The point here is not that we need more big characters like Matt Bellamy necessarily, but we do need an artist(s) that can blow down the front door. Twelve years since 'Is This It', and we’re sitting at the same crossroads as back then.

Stagnancy has kicked in big time and we can all feel it, especially the big publications waiting to pounce. Young people are playing music more than ever before and we finally have an opportunity to kill off this barren period of music. The buzz words have to be passion, authenticity and originality, and we need to challenge the record labels and blandness-promoting publications with something of substance. Instead of waiting for a trendy American band to come over and change the game, for the love of God, can we put our weight behind that band ourselves this time?

Do you agree with me? Do you disagree with me? Which artists do you think will be big over the next year? Which artists do you think deserve to be big over the next year? Let us know in the comments below.

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