All entries for Wednesday 20 December 2006

December 20, 2006

Holly's Musical Year 2006

Has it been a good year for music? Such a hard question considering how subjective the whole thing is but then again some years are regarded as, at the very least, producing a slightly higher than average number of highly regarded albums. A bad year could be one which saw an unusually high number of good acts split up or become shit.

What 2006 has seen is the continued strength of indie music in the charts and media, but it’s position seems to be becoming a little more precarious. If we consider the music industry to be essentially split between those acts which appear from bedrooms and garages (in all genres, this could equally apply to rap or dance acts as to indie and rock) and those which are constructed by other forces, then what you have is a battle. Crudely speaking, one side wants to make music, the other side makes music to make money. This does not say anything of the quality of the music, more that the former is more likely to push boundaries and the latter is more clever. When indie music started its resurgence in the early 2000s the pop industry’s response was to put itself in touch with the people via a host of TV shows, both to choose the performers, and to see them in action (e.g. the Sugababes’ TV show). It also had to think of something a bit better than drippy boybands on stools, hence the Sugababes and Girls Aloud, both of whom benefitted from excellent song writers.

And yet the internet is bringing the bedrooms and garages nearer to the audience, and bringing the independent sector to more prominence than it has had in the past. It has brought us The Arctic Monkeys and Panic! At The Disco (with Enter Shikari looking like doing the same next year). It doesn’t always work though, The Long Blondes, despite amounts of praise which many bands would die for, had to wait a very long time to get signed. Only a relatively small number of bands has broken through thanks to the internet, yet it is the media’s current obsession. It’s just the way of the media, I guess, to become fascinated by new things.

So has 2006 been a good year? Yes and no. It really does look like we’ll need a little space before we can get a good measure on this. For all the praise and, sometimes reluctant, indie acclaim for Girls Aloud and Sugababes, both have released Best Ofs this year, often a sign of impending death for any pop act. Admittedly neither group has seen other signs of imminent splitting – claiming dubious lyrical cowrites on album tracks, guesting on dance producers’ tracks as individuals, more bitch fighting than usual – from current members. GA seem to know they have fluked their way to success via a TV show, and the ease at which the Sugababes get replaced would be enough to squash most egos. But it’s hard to say at the moment if they will split. Even if they do they might come back from the dead anyway.

Acts getting back together can work (Pixies) and it can fail (The Libertines) but pop groups? Older, surely wiser? I suspect Take That’s success is a fluke, none of their revived contemporaries (which include East 17, B*Witched, All Saints) have had as much success. It’s not unfair to say that probably only the Spice Girls could sell out as many arenas. But it’s all money from record companies which could be spent signing decent new acts, or even making a decent new act should we lose Girls Aloud one of the good current pop acts. There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia, but most of it comes with its own publicity, the Rolling Stones keep going on and on, although their seminal place in music history helps, as it does with Madonna, Cliff and others. Reviving the Vengaboys is not the same thing.

This year had a lot of potential. There were a lot of albums by bands and acts who could well get better and matter more in years to come. But with a band as high profile as The Futureheads getting dropped, it is also an uncertain time, will these groups with potential (Howling Bells, Ladyfuzz, iLiKETRAiNS, The Yougn Knives) get their chance? Or is the key to survival now to go mainstream as possible, like Snow Patrol did by smoothing almost all their quirks and releasing ‘Chasing Cars’, the most anondyne song they’ve ever been associated with?

2006 has once more watched as the NME managed to work itself into a lather about a completely stupid creation of a scene, the absurdity which is ‘New Rave’. With its best band, the actually rather wonderful Klaxons, turning out to be just a high quality indie band with a few sound effects, you have to wonder if the NME is just desperate to seem like it can come up with something new, especially as everyone else in the world is now finally bored of Pete Doherty. New Rave isn’t it. Datarock are quite good, Shitdisco have a hell of a lot to prove, and Pull Tiger Tail are very much like Klaxons in being indie not rave. This is before we even note that this year seems to have seen a major return for drum and bass, i.e. proper rave music. The purists may not like them, but this is Pendulum’s doing and they do it pretty bloody well.

It’s not been a vintage year, but there’s been good music and possibly the chance of a good 2007.


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