Sunday, November 23, 2008

The weekend never starts round here

I never really think of myself as a music buff, or even a music lover. Compared to my obsessions with movies and games, music seems to take a back seat as I rarely seek out anything new and have bought very little in the last few years.

Thinking back to my childhood, though, it seems a very different story.

I believe the first single I ever bought was Turtle Power, the movie tie-in song on a cassette from Woolworths in Cricklewood (long since closed). It was a bizarre rap-lite concoction, and I think to my embarrassment that the first album I owned was either Bobby Brown’s ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ or Vanilla Ice’s ‘To the Extreme’, both second albums by artists who found fame as their style became fashionable, New Jack Swing taking hold around the time of Brown’s ‘My Prerogative’ being released, and Vanilla Ice cashing in on the novelty (s)hit single. Given the timeline it was probably Brown, but either way I stress that I was influenced by Top of the Pops, and was only about ten years old.

It was also Top of the Pops that set me upon a different path, however, after Iron Maiden’s ‘Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter’ reached number one and basically made me a Metaller, or Metalhead or whatever you want to call it. After that I got a leather jacket and started to grow my hair, and listened to everything from the obvious Metallica, Guns and Roses and Megadeth to lesser know acts like Pro Pain and Misery Loves co. A bunch of friends from school also shared an interested in music that was heavy and guitar based, and mostly thanks to them I hovered around the cutting edge of the scene, getting into the likes of Nirvana, Korn, Fear Factory, Incubus, Marilyn Manson, Tool and System of a Down either before they hit the big time, or before most people had ever heard of them.
I watched as the metal scene fragmented into even more little sub genres than the late 80s had to offer with the cock rock of Poison, stadium bollocks of Bon Jovi and thrash metal of Slayer and Metallica (pre-Black Album) to complement the more ‘bread and butter’ metal of Iron Maiden and Megadeth.
Rap and dance music started to have an influence, and things that had been around a while like punk split off in all directions, forming in that case a base for as diverse acts as Green Day, Pitchshifter and King Prawn.

I went to metal gigs and festivals and paraded around in baggy trousers, band t-shirts and hoodies (though it’s not hugely different now I’m 30), and have days worth of metal on my ipod even today, but it was never as simple as that.

Alongside the metal I was influenced by a number of sources. I remember furtively listening to NWA’s ‘Straight Outta Compton’at probably about 11 or 12, afraid my mum would hear it, and playing De La Soul’s ‘Three Feet High and Rising’ with considerably more volume.
This embarrassment at NWA was despite the fact that my mum was one of the biggest influences on my tastes, for it was her listening to New Jack Swing acts like R.Kelly and Warren G. that no doubt led to my Bobby Brown purchase, and it was her listening to Jungle on pirate radio as it first started to emerge in London that led to me becoming a big fan, and would lead to me twiddling through the FM band at the weekend, trying to find a station with a finger hovering over record so that I could listen to drum and bass as it was then, all Jamaican ragga and film samples set to deep, rumbling bass.
My predilection for dance music was always there, alongside all the other genres that vied for attention, and I wonder what would have happened if I were a bit older and had been a teen when Rave culture first started, rather than reaching 15 to find that the government had criminalised free raves with the Criminal Justice Act of 1994. I went to clubs and danced to trance music instead, before the shit they call trance in Ibiza was invented.

On the other hand, I was a working class kid from a post-industrial suburb, practically the inner city as far as North London’s concerned, but I went to a private secondary school with middle class kids who lived in the ‘proper’ suburbs, ones that had a postcode from a different county. This is probably a large ingredient in the reasoning as to why my tastes included white-boy guitar music as well as underground beats broadcast from tower blocks.

Indie was big too, and whilst I never read the NME like some of my more indie-centric school friends, I became a big fan of Select magazine and regularly took a chance on a band based on reviews in the mag.
As well as the emergence of metal variations like the downtuned metal of Korn and Deftones and the evolution of Jungle into Drum and Bass in the mid 90s, indie music enjoyed a big place in the spotlight with guitar based pop becoming fashionable again after a decade of synths. Blur, Pulp, Suede, Radiohead and dozens of others hit the big time, swirling around in tabloid celebrity culture despite being student music, usually a surefire way to stay out of the top end of the charts. Thus the Britpop phenomenon chugged along for a while and I was into that too, with sub-mutations all of its own as ‘indie’ and ‘dance’ merged and you had acts that were enjoyed by fans of all camps, like Orbital and Aphex Twin, and a rash of remixes bloated each and every release of a single.
And then you also had the emergence of Trip Hop, one of my favourite mini-genres, as Massive Attack furtively shuffled out of Bristol with Tricky, Portishead and my favourite Ruby following just behind.

Nowadays my musical discoveries are confined to the latest releases of the tried and trusted, stuff I happen to hear on a film soundtrack or similar, and new music of a broad hard-rock church thanks to a friend with a voracious appetite for new music within that hazy umbrella genre.
Because of this I feel like I’m not ‘into’ music anymore, but I guess you could say I was into it all ten years ago and I still haven’t finished with that yet.

Or it might be that I was musically Samson – since the late 90s there haven’t been any musical movements I’ve been inspired by. Bands yes, but bands all doing infinitesimal variations on what has gone before. Is it a coincidence that it was the late 90s that finally saw me cut my hair, after it tangled into a mass I couldn’t comb and I became fed up with it?
I’ve not been able to grow it long since, and my enthusiasm for new music has also stunted. The signs are there. Maybe someone put a hex on me?


  1. Returning the compliment: Your mum's music taste rocked! She should have been Mayor of Poptown.

    Really nice post. I don't think enough has been written about the Metaller/NWA crossover. I remember being utterly stumped by all the other kids into NWA in school playing Appetite For Destruction the rest of the time.

    I'd be well proud if "Don't Be Cruel" was my first album. I don't really have a first album as I was pure compilation tapes for the first couple of years. :-(

  2. I'm sure it's been written about somewhere.
    On one level NWA and metal share in being music for angry boys, and there has been a lot of rock/rap crossover from Aerosmith and RunDMC through RATM, Bodycount, DubWar, OneMinuteSilence and influences on Biohazard and MachineHead, and a bunch of other rapping over metal bands. There was also a pretty successful crossover album in the Spawn soundtrack. There's even a meaty riff in Dizzee Rascal's "Sirens" as I remember.

    I had a lot of compilations too, back then, but I think Bobby was first, before the double tape sets with "On a Ragga Tip" on them.

    My mum likes watching Hollyoaks so it's not all good. No offence to Bear.

  3. I don't buy any of those musical crossovers or marketing crossovers. The interesting thing about NWA and Metal is that they don't sound alike. At all really. They just share levels of anti-social posturing and darkness. That crossover of "feeling" is far more interesting than the contrived crossovers of RATM et al, for me. In the rest of the 90s the lines were very carefully drawn and policed. I think they've come down a bit now but it still seems impressive how NWA got those listeners without any real musical concessions.

  4. Random question: Do you have an Xbox 360? I'm suddenly wishing I had decent online gaming options, racing games and sports games. My wii has none of these things (cuddles to mariokart though).

    I'm looking for people who can have an oppinion one way or tother. Ta.

  5. I do have a 360, online works well and it has plenty of sports and racing game options.
    Can't use it at the moment though as my internet's too slow.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. How slow? I have a slowish broadband connection (4 miles of copper wire will do that), dyou think that'll work?

  8. Two words: Judgment Day.

    Nice post!


  9. Alex - you mean Judgement Night, yes?

    Beezer - I have broadband via a mobile company so do not have the option to go online with consoles, but I suspect slower bband connections would leave to unplayable, jerky online experiences...