Melody Maker (Dec. 23/30, 1989)
THROUGHOUT A DECADE IN WHICH POP BEGAN FASHION-OBSESSED AND ENDED UP A MARKETING STATISTIC, SIOUXSIE SIOUX HAS FOLLOWED HER INSTINCTS AND MAINTAINED HER INDEPENDENCE. NOW, AS A NEW DECADE BEGINS, SHE LOOKS BACK, DISAPPOINTED BUT NOT DEFEATED BY THE POP PROCESS AND PREDICTS THERE IS STILL A FUTURE WORTH FIGHTING FOR.
HAVE WE GOT EYES IN THE BACK OF OUR heads? Sometimes it seems we must have - so many people are looking backwards rather than forwards. The Eighties have been rife with nostalgia which seems to be creeping up, getting closer and closer to the present every day.
Perhaps it's something to do with the advent of sampling, the way you can take a sound from anywhere, any time and make it your own. I read somewhere that there are samples of samples being taken now and that the original samplers are getting pissed off that they're being 'robbed' It's not that I consider sampling artistic theft or anything like that - it depends entirely on how it's done, whether a person makes something new or different with it. Unfortunately, very few people do.
There is an argument that sampling and the whole nostalgia thing signals a general malaise, a widespread lack of imagination and, although I don't agree with that, I really think what happened over a decade ago, termed punk by the media, set such a strong precedent that it must be very hard to follow. It's almost the same situation as the child of a great actor trying to follow in their footsteps.
What happened back then happened because no one was ready for it. The people who were waiting for it, did it, they became involved and, briefly, it caught the industry completely unawares. But today it's as if all the moves have been scripted, all the gestures reduced to stunts. There are so many people trying to do a Bill Grundy because they know the effect it will have. It's almost like a caricature of an effect. It's very transparent, lacking the imagination and the style and risk necessary to change things. There is no spontaneity about it, no passion. It is totally controllable. And totally controlled. You feel that, if there were to be a stylistic revolution in music today, it would have been invented by the industry itself, assembled from bits and pieces of previous role models. But a shock that's already been delivered is really no shock at all.
IT'S due to nostalgia that I think everything feels stagnant at the moment. But it's really a false impression. There is a lot of great music being made that, because of safe radio formatting, because of the lack of pop programmes on TV, never gets the chance to reach a wide audience. Those bands who are making an impression, bands like The Wonder Stuff or The Stone Roses, have barged their way to attention by playing live and building up such a following that, eventually, they couldn't be ignored. Their fan base forced their hand.
Of course, this route to getting noticed has become increasingly difficult because it's getting harder and harder to play live. Video's seen to that. One of the reasons the changes we hoped would take place a decade ago never did was because of video. We used to go onstage, play, finish and then go to the bar. There was never an "us" and "them" situation between the band and the audience. Everyone was involved and that kept it vital. But video is a lazy, non-participatory pastime, encouraging passive armchair acceptance rather than lively involvement. It also perpetuates the star system we once hoped would be smashed because it doesn't allow any contact between the artist and the audience at all.
Personally I enjoy making videos but, again, like sampling, what comes out depends entirely on how much imagination you put in. Most videos are so literal, they leave no room for your own interpretation of the song and the song becomes so much less for it. Of course, there are songs being written now specifically to suit video which is just as disgusting as writing a book specifically to be turned into a film.
But video can work. If you throw in conflicting visuals, if you provide alternative interpretations to what the song seems to be saying, it can be an enriching experience.Sadly, though, most videos are soap operas that rob you of your own imagination and we'd be better off without them. But there's no choice - people are pressured to make videos to support me sales of a single in the same way that they're pressured to produce different formats of the same song. Again, some songs suit this and an interesting new format can be created, but just as often the song says all it has to say in its original form and the format is just an empty exercise, there's nothing else to be got out of it.
Still, the artistic side of it is seldom considered. If you make a record you're under pressure to deliver different formats whether it's artistically warranted or not solely because people buy them.
I'm always having this argument with people from the record company. They say people don't buy things they don't want but I think, if it's being pushed at them, if they're being offered it, they're being pressurised to buy, especially the real fans who'II collect anything. And, really, they're the last people who should be getting ripped-off.
THERE is a theory that we get the pop we deserve - that if the stupid people didn't buy the crap, then the crap wouldn't get there. But I think people only buy what they hear and they aren't given enough choice on the radio or on TV. The industry conspires to push certain artists who write to a tried and tested, nostalgic formula, at the expense of anything else because it maintains the status quo and keeps them in their jobs.
Some people are even asking whether music is actually as important as it used to be, implying that future generations will channel their energies elsewhere. But I believe that attitude comes from looking back through rose-tinted glasses because new musical movements are never a majority thing. It's always a minority that makes it happen, that causes the upheaval Most people want nothing more than to move next door to their parents and stay in their own secure little area but there will always be a few people who escape through music, who adopt it and use it to change their lives, to change themselves.
These people are still out there somewhere but it seems as if they've given up on the idea that it can all be taken over and changed. Or maybe they just like it as it is. I still believe that the ideal situation is to have such a fan-base that it is impossible to be ignored and then go on "Top Of The Pops" and be different, perhaps change things - at least present an alternative. But bands like The Butthole Surfers seem happy surviving on the periphery which I think is a pity because that way you're often only preaching to the converted.
That's not enough for me. I'd much prefer to see them on "Top Of The Pops" because that's part of the excitement of pop, seeing a band who don't belong there who've forced their way on. There's no excitement in preaching to the converted. It's so much more thrilling to play to an audience who doesn't accept you because you get more fired up, you're out to get 'em.
One of the great pleasures or music is confrontation - the way you can confront and confuse an audience, offer them something new, perhaps make them think a bit, unsettle them out of their complacency. But the record industry found a way to tame the confrontational spirit. It couldn't do anything to the music itself - that remains free - but it managed to contain it, control and channel it to the outer limits.
The great divide took place the day the first record store decided to start a New Wave section. To have maximum effect, Phil Collins records and Lydia Lunch records should always be in together so that people going to buy one could be confronted, affronted, even challenged by the other. But, once you start putting records in sections, it says to people, "Here's what you want or, don't bother looking here, you're not going to like it." You go into record stores and you know exactly where your sort of music is to be round. You never ever stray so there's never any opportunity for cross-fertilization.
It's really satisfying when you get on with someone that you think you'd have nothing at all in common with, when you're thrown together on a train or a plane in a situation where you can't escape each other so you end up talking and you realise you share a lot. But the record industry erects a stupid facade where we're all contained within our own categories and musical dialogue is discouraged because, I suppose, the more individual markets they can invent, the more they can make people feel, "This is for me, this makes me this sort of person. That's for them, they're different", the more records they'll sell. It's a symptom of the way we're robbed of choice in the Eighties that going into a record store these days is like being a well-trained rat in a laboratory - you're guided by signs and signals to your reward. Everyones's scrutinised, everyone's watched.
If there were to be a musical revolution on a par with the movement in the Seventies, it would immediately be jumped upon, altered, channelled, contained and then marketed. It would never be allowed to grow or develop, it could never just happen accidentally as it did before, fuelling people's frustration at the lack of good music around.
I still feel music is important, it's about emotion, and I still see great, passionate music being made, but the control of that music is out of our hands. The same people who were in charge of the media - of TV and radio and record companies - when the Banshees first started are still there now and their attitudes haven't changed. They're still obstructive to the growth of anything new, they still go for the tested, the tried and true. So, if I was 18 now and loved music, I think I'd try to get into the business side of the industry because that's what's f***ed it up and that's where the next revolution has to occur.
We need people to go into TV, go into radio, like Tony Wilson has done, and shake it up from the inside. And this doesn't only apply to music - we need young people to go in there and affect the arts programmes, the films we get to see on TV. We need people to go in and alter the parameters, to rewrite the unwritten book about what the limitations are. There has to be a new breed of people eager to infiltrate on the behalf of new music the way there has been for new comedy. If "The Young Ones" can do it, so can we. We must wrest control from the establishment, we must take over ourselves.
Rather than businessmen making records - accountants writing songs to formula - the people who make records should get into the business. Let's get rid of the businessmen completely - out of music, out of business. Soul II Soul have done it. More will surely follow.
Contributed by Bonnie Bryant.