Following a conversation with a friend, who blogs over at kissthefist, yesterday I started reading Simon Reynold's Retromania. I'm literally nowhere into the book but my friend Dom wrote a post on his blog about it. And the problem is I'm not sure I agree with Reynolds' basic assertion that pop has eaten itself.
The premise behind the (non-fiction) book is that culture, music culture specifically, has all but died as a result of its own obsession with the past. The post-punk revival, concerts dedicated to playing single albums, re-masters, bands re-forming and movie biopics: it's easy to see where Reynolds is coming from.
But burying our heads in the myriad of awesome albums from the past is hardly a solution... It just makes us more likely to miss something genuinely new that comes out now. And that is half the point of Reynolds' argument, but still... There is a middle ground to be had, enjoying the classics whilst still believing in new music.
And, as I said, whilst I am nowhere in Reynolds' book yet (I have only just read the intro) I'm a bit incensed by the fact that he starts by listlessly reeling through the last decade picking out all of the bands that re-formed, re-imaginings and re-interpretations without stopping to pick out any of the more revolutionary moments.
Soulwax created a whole new form of rave culture that was too distant from the original to be a rebirth, and the elements of older tunes within their mashups too small a part of their overall ambition to ignore the impact they have had. Justice took the same ideal of dance music you can rock out to and ran with it.
And I don't much like dub step, but it is a whole new scene with a huge amount of relevance for some people. Will we look back on it as this generation's hip-hop? I doubt it, but it still resonates with the zeitgeist - contemporary youth's alienation and disaffection.
Maybe we lack 'scenes' in the way that we once had, but that is a symptom of our increasingly fragmented, choice filled society and is arguably a good thing: we aren't all the same. Sure, I'd love another 'rave' or 'post-punk' (I note here that actual punk was pretty derivative), but I'll settle for a stack of innovative albums. Look back over the past ten years and there are some thrilling new sounds to be heard... In response to Reynolds' list of uninspiring re-hashes, a list of some artists, off the top of my head, who have done and are doing something genuinely new:
Gang Gang Dance, Polar Bear, M.I.A., Flying Lotus, Outkast, Matthew Dear, Battles, Björk, Luomo, TV on the Radio, The Knife, Sigur Rós and Sufjan Stevens (who bizarrely Reynolds quotes with reference to the White Stripes being a re-hash, without really noting Stevens' creativity).
I'm jumping the gun and will plough on with the book, but what do you think? Is music really becoming as dull as Reynolds seems to suggest?
If you are interested you can buy Retromania from Amazon.co.uk [affiliate link].