Culture Clash – Is nostalgia ruining pop music?

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Photo by Maraworld Benicassim Festival

In recent years we’ve had something of a vintage revival; old’s cool, and recycling past styles is now the done thing. We’re surrounded by nostalgia trips and not just in the fashion world but in the form of retro sweets, home decorating and reruns of TV series.

So it was only a matter of time before vintage revival appeared in the charts. From merely sampling older tracks and adding a modern twist to classics to a total re-creation of older music; it’s now not unusual for a track from your youth to suddenly emerge back on the UK Top 40. And there have been some absolute bangers. It’s interesting to see how artists adapt a track to suit their style.  For instance, Florence Welch’s version of ‘You Got The Love’; the song suddenly took on an even more soulful tone and for a while was often found to be one of the closing tracks of a night out.

Photo by Dani Canto

Covers are one thing. Sampling is another. Professor Green brought the INXS1987 hit ‘Need You Tonight’ back to life. You might not necessarily have liked his version, but musical experimentation is surely necessary for artist development?

A few months ago I discovered the talented sibling trio of Kitty, Daisy & Lewis. They record using only vintage equipment, creating a brilliantly aged effect on the tracks, and for their actual songwriting they take inspiration from swing, blues and R&B. I personally loved this album as soon as I heard the staff playing the CD in the record store, simply because it was different. It caught my attention because it wasn’t the mundane repetitions Jason Derulo (I can’t even say his name anymore, I have to sing it) and Taio Cruz come out with constantly. You know the ones; about how they’re drunk in the club, all night, with the ladies, generally having it large. The Kitty, Daisy & Lewis album was an interesting change.

As for the contribution of such vintage inspired music to the current music industry, bring it on. It’s only because of the arrival of artists who actually have more talent than looking good combined with autotune that we have found well deserving singer Adele in the charts for what seems like a lifetime. We’ve been reminded that singers should be successful firstly because they can sing.

It can only be a positive thing that we find the current music scene including recreations of older tracks. I don’t just want music that’s pretty much created by a computer pretending to be a person, but that’s not to say I’m totally against electronically enhanced music. I like musicians, whether they are singers, DJs or guitarists to have some real, organic talent. And if real, organic talent presents itself in imitations of the fifties music scene, then brilliant; artists had real musical integrity then. It’s good to see artists with real musical integrity now as well. – Emma Williams

“What the bloody hell’s all this then? This music lark was much better in my day!” is a familiar cry you might associate with your grandparents. But when you think about it, it’s a cry we’ve always ignored; musicians have ploughed on regardless and have taken their art to new and exciting places (sorry Grandma!).

But for once, it seems that our current crop of pop stars (as well as under-the-radar indie bands, for that matter) have been listening to their grandparents arguments, and looking into their own past much more than ever before. The famous music critic Simon Reynolds has dubbed this phenomenon ‘Retromania’ – pop culture’s obsession with its own past.
The kind of pop that fills the chart and night-clubs should take a lot of the blame for this, with its horribly lazy attitude towards sampling (a technique that has the potential to be innovative and subversive). After all, why risk trying out something new when you can get Jennifer Lopez to babble over some 80’s euro-pop? They were right, of course, it got to Number 1. Jason De Rulo had to sing his name at the start of his debut single, just to let you know that, despite his song being known entirely for Imogen Heap’s chorus, it was totally his song! Honest!

The worst recent example of this type of shameless, soulless pilfering is The Black Eyed Peas’ ‘The Time’, in which they took the chorus hook of an already bad eighties ‘hit’, sprinkled it with Will. I. Am’s robot voice and had the nerve to call it ‘new’. It’s so culturally destructive (as well as painful to listen to) that the UN should be looking at banning it under the torture clauses of the Geneva Convention. Of course, in spite of this, it got to Number 1. For whatever reason, there’s a bigger market than ever for our own past.

But what’s even more troubling is that bands on indie labels, the music industry’s real experimenters, have fallen in love with their own past too. During the late nineties and early 2000s artists exhumed the corpse of every eighties style they could remember; post-punk, synth pop, Thatcher Rock, only to find increasingly diminishing returns. At the moment it’s the sixties that are in vogue, thanks to bands like Kitty Daisy & Lewis, Tame Impala, Cults and even Adele. They’re undoubtedly talented, what can they actually offer us? Their music is pleasant because we know it so well, but is that what art is really about?

Art and music should challenge preconceptions and break boundaries, not act as a safe and comfortable cocoon. Sure, we’re human beings, and we’ll always pine for the familiar. But we need experimenters and explorers to push us into the unknown, too. – Joe Henthorn

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