Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Word In The Ear

Paul Morley was anomalously great on last night's The Review Show, if only because he was prepared to interrogate the easy, industry-built assumptions of Miranda Sawyer and whale-ish smugonaut Tom Service. He hit on what has been perpetually ignored by the majority of pundits, in the shift away from older forms of engaging with pop as a recorded artefact, as a form of artificial (modernist) enchantment, and its re-attachment to a reality principle. On the rise of the live music and festival industry, particularly Glastonbury:

"We're talking about something that almost doesn't involve music... The way we talk about it, it's almost like the way we talk about the season, with Ascot and Henley, and, again, I think it's about the celebration of an incredible 40 or 50 years in popular culture, and you can get off on it - but what, ultimately does it mean?... where is the disruption and the subversion in the new world? Now the reason I say it is because they're all listening to things and enjoying things that I was 30 or 40 years ago; if I was enjoying things 30 or years before me, I'd would have been getting off on George Formby.... there has to come a moment - and this is why I'm interested in post-Cageian [music] - because we're all looking for the new thing in music to have happened, and we're expecting it to be like the Pistols or the Stones, but I don't think it will be.... that form of music that young people are getting off on now is essentially a stale thing, it isn't liberating."

Of course, he's not wholly correct. My friend Frances recently did a panel with Morley at which he more-or-less slagged off every single young music writer working today, and presumably most of the bands (both disheartening and unnecessary, as Frances and the other writers who worked on Plan B set out to prove). But it does seem that, at the moment when our ways and forms of engaging with pop are dissolving, through over-saturation and the virtualisation and dispersion of music (no longer contained in the artefact of the LP/7"/12", but in single MP3s, store speakers, gigs), fewer interesting things are springing from these new conditions than they should be - and it's necessary for critics and young fans to be able to put the present into the context of a historical sense, and to confront and wrestle with the iron-clad conservatism of cultural life today.


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