Last December, Yeasayer called it a day. Brooklyn’s favourite psych-freaks were one of those bands I discovered in my first flush of uni freshers excitement, along with Wild Beasts, The Maccabees, Everything Everything, and a smattering of standard issue Leeds dub and reggae. It was a minor musical awakening of the kind felt in university halls across the nation.
For most of my teens, I split my time between shouty metal and autoparodic emo. I was never a perfect fit for either: too fundamentally unmasculine and melodramatic for the moshers, too optimistic for the mopers. I had the requisite teenage self-awareness void for both, though. My markers of time were ‘gig days’, and I spent most of my money on trips to the Astoria and Camden Underworld.
We would hang around in McDonalds beforehand, throwing chips at each other and generally being a pain. Then we would stand for an eternity waiting for the queue to go down, and a parade of guys with achingly tight skinny jeans, 20mm earlobes and black t-shirts with spidery writing would disappear to take a piss in the alley. And then finally we’d be in, and my feet would stick to plastic cups and our clothes would stick to us, and we would battle our way towards our front and deafen ourselves against the speakers. A few hours later we’d emerge, triumphant and noisy, and fill Saint Pancras with tuneless singalongs. We find solace in weird places.
I filled my cupboard with black band t-shirts, and genuinely developed a compulsive twitch from flicking my swoopy fringe too much. I once went to a party with these fucking things called ‘heartograms’ drawn in eyeliner on my cheeks. I had a Kerrang poster of Slipknot on one wall, and a picture of WiL Francis from Aiden with an arrow through his heart on another. No, the capital L isn’t a typo. They were dark times.
After an evening of knockoff cider and Timesplitters 2, I might post Cradle of Filth lyrics on MySpace or msn messenger, for whatever limited shock value I could extract from them. I had nerdy fights about metal subgenres, of which there are far more than there are bands1. We liked kicking the fuck out of each other in moshpits, but we were cosseted, suburban little baby deer, really.
Although the bands and the scenes changed as I fled the Home Counties for the gritty city, I was always a regular at rock gigs. Some of my favourite, dullest and most over-repeated anecdotes come from gigs. The time Tom Delonge said if we all sang together we could stop the war in Iraq. The time we got a bit too high at a gig in the park, and decided to spin-walk home before trying to fry pasta. The time the immeasurably ridiculous Hawthorne Heights2 said they believed encores were dishonest, and then got upstaged by their own guest star. The time we got Jim Adkins’ attention, and he blew us a kiss. The time… well, you get the picture. Live at Leeds was a highlight of my year, implausibly bathed in sunshine every single May, presumably on the strength of some gig promoter’s faustian pact. We found the time for more DIY gigs too, hosted in fire-hazard cellars and in the secluded backrooms of tumbledown pubs. I got such a buzz from the energy of those evenings.
To Absent Friends
Yeasayer weren’t the first of the indie brat pack to go. Wild Beasts and The Maccabees raised their white flags a few summers back, and there have been more casualties along the way. Others, like Bloc Party and The Shins, changed beyond recognition as their original members fell away. Some died the coward’s death of indefinite hiatus. Its sad, sure, but it’s also the natural order of things. Creativity is difficult and people are no easier. Some bands chug on, making roughly the same album another five or six times, playing to diminishing crowds. A few, like Los Campesinos! and Johnny Foreigner, stayed inventive and funny, but there’s a patina of sadness that runs through a lot of their later stuff, a sense that the giddy post-millennial glory days ain’t returning. The ones who were most successful, like Everything Everything, were shapeshifters, barely rock bands in the first place.
Then there’s the ex-bands who dust off their plectrums and fill up the tour bus for one more job. With honourable exceptions, bands like couples should rarely reform. There’s usually a good reason they broke up. I’m still haunted by the vision of a bitter, resentful Libertines, unable to look at each other or speak to their indifferent crowd, hammering out their classic between downpours at Tramlines. I never much liked the Libertines, but that’s a cruel fate for the shambling icons of noughties indie.
I come not to praise Modest Mouse, but to bury them. I feel genuine if wry affection for the indie darlings of the boom years, and for the fringe-flickers and riffsters they wrestled me from. However, if I can step outside my teenage eulogy for a moment, those bands weren’t the be all and end all. They were catching a moment, but there were always other rock stories and rock scenes, many of them more inventive and daring. At times I dipped my toes in various rock subcultures, from feisty folk punk to bouncy ska, cavernous post-punk and headfuck post-hardcore. There will always be another moshpit. Won’t there?
The Tunes They Are A’Changin
I always mocked those hysterical articles that popped up every now and again like herpes. For ‘guitar music is dead‘, read, ‘we’ve got a band with some haircuts and a synth that think it’s 1987, and boy do we want to sell them to you‘. But the Recently Added section of my iTunes doesn’t lie. Jazz, country, weird glitchy noises, leftfield house, hip-hop, d’n’b, African blues and some Japanese folk, but hardly any rock. I pursue music recommendations, even the ones people throw at me five beers down in the Farmer’s Boy, and I have plenty of rocker mates who I could count on to tell me their new passions. In Bristol, the fates (and Dan. Hi Dan.) threw me Idles, and a bunch of decent local acts. Since then, the stream of new rock bands to tempt me has run dryer. I hear a lot of shoegaze-y, grunge influenced bands that seem almost calculatedly unexciting. I forget them all ten minutes later. There’s the biannual ‘rebirth of garage rock’ thing as well, which I can never quite get excited about.
Admittedly, I got absorbed in a few great Japanese bands, like the enigmatic Zazen Boys, with their scattershot delivery and jazzy improvisation, who fuse math rock with punk and Zen chanting. I have a soft spot for the pop-punk of Backlift; it’s not groundbreaking, but it’s fucking fun. I believe I have written about the genius of Oledickfoggy here before. Even in Japan though, a lot of the most interesting new stuff I heard came from the hip-hop scene, or in the various electronic offshoots of jazz.
Anyway, why am I writing all of this? I like listening to a wide world of sound, and it’s no bad thing if music genres that aren’t dominated by white guys get more airtime and attention. If hip hop collectives are headlining Reading now, and thus soundtracking GCSE students’ first three-day benders, tent-burnings and stomach-pumpings, I can live with that.
There is something about the atmosphere, though, which I haven’t found elsewhere. Something about those sticky floors and sweaty, beer-soaked t-shirts and the ecstatic, lopsided fervour that resembles the final stages of some mass pilgrimage or cult gathering. Rock gigs are the most efficient machine I’ve ever known for converting rage and aggression into brotherly love. People behave in a way which is totally unreasonable, and contrary to all health and safety legislation. There aren’t really any other places where Enter Shikari’s impromptu human pyramids could be considered a normal human activity. People give you their trust more deeply in the concert crowd.
So I’m genuinely sorry that I’ve got separated from the scene. If you know a decent rock band who I should be more excited about, fling ’em at me (don’t hold my teenage taste against me, tho). I want to sweat in basements and scream lyrics off key and hug a stranger who I just punched again, I really do.
1- I really don’t miss metal genre arguments. They’re what I turn to to understand the pedantic ferocity of medieval theological disputes, where people could be exiled to remote islands for having a different perspective on the correct date of Easter.
2- I know, I know. I’m so sorry. I’ll never live it down.