​Brits 2018 – And the Depoliticising of Music

23rd February 2018 // The Brits // Music

Nobody really tunes into The Brits these days expecting some kind of mini-revolution. Back in the 90s and early 00s, when the mainstream was permeated by the kind of miscreants the pony-tailed music execs were terrified of, you tuned in expecting to be entertained. There was the year when the mainstream was flipped upside down; you could maybe trace it back to 1993, when open-mouthed middle-aged men (for it was men unfortunately) didn’t know where to look when a semi-clad Brett Anderson cavorted onstage provocatively as Suede performed Animal Nitrate. The discomfort in the room was palpable, and it marked the end of the old-guard. Watch the clip on YouTube, see the audience reaction at the end:

Let’s not be under any illusions here; as much as it was great to see these deviants and reprobates gate-crashing the Annie Lennox, Phil Collins and Simply Red show, it’s essentially a back-slapping exercise for the record companies to celebrate the amount of units shifted. It’s more a competition between vile, greasy executives and their respective record companies. The winners are incidental, unwanted tokens of capital gained. However, we cheered, in 1992, when the KLF (with Extreme Noise Terror) sprayed the audience with audience with blanks from machine guns and promptly left the building, not waiting to pick up their Best British Group (shared with Hucknell’s dreck-filled band). They promptly retired from the music industry, but not before dumping a dead sheep at the after-party. As statements go, it was pretty fucking extreme, and marked the end of those dire years, where beigeness was the order of the day. The next year was still awful, but Suede played a blinder, a token nod to the shift in tastes.

1994 fared a bit better when Stereo MCs and Björk picked up two gongs each, but it was 1995 that was the real watershed year. The year the pigs had to acknowledge the change in direction of the mainstream. Blur won the four main awards, including Best British Group and Best British Album. And a band called Oasis won Best British Newcomer, with Weller winning Best British Male. Tellingly, they were leathered when they picked up their awards, dressed in Harringtons, hoodies and trainers instead of tuxedos, and Damon asserted that the Best Group award should have been shared with Oasis, with Coxon adding, ‘much love and respect to them.’ How a year would change all that. Liam rocked up, fag in hand, to collect their Newcomer award, but no one could have foreseen the events that would constitute the next year’s Brits.

Whether you’re a fan of Oasis is immaterial, although I know most people my age were, at least post-Wonderwall, despite my best intentions to big them up pre- that song; it doesn’t matter if you think you hate them now, most of it’s media-driven. Ditto the reappraisal of Liam in 2017. But that night, they shook Earls Court to its very core. The belligerence on show hadn’t been seen since punk, or at the very least The Roses in terms of attitude. Oasis had to be acknowledged, they were a phenomenon, picking up three awards, each time taking to the stage like a gang of gak’d up football hooligans. And that was exactly what we should be demanding of our rock stars. Who wants your hard-living rockers resembling humble supply teachers? We applaud the bad boys and girls in music: Lennon, Janis Joplin, Keith Richards, the Pistols, The Clash, Keith Moon, Ozzie et al. The rule breakers. Oasis brought that back and were celebrated and vilified in equal measure. But it was exciting. And of course, by that time, the Oasis/Blur mutual appreciation society had soured beyond belief, which set up a rivalry not seen in music for decades. It had all got too polite until this. Looking back, it was all a bit childish, but when you’re in your 20s, it’s an exhilarating spectacle.

Add to the Sex Beatles slaying all before them in ’96, Jarvis Cocker got into major trouble for invading the stage during Michael Jackson’s pseudo-messianic performance of Earth Song, in which he was surrounded by ‘adoring’ children, who he was ‘healing.’ Incensed, Cocker rushed the stage and feigned farting into the audience to voice his distaste. This resulted in him being arrested and being defended by a Bob Mortimer, the qualified lawyer, who, in an inebriated state, volunteered to defend him. It was all very chaotic. In short, what we wanted from the sober, formerly sterile industry self-congratulatory bullshit.

That year, Massive Attack, Weller, Supergrass, Bjork, Eno and Bowie also won awards. The tide was turning, and the corporates in suits couldn’t sweep it under the carpet. It was the moment when the young bucks laid waste to the old guard in spectacular fashion.

Yes, we were young, now a lot of us have families as we cruise uneasily into middle-age, but who doesn’t crave a bit of danger at these establishment-endorsed events? The naughtiness continued when, in 1998, Chumbawumba covered John Prescott in a bucket of iced water, Belle and Sebastian controversially won Best Newcomer in ’99 after accusations of vote-rigging, Brandon Block invaded the stage and nearly had a fight with Ronnie Wood, but after the millennium, with the appearance of bland rockers such as Travis, Keane and Coldplay, order seemed to be restored, and the Brits once again became what the execs of a failing industry wished for. Grateful artists, wearing suits and thanking their record labels. No swearing, except for the wonderfully real Adele. In short, it became unwatchable again; the dawn of the X-Factor had rescued back the cult of non-personality.

Madonna falling off the stage was funny, but unplanned. The only real moments of any note were in 2014, when Bowie, winning Best British Male, sent friend Kate Moss to accept his award with the words, ‘Stay with us Scotland.’ Now the dreaded Politics was entering the arena, and thank god for that. I grew up in a time when politics and music went hand in hand, but there was no place for it at corporate events like these. As intended, a furious debate ensued. Could we be maybe moving back into dangerous territory. I hoped so.

The best recent moment for me incensed your armchair commentators. We’d been crying out for a bit of bad behaviour for years. Where had the danger gone? We wanted our rock stars to be arrogant, petulant and not to play by the rules. So, when Alex Turner took to the stage in 2014 to accept British Album for AM, we got it. His idiosyncratic speech was a moment of inspired genius, where he appeared to dismiss current music as ‘sludge,’ going on to say that rock ‘n’ roll wouldn’t be crushed despite the efforts of some. His parting gesture was to say, ‘invoice me for the microphone if you need to,’ before slamming it onto the floor. It sparked furore amongst Facebook users, calling him ‘arrogant,’ a ‘d*ckhead,’ and ‘who the f*ck does he think he is?’ But it’s what we’d been waiting for. So, what the f*ck had changed? Are we accepting banal acceptance speeches and gratitude on a Gwyneth Paltrow scale from our musicians now? Do we want artists who act like nervous geography teachers, nervously bumbling their way through rehearsed acceptance speeches where they thank their babysitters and that nice vicar that lived down the street where they grew up? I hope not. What does it say about the shouty Facebook youngsters, who were outraged at Turner’s behaviour? It doesn’t really bode well for the future if wannabe musicians get all pissy about a, really quite tame, act of rebellion. We need our bad boys and girls back before blandness engulfs our once-great music scene.

Maybe people didn’t get its clear p*ss-take. Maybe it was the fact he was clearly ‘refreshed.’ Maybe it was his affected Elvis-isms. But that’s what we were waiting for: a break from the ‘sludge.’ And when we got it, people started crying into their keyboards. Tragic really.

Liam even made a return in his typically acerbic fashion to receive a gong for Best Album of 30 Years, for What’s the Story…He was Liam, as we wanted him to be, thanking everyone except Noel before throwing his mic into the crowd. Peter Kay’s response to Liam being Liam: ‘What a kn*bhead.’ Which just about sums up Kay’s wit.

I still half-watch The Brits every year, in the vain hope that something interesting might happen. It rarely does, making me think the suits, or whoever controls the suits, have finally won and killed music. Well, music that exhibits any kind of singular creativity. The rock bands that thrive are the ones who toe the line. Play the game. Although I was pleasantly surprised to see a Wolf Alice up there for Best British Group this year. So, we fast-forward to this year’s ceremony, and again, it was mostly populated by faceless, identikit pop stars and their good manners and zero personality. Ed Sheeran didn’t win anything he was up for, so they had to create an award for ‘shifting units internationally.’ Business as usual then

Three things made me look up from what I was doing, (coincidentally writing up an interview for an exciting young rock ‘n’ roll band) and it was a Liam Gallagher’s stripped-down version of Live Forever in tribute to those who lost their lives at the Arianna Grande concert last year. It was a moving tribute, which drew mostly positive comment, but the internet being what it is, a minority had to find fault in a benevolent gesture. For my money, he sounded in fine fettle, but some of the comments were ignorant, pedantic and plain disrespectful. The fact that the praise was almost unanimous mattered nothing as negativity prevailed in some quarters. ‘Ooh he can’t sing,’ (wrong). ‘I don’t like his beard’ (idiotic). Anyway, I don’t want to turn this into the Liam show, so we’ll move onto former arch-nemesis, Damon Albarn and his acceptance speech for Best British Group with Gorillaz.

Anyone with even a passing interest in Damon, knows he is fiercely political. Along with 3D from Massive Attack, he was responsible for the 2003 march against the Iraq war, and is incredibly outspoken about social injustice and is extremely active politically. He used his time onstage to go into a speech about Brexit. All his points were salient, but his microphone was muted at one point, before his speech was cut entirely as the camera panned to a stunned Jack Whitehall. It begs the question, whose interests are at stake here? But all people were bothered about was that he was quite clearly a bit pissed. So, that’s what gets reported. That’s what gets commented on on social media. Not the fact that everything he said was true. The fact that he’d had a drink, and SWORE, so couldn’t possibly be taken seriously. He’s at an awards ceremony for f*ck’s sake. 90% of the room was drunk. Leonardo Dicaprio, Susan Sarandon or Robert De Niro don’t get hauled offstage for articulating political rhetoric at awards ceremonies, so why was Damon?

Despite the two middle-aged men shaking sh*t up, when it should be the job of the youth, Stormzy was another hero of the night. We live in incredibly political times, yet where is the protest music? Stormzy stood alone for the youth, a spokesperson for disenfranchised black youth. He addressed the Grenfell situation, dissed Theresa May and told the Mail to ‘suck a d*ck.’ Fair play to the lad, but this wasn’t cut. Why is that? Because he sold significantly more records than Gorillaz? The establishment are scared of Albarn and were on standby?

But it’s heartening that a young artist has the balls to be political in these turbulent times. Let’s hope others follow suit because we need to be angry, not all smiley and polite. Grime, as a movement, is our latter-day punk rock, and it’s actually achieved way more than punk ever did. It’s from the street and it speaks to people on a human level.

Stormzy achieved more, politically, in a few minutes than anyone has in the last twenty-plus years of The Brits, and it’s up to him and his peers to capitalise on this; not just speak to the audience of Sarf London; he has the attention of the world, it’s time to push forward with this. Then, just possibly, change can be exacted.

Egomaniacs winning awards and talking about themselves, at great length, isn’t real life for the general person struggling through the minefield of modern Britain. We don’t need smug narcissists staring into our living rooms. We need people speaking to us. Not at us. About themselves.

We literally now have only a handful of bands who embody any kind of rock ‘n’ roll rebellion in this country. Arctic Monkeys stand alone in being a mainstream-accepted guitar band. So, where the f*ck is this generation’s Paul Weller? Joe Strummer? Ian Brown? John Lennon? People capable of inspiring and educating others. Where? Are they unofficially illegal? Lack the cojones to speak out about issues affecting this country? Don’t want to hurt their careers by having opinions?

There is very real fury on our island at present, and some truly atrocious things happening every day in Parliament. We need the soundtrack to it. We need to fight these bullies. And we need guidance. Well, I don’t, but the thought of being an adolescent in this day and age frightens the sh*t out of me. It’s like some extreme experiment of collective age regression therapy, and it needs to stop. It needs to stop right now.

In my generation, I’m proud to say we changed the world. We rebelled by turning on, tuning in and dropping out and it was fun and it opened our minds as opposed to the apparent attempt to sew up the brain so the part that demands answers doesn’t function anymore. But I have faith there’ll be someone along soon to tell you some harsh truths. Evidently, riots on the street doesn’t even graze that thick skin of those causing the pain. But, as we’ve seen with your treatment of Mr Corbyn, nothing terrifies you more than a popular individual with a voice, whom people pay attention to, exposing your grubby, thinly-veiled attempts at moderate genocide of your own people.

Until then, I’m not going underground. We’re remarkably resilient. We’ll be back, and we’ll be there sneering at you, the same way you do whenever you say the word ‘scroungers’, and we will force you to metaphorically ‘put the lotion in the basket’ in front of a global audience. We need more Damon Albarns, more 3Ds, more Sleaford Mods, more Kate Tempests. And more Stormzys. More grime artists articulating the plight of the underclass, infiltrating the mainstream talking loud; saying something.

And more Liam Gallaghers, because he serves as the antidote to the daily crap.

Peace Out!

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