Thus, award ceremonies necessitate a split in my house. The missus watches them, I can't abide them, we go our separate ways, I ask for the goss/fashion-critique at the end. Wednesday night and the downstairs stillnesss is shattered. "NEEEEIIIILLLLLL" she shouts down the stairs. Getting v. bored of Arsenal v. Bayern, I mute it and holler back "WHAAAAT?". "PRINCE IS ON THE BRITS. PRINCE IS ON THE BRITS".
Holy shit. This I have to watch. Youtube it. Thirty seven frenzied, then bored, then faintly embarrassed seconds later, I have. Wow. A call to arms indeed. Shit, funkless Mastercard-validated trad-rock will never die. What a 'legend'. Check the piece again thinking like all music-press readers always do - WAS HE EVEN AT THE SAME GIG?
Small point, and its sad that style or its lack becomes a small point, but my god that is one of the most inept, ungainly sentences I think I've ever read. Wider point, I know where I stand on that divide. I'm over here, as far the fuck away as I can get to be honest. It's a smart move by Williams, gets the boys back in the barracks. It's smartly put as well, vague as Turner's speech, vague enough to not matter to most, pull in those indie-loyal readers doubting the staff's solidarity with their own bigotry and snobbery. Last round of ABCs weren't great for anyone,as if it matters. As if anything matters. I feel foolish even engaging with this as a bit of text. Doesn't matter how bad it is, the brand's fine. It's on NME.COM for chrissakes, what does anyone expect from that? The brand's fine. Big traffic stats & it's not about words, or rather, words really don't matter anymore, the brand's fine. The ABCs are down? Doesn't matter. Ad revenues up. Print ad revenues up 49%. Digital ad revenues up 72%. The words . . . who cares? The brand's fine. All about subscriptions and multiple-platform identities now, look at Rolling Stone's poxy newstand sales. The brand's fine. The more a magazine's interests can be spread out like that, further than print and out into the endless binary diffusions of the interweb's retinal stimulation & narcosis, the more mere words are of no importance. People still buy vinyl. People will still buy print mags. The fiction, the 'heritage', remains intact. A heritage partly built on the kind of writing the NME wouldn't allow, wouldn't think of anymore but what the hey, the brand's fine. This editorial could've read 'Alex Turner jagaroona fizzlefuck Brits cliha;osughdsiguhd Arctic Monkeys sgiuahdsogi uahsdf indie'' and it'd fulfill pretty much the same function as all NME copy. Keeps SEO optimizers happy, fills space, 'entertains' (because we say so) and informs (because we say so) the brand's fine (because we say so). What's sadder, the black/white ratios of the covers, or the fact I counted? Whether the writing, and the music, could only come from NOW, or the fact anyone would even care about such an old-fashioned concept as the future anymore? Ad-revenues up. "72% YoY". 3 million unique visitors a year. The brand's fine.
So long as the NME continues to make this kind of 'commercial sense', the writing can be as specious as you like, which handily coincides with r'n'r and its critique being taken over by the witterers and flitterers. Rock'n'roll, and writing about it, is now a hobby for everyone involved, Turner's speech coming off like someone proud to defend his minority interest, his proudly arcane and, to his perception, much-maligned trivial pursuit. As a strategy, for the NME to focus on that niche, to stop trying to write about pop and just become a major-label indie-rock weekly - I'd say that's the smart way to go, just as I recall a few years ago saying the Tories (post-Howard/Hague/IDS) just needed someone slicker to sell a lurch to the right to a receptive Great British Public. If the NME were smart they'd listen to what readership they have left, and eliminate anything that wasn't indie-rock from the paper. Everytime the NME prints anything about music that isn't white indie rock the readers bleat about 'pop shit', 'r'n'b shit' - that's what happens when you talk dumb for so long that only the slow kids stick around. So their ossified racism and conservatism remains appealed to, worked around, remains unconfronted even as the figures tumble and fall as they have been for more than 20 years. Because a music-press equivalent of the Daily Mail is the one that's gonna have the least risk. Because the brand's fine. Praps I'm dumb to assume writers want more than this from music writing. But reading the NME I wonder how enjoyable that endless kowtowing can be. It sounds exhausting and joyless. It reads the same. Williams, and everyone else at the NME, have to play a delicate balancing act between their own avowed poptimist eclecticism and the reactionary, snob nature of many of their indie-rock readership. Turner's speech, as Williams knew, was the ideal chance to shore up the NME's constituency, make sure they were in the tent pissing out. For all Williams' rather pointless ass-covering about Turner's speech not being about 'genre-elitism' a whole load of rights-for-whites-rocknrollers were in no doubt. In the FB thread we got pearls like "Without a doubt the most sensible thing Williams has written since taking over. Turners speech was inspired and necessary. Now the NME need to act. Stop writing about RnB and Hip Hop, it's dull and tedious. Indie/Alternative music is where the NME is strongest. Promote it, embrace it." Every NME thread has variants of this. The english-rock defence league.
A while back I might have said that these indie-lad prejudices that bubble up whenever NME dare to step out of the 'real music' compound need to be taken on, and need changing by convincing writing. I might even have said until then 'rock n roll' remains trapped in this eternal teddyboy age, waiting for the mods who'll never come, cos the teds simply don't like 'chav music', will only accept black music, if at all, from a time of segregation, black music without the arrogance that only rock'n'roll can rightfully play with. Now, for its survival, I just think the NME should keep those numbnuts happy. Turner's speech was all about having it both ways, winning an industry award, turning up, accepting it (and the new stickers that can go on the album of course, which is what it's ALL about) while still drearily insisting that you're still on the edge (cos as Oasis proved, you just have to repeatedly and tediously SAY you're rock and roll to BE rock and roll these days). Consequently, Williams memo-to-Turner also tries the same double-talk move, communicating both the supposed 'thrill' of history AND his desperation to hit 300 words with equally vacuous BPI-style brochure-talk:
"On this side of the line stand the rest of us, inspired by the words of a man who understands that rock’n’roll isn’t about an antiquated idea of “guitar music”, or about any level of genre elitism, but spirit and ethos, excitement and unpredictability; The traits that British music was always renowned for."
And of course, you know whose British music that is, what side of Britain is being talked about. 160 people's faces have been on the cover of the NME in the past year. 7 of those faces were not white. At least a quarter of those covers were bands/artists that have been going for well over a decade, all of whom were involved in pastiche of 60s and 70s music or were 60-70 year olds, nearly all of it was schmindiebollox. You'll find hardly any of the music made by the vast majority of young people in the UK in the pages of the NME. Grime, metal , dubstep, hardcore punk, rap, d'n'b, r'n'b - these only get allowed in when someone already famous and/or American does them. The music the mainstream press features is almost universally retrograde, apolitical, as deliberately empty as you'd expect from many folk who don't really have a stake in music beyond their individual careers and their progress towards comfort, the Moran/Brooker/Harris/Sawyer safe dotages they all dream of. Yes, it's dumb of me to expect anything more, and perhaps dumb of me to judge any mag by its commentators or its covers or even its content anymore, but for the editor of the NME to so credulously rotate the lie that Turner's idea of 'rock'n'roll' isn't about elitism, or 'antiquated ideas' is an act of disingenuity scarcely to be credited, a crooked double-talk as dimly half-witted as the Turners and Gallaghers the NME routinely parades as 'godlike' wits and genii.
'For the frontman of the UK's biggest band, upon collecting the biggest prize in British mainstream music, to end the night looking like an outsider is madness, brilliance and poetic irony all in one. He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. And for those of us standing on this side of the line, neither would we. The challenge has been set by Alex Turner, and now it’s up to us to act upon it. “That rock’n’roll, eh?”
And it's here where I start to feel idiotic for caring anymore, or even prodding this for meaning, let alone wondering what the 'ethos' and 'spirit' are exactly. The point I have to apprehend is that there's no point anymore beyond looking busy, feeling superior, looking like an outsider while obediently accepting the trinkets and protocol of the business called show. And pushing Turner's root idea - for the NME and the music it covers, it's OK TO BE NOT AT ALL GOOD AT ANY OF THE THINGS SO LONG AS YOU ARE SEEN TO BE DOING THE THINGS. The challenge? Act upon it?
I can't wait. I suspect 'acting on it' means more posturing, more dumbkopfs pretending to be smart, more repetitions of what the Roses/Primals/Oasis have always taught us - talk like a renegade, play like a reactionary and rock'n'roll is yours to claim. But I won't be there, and nor will most of us. We need more, and this centre-ground, where the best of rock and all genres is marginalised in preference of entirely conservative conformist music that laboriously insists on its 'independence' - there's too much going on out here where those blinkers don't reach to even get annoyed by such myopia and mendacity anymore. It's sad to lose an enemy but in these end-times, we simply have no choice. Now is the time, for this anti-friendship to end - I'm starting, with no small sense of sadness (I started off in this malarkey by slagging off the music press), to feel that the enforced delusions of mainstream music writing have become unhealthy, terminal, something to just steer clear of for my own health. We, this side of the tracks, espyTurner and his acolytes as if sat in a bored train carriage, goggling at the Tupperware sarnies and bewildering sartorial choices of the trainspotters at the end of the platform, wondering what England it is they come from, how hard it must be to so fervently wish the past back, to be so scared of the present as to attempt to live as if nothing has happened for twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years. Inevitably the Editor doesn't quote perhaps the most mind-boggling of Turner's blatherings: "I know. I had to re-read it a few times myself. The r''n'r Kraken awakes and wants to combat all that prejudice it faces, all those hurdles and obstacles white-male guitar music has to face in getting radio play, tv time, front covers, exposure so it can combat all that horrible pop music, all that mindless chaff that doesn't just appeal to white kids, all that stuff that isn't real. Poor rock'n'roll. The spirited underdog. The real alternative.
It's in this moment, this transcendentally deluded moment, that I realise me and the NME are best off avoiding each other from here on in. They're not for me. Their writers write things like this. They're not for me or my kind. 'Through the sludge'. 'Smash through the glass ceiling'. Sorry, but what the fuck was that smirking prick sneering about? Even when white male guitar music doesn't fucking sell (Miles Kane) it makes no difference as to how much media attention it gets, so strapped are the press to the formulaic template of gobby frontman and muscle-memory rock. Its one of the most obscenely privileged fucking types of music out there, and certainly has a hell of a lot LESS of a right to complain about industry inattentiveness than a lot of other British music. 'Rock n roll' i.e lots of white guys standing around smirking holding awards, doesn't need to smash a glass ceiling it fucking IS the glass ceiling and only the most deluded fuckhead could turn such entitlement and opportunity into such rank self-pity and aggrandizement. The news continues to be good - I'm sure the NME and Turner will be glad that his speech echoes the thoughts of Radio One's Head Of Music. But I feel a faint sadness that the music press, which changed my life, have decided to simply derelict their responsibilities towards vast swathes of British culture and British life, have decided to follow so asininely this rancid, reactionary corner of label-sanctioned rock, perhaps because, heartbreakingly, there IS something the NME could do to stop the rot. It will do fuck all for sales but will help their souls. Focus on the new. Banish the dadrock coverstars forever. The other day, I read the NME's 50 New Bands feature and followed up some of the names mentioned. Stumbled across the sublime Perfect Pussy & their sublimely confrontational 'I Have Lost All Desire For Feeling', See - the NME can still point towards good stuff, but so long as these jewels are buried deep within an overwhelmingly conservative editorial line, the purpose and power and possibility of the music press will eternally be dying on the vine. Never mind a quick 50-words for this stuff , stick Perfect Pussy on the cover, send someone with ideas to interview them, make like they're the future, give us a future worth staying alive for and tell us WHY a band matters, don't just stack-up-the-numbers and present a band's 'quality' as consisting entirely of incontrovertible commercial facts. Never mind coming up through the sludge. Go down in flames.
Christ, listen to me. Silly auld fucker. A music press that's exciting? A music press as diverse and contradictory as music itself? A music press that gives you new things to hear and new ways to hear them? What a stupid dream, what a busted flush. It's been fun NME, but here we go our separate ways. Best of luck. Seriously. The best of luck. We're all, now we've all been broken, have given up fighting, back to a pre-industrial state in music and the writing about it. Caps on ground. Begging. Doing the only thing we know how. I have a donate button. You have 60 years of heritage to trade on, multiple-platform reach and brand connectivity. No, I'm not sure what those mean either, am kind of horrified that a writer could ever give a fuck about any of them, but seriously. The best of luck. Hope you reach ever more. You'll never reach me again.