Every Breaking Wave: Britpop – “In 1994 Blur released Parklife, Oasis released their first single ‘Supersonic’ and the pendulum swung”
You know how it goes – you’re in the pub talking about your new favorite number, when a friend asks you if you already know the grindcore scene that marked the era. It’s fair to say that musical genres have come and gone at a breakneck pace since the arrival of Hot Press, but some have had far more resistance than others. We take a look at a selection of the most essential movements of the past 45 years and hear from some of the key participants along the way…
Most artists labeled as Britpop abhorred it, almost as much as artists labeled as grunge. The term Britpop in some cases rightly suggested a look back at the sounds of the 60s, especially the Beatles, Kinks, Who, Small Faces and Bowie.
However, the mid-90s Britpop period is notable for its coalition of British artists, bands, filmmakers, fashion designers and writers who for the most part looked intently forward, creating what was called (and often ridiculed) Cool Britannia.
The Union Jack reclaimed: Friday night TV was worth watching; Trainspotting displayed a pioneering method of making films and even writing novels; Girl Power, with the Spice Girls at the helm, was in full swing; Blair’s New Labor entered 10 Downing Street; a proliferation of music magazines flooded the market; Sky Sports and Nick Hornby were making football cool again; and the economy was on the rise.
It was a time of cultural individualism contributing to the collective consciousness of a nation, a time when a record like Goldie’s Timeless – British musical culture reaching an imposing zenith – was possible. Records released during this era – from The Verve, Radiohead, Elastica, Saint Etienne, The Charlatans, Super Furry Animals, Teenage Fanclub, Ocean Color Scene, Supergrass, Cornershop, Cast, Black Grape, Ash, Menswear, Manic Street Preachers, Kenickie, The Boo Radleys, Sleeper, James, Echobelly and The Authors – all looked very different, ensuring the Britpop tag was oddly undercooked.
And then there were the Big Four. Blur released a trilogy of records documenting a satirical take on the erosion of English culture; Caustic nihilism covered in suede throughout Dog Man Star and Coming; and Pulp’s “Common People” on the supreme Different class climbed to No. 2 on the charts, miraculous for a song deemed alternative at the time.
Oasis’ first record Definitely maybe and its follow-up (What’s the story) Morning Glory? mapping the era: Irvine Welsh got it right when he said Oasis was the rock and roll band ravers were waiting for.
This is vital, as Britpop was forged under the influence of acid house, which immediately broke down barriers between race, class and gender; championed DIY culture; and enlightened masses of creative, curious, intelligent people who longed for another way of being.
Additionally, rave culture has seen ordinary, decent people marginalized, even criminalized, resulting in the formation of tribes. Instead of fighting, people channeled their energies together. It was the generation that had fought and banished Thatcher – they were grizzled, hungry and ready to open a pandora’s box of bubbling creativity, ideas and innovative designs.
The indie dance to the Stone Roses’ 1989 single, “Fool’s Gold,” was a teasing nod. Brett Anderson on the front page of Select in 1993, wrapped in the national flag was a statement. In April 1994 Kurt Cobain, the furious epicenter of grunge, tragically dies, Blur publishes ParklifeOasis released their debut single ‘Supersonic’ – in the blink of an eye the pendulum had swung epically and Britpop was immediately on the rise.
Perhaps the tag is more appropriate for the implied rejection of American commercialization. Not so much anti-grunge, but the long gone empire strikes back in terms of outlook and awareness.
Then it ended – Cast’s ‘Walk Away’ recorded England’s exit from Euro 96 in the semi-finals; people loved Robbie William’s “Angels”; Oasis delivered be here now, initially championed by everyone except Noel Gallagher; and Pulp were making their apocalyptic masterpiece It’s hardcore.
The main actors had moved on. Were they ever Britpop at all?
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