Britpop: Towards a Musicological Assessment
Leeds, April 1997
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Britpop: Towards a Musicological Assessment a one-day symposium definitions, traditions, regions style, genre, intertextuality gender, sexuality, class Department of Music University of Leeds in association with Critical Musicology Journal 9th April 1997 Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Full Programme Session 1: 10:30-12:30 Clothworker's Concert Hall Chair: Steve Sweeney-Turner (1) Andy Bennett (Lecturer in Sociology, Durham) "Representations of `Britishness' in Britpop" It has often been said that embedded in Britpop style, music and lyrics are distinct images of the `British' identity. To put this a slightly different way, one might say that Britpop endorses and thus reinforces `popular' ideas about what it means to be British. In this paper I want to critically evaluate the representations of Britishness promoted through Britpop. There is a clear sense in which the Britpop genre, even as it moves away from the Beatles/Kinks/Small Faces-centred British music of the `sixties which inspired it, and adopts a sound and a style more resonant with `nineties Britain, retains a fixation on a peculiarly one dimensional vision of the British identity. It will be a central contention of my paper that `Britishness' in Britpop connects more readily with the taste culture of those who follow the genre than with the nation as a whole. (2) Rupert Till (Lecturer in Composition, Bretton Hall) "Look Back in Anger: the Historical Development of Britpop" Many people see Britpop as a denial or rejection of 20 years of musical development, and much has been written and said about the influence of the Beatles, Small Faces, Stones and Kinks. However Britpop is in fact the terminus of a circular development that has progressed through Pop Music since the 60s. This paper seeks to trace that process, looking at more recent influences on Britpop, from Glam rock through Punk, Goth, Indie, Baggy and Shoegazing to post-Oasis/Blur Britpop. (3) Rachel Swindells (Ph.D. in Music, Leeds) "`Something Changed': Britpop and the Transformation of Cultural Roles in Popular Music" Recent months have seen various commentators suggest that Britpop is a spent force. This paper examines the evidence and motives behind such claims, and considers Britpop in the context of other recent developments in the British popular music scene. Possible definitions of Britpop will be examined, and the argument put forward that one of its key features concerns its part in a far broader trend: that of considerable changes in the cultural roles of various musical styles. A primary characteristic of these tendencies is a perceived appropriation of `alternative' music by the mainstream, in both a commercial and a cultural sense, and a consequent shift as other styles embrace the `underground' position previously presented by `indie'. The potential for this change has been present for a number of years. It is debatable whether Britpop, whatever that might entail, has maintained a consistent manner of operation it was perhaps too broad a concept to resist fragmentation into the more specific pigeonholes demanded by the music scene. Nevertheless, it appears that the transitions it helped instigate are very much incomplete, and thus, whatever Britpop's state of health, its legacy continues. (4) Stan Hawkins (Associate Professor of Music, Oslo) "Anti-Rebel, Lonesome Boy - Morrisey in Crisis?" This paper sets out to provide several readings of Morrisey's songs off his first solo album, "Viva Hate" from 1988. The intention here is to consider these songs as cultural texts within a postmodern musicological framework. My interest lies predominantly in interpreting the music against a range of discourses that make the music and the artist socially significant. How Morrisey's texts problematise specific articulations of masculinity and sexuality within a post 1980s British setting forms a central focal point. This paper reflects my position as a musicologist and my engagement with the larger issues of politics of culture and citizenship. Ultimately, I attempt to offer a variety of `musical' explanations of how Morrisey's songs function and why they have had such an effect on his fans. Lunch: 12:30-13:30 Senior Common Room Session 2: 13:30-15:30 Clothworker's Concert Hall (1) Steve Sweeney-Turner (Research Fellow in Music, Leeds) "`Our Cellophane Sounds': Suede and the Concept of Trash" `through the laughable say what is serious' - Friedrich Nietzsche. Throughout Britpop, certain concepts of triviality can be discerned which trace an ironic form of self-critique within the genre, and which raise a number of aesthetic and ideological problematics concerning its meaning, its relationship to the history of popular music, and its relationship to other genres. With particular reference to Suede, this paper attempts to map some of the semiotic modes of such self-critique, utilising a number of concepts from the modernity-postmodernity debate (especially Nietzsche's later work) which question the philosophical value of the high-low culture distinction. Specifically, it is a question of the possibility that the trivial itself has a higher philosophical power than the idea of the profound, and that this power (always potentially Dionysian, erotic, corporeal) is overtly invoked in the more ostensibly trashy moments of the Britpop phenomenon. In this, it will be suggested that Britpop traces a Nietzschean transvaluation of the aesthetics of, for example, Adornian modernity, reversing its prioritisation of the progressive over the regressive, and valorising the concept of trash as a defining moment of its camp aesthetic. (2) Keith Jeffrey (Director, Kirklees Media Centre) "Britpop - Proof Positive that Rock is Dead" "We don't need to make anything up. We just point things out. We select things and recognise them, and use them. Selection is probably the only artistic process - originality is a corny idea..." - Devo, 1978. Britpop is a misnomer. True Pop music would never base itself on a form so sterile and bereft of originality as Rock music. It is significant that the two great phenomena of `nineties Pop - the Spice Girls and Take That - have based their musical styles on urban black American R `n' B, not Rock `n' Roll. Britpop is Britrock, and it is my contention that it is a tacit admission of the death of Rock music. As Devo pointed out, the only real creativity in Rock now comes in the choices made by these bands in the style that they are going to copy. The only real creativity is in the expression of the individuality of the lyric writer. I will look at four bands (Menswear, Elastica, Oasis and Blur) and try to understand some of the motivations behind the stylistic choices they have made. (4) Simon Warner (Senior Lecturer in Popular Music, Bretton Hall) "Britprint: Liking and Loathing on the News-stand" The changing face of rock magazines in the UK is at the centre of this paper - how the decline of the maverick radicals like NME and MM and the emergence of the more conservative glossies like Q and Mojo has played a role in the rise of Britpop. Among the questions I will be endeavouring to address are: were the inkies ever as ground-breaking as they have been drawn? Were they as much an appendage of the rock industry as the current spate of glamorous, colour publications? Is the innate conservatism of Britpop, tapping so heavily on the postures of the past, a reflection of the more conservative rock press? I will be reflecting also on how little notice has been taken of the influence of rock journalism on the music itself by the academic sector so far and making some early observations as my research progresses. (4) Derek Scott (Head of Music, Salford) "Oasis - What's the Copy (Pop Gone Sloppy)?" This paper explores the links, musical and otherwise, between Oasis and the Beatles. In so doing, it reveals the shifting meanings that result when apparently similar messages are articulated at differing historic conjunctures, and raises questions about the character of pastiche in popular music. Tea and Scones: 15:30-16:00 Clothworker's Hall Foyer Open Forum: 16:00-17:00 Clothworker's Concert Hall Panel: All Speakers Chair: Steve Sweeney-Turner Evening: A Dionysian Excursion into Club-land "`cause there's nothing else to do..."