Tuesday, October 31, 2006

From C86 to Pete Doherty - How Did We End Up Here?

Everyone loves a good old reminisce, even cynical old musicians and journalists. Every one loves a 'Best Of' list to argue over, Christ knows there are enough of the bloody things on telly and in idea-short magazines (hell, even Socialism stands accused there). People love nothing more than to get all hacked off by what the ‘kids’ are into now, before donning the rose tinted specs and harking back to when music was ‘real’, like it was when they were a bit younger - just witness the current fascination with ‘nu rave’ (a couple of glo-sticks and an airhorn don’t make you rave anymore than long hair and a beard make me Jesus). Nothing drives people backwards through their record collections than a good old-fashioned anniversary. This year, then, is 20th anniversary of C86; basically just the name given to a cassette given away by the NME, though over the years, it’s come to represent the scratchy lo-fi ‘shambling’ bands of that time. Last week alone Manic Street Preacher Nicky Wire talked brilliantly in The Guardian about the impact of C86 on him and his band-mates in the Welsh Valleys in the aftermath of the miners strike, while over at Time Out, Simon Reynolds mused about the scene’s significance today. The phrase that keeps getting bandied about in association with C86 (the cassette and the just reissued, slightly historically revisionist CD version) is “the birth of modern indie music”.

Thing is, how can that be? Has no one noticed that 20 years on, “modern indie music” appears to be pretty much solely the domain of ‘Potty’ Pete Doherty - drug pincushion, tabloid bete noir and troubadour of questionable talent? There he is again, on the front of the papers (the cover of the NME today – again!!!), too busy porking super models to sing in tune, too busy getting fucked up to wipe away the blood and snot from his sallow face, a duet with The Streets documenting – you guessed it - tabloid life and the horrible spiral of drug abuse that befalls famous people with too much money and attention. Old Pete, new record out, another piece of self-pitying 6th form poetry written out in his bed-sit, probably scribbled away in his own blood, whilst he sits there waiting for the next court case where the judges will be too star struck to ever send him down (did anyone else think that last hearing was a pretty terrifying view of our judicial system?)

More amazingly of all in “modern indie music” is Pete’s roll as skag addled pied piper, leading his bastard children up the charts. You name ‘em – any jangly indie band from Razorshite to The Kooks are there in the charts bothering the likes of Girls Aloud and Scissor Sisters and Justin and Christina, actual living breathing pop stars, the kinds of people your mother might have heard of. (NB the abominable likes of Shit Patrol don’t count in any of this as they are basically Deacon Blue twenty years on – actually, possibly thanks to them we’ll be due a Deacon Blue revival soon - cheers you fuckers). Teenage tearaways The View, the perfect example of distilled Doherty, were pictured in the NME snorting vodka, after one of them had previously been pulled in by the cops whilst driving round with Potty Pete in their hometown of Dundee. Compare this kind activity to the bands of the C86 era. The strongest poison you’d imagine people glugging down was a Panda Pop. How can the likes of McCarthy, The Wedding Present, Big Flame, The Shop Assistants, et al - those trusty stalwarts of the Peel show, those carrier bag clutching, fanzine welding ‘indie kids’ - have spawned gnarly old Pete? Bands like McCarthy and Big Flame wore their fiercely leftist politics on their sleeves. These days it seems like no one banging out the indie hits of today seems to give a flying fuck about anything - witness Johnny Borrell's incredible performance at Live 8 - shirts off for the starving Africans, lads!

Quite what the significance of the anniversary of C86 is in 2006, I’m really not sure. Modern ‘indie’ music, from the way I see it, the Pete-and-all-his-imitators version, seems to stem more from the point when Oasis steamrollered everyone, making guitar music the domain of humourless Stone Island clad terrace lads. That’s the point at which ghosts of The Smiths (a band who overshadowed C86’s every step, from bad haircuts to lack of success with women) were finally laid to rest and drug culture became an acceptable part of the mainstream, something no indie band and no figurehead of the rave scene ever managed to do. They made it acceptable to the point that when Noel went to No 10, Tony Blair could joke with him about his preferred stimulants without the Thought Police crashing in to cuff Gallagher senior and march him off to the Tower.

Actually, perhaps that’s the root of modern indie music right there, the point at which Tony and Noel G can laugh about drug abuse in Downing Street, the point that politics and humour and a sense of humility were removed from music, ironically, back there in Blair’s finest hour, the point at which "modern indie music" adapted to this me-me-me, dog eat dog culture we have today. Maybe, while that meeting was going on down in Whitehall in all the bunting of the New Labour victory, somewhere at home in middle England, a teenage Pete Doherty sat taking notes, planning his own self-destruction...