It seems unimaginable, but it’s possible that the next underground will exist entirely off-line.
I used to go to dozens of live music gigs a year — scores of them, in fact, if you go back far enough. In the last few years, I’ve seen very few. This is partly because [busy], partly because getting home again after a gig is a nightmare, even when said gig is in Sheffield itself, and partly, if I’m honest, because music no longer holds sway over my life as it once did; other obsessions have stolen its throne.
But I’m having a brief flurry of audio activity: Kate Tempest a week or so ago, Mark Lanegan in early December, and Idlewild last night.
Strange to be reminded by Roddy Woomble himself that they were touring the 100 Broken Windows album twenty years ago almost to the date. That was when I discovered them via (I think) the Evening Sessions show on Radio 1, which was the only affordable entertainment available to someone sleeping on sofa cushions in a friend’s tiny Brighton living room, trying unsuccessfully (despite working two jobs, and paying an almost gestural rent to said friend) to pin down sufficient income to get a toe-hold in that city. Brighton was already hideously expensive in 1999, and precarity was already a thing — though it mostly caught the already-poor, plus a few fucked-up refusenik drop-outs with substance abuse problems, into which latter category I fit very firmly at the time.
(I returned to Velcro City with my metaphorical tail between my legs in the early months of the new millennium, defeated by myself.)
So all the more strange to see them twenty years later, having just returned home to Sheffield from a week in Brighton. I was meant to be in Europe most of last week, as mentioned, but a combination of train cancellations and the onset of a vicious head-cold put paid to that; instead I stayed in bed for three days, finally recuperating the immune system overdraft I managed to run up since late June. Turns out momentum can only take you so far for so long… and you end up crashing eventually. That’s a lesson I probably should have internalised back in 1999… better late than never, eh?
Anyway, point being, it was a great show — a solid tour of the back catalogue, with fewer deep cuts than fan favourites, and a new line-up that sees a swing back from the more folky sounds on the late Noughties and early Teens to a thicker, rockier texture. It brought back many memories, bright and dark alike.
I’ll leave you with a personal favourite that didn’t make last night’s set list. The wordplay and narration was always a huge part of Idlewild’s appeal for me, and this song kinda sums that up.
Today, social media enables young people to engage with culture and politics in all kinds of ways that have nothing to do with music; from the 1960s to the 1990s, music was pretty much all there was. It seems likely that, in the broad sweep of cultural history, the period circa 1955 to circa 2000 will be a treated as a discrete epoch, and the cultish fanaticism that drove its successive countercultural waves – from Beatlemania to grunge, via punk, post-punk, New Romantics et al – will be seen as an analog-era curio. The regime of production and dissemination was the defining characteristic of the four-and-a-bit decades of its hegemony; the demise of that regime has led, ultimately, to the obsolescence of that particular iteration of pop culture.
(Please read the whole thing before criticising it; one can acknowledge nostalgia without necessarily taking that feeling as an indication that things were actually and objectively “better” during your own salad days.)
Surfacing briefly to note with pride that Now Then is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.
I stumbled across Now Then during my first weeks in Sheffield, way back in the autumn of 2012, when I was desperate to make some connections to the local cultural scene, and to find a new venue to write music reviews for. Now Then is basically an ad-funded arts-scene free-sheet, and generally I don’t write for such publications on principle; as a rule they’re awful, full of shamelessly fawning promo passing itself off as commentary, with tawdry production values and even lower editorial standards. Now Then stood out immediately: its print edition (which doesn’t run during the summer, so as to save money) is always a gorgeous piece of printed product, fronted with original art commissioned to purpose; its reviews are written with genuine passion, and are permitted to be critical; it carries poetry, short fiction and humour, and it carries editorial and local-political content that puts both of the local “newspapers” to shame by comparison.
My PhD and other work has meant I’ve not been a very regular contributor to Now Then, but of all the free-to-air venues I’ve ever reviewed music for, it’s the one I’m proudest not only to tell people about, but to show them a physical copy. Perhaps the most solid endorsement I can offer is that I pick up a copy every month, whether my words are in there or not.
Sheffield’s a city with a fair few problems and difficulties, most of which are political in origin. But it teems with people working hard to make a difference, not just for themselves, but for everyone else. Sam and the gang at Opus are solidly in the latter category, and Now Then is product and platform all at once. I’m reyt proud to have contributed to it, in however minor a manner.
(You can read my latest review in this month’s online edition.)
Hey, you — here’s your new favourite band! Always assuming, of course — you being after all, gentle reader, merely by dint of your very readership, an unimpeachable model of discernment in such matters of taste! — that your new favourite band has two guitarists, no bass player, and sounds something like Earth and My Bloody Valentine arguing over the last line of ketamine. Thought Forms, ladies and gentlemen:
Spotted as support band to the reliably brilliant 65daysofstatic at their homecoming show this Monday. Did you know 65dos wrote and recorded an alternative soundtrack for Silent Running? Well, they did.
Yes, I do have an essay due in at midday tomorrow! Why do you ask?