2012. The year of River Cottage British pop. Another beardy year like the last, but if anything our beardiest since the mid-1500s.
Of course, modern British folkpopsters (who ironically could actually afford to have their faces depilated regularly by expensively-hired Harley Street bumfluff-skivvies) need their beards to hide their bruised chins, the living livid testament to the abrasive scaliness of Satan’s scrotum (mumfmumfmumf) and even I’ll admit it’s impossible, maybe even undesirable, to keep such poshos out of pop. Pop’s always relied on its MIX of people, classes, ages, genders, sexualities, races. But right now, there’s no mix, just an endlessly marching onward army of grinning braying dishabille pricks-with-acoustics & gap-year-tans, bullying the life and non-punchability out of British pop music. A rewritten map of modern Britain to the scale of pop-dominance would see the South East grotesquely inflated, the rest of the country shrivelled to the point of non-existence, less a witch on a pig than a shard of melted cape on a bloated back-trotter. Private school educated people should never be allowed to dominate music and I should fkn know, I WENT to private school (Henry VIII, Coventry, fellow alumni – Phillip Larkin, Jerry Dammers).
So, like Phil & Jerry, I know these chortling fucks, the gaseousness of their ‘tolerance’, the sub-cellular nature of their conservatism. Like their spiritual forefathers & Abingdon-old boys Radiohead (and their pervy Virginia-Water wanker-uncles Coldplay), today’s current crop of corduroy choirboys and floral-print warblers would doubtless play down the significance of their backgrounds, after all, the appropriation of working-class art by the middle-classes is nothing new – indeed it could be argued that the British folk revival of the 60s precisely depended on such bucolic reactionary yearnings by an educated urban elite. What’s been so uniquely dispiriting about this in 2012 has been the lazily superficial nature of this re-appropriation (Sandy Denny would open her mouth and flame throw these fuckers), and the way it’s been lubricated by the similarly narrowing class base of the press & PR industries that boost this be-mandolined bollocks into the nations hearts. Tiny twats with tiny minds so locked in on their tiny backslap world they can’t see out beyond their confines or comprehend a British music that might actually have something to fucking say.
Not a problem for the rest of us. Out here, we can listen to the TRUE folk music of modern Britain. Out here, we got other problems to worry about, and so we listen to people we’d actually let in our home, cos their homes are as broke and permanently on the emergency credit as ours. Folk like Kal Seriousz, whose ‘Leftovers’ EP on Bandcamp was my first highlight of the year, a sneaky peak at what ended up on the cutting-room floor before his soon-come debut album drops. Heavy, bassy, agitated, doomy, dark music, suffused with an unplaceable but unmistakable air of dread and danger that’s impossible to fake. Highlight had to be the rampaging ‘Bishop & Cable’ featuring Cappo riding the kind of hard-as-fuck agit-funk I haven’t heard delivered this hard since the golden age of Gunshot and Black Radical MK II. Fierce. Keep an eye on this wise guy.
Similarly, keep em peeled on Reks whose ‘Passports’ on Gracie Productions tore me a third, fourth and fifth eye back in summer, Numonics playing a blinder on the production, finding not only a fantastically pugilistic beat but then augmenting low-end tom-hits to accentuate the impact, letting horns and keys drone into deranged new spaces while all the time Reks keeps hitting you up with revolutionary rhetoric that suggested the album REBELutionary was gonna be beyond essential (and it was). On the flip, ‘Gepeto (Reality Is)’ ramped up the tension with some startling anti-cop lyrics and unsettling nu-skool menace. Superb, angry, timely shit.
X-Factor, and eventually, if they’re lucky, get to sing the songs rich people write, those rich people from the same five schools, the same big fat thousands-of-squid a term hothouses of mediocrity and mendacity currently clogging the charts and radio with so much ad-ready yodelling and smackable glockenspiel-led fragility. At a time when music education across the comprehensives is being slashed to the point of non-existence, our current generation of schmindie faux-folk wankers are an especially hateful breed, emblematic of how in Cameron & Gove’s future, music will be the sole preserve of the moneyed-up elite. Just wait and see, when the cuts really start to bite exactly how much of a ‘luxury’ the Coalition consider music & arts, how funding for working-class kids to learn about music and get to play it will be jettisoned as something ‘we’ can do without. Already one in four councils making music teachers redundant. Spending down to about a quid a kid. In an environment so hostile to music from the bottom it’s a miracle that astonishing shit like Edward Scissortongue’s ‘Spastic Max’ on High Focus even gets made.
No surprise it doesn’t get heard anywhere. A disturbingly real transmission from a man in a room in a tall building, the music’s finger-twitching minimalism suiting the tense, grainy vibe of the lyrics perfectly, summing up the frustrations and fuck-ups and fall of a man we’ve all seen around, sometimes out for the count on the corner, sometimes apoplectic in the phone booth, most often staring dead ahead at us from the mirror. A true snapshot of reality, but full of compassion and depth as well. Hip-hop doing what it does best — telling us what the fuck is going on, unsparingly, from an album Better Luck Next Life that I still haven’t crawled out from the bottom of.
An equally engrossing voice in British music this year was M9, amazing to hear him making the leap from mixtapes this year (although you should still check out the amazing Bandcamp track ‘Organized Democracy’ cos of its incredibly thought-provoking lyricism, including the kind of Movement Ex reference guaranteed to get this ol’ b-boy clapping his hands in auld-fart glee and its beautifully brooding undertow of aquatic bass and dubbed-out jazz menace). ‘White Russian’ was the first single from his debut LP Magna Carta, a slow-burning groove over which RM draped some engrossing rhymes, crepuscular keys and smoky cymbals riding the groove deep into your cortex. Don’t sleep, never sleep on M9.
His continuing marginalisation wouldn’t matter if you could be confident that those working class kids who do still see music as something to explore (and let’s face it, who needs the acquiescence of a fkn teacher in making that happen?) would at least have a chance to get heard in wider circles than their own little undergrounds. Not gonna happen when Jocinta and Jocasta and Gawain and Rupert have the whole fkn shebang nailed from press to PR to playlist, confident that their pals in the papers and in plugging will ensure Britain can be carpet-bombed with this pleasant pissantry until the next five years of Conservative rule are assured.
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