Is it just me, or is popular culture coming to a standstill? I feel like it might be. As a self-confessed muzo, film fan and sometime-comedian - a guy that enjoys performing arts in a variety of mediums - it's becoming increasingly obvious and harder to ignore that, whatever your passion: rap music, festivals, stand-up or cinema;
Sorry, but it's getting shitter.
Now, being of a naturally pessimistic, morose disposition, you could probably argue it's just a depressive's graduation from youthful angst to "grumpy old fart", though I personally feel it's just an accurate observation of the tanking standards of the mainstream worldwide. But I'd be equally unhappy with either so I don't know where that leaves us.
I mean, I don't want to be a grumpy old fart and I don't think that I am? I truly don't believe everything was better "back in the good ol' days". In fact, quite the opposite. The reason I'm pessimistic now mostly goes back to life-lessons I learned while not having fun back in the good ol' days. If I were a grumpy old fart it would be because I took in all the information and experience that life had offered me thus far - and 'grumpy' was my conclusion. But anyway... let's consider the 'grumpy' angle first.
Because I am thirty-four now. This is the age where people start staying in more. We aren't (usually) going out, getting wrecked til 8am, moshing to Dubstep in a Hoxton dive bar. Maybe that lack of exposure to newer forms of music creates a tunnel-vision bubble, where our only interaction with new stuff tends to be when we're out doing "thirty-something-things" - like when I'm begrudgingly shopping for a new pair of chinos, while actively making a half-buzz, half-disabled-person-grunting noise because I find it more pleasant than whatever god-awful warbling they have on in Next that day. I run out the door and straight into M&S. While I grab my olives and feta (don't worry, I hate me too), the next three songs I hear are all produced by the same guy, performed by trill-for-hire, RnB crooners, with chains and tattoos; they all look the same. I'm not even trying to be racially provocative here, objectively they look identical. Like their stylist wasn't equipped to manage the workload of three separate clients, and so aligned their campaigns and reduced them all to one perfectly standardised product.
"Hey, I was thinking maybe for the next album, maybe I get my tattoos removed and hold back on the chains?"
"I think it's better for everyone if you just keep both. Trust me, it's more efficient."
Away from the critically acclaimed, innovative and eclectic music broadcaster that is the UK High Street, I scan the charts, ten to one. I see new(ish) albums from Florence & The Machine and Taylor Swift - and maybe I assume that that's all there is? Blinkered. And now here I am, at home, chewing on olives, convinced that the top-10 and drudge of a family-friendly shop's playlist is all that there is.
Don't get me wrong, 'Pop Music' has always had its shit, but there's always been popular music that was good. Looking back, when I was seventeen, I went to Reading Festival. Now, festivals are seen by many as good places to find new music. In a sense they're a trade show for what's new, what's out there to be heard. And while the main stages are more likely to be established acts rather than new, I can't help but think back to Paramore, who I saw in 2007 on the main stage. Or Nirvana who famously headlined Reading Festival a matter of months after Nevermind came out.
Anyway, I was there in '98, seventeen, watching Deftones (who were on album number two), Ash (who were on album number two), Prodigy (album number three) and Garbage who headlined (on album number two) - these were bands that were about three or four years into their careers if that, tearing up the main stage, beacons of fresh, dirty artistry. The muzos among you will know that the same year Foos, Supergrass, Gomez - were also on that main stage, all early in their careers.
But a look at Reading's line-up for this year tells a different story. Panic At The Disco (on their fifth album now), All Time Low (their sixth), Bring Me The Horizon (their fourth), Metallica (god knows) and The Libertines (first album was thirteen years ago). You start to get a picture of how the landscape has changed (or hasn't). Maybe the price of a ticket now is only within the grasp of a generation that wouldn't pay for it - were it headlined by a Dubstep collective they'd probably never heard of. Or maybe those that coordinate the itinerary for these events assume the only way to sell them out is to get Limp Bizkit back together?
But that's a risky approach. If I'm honest, in 2007, it felt like it had lost its spirit. Where were the fifteen year-olds who spent their whole year listening to albums by new bands and now were here, ready to rock out, moshing to chords that were written in the back of a van the summer before. Now they were replaced by Business Analysts that had hung up their suit for a couple of days and bought a Ramones t-shirt. The whole thing felt like parody.
Because if I pay £200 for a ticket and I'm watching Fred Durst or Panic At The Disco, listening to lyrics and bopping my knee, it's not because I'm really feeling the music or I believe what they're saying or singing. It's not part of a cathartic experience where the singer wrote the song about a break-up from last year, and it's real and you feel that. It's because I remember the tune from my youth and I'm smiling, thinking back to the craaaaaazy festival memories I banked in '98.
And they're two very different experiences. It's like Rod Stewart fans in '75 screaming and throwing their pants versus Rod Stewart fans jiving at the O2 in 2013.
It means the festival itself is kind of just a field full of thirty-somethings remembering. F*ck it, if we stay on this trajectory maybe in ten years' time we can all pay half a grand to stand in a field and remember the time we stood in a field remembering. I don't know when something stops being a festival and starts being an Alzheimer's treatment, but I suspect it's the decade after that.
And music is just one example of this. Cinema's the same. Listings show prequels, remakes and rehashes. Standards are lowered, edges are blunted; Producers want to ensure the maximum possible return. Gone are the "Kids", the "Usual Suspects" and "Pulp Fiction"s. Now it's en-masse, bankable drudge. Terminator movies are 12-rated now.
Maybe music and film are so decimated by piracy that there's such little return on investment that finding the finance to fund a half-interesting, 18-rated thriller, or a ballsy punk-rock outfit that need two or three albums to grow their following- maybe it's just financially unviable? But even the interesting stuff that does get produced bizarrely doesn't get the exposure. It's a cliché and a catch-all to say that it's all piracy, and a revenue driven problem. We forget there's a baby-boomer influence at work here too.
Take last year's Christmas party. The room was full of blue-chip, FTSE 100 employees. The average age of an attendee was about thirty-five. There were temps that were twenty, directors who were fifty, but overall, on average, if you'd scanned the iTunes of every phone in that room, you would've found Rudimental, Jay-Z, Oasis, Chase & Status, Prodigy, David Guetta - so why were we all listening to rock n roll hits of the sixties?
Television's the same. Gone are the innovative new kids on the block; TFI Friday, The Word, Eurotrash; the nearest we have is a re-launch of TFI Friday (starring Chris Evans) or a re-launch of Top Gear (starring Chris Evans);
So where does this leave us?
I think it was a Forbes article I saw that said "Every Disaster Is An Opportunity You Must Seize". The internet has totally ruined popular culture in some senses. Perhaps if fewer people stole music, the record companies would have more to invest in the less mainstream of their portfolio? Maybe if Piratebay had never come about, movie studios would have the funds to gamble on an edgy 18-rating. Maybe if Sky, Netflix and BT hadn't seen the number of broadcast channels soar, the overall advertising revenue wouldn't have lowered, the "main" channels would be able to produce more expensive/ballsy content, rather than the endless conveyor belt of reality TV we get waterboarded into our heads night after night.
But this is actually an opportunity. I mean, the internet isn't going anywhere. So I guess it's about making it work for you. And to me (and hopefully others), that means exploiting it to provide something interesting to those that are similarly bored of the status-quo. Or high-def pornography. Which is also great, you should definitely check that out. Don't even bother reading the rest of this, seriously, go and watch that shit now.
I digress. Exploiting the net means using YouTube or Vimeo to broadcast a live show of your own. It'll be cheap and probably shit, but the Wild-West nature of the web means you have zero regulatory concerns to adhere to. If I had the choice of listening to The One Show having to apologise for using the word "crap" or watching a comedian off the circuit with free-rein, swearing, getting pissed on TV and having a laugh before introducing a new band that's performing live - f*ck me I'm going for the second of those two in a coke-head's heartbeat.
If you're bored of the festival scene and think it's too highly priced for the same names being rolled out again and again, f*ck it... set-up your own gig. It'll be small and shit at first, absolutely. But if you promote it with the tools that are out there (Meetup, Twitter Advanced Search, Facebook, get yourself into Associated Press and local newspapers, appear on other peoples' podcasts, crowdfund it) there is no reason you couldn't get a field of acts together and turn a profit while you're at it.
Whenever I see an old documentary about the 70s (or the 90s more recently) there always seems to be some old boy, talking-head saying "Well, everything had gotten so stale, people were bored of the same faces and same shit coming out. It was ripe for a shake-up".
I feel like that about now.
Reality TV, auto-tuned pop-singers, festivals with bands that you saw ten years ago, movies that are all remakes; now is the time for that shake-up.
Worst case scenario you try to do something and it fails and it ends. Who cares? If, after it dies, you're still depressed, grumpy and want to hear something new?
Well, you can catch me making those buzz-grunt-disabled-person noises in Guildford High Street every Saturday.