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Britpop

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Britpop

New wave of new wave

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Britpop
Stylistic origins: British Invasion, Glam rock, Indie rock, Madchester, Mod movement, New Wave, Punk rock
Cultural origins: early 1990s, United Kingdom
Typical instruments: Guitar - Bass - Drums - Keyboards
Mainstream popularity: Mid 1990s, United Kingdom
Subgenres
New wave of new wave, Lion Pop
Regional scenes
England - Scotland - Wales - Ireland
Other topics
Timeline of alternative rock

Britpop was a British alternative rock and cultural movement which gained popularity in Great Britain in the mid 1990s, characterised by the prominence of bands influenced by British guitar pop music of the 1960s and 1970s. Though these bands did not on the whole have a single unifying sound they were grouped together by the media first as a 'scene' and later as a national cultural movement. Blur and Oasis are generally considered the scene's most prominent acts, though other bands associated with Britpop at various stages included Suede, Pulp, Dodgy, Ocean Colour Scene, Supergrass, The Verve and Radiohead.

The movement developed as a reaction against various musical and cultural trends in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Acid house and the rise of Hip hop had led to an renewed interest in groove and rhythm-led songs in British indie music, leading to the Madchester sound. In the wake of this, the more "traditional" guitar music was sidelined. The shoegazing movement of the late 1980s/early 1990s also went against the trend by producing long, psychedelic, repetitive songs, strongly influenced by bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine.

The key "anti-influence" on Britpop was grunge. In the wake of the American invasion led by bands like Nirvana, Mudhoney, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, some British acts sought to emulate the grunge sound. Others continued to emulate the Madchester sound of the late 80s as part of the baggy movement. Much of the British music press remained in thrall to more established and critically acclaimed US acts such as Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth.

Contents

Roots and Influences

Britpop groups were strongly influenced by the British guitar music of the 1960s and 1970s, particularly the two Rock and Roll trends of the British Invasion: the "rocker" cornerstones like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and their Mod contemporaries like The Who, The Kinks, and The Small Faces. Also quite influential were 1970s and 1980s glam artists such as David Bowie and T. Rex and punk and new wave artists including The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Jam, and the Buzzcocks.

Indie acts from the 1980s and early 1990s, particularly as exemplified by the likes of The Smiths, Jesus and Mary Chain, and James were the direct ancestors of the Britpop movement. The Madchester scene was another large influence. The movement was fronted by The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays, and Inspiral Carpets (for whom Oasis' Noel Gallagher had worked as a Roadie during the Madchester years). Perhaps an indirect influence were the C86 bands, who largely played poppy indie guitar music. Many bands that would later be grouped under the Britpop umbrella, such as Primal Scream, originally started off as C86 bands.

In spite of the professed disdain for both shoegazing and grunge among many at the time, some elements of both crept into the more enduring facets of Britpop. Noel Gallagher has since championed Ride (to the point of including Andy Bell in Oasis) while Martin Carr of the Boo Radleys has pointed out Dinosaur Jr's influence on their work.

Though the movement came to the fore around 1994, it is unclear where it actually began. Due to its influence on the later acts, The Stone Roses, released in 1989, is sometimes regarded as the first Britpop album. Noel Gallagher has put forward his belief the it was The La's self-titled debut The La's, released in 1990. Others claim Gallagher's own debut, Definitely Maybe (1994), Suede's debut album Suede, or Blur's breakthrough, Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993), deserve this distinction for helping to kick-start the movement.

(1990s) History

(1991–1993) The Modfather and Modern Life is Rubbish

Paul Weller in particular is praised as an initiator of the movement. His solo records Paul Weller (1991) and Wild Wood (1993) are considered seminal forces for the movement. His influence over Britpop, coupled with association with the Mod revival, had earned him the nickname "The Modfather". As well as guiding the bands through his recordings, Weller has also performed with various Britpop bands. Simon Fowler and Damon Minchella of Ocean Colour Scene have played in his backing band and Weller played guitar on Oasis' quintessential Britpop track "Champagne Supernova".

Another key initiatior of the movement was Blur. Whereas Weller brought the element of "Mod" culture to what would become Britpop, Blur brought the early media attention and chart success with their 1993 album Modern Life Is Rubbish. The album slowly shifted Blur's sound away from shoegazing dance music of their debut Leisure to a quirky pop sound influenced by the likes of the Kinks. In hindsight, the writing and sound of Modern Life Is Rubbish contained many of the lyrical themes, chord changes, harmonies, and decidedly British singing which would later become iconically recognised as "Britpop".

The Mod scene of the mid 1960s and early 1980s had a profound influence on a number of acts, most famously Blur, Ocean Colour Scene, Menswe@r and, to a lesser extent, Oasis, either in terms of musical influence (particularly The Kinks, The Who and The Small Faces) or fashion (the fortunes of Ben Sherman were revived overnight).

(1994–1996) Britpop and Cool Britannia

The term "Britpop" had been used as early as 1987 (in Sounds magazine by journalist, Goldblade frontman and TV pundit John Robb referring to bands such as The La's, Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets and The Bridewell Taxis). "Britpop" arose around the same time as the term "Britart" (which referred to the work of British modern artists such as Damien Hirst). However, it would not be until 1994 when the term entered the popular consciousness, being used extensively by NME, Melody Maker, Select, and Q magazine. The word subsequently entered the mainstream media. Its influence was recognised by an article in The Guardian in which the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary declared "Britpop" as the new word which best exemplified 1995. "Britpop" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1997.

In April 1993, Select magazine helped spark the upswing in British pride by featuring Suede's lead singer Brett Anderson on the cover with a Union Jack in the background and the phrase "Yanks go home!" on the cover. The issue included features on Suede, The Auteurs, Denim, Saint Etienne and Pulp. In the following three years (1993 – 1995) other Britpop acts dominated the music weeklies - Mansun, Elastica, Echobelly, Sleeper, Supergrass, Primal Scream, The Auteurs, The Boo Radleys, Pulp, Cast (a band formed by John Power, former bassist for The La's), The Bluetones, Black Grape, Torrindale, Space and The Divine Comedy. Some of them were new, others such as the Boo Radleys and Dodgy already established acts who benefited from association with the movement.

After this, the first stirrings of recognition by the music press came in the form of what the NME had dubbed the New Wave of New Wave (or 'NWONW'), though this was initially applied to the more punk-derivative acts such as Elastica, S*M*A*S*H and These Animal Men. Though the latter two band quickly disappeared from the limelight altogether, the music press was initially hesitant to recognise what it regarded as lesser acts; in the first instance Oasis, Shed Seven and Whiteout, and continued to champion the more brash and punky groups. However, the release of new material by both The Charlatans and Inspiral Carpets that year (having returned to form following poorly-received "post-baggy" records) saw the more melodic acts gain prominence. Other baggy acts to slip back into mainstream acceptance during this period included Ocean Colour Scene and Shaun Ryder's post-Happy Mondays outfit Black Grape.

Fans of Britpop are divided over which album truly kick-started the movement. Oasis' breakthrough debut Definitely Maybe (1994), Blur's bombastic third album Parklife (1994) and Suede's self-titled debut Suede (1993) are all contenders. These albums defined the movement and paved the way for many other acts. Pulp's His 'n' Hers (1994) also coincided with this trio of landmark albums but they would not achieve true mainstream success until 1995's Different Class. Britpop hysteria then rapidly gained media and fan attention in Britain, Western Europe and some parts of the North America.

The movement was as much about British pride, media hype and imagery as it was about the particular style of music. Suede (known in America as "London Suede") was the first of the new crop of guitar-oriented bands to be completely embraced by the UK music media as Britain's answer to Seattle's grunge sound. Their self-titled first album was released in March 1993, and became the fastest-selling debut album in the history of the UK. This title was later claimed by Oasis with Definitely Maybe.

In 1995 the Britpop movement reached its zenith. The famous "Battle Of The Bands" found Blur and Oasis as prime contenders for the title "Kings of Britpop". Spurred on by the media, the "Battle" was headed by two groups - Oasis' brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher representing the North of England, and from Blur, Damon Albarn and Alex James representing the South. This "Battle" was epitomised when, after some back-handed marketing, Oasis' Single "Roll With It" and Blur's "Country House" were released in the same week. The event caught the public's imagination and gained mass media attention - even featuring on the BBC News. While this battle raged on Pulp took the number two spot with their most recognisable single "Common People" and Suede with their "Trash" and "Beautiful Ones".

In the end, Blur won the battle of the bands, selling 274,000 copies to Oasis' 216,000 - the songs charting at number one and number two respectively. However, in the long-run, Oasis' album (What's the Story) Morning Glory won the popular vote over Blur’s The Great Escape, outselling it by a factor of 4 or more. In the UK, (What's the Story) Morning Glory spent a total of three years on the charts, selling over eighteen million copies and becoming the second best selling British album of all time. Oasis' second album is considered by many to be the definitive Britpop album. In Britain and Ireland it became popular for a time when asked "What's the story?" (lit. "How are you?"), to answer with "Morning glory".)

During this time the new electioneering saw the emergence of the young leader of the Labour party - Tony Blair. Blair represented the new face of the dreams and wishes of the British counterculture and many acts like Oasis and Blur admired him. Noel Gallagher also appeared on several official meetings and expressed his supports for Blair.

Along with Oasis, Blur, Pulp and Suede, 1995 saw critically and commercially acclaimed singles and albums released by other Britpop bands which, collectively, captured the essence of the attitude and the Cool Britannia movement. Such bands included Supergrass (I Should Coco), Cast (All Change) and Radiohead (The Bends). The "Cool Britannia" movement was also symbolised in by the outwardly happy, poppy sing-along summer anthems of such bands as Dodgy's "Staying Out for the Summer", Supergrass' "Alright", Sleeper's "Inbetweener", The Boo Radleys' "Wake Up Boo" and Echobelly's "Great Things". 1995 also saw The Verve release their second album, A Northern Soul. The album failed to make a commercial impact, despite strong critical acclaim and the band split. They would reform in time for their seminal 1997 release Urban Hymns.

The British media went so far as the brand the movement the "Third British Invasion", because of it massive popularity at the time and because acts represented particular musical influence or movement in their music, which led to more or less media-generated conflicts between the bands, as was the case with previous bands and movements.

Though the fallout from 1995 continued well into the summer of 1996, thanks in part to new releases from the likes of Ocean Colour Scene (Moseley Shoals), Suede (Coming Up) and Dodgy (Free Peace Sweet) and to a legendary, record breaking two night show at Knebworth Park from Oasis. The 1996 Brit Awards were a celebration of britpop, with many of the nominees acknowledged as "britpop bands". The ceremony was also fuelled by the rivalry between Blur and Oasis. When Oasis defeated Blur to win the "Best British Album" Award, the Gallagher brothers taunted Blur by singing a drunken rendition of Blur's biggest hit "Parklife", with Liam Gallagher changing the lyrics to "Shite-Life". Oasis also won the "Best British Album" award for (What's the Story) Morning Glory and the "Best Video Award" for "Wonderwall". All three awards had been won by Blur the previous year. Meanwhile, Paul Weller won the "Best Male Artist" award (for the second year running) and Supergrass were acknowledged the "Best Breakthrough Act", which Oasis had won the year before. The ceremony was packed with britpop artists, but it was Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker who stole the show by invading the stage during a performance by Michael Jackson and flashing his rear. Cocker was arrested but released without charge.

Although the majority of the bands associated with Britpop were English, there were exceptions. Super Furry Animals, Catatonia, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Manic Street Preachers and Stereophonics were Welsh. Others like The Gyres, The Supernaturals, Travis and Belle and Sebastian were Scottish. This even led native media to call the rise of Welsh Bands "Cool Cymru" and "Cool Caledonia" - a pun to "Cool Britannia". In spite of accusations of Southeast bias (typified by Blur, Supergrass and the much-lamented Menswe@r), the movement and Britpop hysteria engulfed not just one province or city; it encompassed the entire region and established itself as a hegemonic and definitive British movement, both musically and spiritually.

The movement also exercised a brief period of cultural hegemony, with the 1996 film Trainspotting and its Britpop-centric soundtrack (featuring Blur, Elastica, Pulp and Sleeper), through to Ocean Colour Scene's music being used on Chris Evans' TFI Friday and the film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Some considered TFI Friday to be part of the televisual arm of Britpop. Other examples are Shooting Stars (which utilised large "Mod" logos as part of the set and featured many prominent Britpop musicians as guests), The Girly Show, The Word, The Fast Show and Father Ted.

(2000s) Legacy

Aside from the movement's contribution to culture in general during and after the period, early line-ups of current bands in the ascendant such as The Libertines, Kaiser Chiefs (as Parva) and Hard-Fi (as Contempo), all formed during the late 1990s and early 2000s. This can be seen as a continuation of the evolution of new bands and scenes from old, and the rapid turnover of 'genres', in the British music scene. Other acts like Coldplay, Travis, Athlete, The Strokes[citation needed], Muse and Kasabian showed Britpop influences in their work.

References

  • David Cavanagh, The Creation Records Story: My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry for the Prize, 2001
  • John Harris, Britpop!: Cool Britannia and the Spectacular Demise of English Rock, 2004

External links

Alternative rock
Alternative metal - Britpop - C86 - College rock - Dream pop - Gothic rock - Grebo - Grunge - Indie pop/Indie rock - Industrial rock - Lo-fi - Madchester - Math rock - Noise pop - Paisley Underground - Post-punk revival - Post-rock - Riot Grrrl - Sadcore - Shoegazing - Space rock - Twee pop
Other topics
History - Indie (music)

Home | Up | Timeline of alternative rock | Alternative country | Britpop | Grunge music | Industrial music | Alternative dance | Alternative metal | Christian alternative rock | Dream pop | Gothic rock | Indie | Lo-fi music | Madchester | Math rock | Noise pop | Noise rock | Paisley Underground | Post-punk revival | Post-rock | Sadcore | Shoegazing | Space rock | Twee pop

Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.


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