There’s a bit of celebration happening, 20 years on from the start of Britpop. But it’s not really the Britpop that I remember.
I was there – working with lots of the more minor bands after turning down a job with Blur in 1993, DJing at clubs like Blow Up and Brighton’s Basement, hanging out with Menswe@r, Heavy Stereo, Moloko Plus and My Life Story, and drinking at the Good Mixer.
And what I was part of was much bigger than the Blur vs Oasis battle that’s being replayed right now.
Britpop started before the music press gave it a label, in bands like S*M*A*S*H, My Life Story, Elastica, Spitfire, These Animal Men, Denim, Suede and Pulp who were discovering a british style. It really came together with Blur’s Modern Life Is Rubbish, a collection of perfect British songs in a brilliantly British sleeve. Still, I think, the most important album of the time
From those roots, came a radically diverse scene, with lots of different bands exploring being british in very different ways. It wasn’t just the straightforward rock it became later – Pulp were still very artschool, Blur were channeling classic 60s bands, but there were also bands like St Etienne, Cornershop, James Taylor Quartet and Portishead, making a very different noise but being bought by the same people. Listen to My Life Story and Divine Comedy, Dodgy and The Bluetones, Ash and Elastica, and you’ll find something much more than 60s rock revived. It doesn’t all sound the same.
And there was an incredible diversity within the musicians, too. I don’t remember a music scene before or since with as many women – Elastica, Echobelly, St Etienne, Catatonia, Curve, Kenickie, Salad, Powder and many, many more. And a huge explosion of bands from outside London, too – Pulp were proudly Sheffield, there was a strong Brighton contingent, a whole wave of Welsh bands as far apart as the Manic Street Preachers and Gorkys Zygotic Mynci, Ash from Northern Ireland, Ocean Colour Scene from the Midlands, Oasis, Black Grape and a whole bunch of stoutly Northern bands.
Look at Echobelly alone – a female singer from India, a Swedish guitarist, a black female guitarist – and all of those were pretty much ignored because they weren’t exceptional and because the songs were so good.
And Britpop came with a culture wrapped around it, too. Books like High Fidelity, fashion names like Fred Perry and Ben Sherman, Kate Moss, the Young British Artists, illustrators like Jamie Hewlett and Phil Bond, and films like Trainspotting are very much part of the whole scene.
So let’s look again – and let’s not remember Britpop as ladrock, Tony Blair’s Cool Britannia and nothing more than a Union Jack wrapped around a revival.
Britpop was an energetic reimagining of what it meant to be British, and has a legacy in the fact that Britain is the most creative country in the world, leading in music, literature, film, design and art. It truly made a difference.