Is it just too soon to be clear or were the 2000s the first decade you couldn’t pin down to a particular style of music? The fifties saw the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, the sixties had beat groups dominating the charts and invading the USA before the hippies took over music gained a psychedelic boost. The seventies brought disco and funk and heavy rock before an explosive end with the rapid arrival of punk. During the eighties everything went a bit electronic and, well you get the idea. I hit my teenage years in the eighties and grew up loving most of the music that had gone before but largely ignoring the popular bands of the day. This set me up for a life of wanting to seek out alternative music and the ability to do that changed dramatically in the new millennium.
The Strokes – Last Nite
In the mid-nineties I’d somewhat fallen out of love with new music. The NME didn’t make sense to me anymore and I filled my shelves with albums by musicians who’d been in bands I used to love rather than looking for something exciting. An album by Radiohead changed all that and reignited my interest in new music. I’m not sure what came first, buying “OK Computer” or buying an actual computer but these two events would change the way I sought out and bought music in the new decade. By the year 2000 I was more savvy with this new Internet thing and accumulating websites that introduced me to bands and genres I’d never heard before. It provided me with a route to alternative opinions about music and meant I was no longer dependant on whatever the small clique of paper based music press had decided was going to be the next big thing.
Ironically, one of the first bands I got excited by at the start of the decade remained magically anonymous despite the sudden ease of web based research. Godspeed You Black Emperor! (the exclamation mark moved later on) were thrillingly mysterious, it took me several years just to find out their first names, and in 2000 released their breathtaking second album “Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven”. It’s a genuine double album, epic in both sound and length and sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Storm
The desire to force similar bands into a “scene” seemed less prevalent, though this may be because I was no longer reading the NME quite so regularly. However, I was drawn into the Detroit Garage Rock scene, which managed to get a lot of garage punk bands who’d been on the circuit for quite a few years into the pages of the trendiest culture pages. Leading lights The White Stripes were as thrilling a band as I had seen for many a year. I remember seeing a photo of Jack and Meg playing an outdoor live show (possibly at the newly hip SXSW festival) that had me slavering over the band before I’d heard a bar of their music. I was enthralled by the idea that two people could even consider making that sort of music and the picture seemed to ooze magic. Wearing clothes of red, black & white with a packed audience stretching out into the night behind them it was a great photo that pulled me in hook line & sinker before I’d heard a note. I wasn’t disappointed when I finally heard the music, their second album “White Blood Cells” was a visceral rock n roll rush. I dived into the Detroit scene head first and was soon exploring the many (for the most part fairly traditional) bands including The Von Bondies (I had a major crush on Marcie), The Detroit Cobras (a band who’d make any party a blast), the Electric 6 (though mainly just for single Gay Bar), The Soledad Brothers (great t-shirt) and my favourite Detroit group The Dirtbombs.
The Dirtbombs – Chains of Love
Whilst I was reading the paper press less the NME still had a role to play in the music I discovered. They had begun the NME award shows to promote new bands and to back their own brand, they were sponsorship heavy affairs (precipitant of the way mainstream live music was changing) but offered the chance to see several great bands (or more likely 2 great ones and 2 crap ones) in one night at a reasonably sized venue and I leapt at the chance. This gave me my one chance to see the Libertines live. I’d gone entirely because The Detroit Cobras were second on the bill (and they were fantastic) but the chance to see the band of the moment was an added bonus even if I wasn’t a huge fan. They put in a fairly shambolic performance of which my only real memory is the moment when they took off their red guardsman jackets & lobbed them in the crowd. They were a fascinating prospect and I totally got why people fell in love with them but they weren’t for me. Maybe if I’d been younger and part of that in-crowd that always seemed to find a way to the unheard of East London pub they were playing or the set in someone’s flat that got broken up by police after only a few songs. They made great copy but for me didn’t have the tunes to back it up.
The Walkmen – The Rat
The Internet explosion provided everyone with access to more websites than we really knew what to do with. Even in the early 2000s I was struggling to cope with the quantity of data that was out there. NME might have felt old hat but at least I knew I could walk into WH Smith every Wednesday and pick up the latest copy. Trying to keep up to date with the myriad of music websites and music blogs was difficult. I adopted RSS feeds as a way to see the latest posts but even then couldn’t read everything and was finding it hard to pick out the wheat from the chaff. Drowned in Sound was launched in 2000, I guess I discovered it a year or two later, and it soon became my defacto entry point for the internet.
Bloc Party – Banquet
DiS offered a fresh take on new music. I guess it wasn’t that different from NME but it seemed to be more community led. There was (and remains) an active forum that underpinned the website and it was here as much as the features and reviews, that I began picking up new and exciting recommendations. As always when you first read about bands you’ve never heard off before it feels like people are talking in another language but I soon found out the music wasn’t totally out there it was just created by artists that hadn’t quite hit the mainstream. DiS led me to a fabulously eclectic list of artists, names that are now much more familiar but back then seemed utterly entrancing. Joanna Newsom’s miraculous album “Ys” was talked about with the same passion and enthusiasm as American punk renegades Les Savy Fav. I discovered so many bands I now consider huge favourites who have nothing in common apart from being exciting and fascinating creators of music.
Joanna Newsom – Monkey & Bear
Les Savy Fav – What Would Wolves Do?
Perhaps the ultimate DiS band was Dananananaykroyd. I must have read about them for three or four years before I finally saw them live in the heart of Soho at Madam JoJo’s in 2006. They turned out to be one of the very best live bands I’ve seen. A 2009 show at the Hoxton Bar & Grill remains a particular high point. A night during which I got very very drunk, completely destroyed a very expensive set of spectacles, missed my last train home and ended up crashing on the floor of the flat of a friend of a friend who handily lived near Russell square. Best night ever!
Dananananaykroyd – Infinity Milk
I also need to make a special mention for the wonderful Youthmovies. I first saw them supporting Hope of the States in 2003 when they were called Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies. They had something of a Red Hot Chilli Pepper vibe going on (though with hindsight I think that was entirely due to their lack of shirts) but had something going on that I liked. It was over five years before I caught them again, name shortened & shirts on, playing a pub venue in my hometown of Kingston and they were phenomonal. Sadly less than two years on they played their final shows. I’m still holding out for a reunion.
Youthmovies – The Naughtiest Girl Is Always the Monitor
Whilst the interweb introduced me to new names in music and freed me from the reliance on BPI funded music press it also marked the beginning of the end of my reliance on the words of other people. The web enabled instant links to actual music, now you didn’t have to interpret other people’s points of view you could hear for yourself exactly what a band sounded like. YouTube & Soundcloud provided quick snippets but it was the good old BBC who really took this to a new level. The iPlayer Radio allowed me to listen again to shows I’d never have heard without it – Mark Lamarr had two amazing shows on Radio 2 – Alternative Sixties was an hour of rip roaring garage rock & pre decimal R&B that took my developed my obsession with Detroit bands and introduced me to the originators.
MIA – Paper Planes
Lamarr’s three hour God’s Jukebox pushed the boundaries even further. He was outspoken about the obsession with new music, a gripe I never shared, but his enthusiasm and passion for supporting the music he loved was absolutely genuine and both shows were absolute gold dust. BBC 6music struggled early on, almost being shut down, but made me buy a digital radio and has become my main source of discovering new music. Marc Riley, Gideon Coe and Cerys Matthews all had fantastic shows that are still as vital today. Live sessions form a major part of most of these and, whilst they do bang on about it a bit, I think the station really does represent some of the spirit of John Peel. Riley in particular manages to produce a program that doesn’t care about genre boundaries and shows no snobbery about playing a bit of pop music if it’s a genuinely good tune.
Britney Spears – Toxic
The 2000s were a decade in which the way I listened to and discovered new music changed dramatically. I still buy physical formats but 80% of my musical purchases are downloads now. Having struggled with the variety of peer to peer applications early on I’m now content with my eMusic subscription and direct access to bands via services like Bandcamp. I have used the free version of Spotify for a long time but recently won a year’s worth of Premium which I’m fast becoming reliant on. Despite the ease with which that allows me to hear stuff I reckon I still buy as many albums now as I ever did.
Going back to my original question, I don’t know if the 2000s lack a decade defining genre. I suspect it’s too soon to know and maybe the reason I can’t see one is that it’s outside my realm of interest. Perhaps Drum & Bass or Dub Step or some other more dance based genre is the thing that will form the basis of Millennium Revival discos in years to come. Whatever happens I think it has been a fine decade, full of fascinating music and new ways to discover it.