Decades in Music; Part 10 – The ’00s: “Filling the void with beats, gadgets and trainers” – guest blog post by @indieover40

When Dotty asked me to write about what the 2000s meant to me musically I knew instantly what I would be writing about. My life essentially became dominated by three divergent forces that intertwined and seemed to feed off each other. Dance music, the iPod and personal fitness crashed into my world and dictated the course of my life musically throughout that decade.

As 1999 passed into 2000 at midnight 31st December and the world was not destroyed by the anticipated millennium bug, I was 31 years old and living in the Polish city of Krakow. I was 4 years into what ultimately became a 6 year sabbatical from my post-school career which had taken me from a university campus in Northampton to a communist built apartment in Eastern Europe via the Midwest of USA and Florence, Italy.

Musically I was in a void which seemed to reflect the sparse apartment I was living in. I had no affinity to any artist or even a genre and it had seemed that way for a very long time. When I look back I wonder if the instability in my personal life in the final years of the 1990s had manifest in my musical world. That maybe bouncing from country to country and from one set of friends to another had prevented any meaningful musical attachment.

I was still technically an indie kid and my staple diet remained guitar bands. However, I had become disillusioned with the post-Britpop scene. This was particularly disappointing as I was a university student between 1996 and 1999 and had always assumed the campus would be fertile ground for the discovery of new musical tastes. However my resounding memories of late 1990’s music seem to take the form of Babybird’s Your Gorgeous and Reef’s Place Your Hands. I could probably still cut the same shapes now to Stretch & Vern’s I’m Alive as I did all those years ago in Ritzy nightclub on a student night, such was the mark it left on the formative years of my life.

Musically I was simply meandering along and really not in a good place. Something had to fill the void and I didn’t have to wait too long into that new decade for a musical epiphany.

Whilst living among the British expats In Krakow I’d become pally with a lad from Durham called David who liked his dance music. This generally took the form of heavy techno whose monotonous driving bass was headache inducing and was played in some of the less salubrious cellar bars of Krakow. David was one of the only expats in our circle to have satellite TV and Sunday afternoons would see us all gathering around his apartment for tinnys and Eastenders omnibus sessions. It was at one of these soirees that the seeds of a new musical direction would take root and pretty much consume me for most of the decade.

As I said, David liked a bit of heavy duty techno and among the reading material at his apartment was a Mixmag magazine, which I felt impelled to flick through one afternoon. Pretty much most of the content was a world far removed from my own as I sat in an apartment block watching Eastenders in a freezing Poland looking at photos of Bermuda short and bikini clad beautiful twenty-somethings partying on the beaches of Ibiza and Miami.

My skimming had taken me as far as the new releases section towards the back and I was just about to put the magazine down as those warm and inviting photos began drying up, when an album review caught my eye. It was for an album simply titled Uruguay and the artist concerned was someone called Darren Emerson. Among all the faceless DJs and Producers whose names had meant nothing to me as I flicked through the magazine, Darren Emerson was one that held much resonance.

Darren had been in the year below me at secondary school and we had trampled the same streets of our shared home town of Elm Park, a suburb that struggled to decide if it was in London or Essex. It would be a stretch to say that Darren and I were friends, although we knew each other well enough to pass the time of day if our paths crossed on the streets or on the underground station platform.

That Darren was an internationally renowned DJ and Producer and gracing the pages of Mixmag was no surprise to me or probably anyone who had grown up in Elm Park in the 1980s. I had certainly followed his career with interest in the early and mid nineties as one third of cross over pioneering electronica group Underworld and had purchased most of their early releases diligently. Although my interest in Underworld had gradually waned by the mid 90s, I was at least aware that Darren left the group in 1999 following the release of the Beaucoup Fish album.

From what I could gather from the review, Uruguay seemed to represent Darren’s reintroduction to the dance music world post-Underworld. It was a very short review, with no visuals and spoke mostly of BPMs and blending loops. I resolved to purchase Uruguay at the first opportunity but with Krakow lacking a credible record shop (at least to me) that opportunity did not arrive until the summer of 2000 whilst back in the UK for one of my periodical trips back home.

As was usually the custom when back in the UK I headed off to London’s West End to check out HMV on Oxford Street and the records shops of Berwick Street in Soho. It was in HMV that I found the Uruguay CD among the Dance section. There staring up at me from the cover was Darren’s partially obscured but unmistakable face and just for a split second I was transported back to the streets of my youth. Where school kids wore deerstalker hats, carried their books in Aquascutum plastic carrier bags and spent their dinner money on 10 Benson & Hedges.

Darren EmersonAt the time I made assumptions about the CD that ultimately proved to be way off the mark. I had assumed for instance that the CD would be a solo album with tracks written and produced by Darren himself, in the vein of Underworld’s own work from the previous decade. However a glance at the track list told me immediately that this was a compilation album featuring a variety of artists whose bizarre names were unknown to me and none attributable to Darren. What it was in fact was a set that Darren had played one night at a club in the fashionable resort of Puerto Del Este in Uruguay.

I also ascertained that the CD was No 15 in a series released under the label Global Underground with presumably 14 predecessors. I discovered later that this Global Underground series were not live recordings but a facsimile of the sets recreated and engineered later in a studio. Call it curiosity but I vowed to go ahead with the purchase despite the initial disappointment that this was simply a mix tape of tunes that I had never heard and probably would not be to my liking either.

It was a flying visit to the UK so it wasn’t until I had returned to my apartment in Krakow that I got the first opportunity to listen to the CD a few days later. Global Underground’s motto as displayed on the CD was “Travelling the world in the speed of sound” and what a journey of sound it was! Within literally 10 seconds of the CD starting I was exposed to chirping crickets, bongos and Minnie Ripperton’s infamous “Loving You” as the The Orb’s A Huge Ever Growing Brain opened proceedings. From that moment on and right through to the final note on CD2, I was sucked in and then dumped in a delightful world of pulsing beats, driving baselines and layered melodies I’d never really heard before. It truly was a journey through sound.

There was also something smooth about the whole listening experience as well. Despite the high BPMs the music flowed effortlessly with seamless transitions between tracks but at the same time you were able to distinguish each tune clearly. The tracks had their own identity and flavour so that rather than the lengthy monotonousness of dance music that had left me frustrated 10 years previously, these actually felt like songs that had been written and created by artists.

I’d long assumed that clubbers weren’t particularly serious music purchasers, that who was actually making the sounds they were dancing to was unimportant to them as well as the song titles (if they had one). This was drawn from my own experiences of dance music culture of the early 90s which entailed occasional clubbing trips to Shoreditch Town Hall or The Leisure Lounge in Holborn.

The problem was quite simply that I wasn’t a recreational drug user at that time and neither were any of my friends. We were pub-goers and gig-goers and we drank beer. However, we felt compelled to experience club culture because it was happening and we had to at least give it a try. Behind the bars of these clubs were lines of fridges full of bottled water with a solitary token fridge at the end for bottled lager and we always seemed to be the only people in the place drinking the hard stuff. We rarely ever lasted the distance and usually left before the tube stopped running. The lack of mind-expanding drugs in my system ensured no meaningful attachment to the thumping monotony coming from the DJ booth. So in that musical battlefield that raged within me in the early 90s, indie and shoegaze had firmly won the war by this point.

But as I listened repeatedly to Uruguay I realised that this was dance music I could get into. It was reeling me in swiftly with the bonding process beginning in earnest. Music that was being played by underground DJs at exotic playgrounds in the southern hemisphere seemed dark and edgy. I knew that none of my friends would ever like it and that was an added attraction. I could own this sound, create from scratch a musical world around me without any outside influence and on my own terms. Who knows where it would take me? Suddenly the musical vacuum was starting fill.

Throughout the decade I slowly built a library of dance music whether it was CDs purchased in shops or later in the form of digital downloads or through Spotify and other music sharing platforms. I started off by purchasing earlier episodes of this Global Underground series. CDs of sets played in the cities of Buenos Aires, Melbourne & Budapest by DJs such as John Digweed, Nick Warren & Dave Seaman. They weren’t always easy to find and so progress was slow in the early years. Then one day around 2003 whilst surfing the internet I came across a deal to purchase the whole collection in a double box set for about £100. There were around 20 in the series by this stage. I cared not whether I had the money or whether my wife would go ballistic, or that I already owned 25% of the collection by that stage, I simply had to buy it and I did.

CDs

This collection became the foundations of my listening pattern for the rest for the decade. It allowed me to filter out which type of sounds I enjoyed and which DJs were likely to provide those sounds. At that stage I hadn’t quite got comfortable with the genre I was dealing with. There seemed to be so many. House, Deep House, Techno, Tech House, Trance. I needed to pin a label on it in case anyone asked what sort of music I was into. I settled on Progressive House as it popped up frequently and it sounded like the sort of dance music mature people would listen to and so provided some sort of justification for this musical venture.

One of the biggest ironies of all this was that I had absolutely no urge at this point to actually go to a club and hear this sort of music in its natural environment. I was quite content to listen at home or on the bus to and from work every day. However, another factor entered the equation around this time that fuelled my new found musical passion and without it may not have endured. That was the iPod.

After returning to the UK from Poland in 2002 I ended up going back to my pre-sabbatical career. In the office I worked in there was a lad who had an iPod and I was instantly fascinated. Although far from being a third world country, Poland was certainly behind in terms of gadgetry and I hadn’t really cottoned on to the emergence of the iPad at that point or had any idea of its capabilities. When this lad showed me how many songs were on this tiny bit of kit I was gobsmacked. Not just songs but whole albums. Loads of them. You could flick between them, play tracks randomly. Randomly! Just that single option was enough to convince me that I must have an iPod.

This was just before Xmas and I was conscious that spending money on gadgets for myself at this time of year was going to raise eyebrows with my soon to be wife. I decided to wait it out until the New Year and purchase one after Xmas on the pretext it was a sale item. Purchasing goods in sales was a concept my wife embraced and would ensure her tacit approval.

But I didn’t have to bother in the end because a remarkable event happened. Incredibly the first present I opened that Xmas morning was an iPod Nano courtesy of my wife. That was and to this day remains the best present my wife has ever given me. It really did change my life almost immediately. The world of iTunes and burning CD’s took hold and consumed me. I gradually transferred every CD I had onto iTunes and crafted playlists for my listening pleasure. Not just my newly discovered dance music albums but the old indie and other CDs of my youth. I’d be sitting on the bus to work listening to Laurent Gainer’s Man with the Red Face merging into Adorable’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling followed by Public Enemy’s Miuzi Weighs a Ton. Sometimes I didn’t want that bus journey to end.

Incredibly I became quickly frustrated by the constraints of the amounts of songs I could have on the iPod. I recall there was capacity for about 150 songs, but my ITunes library had over 5000 songs at one point. The iPod memory couldn’t satisfy my insatiable appetite for tunes. Working within these constraints I’d end up getting stressed trying to compile playlists, especially when iTunes informed me I was over the allowed limit when syncing to the iPod.

Within this environment of the iPod and a new found love of music, particularly dance music, the third dominating feature of that decade manifest. The gym and personal fitness.

It would be fair to say that I had never really looked after my health. I wasn’t necessarily unhealthy and had always enjoyed good health as a rule. However, I had smoked from a young age, although not heavily and alcohol was a regular aspect of my social lifestyle. I wasn’t exactly a slob either but at the same time I didn’t have a hobby that required any sort of physical exertion. What made me suddenly scrutinise my lifestyle in 2003 was my wife falling unexpectedly pregnant with what would be our first and only child.

All of a sudden life became very serious indeed and my customary habit of just taking each day as it comes needed a major reassessment. It was a shock to the system for both of us as our strong emotional bond was built in part by a shared desire not to have kids. Impending parenthood forced many changes to our way of life. We started doing responsible things like eating at home, saving money and taking out life insurance products.

The subject of health was discussed frequently between us in those early weeks of the pregnancy. My wife was a borderline chain smoker but naturally she quit immediately upon falling pregnant and she vowed to stay fit and healthy henceforth. I decided to follow suit but wasn’t sure how to pursue a fitness regime. I had sporadically gone to gyms in my early 20s because it seemed like the right thing to do but ultimately with very little enthusiasm. I recall sitting on the weights bench and not doing anything but watching what was on the television screens until someone moved me on. As for running machines, I couldn’t seem to stay on the things for than 5 minutes without succumbing to extreme boredom.

The iPod provided the solution to this fitness and boredom issue once and for all. The distraction provided by hours of random music on my iPod rendered punishing fitness routines not just manageable but downright enjoyable. From the moment I signed up and handed over my bank details I was in the gym pretty much 3 or 4 times a week. The upshot was that going to the gym and getting fit was simply a means to an end. A way of listening to music uninterrupted and to feed my insatiable appetite for music.

These regular trips to the gym while keeping fit was fuelling my new found love of dance music even more. Keeping a steady rhythm going whilst switching between radical changes in tempo is not easy. Believe me, Funk Function’s Empress Zero followed by The Auteurs Starstruck can really put you off your stride. A consequence of this was that dance music dominated my iPod content for pretty much the rest of the decade as I ditched all other forms of music from my running playlists. Dance music got me through many 10K runs and half-marathons whilst raising money for a number of charities. Music was making be do good deeds and that felt good.

John Digweed, Nick Warren and Sasha were pretty much providing the soundtrack to my decade. I googled their set lists to see what they were dropping in clubs around the world and listened to their podcasts and radio shows. I was introduced to producers such as Guy J & Henry Saiz whose talents combined in the track Lamur and would be my anthem of the decade. Labels like Bedrock and Sudbeat became just as familiar names as 4AD and Creation had been 15 years before.

I hadn’t completely abandoned non-dance music and continued to dabble in other genres. My best friend Paul regularly sent me CDs in the post which he’d burnt with up to date “indie” music. Whilst I enjoyed the quirkier sounds of The Besnard Lakes and Loney Dear over Arctic Monkeys and Kasabian it wasn’t an effortless listen. The conversion rate in terms of likeability was very low compared to dance music where I was constantly being surprised by the diversity of sounds. I still went to gigs regularly but even this seemed to comprise mostly of reunions of my past indie heroes such as Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, The Bluetones and Shed Seven. Perhaps this was a sign of things to come?

In addition to iTunes, by the end of the decade I had a Spotify Premium account, a Soundcloud account, a Mixcloud account, a Last.fm account. My iPhone was literally overheating with music apps and it didn’t stop there. Curiosity finally got the better of me and I eventually bought a set of DJ Controllers intent on learning how to create my own DJ set from the comfort of home. It was of course a flawed venture. My hectic home and work life was not conducive to learning a new art from scratch. However, I had developed enough of a rudimentary knowledge of how DJ sets were crafted through constant listening and so managed to cobble together a few mixes which I published on Mixcloud under my own DJ moniker.

As the decade closed, there was time for one last musical adventure. It would only be a matter of time before the urge to go to an actual club would be too strong to resist and the opportunity arose when I spotted that John Digweed would be playing at Fabric along with Guy J. That combination was the equivalent of the Stone Roses supporting Happy Mondays back in 1989 and so without thinking of the consequences I purchased two tickets online.

In the absence of finding any friends mad enough to go clubbing with me in their mature years I managed to persuade my wife to come along. Amazingly we both enjoyed the experience in our own special way. I got to hear some of those tunes that I listened to on the bus to work and in the gym in their natural environment. The drops and fades, pulsing beats, lasers and lights combined and gave the tunes even more energy. For my wife she got to let her hair down after years of mothering a toddler and it was the perfect tonic. We continued our little foray to clubs for another couple of years with the odd trip to Ministry Of Sound and KoKo.

So there we have it. What the 2000s meant for me musically. I’d started the decade in a musical vacuum but ended it on the dance floors of London clubs. Along the way I’d discovered a love of dance music, embraced technology and got fit. Each element feeding off each other and unable to survive in isolation.

Of course, nothing lasts forever and the next decade would see my musical world take a new direction.

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Decades in Music; Part 9 – The ’00s: “Millenium Music” – guest blog post by @chops_top_fives

00s A

Millennium music.

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.