Monday, November 12, 2007

The Brighton Effect

So, Kid, you wanna make it in the indie business? Well, there’s a possibility that I can help. This largely depends on your definition of making it. If by ‘making it’ you mean fame, fortune and a lifetime of being invited to talk about the stearving eafricans at labour party conferences: I can’t. If by ‘making it’ you mean getting to the stage where somebody else pays you to record an album that they intend to pay for, promote and sell: I can.

I can’t tell you how it is done. It is done, no doubt, in a myriad of ways. I can tell you how it was done, once, by me and my band. I can also tell you how it isn’t done. For example, no one is ever in the last gang in town, no one ever meets on the A-train carrying a copy of trouble man, no one breaks on the internet and no one is ever discovered. There is no such thing as a scene, there are no cool towns. There are no guitar heroes and no fuck you attitudes, no princesses and no elves, no gods and no poets.

There is a big secret to success that no one is telling you. But it is this: There is no secret. The thing that ennables most alternative pop stars to strut about like they deserve it is just confidence, and not an innate mystical confidence either, just the plain old confidence that you can learn. Depending on where you grew up, it’s the same confidence that made some kids sure that they would go to university, or get married, or become lawyers, or fuck a mother and daughter at the same time, or win the apprentice. It’s the same confidence that made them popular.

If you don’t live in Brighton, you might still be aware that an awfully large amount of alternative music seems to be made there. This didn’t used to to be true. Once it was really just the Levellers and - though beloved by fans – they were always the butt of crusty jokes in the alternative music press and were definitively NOT COOL. Now, to name a very small percentage of the total, The Electric Soft Parade, Electrelane, British Sea Power, The Pipettes, Eighties Matchbox, Bat For Lashes, Brakes and the Kooks comprise the core of indie for many people. You might imagine that this is attributable to a sudden rise in the creativity and cultural productivity of the town. In fact, the reverse is true. By common consent Brighton is a less interesting place now than it has ever been – it’s edge blunted by rising house prices, an influx of commuters, gentrification and commodification of its cultural resources. Artist’s squats have been replaced by branches of Sainsbury’s. Established secondhand book shops have become expensive furniture outlets. Costa and Starbucks have swallowed its cool cafes. Flashy theme pubs have rebuilt it’s cheap venues in their image. It is wealthy, content and bland: finally become the London-by-Sea that its residents used to deny.

Why then all the bands?

The answer is generational. It has been often remarked that the current generation is the first in a while that is less radical than the one preceding it. This is, surely, objectively true. Moreover, it is true that the radical middle class of the sixties did not, in fact, drop out of the system – but altered it, creating wealth in the process. Dynamism in an economy always results in growth; growth raises the wealth of all, but especially the middle class, and even more especially those members of the middle class able to embrace dynamism. The result, today, is a significant number of left-leaning, essentially liberal, but rich families congregating in England’s southeast. Those who are most liberal and left-leaning have flooded Brighton, offering - as it does – wealth, comfort, like-minded people and an acceptance of left/liberal values.

These people, these ‘guardian readers’ have produced offspring. These offspring have recently grown up. These new grown ups are in the enviable position of being both wealthy (with the resultant confidence, security and popularity) and by nurture left/liberal. They do not necessarily possess the intellect that would have brought them to a left/liberal position on their own, but this is irrelevant. Merely by not rebelling they are mired in marxism, theory, creativity and – we come to it – alternative guitar music.

The traditional incentives to form bands have been rebellion, discontent, anger, otherness. In Brighton these have been replaced. Bands bring parental pride, assistance, social acceptance. Operating under these conditions, young Brighton bands are extraordinarily self-confident. They feel a sense of entitlement when they survey the music business: it is their birthright. And that is why all these kids are succeeding and you aren’t.

If you aren’t like them, then you know – deep down – that you can’t make a living being in a band. Who would want your album? Who would pay to see you perform? People who do that are other, elvish, gifted – you might dream, but dreams are all they can be, surely.

Well no. The big secret is only this: if they can do it, you can. It is just a matter of confidence.

Well, step one anyway.

Stay tuned.

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