The music industry is sometimes seen as one fuelled by angry, money-grabbing cokeheads. Is this really true? And if it ever was, are we now seeing a shift? Could it be that the nice guys are taking over? This week Eddy Temple-Morris asks if you really need to be a bastard to get ahead, and suggests that being supportive towards each other could improve everything for everyone. 2012 is, says Eddy, the Year Of The Nice Guy.
Classic nice guy Steven Gerrard lifting the League Cup on Sunday was a proud personal moment for me. I’m not a Liverpool fan. My mum is, but I’m a faithful Spurs supporter. However, the pride I felt was nothing to do with football. Did you notice, that behind the Liverpool captain’s smile, underneath the ecstatic roars of the jubilant crowd, ‘Hot Right Now’ by DJ Fresh was playing? This delighted me, at a very deep level, and in a number of ways. When Dan (Dan Stein – DJ Fresh) reached number one last week, not only was I elated because Dan is my friend, I was ecstatic because Dan is one of the nicest guys I’ve been lucky enough to meet.
I’ve been thinking about ‘niceness’ a lot these past few weeks. For too long I’ve heard the ‘nice guys always finish last’ mantra, and I’ve seen plenty of evidence to support this cynical theory, but I’m hearing and feeling a huge swathe of evidence to leave that weary adage to one side, at least for a while. Every dog has its day, and I’ve seen enough arseholes win in my day, but there is an overwhelming sense of niceness about music at the moment, and I am bloody loving it.
It really does seem like 2012 is the Year Of The Nice Guy (this applies to girls as well – I’m using the word ‘guy’ in a genderless way).
This week sees the release of Utah Saints ‘What Can You Do For Me?’ and I began my co-host hour with them over the weekend by saying: “The nicest guys in dance music are here”. Straight away, Jez Utahs played this down and questioned whether they’d qualify for that title outside the Xfm Remix studio. This just reinforced my point. Only a truly nice guy would say that.
We’ve talked about this since, and Jez has an interesting theory that because the music business has condensed and shrunk and become less rich, a higher proportion people are now in it for the right reasons, for the love of music, rather than a love of cocaine – the sex-drugs-rock-n-roll thing is just not the norm any more. Excess was a reflection of the 90s and the austerity that prevails now is reflected in the type of people that occupy the business of music today. I think that’s very astute and there is some truth in it.
After my rejoicing at the comeback of ultimate nice-guys Utah Saints, and nice-guy DJ Fresh topping the charts, I found myself punching the air for exactly the same reason when I found out that Adele, and therefore Paul Epworth, had clean swept the Grammy Awards. Paul is another great example of nice guy that’s reached the top of the tree. There is nobody better than Paul at what he does, and there is nobody nicer than Paul either.
I’ve wrestled with this niceness thing all my life, but it really came into focus once I had a career. The UK doesn’t make it easy for people to be nice. I used to get hate mail for “smiling too much on telly” for “only playing stuff you love” on the radio. My view was always the same. If I can play whatever I want, why would waste time and energy playing something I hate?
It was something I argued about, incessantly, with my former management. I was constantly told I was “too nice”, “too approachable” and that if I wanted to be successful, I should cultivate more of an aloof public persona.
I understood where they were coming from, but it brought us into direct conflict on a deep level: I was admonished on an almost daily basis for answering emails, religiously listening to demos, giving free advice and help to bands or DJs that asked, giving A&R support to friends without charging their labels, and supporting charitable projects.
“Be more like Erol”, I was told, more than once. “How he treated you, that’s how you should treat strangers”.
I shuddered as I remembered the day I met Erol Alkan in the artists camping area of Glastonbury. “Nice set last night man, I thought you were awesome”, I said, with a sincere smile. Erol looked at me like I’d just stuck my finger up my own arse then asked him to smell it. He turned and walked away. (I forgot to mention this to him when he came on my show years later, mainly because it just came back to me as I write!)
To be fair to Erol, he didn’t know me from Adam, he had no idea that I’d been on the same bill the previous night, and that we had near identical taste in music at the time. I was just a nobody and he was a cool up-and-coming DJ who was probably quite hungover.
I endlessly pissed my manager off by stopping to talk to random people who recognised me. I just feel that if somebody asks a question, or for a picture, that if you can do it, you should do it: its polite, respectful and appropriately reciprocal. It takes guts to stop somebody you like in the street and engage with them.
When I asked cricketer Viv Richards for his autograph at Lords when I was a young teen, he blanked me and I was gutted. So when people started asking me for autographs in the 90s, as they recognised my face from MTV, I promised myself I’d never turn anyone down if I could help it.
“Justice wouldn’t do that”, my manager sniped one day.
I don’t know whether they would or they wouldn’t, they seem like very nice, funny guys to me, but whatever, the point is, I’m not sure I’d know how to go about turning off the whole niceness and approachability thing anyway. Perhaps I’m missing something obvious – but I feel it’s sort of ingrained, a mixture of genetics and upbringing.
Politeness is just a simple, old fashioned and much under-rated virtue. It costs nothing and it makes a whole world of difference. Specifically being nice to strangers is, I think, a peculiarly Iranian thing, and therefore just part of my genetic make up. Iran is a wonderful country to travel in, because its people are so kind, and so nice, you’d end up eating in people’s kitchens more than you would restaurants because Iranians are generally trusting and kind to the core.
Another thing I was berated for was “helping the competition”. My manager frequently told me that I should have spiked Zane Lowe’s career, rather than helped it. I was an idiot, apparently, for giving somebody I genuinely thought was brilliant a helping hand up the showbiz ladder.
I accept there are some, maybe many, people who would hinder the career of a supposed rival if they could, but I don’t know how those people sleep at night. I just couldn’t do it. I’ve always been unflinchingly honest with everyone and in everything I do, so I just couldn’t do that ‘look after number one above all else’ thing. I might find it hard to sleep because I’m worried about where next month’s mortgage payment is coming from, same as most people, but I’m not going to get insomnia over having fucked some poor colleague up the arse, professionally.
And, aside from peaceful sleeping, doing the right thing can be rewarding in more practical ways. One of the best bits of advice I was given was this: “Be careful who you piss off on the way up because you will meet them again on the way down”. If I’d listened to the likes of my old manager and, for example, burned Zane Lowe’s demo VCR tape, rather than pleading with my MTV boss on my knees to give him a job, then Zane would never have been there for me when I needed him – which he so was, when he got me a meeting with the then Xfm boss, Andrew Phillips, an immensely likeable and very able Aussie radio dude who originally commissioned ‘The Remix’.
What came around, went around, and I’d urge anyone starting out in music or media – or any career – to just be true to yourself. Not everyone is a nice guy – and I’m not really looking to convert anyone here. I’m just saying that you have a choice, and if you are one of the nice ones, there’s no reason why you can’t get through this business staying true to your core beliefs.
Another nice guy I’ve written about a lot in this column is Josh Harvey, or Hervé. He wrote to me last week saying: “I’ve always wanted to ask why you hate Damon Albarn?” Presumably I’d said something to that effect on Twitter. I told Josh, as I’ll tell you now, that – while I confess Albarn is a brilliantly gifted and heart-breakingly talented songwriter – it was something Damon said, to a dear friend of mine, which put him directly opposite me, and would keep him there forever, in conflict, in direct opposition, at war, as long as I draw breath. This is what he said, and it’s a direct quote, verbatim:
“I would hate for anyone to think of me as nice because nice people make shit music”.
There. I said earlier that I don’t know how certain people sleep at night. I guess that’s how – they live by that mantra, or something like it. That’s why I have such mixed feelings about Blur winning awards, and why a bit of me dies every time I hear Damon’s voice on the radio. That awful sentence, in one callous sweep, has dismissed every record made by Utah Saints, DJ Fresh, Paul Epworth, Hervé and all the other countless nice people I’ve been lucky enough to meet, play, support, appear alongside, or be fortunate enough to call friend. It makes me feel angry that a person like that has so much success when a man like Jon McClure (Reverend And The Makers), who is one hundred times more of a man, has a hundredth of the success.
But, like I said at the top, every dog has his day, and right now, it feels like that dog is the lovely, cuddly one that wags its tail when it sees you, not the one that bites your hand off when you go to stroke it.
Just before I started writing this column, on my way home, I heard one of those charity muggers (those guys in branded jerkins who are paid to collar you in the street, make you aware of a given charity and cajole you to sign a direct debit form to give a few quid a month) talking to another charity mugger. It was just a snapshot, a part of a sentence and I heard it out of context, but it stayed with me because it’s something I believe to the core of my being. He said to his female co-worker:
“I don’t want to be Darth Vader… I want to be Luke Skywalker. I want to use the force for good”.
So that’s what I’m saying to you. Don’t be ashamed of being a nice guy, don’t let those fuckers grind you down, or persuade you to act in a way that’s not natural for you. You do not have to cross over to the Dark Side to make it in this or any other business. There are enough people there, doing that, we need to keep the nice guys nice. A nice guy turned dark is the greatest victory for the forces of darkness. George Lucas knew this when he wrote Vader’s character, and look how that ended.
So, this is our time. All those bastards out there can kiss my arse this year. Every cunt like Damon Albarn can suck my balls, because this year, it’s our turn to shine, and we will shine brighter for our niceness, we will show them how it’s really done.
We’re going to celebrate nice-ness this year, not see it as a sign of weakness. Ayah Marar is going to make it nice. Maribou State are going to keep it nice. Barry Ashworth is coming to nice-it-up as Monkey Mafia nice up your area.
Or as my friend wonderfully encapsulated on her Facebook page last week: “It’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice”.