Editor’s Letter: Jeremy Paxman holds the key to the future of music
By Andy Malt | Published on Friday 13 April 2012
Late last month, Odd Future made a trip over to London to perform a show and preside over the running of a pop-up store. And in doing so, they gained the sort of media attention reserved only for the most controversial of pop culture phenomena. Such is the collective’s notoriety now that they can receive a three star review in the Financial Times and appear on ‘Newsnight’.
If the FT review is anything to go by, it doesn’t sound like many audience members at the live show had time to actually pay much attention to what was happening on stage. The paper reported that, as people shuffled out of the Brixton Academy after the show, other matters occupied post-gig chatter. “A young woman complained of men grabbing at her throughout the show. A youth talked about knocking someone out. A young man looked at his white T-shirt and groaned: ‘Why do I get blood on it every time?'”
This, you might be thinking, is exactly what you would expect from a performance by a group who promote such anti-social views through their lyrics. Surely one of their shows is just an event where the corrupted come together to act out the violence and misogyny they have learned from Tyler, The Creator et al.
Though actually, elsewhere the FT’s reviewer, Ludovic Hunter-Tilney, noted that the audience largely resembled the same “white suburban teenage boys” who lapped up gangsta rap in the 90s and that they “weren’t tremendously corrupted by the experience”. Instead, he concluded that, despite “much aimless banter between songs and a relentless undercurrent of sexism”, Odd Future are “an electrifying live act”, if perhaps something of a “guilty pleasure”.
‘Newsnight’ had less time for them however, right from Jeremy Paxman wearily referring to the outfit as “Odd Future, or as their aunties know them, the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All expletive expletive”. Whether the expletives were Paxman’s own isn’t clear, given that he’d finished reciting their name by that point.
The feature that followed, I think, was looking at how artists are coping with declining record sales. Odd Future are an interesting case study in that domain, I suppose, because, although they do release records (and charge money for them, whatever ‘Newsnight’ might tell you), they also shift a lot of merchandise. The pop-up store just off Brick Lane mainly sold t-shirts, with some handmade items sold at up to £100 a piece.
But while that was the angle the feature was hanging on to, you sensed the real point of the piece was to go: “Look at these fucking idiots who we’ve heard of and everything”. After all, it’s not as if urban artists (in particular) making a killing from fashion lines and merch is really news, in the US or here in the UK. Much closer to home, it’s several years now since Tinchy Stryder made his first million off selling t-shirts.
So much so, a lot has been said online about how utterly pointless the ‘Newsnight’ feature was. Many noted how, at one point, as the whole feature desperately grasped for a purpose, ‘Newsnight’s presenter hilariously quizzed the group’s manager Chris Clancy for proof that the outfit pay tax, mainly in an attempt to make it look like something newsworthy was happening. But, for what it’s worth, I thought the whole segment was great. It was a brilliant piece of television and I would like to see more features just like it. And not just on TV – across all media.
The FT, while perhaps raising some fears amongst its readers about what their children get up to, set out to provide balanced criticism of the group’s performance. Ultimately, it aimed to understand them and their fans. ‘Newsnight’, on the other hand, merely paid lip service to attempting to understand anything about the group and instead gleefully maintained its ignorance. Never going so far as to even reference what sort of music they might make, presenter Stephen Smith eventually wrote Odd Future off as “old wine in new bottles, or maybe that’s old dope in new bongs”.
Smith wasn’t about to get into a debate about the influences or reference points in their music, because what’s the point when they’re not even the first act to write offensive lyrics? But while for the ‘Newsnight’ man the fact ‘outrage’ has been done before makes Odd Future irrelevant, as The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis rightly pointed out, when briefly interviewed by the news show, presumably for balance, that fact is something to be celebrated, the group being part of “a grand tradition of creating outrage”.
And this is exactly what teenagers should be listening to. Teenagers shouldn’t listen to anything that makes any sense to their parents, or any other adult they might come into contact with. Especially ones who insist “it’s all been done before”. If your child listens to Mumford & Sons or Noah And The Whale or Laura Marling or anything else that you might consider putting on while you sit down for Sunday lunch then there is something wrong with them. They are broken. You should return them to where they came from and demand a refund.
The problem is, there isn’t enough music out there that jams a divide between the generations any more. Not in the way Odd Future do, anyway. When generations argue about music these days, it’s too often about whether or not the music is boring, rather than whether the range of emotions it provokes are constructive or not.
Not that there isn’t antagonistic music out there (and much of it far more offensive than Odd Future’s), but few bands now are able to make it as far up the industry ladder as Odd Future have without having their edges smoothed off. Of course there is an element of them playing the game too, but the same could be true of any band that has sparked moral outrage over the decades; and it doesn’t make it any less funny.
Now, you might argue that a big problem with Odd Future compared to past outrage bands is that they don’t actually have anything to say. Asked about what message he aims to put across in his lyrics, Tyler, The Creator snaps at Smith: “Nothing. Shit to piss old white people off like you”. At least The Sex Pistols pretended they had things they needed to tell everyone.
But punk emerged at a different time. The offensive music of the day, whether it be metal, punk, rock n roll, jazz, or whatever, is always a reaction to what has gone before, not just musically, but socially and culturally (and occasionally politically). It’s a way of telling the previous generation that things are going to change around here.
Therefore, Odd Future are the product of my generation – the people who let the focus of popular culture become how fat or thin people are, or what they look like without make up. People are famous because they were on TV once. Not because they did anything, they were just there. The antithesis of this is Odd Future, a group of kids reeling off offensive lyrics for no reason other than to be noticed, even if the more mainstream media largely gives them a wide berth as a result.
Well, not exactly. Being offensive is actually just a mask really. Behind all that is a wealth of creativity. The collective have a hugely diverse output that spans many genres, ranging from hip hop featuring scattergun misogyny, violence and homophobia in its lyrics, through to incredibly innovative work, both musically and lyrically, like that of The Internet and Pyramid Vritra. But for the purpose of this piece I’m too old to like or listen to any of it, so fuck all that.
And it’s not really what the fans who queued up outside the pop-up shop cared about anyway. “They don’t give a fuck” is more or less the stock answer generally given when fans are asked why they like Odd Future, and this line of followers was no different. Though the real answer is that listening to music that deals in violence, rape and a lack of control in general feels dangerous, a long way from their tedious lives, and has the added bonus of probably annoying their parents.
For all the suggestion of wild savagery conjured up in the opening of that FT review, the Odd Future loving kids interviewed by ‘Newsnight’ all seemed nice, intelligent, and more aware of what they were listening to and why than those behind the camera. Of course, once night falls and they become part of a crowd things can change, but for the most part that just turns them into idiots like this.
True, some of them will turn into idiots with wandering or punchy hands, but that’s not something exclusive to Odd Future shows. Those sorts of idiots are everywhere, and plenty of them are old enough to know better. Those people who have grown up to be violent misogynist idiots weren’t corrupted just by listening to offensive music. Or even by offensive music at all, because that’s not really how it works.
Music that perplexes and petrifies the older generations is necessary to instil teenagers with a feeling that they are on the cutting edge of something new, something so different that no one else can understand it. That feeling is what inspires people to create art of their own that will eventually feed into the rest of popular culture. If something exists that no one but you and your friends seem to understand, then that’s a powerful feeling. Maybe you can find more stuff like that, maybe you could MAKE it. If you’re listening to the same stuff as your parents, then what’s the point of trying?
So, let’s have a feature on ‘Newsnight’ once a week where Jeremy Paxman listens to new music and sighs. Even better, make it prime time. Why not stretch it out to 30 minutes, put it on at 7.30pm on a Friday and call it ‘Top Of The Pops’?
There’s no podcast again this week, as it’s still on its extended Easter break. How are you bearing up? It’s OK, we’ll be back next week. For now, console yourself with our first 50 episodes, which you’ll find here, and don’t forget to subscribe in iTunes, SoundCloud, Mixcloud, or just via good old RSS.
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FEATURES AND NEW MUSIC
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