davey dreamnation

seething since 2001

Tag: indie (Page 1 of 2)

UK indie bands from the early 1990s

The older I get, the more apparent it becomes that I’m a child of the early 1990s. Or at least, I’m a child of the 1970s and 1980s who left home in the early 1990s. In fact, let’s make it even more clear: I left home in the week British indie shoegazers Ride released their first, eponymous EP. It was January 1990, the beginning of the greatest couple of years in UK indie. Hyperbole much?

At the time, unfortunately, I knew nothing about shoegazing, Ride or UK indie. I was a passionate R.E.M. fan, and had just been (ahem) blown away by Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’. I’m not too proud to admit that I was listening to commercial FM radio, too. I’m also happy to admit that, given I was living in Australia at the time, the soundtrack to my summer of 1989/1990 was heavily tinged with execrable shit like Noiseworks. It’s okay, we can all love on from that.

Then again, in my defence, by 1989 I was already into Australian indie. Ratcat, the Hummingbirds – this stuff was the actual soundtrack to my first summer out of high school. Ratcat’s That Ain’t Bad EP was brilliant. The Hummingbirds’ loveBUZZ album, named after the song Nirvana covered on Bleach, was also fantastic: 14 singles in a row, really, all with that R.E.M.-style Rickenbacker jangle that was so hot at the time (and no surprises that it sounded like R.E.M., given the album was produced by Mitch Easter).

Despite my Sydney indie credibility, however, I was in for a shock when I started university and fell in with a bunch of guys who were not only fully aware of British indie but were also apparently lifetime subscribers to New Musical Express. Through them, I discovered that there was a whole world of indie beyond R.E.M. (and let’s face it, by 1990, R.E.M. were slightly removed from indie anyway). The first time I heard the Pixies I almost shat myself. Sonic Youth had a similar effect. But the biggest impact was reserved for the shining lights of UK indie: My Bloody Valentine, the afore-mentioned Ride, the Charlatans, the Wedding Present, and on and on and on.

A little while ago, during one of my many trips down Amnesia Lane, I decided to create a list of all the great UK indie bands from the early 1990s. The problem was, I wasn’t ever an expert at all, and I’d never lived in the UK. Who needs Wikipedia, I reasoned, when I have a whole bunch of friends on Facebook who were all alive at the time, and are all now going through more-or-less the same stages of sentimentality and nostalgia? So, I opened up the comments on a Facebook post, and look at what we came up with together.

Pop lyrics: do they really matter?

Here’s an interesting post by Laurie Duggan on the wall of sound, where he makes the point that the vocal track on My Bloody Valentine’s song ‘Come In Alone’ works because of the wall of sound surrounding it. While I think this is true, a closer inspection of the lyrics to these kinds of songs reveals (as if we didn’t know it already) that when it comes to pop and rock music, it’s not what you say but how you go about saying it that matters.

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(Ratcat) Ain’t That Bad

You may notice a pattern appearing: the last two posts have mentioned the seminal influence of a particular EP – namely Ride’s Play and MBV’s Glider on my musical tastes and palette. Well, here we go again.

I cannot emphasise enough the impact of Ratcat’s Tingles EP on both myself and the Australian musical landscape. Put simply, Ratcat were Australia’s Nirvana. I say that only because there were three guys in Ratcat originally, and Tingles came out a full six months before Smells Like … so have a think about that for a second.

Forget those Ride boys and their fey haircuts, Ratcat were the real deal. In fact I’ll go out on a limb (because I don’t care) and say that Ratcat were better than Nirvana. They’d already released one full length album (This Nightmare) and a pile of indie 7-inch singles but no one was prepared for what happened in 1990 when Tingles came out.

As an EP, Tingles was nothing short of a blueprint for the past, present and future of fuzzpop. “That Ain’t Bad”, with its explosive guitar line and Joey Ramone vocals, was one of the smash hits of the year and I’m not talking Kerry Packer. Doubtless, lead singer Simon Day’s stunning good looks won over a lot of fans but it was the sheer relief of the music – power chords, straight ahead drumming (not quite spartan) – in short, three minutes of perfection, that sealed Ratcat’s fate as homegrown rock stars.

The other five songs on the EP were no less impressive, and constituted a huge quantum leap from their previous material. “(Getting Away) From This World”, “Tingles” (a Jane’s Addiction tune if ever I’ve heard one) and the astonishing “My Bloody Valentine” provide me with a neater segue into shoegazing than even I could have hoped for.

The fact that the subsequent second album, Blind Love (containing both “That Ain’t Bad” and their other Number 1 hit “Don’t Go Now”) went to Number 1 on the national charts is simply a testament to how freaking brilliant Tingles was. Another factor in its success was its availability in (cheap – was it $3.99?) cassette/ cassingle format. One must also mention the appalling cover artwork (derived from the lyrics to the title track: “It’s in the cards, the future’s in the cards”.

Alas, if Simon Day had only foreseen that just a few years later he would be resorting to a duet with John Paul Young, he might have thrown his cards in earlier. Still, ask anyone who was around in 1990 and inevitably the genius of Tingles will be brought up.

It’s funny, I actually met Simon Day in the mid 1990s, when I was working for the Electoral Commission, going from door to door checking if people were enrolled to vote. Not only was he enrolled, he was also probably the politest resident I met, and totally enthusiastic about my role as a defender of democracy. Enough said.

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