By Jamie Halliday of Audio Antihero Records
Born in 1987 to overprotective parents I all but missed the 1990s but with the benefit of internets I would later uncover that it was a decade of grunge, g-funk, hardcore wrestling, horror franchise sequels and top quality rap metal. It was perhaps the greatest decade of all.
By 1999 I was 13, which was the age at which I got into music in a serious manner. I can in fact recall a friend (a nosey and unscrupulous swine if ever there was one) finding a letter my mum was writing to an auntie that said ‘Jamie has discovered music. His favourites are rap and heavy metal’…my mother is adorable, by the way.
In a fashion she was correct. The first record I was particularly excited about came from Dr. Dre and was followed shortly by Metallica’s Black Album…which I became a fan of through another ‘90s favourite of mine, Extreme Championship Wrestling (guys dressed in flannel smacking each other with barbed wire to the sounds of “Enter Sandman”, Ice Cube, Alice In Chains and White Zombie – mega).
If one must have an ‘album that changed my life’ like all those daft magazines used to then it’d be Nirvana “Nevermind” (which coincidentally is about to have its 20 th anniversary because we’re all a million years old now). Ignoring the fact that it was a major label album produced by Butch Vig, it showed me a looser way of doing things and offered the energy and spirit that I wanted to appreciate in punk but generally didn’t. It probably diverted me from a permanent life of songs featuring Xzibit .
I was pushed slowly but surely into a world of grunge, indie and DIY – I formed bands and other such nonsense. The beauty of grunge/indie was that it seemed attainable. The stadium fillers from before (aforementioned Metallica) and the big bands of the time (Limp Bizkit) were too big and rich to even fathom…but these noisy jumpy three-pieces that Nirvana spurred me onto seemed like something I could be a part of (my rubbish band wound up with 6 members and sounded like Lost Prophets but that’s beside the point). What I’m trying to say is – the nineties taught me to DREAM.
Now about a year and a half ago, I came into ownership of a doomed DIY label by the name of Audio Antihero: Specialists in Commercial Suicide . Something I’d likely never have done without flickering VHS quality visions of Mudhoney leaping around to inspire some faux DIY momentumrebellion in my mind (when working, I hum ‘Touch Me, I’m Sick’ to remind myself what I’m working towards – the past).
I think the nineties comes across in the label… Nosferatu D2 ’s record you could easily imagine was recorded in that decade with its abrasive lo-fi sound and lyrical references to Afghan Whigs, Alanis Morissette, Thom Yorke, Phil Collins and 90s children’s TV stars; Benjamin Shaw described himself fairly simply as “a missed grunge by a couple of years idiot”; our man, reluctant folk icon, Jack Hayter played in popular ‘90s indie group Hefner – and then we really made a go of it…on May 30 th we released “Moderate Rock” by Wartgore Hellsnicker . We designed, modelled and marketed this EP as a classic Sub Pop release with in-jokes galore.
The music itself was a maniacal amalgamation of everything great in the US rock scene at that time (and beyond) and everything I wanted in an ‘Audio Antihero’. Words can’t describe how badly that EP sold…but equally, words can’t describe how much fun we had putting it together. Few people bought it (nothing new to us) and press weren’t crazy either but it was an opportunity to spend a moment in that bubble and homage what got the label’s pulse going in the first place.
Considering the above, it’s not so surprising that the people who buy our records are generally somewhere between their mid twenties and thirties. We don’t really register with many teens and if we’re all just a bunch of ‘90s dreamers…then I guess I’m not surprised! Teenagers, I may resent you but I do not blame you.
So, 2011. Where are we now? The horror franchise sequels of old (Halloween, Nightmare On Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre) died a death only to be resurrected in the shape of high-budget remakes and re-boots (some good, some bad, none the same), ECW died, was revived, died, was revived and died again (to the point that people had forgotten what was special about it in the first place)…and ALL the bands have reformed.
In some instances, the bands reforming came good. Faith No More’s reunion at Brixton Academy is without question the greatest gig I’ve ever been to, Pavement’s reunion worked for me as I totally missed their run (until Benjamin Shaw told me to listen to them about a week before they reformed)…but then there’s your Smashing Pumpkinses. I know people disagree but I think every album they ever recorded was brilliant…I love them all, I can’t pick a favourite, their legacy was immeasurable in my mind.
Then Billy Corgan had the bright idea to release dreadful new albums so I have to say ‘I like all the Smashing Pumpkins albums up until…’ – AND I DON’T LIKE DOING THAT.
The problem is, with Pavement’s reunion you can pretend you’re back in ’94 or you can just remember how great it was back when you were semi-good looking…but when Billy Corgan and some strangers are churning out another 11 minute dirge you’re forced to recognise that A) I’m here in the now – and B) the here and now can suck it.
All the new material from Dr. Dre has been absolutely horrible too.
The irony though is that we still have our Mudhoney, Melvins, Sonic Youth and Pearl Jam; reformed bands like Dinosaur Jr and The Vaselines have made great music since returning and people like Mike Patton, Greg Dulli, Mark Lanegan and co are still doing awesome things…But perhaps better than that is lo-fi and indie rock is alive and well, band likes Yuck and Japandroids for example are doing a great job of pummelling that spirit and sound into something very special…but something else has changed since the 90s. Us and the way we get our music. As a doomed DIY type, being condescendingly told that we need to ‘adapt’/get into publishing/find a ‘sync’ if we want to release music is hardly ‘the dream’ or complimentary to the spirit that got me to try my hand at releasing records or got my artists making them.
In 2011, something feels different, beyond the point that most of us aren’t buying many records anymore. Perhaps clicking ‘like’ or ‘re-tweet’ isn’t quite enough to be a part of something…I don’t really know.
All my decade specific fanboy-ism aside, one can’t deny that we always look back in a way that misses what we don’t want to remember. As I say, I got into ‘90s music retrospectively, so why would I be hearing about and buying the bad stuff? I mean, if what people remember is all that actually happened then there wasn’t a single bad album released in 1969. Recent years have actually been pretty great for music and while we have some lamestain artists around, we’ve got bands I can see being greats. I’ll be delighted if in 15 years people are talking about Johnny Foreigner, Los Campesinos!, Zola Jesus or Meet Me In St Louis the way I talk about Nirvana, Hefner, (hed) P.E, Deftones, Sparklehorse, etc.
I don’t ‘come here’ to make a particular point or tell a particular truth and I definitely don’t want to be one of those middle-aged men who blindly claim ‘all new music is rubbish…bands don’t make albums anymore, blah blah, age age’…I just won’t back down from a slot on ‘90s week. I miss ECW, I miss my formulaic slasher sequels and I miss everyone being hairy and sweaty, smashing fuzz guitars whilst filmed in grainy black and white. Everything I love is dead but we have some friendly ghosts…I think I might be one of them.
And at least Bush have reformed…(seriously, I’m pleased).