Culture Club 4
Musing on the future of music in 1986, former Van Halen singer and 80s party dude David Lee Roth was certain of nothing, except that the art of tomorrow would be nothing like the art of today. “It won’t be like anything we’re familiar with, I know that”. So, why, now that we live in the future, does everything look and sound a bit like it’s from 1986? Has the fabric of time been altered somehow? Have we just run out of new ideas? Or does our new-found fondness for synth-pop and shoulder pads have some deeper significance?
To find out, I put on a pair of ridiculous 80s sunglasses, souped up my sports car with one of those flux capacitor things, and risked further damage to the space-time continuum by travelling back to the origin point of the current crisis – the 1980s. There, I found myself in a strange world – a world where people listen to futuristic robot-disco while spending money they don’t have on ridiculous clothes so as to take their minds off the impending apocalypse. Yes, all very strange – and yet at the same time, eerily familiar…
“It’s not a retro record” said TZU of 2008’s Computer Love. “It’s not even an 80s record. It’s just that we all grew up in the 80s”. Find out what the difference is in the Culture Club’s pocket history of nostalgia in art – from Marcel Proust to Mylo, (via Morrissey).
It used to be that when you asked your favourite artists to name their favourite artists, it was all Nick Drake, Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen. Now, you’re just as likely to hear names like Madonna, ELO, Prince, Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Hall and Oates, and Giorgio Moroder. It seems that these days, more and more musicians are coming out of the closet, and admitting that they love… pop music.
Playing music is hard work. It’s just as hard as doing the dishes or working in a call center or welding car parts together, or any of those other boring, repetitive tasks we’ve long since outsourced to machines. So the invention of robot rock in the 80s shouldn’t have come as a surprise – but that doesn’t mean it didn’t annoy people.
The 90s was a decade full of bands who sounded great, but looked terrible. It was either plaid shirts and jeans, or alien futuristic bondage-wear – with not a lot in between. But sometime between 2002 and 2005, bands started looking… better.
Life is tough. Listening to music can make us feel better about it, but if you think it’s going to bring about any real improvement in the conditions of everyday life, you’re kidding yourself. Pop music is part of the problem. It’s like this;
Calvin Harris: “That’s what music is about… you’re taking elements from the past which you enjoy, and putting them in a modern persepctive for the youth of today”. Is music really that easy? The answer depends a great deal on which century you happen to find yourself in.
Many of these stories were inspired by the work I did as curator of the Neo-80s section in the Powerhouse Museum's The 80s Are Back exhibition. Take a look at the Powerhouse website for mixtapes by TZU and Sarah Blasko, and lots of great essays and articles on 80s music and culture.