January 27, 2004


'"Does being a Popist mean never having to admit there are any down periods?"

I would say yes, and that 'we' are right.'

Thus the estimable Tom Ewing responds to the question k-punk posed in 'Are We Living Through Another 1985?' (see comments). Tom thinks that the notion of down periods works for artists and genres - and even for the charts - but not for Pop as a whole. (Is it really possible for a Popist to make a distinction between Pop and the charts? Is music bereft of the ephemeral glitz of popularity still Popist Pop?) No-one's perspective is large enough to encompass all of Pop, Tom observes.

This is of course true; and it would be absurd to deny that you can find great records in every year, if you look hard enough. But it's precisely that notion of having to search out greatness that for me marks out a down period in Pop. In an up-period, there is an embarrasment of riches, too much to absorb and consume, a feeling of plenitude that seems to extend into any forseeable future. How could the possibilities exhaust themselves?

Partly what I find unsatisfying in Popism is its divorcing of Pop from social energy. The irony of the current down period is that it is in this respect a Popist utopia. What is the dominance of Celebreality if not an isolating of Pop(ism)'s purest features - glitz, glamour and the Song - all eerily separated from any supporting social trends. No bands, groups, packs: only consumer apotheosis, the telematic auto-domination of the silent majorities, passively driving the whole process from their/ our armchairs.

From economic cycles to psychological moodswings, trends are surely an aspect of all features of life, the comsos, everything. Trends are cultural rhythms, with culture understood in the most impersonal, least humanistic sense (cf Robin's brilliant riff on rhythm as a [micro- and macro-] cosmic force.) As Simon has said, it would be odd to except Pop from this, to imagine that all of Pop's riches are distributed throughout all times equally.

What is it that Deleuze-Guattari write: 'There are dead times, as there are dead places.'

It's tempting to say that these trends are merely subjective, but actually, it's the reverse: trends machine subjectivity. In his book on the collapse of the new economy, Irrational Exuberance, Robert Shiller shows that the optimism of the bubble economy was produced by a trend (just as it was ultimately dashed by it). The economy required optimism, therefore it manufactured it. In the same way, Pop trends produce their own psychologies. Not for nothing is the term 'depression' both an economic and a psychological term.

n.b. I note that k-punk posed the 'are we living through another 1985?' question before. I'm repeating myself

I'm forgetting myself....

It's the same thing....

Posted by mark at January 27, 2004 10:08 PM | TrackBack

Isn't compelling pop music usually rooted in particular scenes, such that the music doesn't actually dominate the charts, at least not since new wave circa 1983? Even in the UK, in 1991, with acts like Prodigy, N-JOI, etc, "gate crashing" the national charts, such acts constituted only a presence on the charts, not dominance of the charts . . . . Pop music is better defined not in terms of sales but as music of the people, of the street, of the young or incipient generation, kids aged 16 to 21 years, who are as a rule most intensively involved with the music and whose tastes define the times. So it's not a matter of sales, of the charts as such, but of the power of music and music scenes to define the times. Post-1983/84, powerful pop music is decoupled from music that sells, a decoupling that lasts up til the late 1990s, at least in the States. The last five years have scene a return of the power of music that sells and charts to define the times. But from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, underground pop music scenes defined the times (again, leaving un-addressed US v. UK differences).

Posted by: dominic at January 28, 2004 02:04 AM

hey mark, is it rude of me to say
hooray, this is what i want from mark k punk, real ideas, vigourous writing, contrarian standpoint, not more nostaligia stuff about 70 tv shows.

yeah, it probably is, still, more of this please

Posted by: luke at January 28, 2004 09:51 AM

"Is music divorced from the ephemeral glitz of popularity still Popist Pop?"

Yeah, of course it is! Because as you say later on the real potential weakness in the Poptimist position is that it cuts off pop from the social, from the energy (of youth according to Dominic above). It is a position that suits older armchair listeners more than young firebrands, I'm not apologising for that. At its extreme it's a very detached, solipsistic way of listening. So almost everything becomes pop.

"In an up-period, there is an embarrasment of riches, too much to absorb and consume, a feeling of plenitude that seems to extend into any forseeable future. How could the possibilities exhaust themselves?"

That feeling is exactly what I was trying to get at in this which I suppose started the "best year ever!!" meme even though the title was tongue-in-cheek. I remember an exact moment, sitting in the car, flicking between channels and tapes, hearing five or six different songs from completely different scenes all of which sounded fantastic, and thinking i) fucking hell music is great at the moment and ii) people aren't going to say so because there's not a 'big thing' going on.

One of the really key things for me is the feeling that thanks to technology you don't have to dig or search hard at all for the great music - now at the moment there's still an affordability gap because you need a PC to run file-sharers, get tunes etc. but in a couple of years that intermediary won't be needed I'm guessing. And then all you need is a way of finding out about new songs and you need never want for good music again? Utopia, huh?

PS I love the 70s nostalgia bits of k-punk!

Posted by: Tom at January 28, 2004 10:47 AM

As it happens I'm not even sure I AM a Poptimist (if Poptimism exists its a tendency not a vocation), I'm being one for the duration of this cross-blog discussion because otherwise it would just be a straw man and I think it's an interesting idea which deserves better than just ending up a rhetorical punching bag.

Posted by: Tom at January 28, 2004 11:35 AM

Tom, there are a few things to take up there .... let me mull em over... and all too glad to have you here taking on the Poptimist viewpoint....

Luke, it's not rude a all, nostalgia I've realised is a big part of my make-up. (On which topic can I reccomend another of Robin's recent postings?) Different people like different things about k-punk, I suppose....

Posted by: mark k-punk at January 29, 2004 02:19 AM