Too Good To Be True

It's all becoming a bit boring, says Dave Stelfox of electronic music. But nothing a good dose of bad behaviour, stupidity and all-round irresponsibility can't fix...

By Dave Stelfox

Civilisation has long had a dysfunctional relationship with the concept of fame. Scan the magazine racks in your local newsagents or flick through the channels on your TV and your basest Darwinian desires will be made flesh in the all-too-perfect shapes of Posh & Becks, Madonna & Guy, Robbie & this week’s tabloid favourite. There’s no getting away from them, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. They’re famous. It’s their job.

As so clearly displayed in the above list of names, the business of celebrity is in equal measure crass and compelling. The media creates these icons to play a part, becoming dehumanised entities, symbolising all the things we want and need. Whether secretly or overtly, we all strive for the qualities these figures embody: the assurance, the affluence, the influence. In short, everyone wants to be a star, but a curious flipside to this situation is that, for some reason, the stars appear to want to be just like us too.

Read almost any article and three little words bear up this bizarre phenomenon. Journalists are constantly amazed by just how 'down to earth' the beautiful people really are – no, I mean REALLY. In the current lowest-common-denominator-driven cultural climate, it is as if to say: 'If these multi-millionaire boys and girls next door can do it, then so can you – just look at how normal Westlife are!' What’s more, they themselves, their PR companies, record labels and agents want us to believe it too. Populism is only one step away from popularity and that's the name of the game.

But we’ve got the people’s Prime Minister, we’ve had the people’s Princess and every well-known face is going for that proletarian look, so what could possibly come next. 'Hey, let’s create the people’s pop group!' cry a clever bunch of TV execs. And, of course, now we’ve got precisely that. Following on from the medium’s interminable obsession with docusoaps – responsible for bringing such 'characters' as Jeremy Spake from Airport and Maureen Rees from Driving School to our screens – and the thoroughly reprehensible Big Brother, Popstars is the ultimate expression of this worrying trend. Hear’Say, the band that resulted from this bout of gladiatorial mass humiliation, have recently graced the cover of The Face and are at number one in the charts as I write. So, there you go – there’s nothing to it.

It’s all a million light years away from the preening egotism and elitist posturing that led Lester Bangs to slam original stadium-filling rockers Led Zeppelin as 'emaciated fops' and decry The Rolling Stones for becoming distanced from their audience. But Bangs’ idea was that of rock as real folk music, a visceral artform made by people who still knew what it was like to live among the great unwashed, to be angry, to protest. He wasn’t looking for the bland homogeneity of the contemporary landscape, rather a certain corporeal grit embodied by the likes of Iggy And The Stooges and the MC5. They may not have been raffish dandies but certainly weren’t Top Shop and Friends types either – they still had presence and chutzpah in spades.

Such ideals were to find fruition in the punk movement. With its all-inclusive DIY ethos absolutely anyone could rock, thus doing away with the need for heroes – you could be your own! Over time, this attitude filtered down into many scenes, the most notable example being acid house. Thanks to relatively cheap technology and a fair-whack of can-do spirit, raving opened the floodgates for vast creativity in the form of production, DJing or even running your own club. It was there for the taking, and to a large extent still is. However, as with dance culture as a whole, this original everyman ideology has been co-opted and corrupted by major labels, marketing departments and the wrong sort of people. As a result, we seem to have missed the point – that it was all about being and doing something DIFFERENT.

Last week, while at home for a family gathering, I had the misfortune to catch Fragma’s god-awful Every Time You Need Me on MTV. Unfortunately, it’s just the sort of fluffy pop trance my young nieces and nephews love (despite my best efforts to get them into DJ Scud, Speedranch and Diamanda Galas). But watching the video was an education. Halfway through, the pneumatic blonde ‘singer’ plays the role of an office girl standing at a photocopier, wishing the days away – reinforcing the fact that she is just like everyone else despite all the evidence to the contrary. 'Do you like this?' one of the kids asked me. 'Why not', she continued after my negative response. 'I think it's nice and so does my mum.' Nuff said.

Maybe it’s me getting old, but I seem to remember my parents hating my music – and me loving it all the more as a result. My bands were revolting and so was I. But that all seems to have changed. Walking down the road to do my weekly radio show a couple of days ago, I bumped into a group of teenagers in Slipknot and Limp Bizkit tees coming round the corner. When they saw the record bag slung over my shoulder, two of them burst into a chorus of 'DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF', mimicking the sound of a kickdrum then cracking up laughing. To them, I was just another old duffer with tiresome taste in music. And in a world of vastly overpaid DJs and household names such as Moby and The Chemical Brothers who look and act like their embarrassing uncles, I can hardly blame them for such a sweeping judgement. It’s all got a little bit BORING.

In fact, rather than dumbing down, it appears we are determined to dull down and that’s a big problem. Dumb can be bloody good fun sometimes (and I’ve got the Motorhead records to prove it) but dull is always precisely that. So here, I throw down the gauntlet and demand more bad behaviour, stupidity and all-round irresponsibility in the world of electronic music – otherwise the kids are going to get their kicks somewhere else. I mean, what wouldn’t you give to see Derrick May hurling a television out of a window, Jeff Mills driving a Rolls Royce into a swimming pool or Carl Craig setting fire to his records. It would definitely work. And sorry fellas, if you don’t I’m going to start buying S Club 7 CDs. At least they know the draw – oops, I mean score.
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