Now you see them: It's been a long time since there was a pop phenomenon like this: frenzied fans, rhapsodising reviews . . . Suede, it seems, might be the future of rock and roll. Then again, they might not

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The Independent Culture
A THURSDAY in March 1993, 7.20pm. The Top of The Pops presenter, Mark Franklin, introduces the latest video from Suede; the studio audience gives a youthful cheer. Brett Anderson, Suede's lead singer, appears on the walkway of a nasty tower block. He wears: no shirt, a tight black leather jacket, so short it reveals his midriff, black trousers low on the hips, so you can see his angular hip-bones, a cheap-looking necklace. He looks pale, almost ill, a figure from an early 1970s nightmare. His lank fringe covers his whole face.

The camera rushes down the scummy

walkway into a dark room, where a coloured light flashes sickeningly; over the fuzzy guitar noise Anderson sings - or rather, he wails: 'Like his dad, you know that he's had / Animal nitrate in mind / Oh in your council home, he jumped on your bones / Now you're taking it time after time.'

This is 'Animal Nitrate', Suede's third single, a song about - what? Domestic violence, drugs, child abuse? It's thick with filthy undertones - and people are wild about it, just like they were wild aboutSuede's first two singles, 'The Drowners' and 'Metal Mickey', so wild that, a concert-goer told me: 'It's not just girls who pack themselves at the front of the stage and try to rip Brett's clothes off - it's boys, and it's nothing to do with homosexuality . . . it's everybody, it's a mania.'

In his careless, Mick Jagger twang, which he has to a tee, Anderson tells me: 'Yeah, there's been a lot of hysteria at our gigs. But we're quite bored with playing live already. Once you have captivated a couple of thousand people, got them in the palm of your hand, and had them salivating . . . you don't really know where to go from there.'

They're still in their infancy, but Suede have snared the imagination of a certain type of rock fan - the sort of people who latch on to thin, angst-ridden white boys, the caste who worshipped the Smiths in the Eighties and David Bowie in the Seventies. Most important, Suede have become the darlings of the rock press. Melody Maker, the New Musical Express, Select, Q, Vox are wild about Suede, too; Suede have had more hype than anybody since the Smiths, or possibly even the Sex Pistols. The reviews are florid, poetic, half-crazed; they express the almost lascivious delight of journalists hungry for something to pin their hopes on. Suede, says the New Musical Express, are: 'The triumph of decadent aristo-foppery over prole pop.' They are 'Out there, so alone, brilliantly vulnerable' (Melody Maker). Or, as Select magazine put it: 'Never mind the bollocks. Here's Suede.' Needless to say, Suede's publicists, Phill Savidge and John Best, won the Music Week award for the best publicity campaign of 1992. The judges said they 'took Suede from obscurity to accolades to being hailed as the best band of the year'.

In the past year, Suede have been pictured on 19 magazine covers (including six Melody Maker covers, four New Musical Express covers, and, unprecedented for a band who have yet to release an album, the cover of Q magazine, which appeals to older fans). The Christmas edition of the NME, on which Brett Anderson posed as Sid Vicious, was the biggest-selling NME for a decade.

But Suede haven't yet released an album; their first three singles reached, respectively 49, 17, and 7 in the chart. This is not the big- time yet; it's not U2 or Simply Red or the Cure. In an important sense, Suede haven't happened yet; they are in an interesting limbo. They might not happen. Lots of bands have

got this far - or nearly this far - and no further; what happened to the Stone Roses, to Sigue Sigue Sputnik? They seemed like great ideas at the time.

What will Suede's fate be? Nobody knows; the world of rock music is too fickle to predict. When I met Brett Anderson, he said: 'I do want to have a place in history. I really do.'

'And what does it take for a band to have a place in history?'

'I think . . . three great records. Three great albums. But then again . . . the Sex Pistols did it with one, didn't they? I don't know. I don't know.'

BY THE end of 1992, when the height of Suede's chart success was still only a No 17 single, journalists were drooling over Brett Anderson. They practically had him on the couch. They loved his angst, his preoccupa-

tion with himself, his ability to verbalise. He was perfect - he was everything they could possibly want.

In a typical exchange, he told Melody Maker: 'When it comes to writing, there's something to be said about being unhappy. I know I've been at my most creative when I've been sexually unsatisfied. When I'm sexually satisfied I write a load of old rubbish.'

Melody Maker: 'Are you sexually satisfied now?'

Anderson: 'Yeah.'

Melody Maker: 'So you're writing a load of old rubbish.'

Anderson: 'Yes, and it's a problem, because we're supposed to be doing our debut album . . .' He even had an exact position on sex, which was: 'I see myself as a bisexual man who's never had a homosexual experience.'

Perfect. As soon as they spotted Suede, the rock press knew they were on to something. The journalist who first wrote about Suede was John Mulvey of the NME. Suede were nobodies, playing third on the bill at the University of London Union. Mulvey says: 'They had charm, aggression, and . . . if not exactly eroticism, then something a little bit dangerous and exciting. Brett was a brilliant frontman. He has a certain edge to him which most people don't have, like Ned's Atomic Dustbin or Kingmaker, who are woefully bereft of that spice.'

'That spice' is something the rock journalist needs to find, if he is to make a living. Week in week out, you trudge to seedy bars and clubs, desperate to find something exciting. When I was a rock journalist in the Eighties, people would come into meetings every week, excited, with their discoveries. This is it] One week it was Stump, another week it was the Soup Dragons. We had the Shrubs, the June Brides, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Half Man Half Biscuit; they were all the talk of the NME office for days, or weeks; sometimes they held out for longer, as long as there was still a chance of starting a cult, of getting people excited enough to rush out and buy the magazine. The strike-rate is very low; mostly, these discoveries fizzle out. So when the music press is faced with something that might go the whole way . . . it explodes.

'Here was a British band it was possible to get excited about,' says Danny Kelly, editor of Q magazine. 'The kids have to wait for the Smashing Pumpkins, or Hole, or Come, to come over from America. Whereas Suede is a very real, very immediate thing - they are around and playing.'

Kelly continues: 'In the last 10 years bands have been very apologetic; they've thrived on the attitude that 'we're the same as the audience'. Suede's attitude is 'we're brilliant; we're the stars, and you're the admirers'.'

Steve Sutherland, editor of the NME, says: 'When I first saw Suede, it was one of the few times I can honestly say I saw a band and I was utterly convinced they were brilliant. Often, you get a band with attitude, or a gimmick, or good songs, but seldom everything together.'

Kelly says: 'Also, Suede allude so knowingly to things that rock journalists are comfortable with - Seventies glam, Cockney Rebel, the Smiths, sexuality, asexuality, male violence. If there is a game to be played, they're playing it very well . . . they are skinny white boys speaking to other skinny white boys about their inadequacies.'

This week's NME cover story is the transcription of a meeting between Brett Anderson and David Bowie, who listened to a tape of Suede's first album sent to him by Steve Sutherland. Bowie told Sutherland: 'Of all the tapes you've ever sent me, this is the only one that I knew instantly was great.' The two singers, the 'Thin White Duke' and the star-in- waiting, chat about sex, drugs, Nazism and the ins and outs of being a pop star. Talking about Bowie's recent, relatively anonymous, period, Anderson says: 'It's funny that, when David started Tin Machine, it was the start of the cult of non-personality . . . maybe you were just feeling the times.' The article is headlined: 'One day, son, all this could be yours.

HE COULD, conceivably, be the next David Bowie, the next Mick Jagger. Or it could all come to nothing. Who knows? Brett Anderson sits with his feet up on the table, talking quietly about his chances. He wears: black corduroy trousers, cut low, a thin jumper with nothing underneath, shoes with holes in the soles, a reaction against his recent, more stylised image, which included an appearence in the NME with an elaborate shirt painted on his body.

'Are you conscious of the way you dress?'

'Yes . . . I'm feeling pressure on how to dress in that I don't like being made into a cartoon. There's a certain element of the music press that deals in comedy and turn you into a two-dimensional thing. The whole foppish thing is getting quite boring really.'

Sitting, as he is, in stardom's waiting-room, Anderson is hyper-aware of the traps he might fall into. Recently, for instance, a tabloid scoured his earlier interviews and found them to be larded with references to drugs. 'They said there was a backlash against Suede because parents were worried for their kids,' he says. 'The whole media's a huge dangerous web.'

'Do you ever think that all this might just be hype? That you might never go the whole way?'

Anderson, his knees drawn up to his chest, his head in his hands, says: 'The British music press are notorious for getting it wrong, for leading people up the garden path, because they just . . . they're too obsessed with the idea of things. But we never really felt it wouldn't happen. We knew we had a bit of substance over the style.'

Anderson believes he's going to be a star. He's happy with Suede's first album, Suede, on the cover of which is depicted a couple kissing - an ambiguous picture, which could be a man kissing a man, a man kissing a woman, or a woman kissing a woman. 'I chose it because of the ambiguity of it, but mostly because of the beauty of it,' he says.

He also says: 'There's an elegance and a beauty to our music that people haven't heard yet, and I want that to come across - the flow of it, the swoon, to a certain extent.'

Anderson comes from Haywards Heath, where he met Mat Osman, Suede's guitarist, at school. 'He's always known he was going to be a pop star. He was very arrogant,' says his childhood friend Alan Fisher.

'I'm quite glad that Haywards Heath was such an ugly place,' says Anderson. 'Being born on the outskirts of London, being able to just peer in but not quite see what's going on, is a really tantalising thing - it makes you hungry and gives you a certain amount of ambition.' He lived in a council house with his father, a taxi-driver, his mother, an artist, and his sister, who 'escaped' at the age of 15. 'I didn't go to any gigs,' he says. 'I didn't like all the bands that were around - Echo and the Bunnymen and all that stuff.' Anderson's taste was more obscure - he liked hard, punky bands - Crass, the Exploited.

After attending Manchester University for two weeks, Anderson moved to London with Osman. 'Before we met Bernard,' he says, 'it was just me and Mat in my bedroom with this rubbish drum machine, writing awful songs.' Then they auditioned for a guitarist, and chose Bernard Butler, who worried Anderson because he was 'too good'. They also auditioned for a drummer, and picked Simon Gilbert, who tells me over the telephone: 'I heard a tape of their early stuff. I said, this sounds really good, but they need a drummer.'

'And then it just . . . took off?'

'Oh, no. We played all the shitty gigs for a year and a half. We played the Amersham Arms in New Cross to one person.'

'Do you remember the moment when the rock press discovered you?'

'Yes. I remember the first few reviews. I'll get it out of my scrapbook if you like.'

BRETT Anderson, sitting precariously on the window-ledge, with his feet balanced on the radiator, talks about Suede's first album. His favourite song is 'So Young', a full-tilt anthem of slashing guitars and pained howling, a great song - which, like so much of Suede's material, recalls the prancing confidence of Marc Bolan, of early Bowie. 'It deals with the knife- edge of being young,' says Anderson, who is 25. 'There's the desperation and all the pitfalls, but then actually turning them into something hopeful and beautiful that looks forward and that isn't negative.

'It's a rejection of the traditional English character,' he goes on. 'A desire to push all the claustrophobia and tat and bits and pieces away, and stride into the future, which isn't the most original thought in the world, but maybe one of the most important.'

'So will success spoil you as a musician then? What if you get comfortable?'

'I don't really feel as though I could ever be comfortable.'

And now, a week before the release of Suede's first album, Anderson must go to a studio to meet Bernard Butler and write songs for the second album, tentatively scheduled for release early in the new year. He has also been thinking about the video for the next single. 'Up to now,' he says, 'we've been playing on the grittiness of it all. But I wanna take it all to a different level; I wanna use nature more. I've got this image in my head of these horses galloping, and then I'd have it superimposed, and make it a lot more beautiful, a lot more floating, a lot more . . . implied.'

Anderson gets down off the window-ledge. By the time the stuff he will write this afternoon is in the shops, he might be just a vague memory. Then again, meeting him is something I might boast about to my grandchildren. Who knows? Nobody, yet.

(Photographs omitted)