The last decade in pop

From Live Aid to Jarvis Cocker via cyberspace: a lot can happen in a decade of pop, not least in the Czech Republic

Still stunned by St Bob's exhortations to "just give us yer fockin' money" at Live Aid, the pop world had undergone a year of sober reflection by the time The Independent was launched in 1986. The event's audience had done exactly as requested, not only raising pounds 50m through donations, but also giving virtually all the performers' flagging careers a similarly charitable boost. Everyone was happy, not least an industry which had seen its increasingly tarnished, tawdry image buffed up nicely by an orgy of self-righteousness.

Four years later, as the eastern bloc crumbled away, it became clear that what had finally killed off Communism was not the West's superior armaments but rock 'n' roll. In liberated Czechoslovakia, the new president offered America's most freakishly articulate musician, Frank Zappa, a government post in recognition of the way his music had kept the light of freedom burning in Czech hearts ever since the Russian tanks had rolled in some two decades earlier.

The ramifications were significant in the West, too. Pop, so often condescended to as child's play, at last acknowledged its own maturity. The result was the rise of truly adult-oriented music: as the singles market dwindled away to a trickle commensurate with teen pocket-money budgets, the albums market boomed. Autumn 1986 saw Paul Simon's Graceland top the UK album charts, kick-starting the "world music" boom. The magazine publisher Emap launched Q magazine in 1986, quickly mopping up the hundreds of thousands of older pop fans alienated by the youth-oriented NME and Melody Maker.

Meanwhile, the hardware industry, emboldened by a temporarily booming economy and the increased spending-power of the "mature" rock fan, pulled off the single greatest marketing coup in pop history, persuading us all to ditch those scratchy old vinyl LPs and replace them with shiny new silver discs at twice the price. Once was enough, however: when Sony and Philips tried to pull the same stunt again in the recession-hardened Nineties with, respectively, Minidisc and DCC, they were left with egg on their faces.

It was not only the means of consumption that were revolutionised in the late Eighties, however; the modes of creation were also undergoing radical change, with the rise of the digital sampler, the home computer and the cheap synthesiser. Across Europe rave music became the Lingua Franca of the young underground. Thanks particularly to the sampler, post- modernist thinkers had the cultural artefacts to bear out their theories in the collaged backing tracks of rap and ambient music. Overnight, DJs became stars, and musicians became unemployed.

In America things were different. While the average British band was, by the Nineties, more likely to be two boys in a bedroom with a computer and a drum-machine, the American model was still reliant on three or four boys with the full panoply of guitars, bass, drums, unwieldy amplifiers and hair. REM became the biggest band of their generation, then saw Nirvana rocket to fame on riff-borne complaints. Only in black ghettos was there any recognition of the new technology, as rappers used samplers to appropriate backing tracks for their freewheeling tirades of sex, politics and violence.

The past few years have seen the Britpop boom, led by the triumvirate of Oasis, Blur and Pulp, and fuelled by the attentions of the tabloid press. While all are capable of sublime moments, there is a retrogressive slant to the genre, with deliberately nurtured comparisons with earlier styles lending an air of ironic familiarity. This backward-glancing is, however, endemic in nearly all current pop music: just as the bedroom boffins wielding their samplers sift among the cultural detritus of former decades for inspiration, so does Noel Gallagher shamelessly appropriate entire riffs from earlier hits, and American grunge bands fall back on memories of Kiss and Aerosmith and half-digested notions of punk rock.

As so often, pop seems stalled on the cusp of the future, waiting for some breakthrough that will point the way forward. For some, it is to be found in the manic beats of jungle / drum 'n' bass music. For others, it's in the cinematic atmospheres of trip-hop, or the furrow-browed ruminations of progressive "post-rock" music. One thing is sure: it won't be Boyzone.

News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

    salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

    Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

    Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

    Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower