Yawning to the beat of cosy consensus

Jon Savage argues that such surveys ignore the influences - black, dance or indie - that make pop music exciting
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The Independent Online
THIS tie-up between Channel 4, HMV stores and Classic FM trumpets itself as the "most comprehensive survey of UK musical tastes ever undertaken", the result of more than 600,000 votes ("primarily through voting forms at HMV stores") cast over a period of a year. It is a perfect example of millennial datasmog: almost meaningless cross-media measurement as a hedge against an unknown future.

"Music of the Millennium" is above all a marketing device: read/hear/see the list, then go and ferret around in those big HMV dump bins. As a piece of social history, it is hardly Mass Observation; polling at megastores almost inevitably highlights the random shopper rather than the hardcore pop fan - the kind of person who will go to those specialist shops and likes all those funny kinds of music that never appear on lists like these. Then there is the problem of translating the private world of personal taste and/or obsession into the public arena of opinion polls - two quite different language systems. Faced with such a bald question - "Who is the best band in the world?" - most people fall back on a standard response. It's easier to find the common ground. There's no time and no room for anyone weird. Polls like these are an index of a society preoccupied by consensus.

The pop lists betray their origin in the twenty/thirty-something mainstream which leans almost exclusively to young white men with guitars. It is extraordinary how a musical form that was once so liberating - which made the Beatles, in Derek Taylor's phrase, "the greatest 20th century romance" - has become such a music industry hammerlock. Where are all the Afro- Caribbeans, Asians, black Americans? Where is the dance music? Where are the obscurities that provide the loam for each new pop explosion? Not here.

It's pointless to say whether or not the list is wrong - although there are some notable outrages - because to do so would give it more credence than it deserves. It's not about social history but taste: a kind of middle- brow, feelgood rock life fostered by the brandleader magazine Q, presenters such as Jo Whiley, BBC2's Later, even the broadsheets themselves. This view has become the dominant, cross-media language of pop: in its cosy smugness, the corporate commodification of music becomes complete.

Consensus creates exclusion zones; measurement is killing music. One of the reasons why a potentially fantastic event - the inevitability of the changes forced by the millennial deadline - has become such a bore is because it has been hijacked by this kind of marketing exercise. Within a couple of months, all of this will be irrelevant except as the morbid symptom of a class resisting change. Maybe then the music industry can get back to its proper job; to finding and developing new talent that reflects the full diversity of contemporary life, rather than some nostalgic netherworld. It's time for some outcast input.

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