For today’s thirtysomethings, there are few dates as culturally significant as 20 August 1995. Even if they cannot remember where they were that sunny Sunday evening – I can, I was standing over the radio in the kitchen, listening to Mark Goodier and giving my sister a Chinese burn – they will remember which side they were on.
Blur vs Oasis was the cultural battle of, if not a generation, then certainly of a few balmy weeks around GCSE results day. Never mind that the two candidates for No 1, “Country House” and “Roll with It”, represented the banal, nah-nah-nah nadir of both bands’ magisterial output.
Never mind that the Nine O’Clock News reported on the “chart showdown”, thus setting in motion the decline of an only ever mildly rebellious indie movement that would puff itself out two summers later with Noel Gallagher sipping champagne flanked by Tony Blair and Mick Hucknall at Downing Street. Never mind that the vast majority of Britpop fans, including me and my sister, at daggers drawn that night, really quite liked both bands. You had to pick a side, and in doing so, define yourself.
Were you Blur – wry, southern, cocky, melodic? Or Oasis – epic, northern, cocky, melodic? These, for better or worse, are the binary spats on which identity and culture are built. Mod or rocker. Beatles or Stones. Coronation Street or EastEnders.
What is there for the youth to take sides on today? Hot vampire vs hot werewolf. X Factor winner vs novelty Christmas record. Towie vs MIC. There are no chart battles, only the Wanted and One Direction trading PG insults on Twitter. Or maybe I’m just old. Certainly I am the right age to be excited by the news this week that Oasis might reform to play Glastonbury in June. Blur did it in 2009: there is a score to settle.
If Britpop looks a bit daft today, 20 years on from the release of its seminal album Parklife, which pop culture phenomenon doesn’t, two decades on? And Britpop was a phenomenon, arguably the last significant movement in UK music. It was confident, witty, democratic and just as much fun for girls as it was for boys.
During the years between 1994 and 1996, there was an explosion of new guitar bands the likes of which has not been seen since. Ash, Bluetones, Cast, Dodgy, Echobelly, Feeder, Gene, Kula Shaker, Lush, Menswear, Northern Uproar, Pulp, Rialto, Supergrass, the Verve... Indie misfits became the mainstream and Britpop was everywhere.
It filled the shelves at Woolworths, the covers of magazines and endless episodes of The O Zone. It finagled its way on to the evening news, into stately homes and, on one absurd evening at the Brits, Michael Jackson’s stage.
For a 14-year-old with a poster of Damon at the dog track above my bed, Liam at Knebworth on my wardrobe and a pencil case covered in Tippexed band logos, this was a thrilling state of affairs. As a schoolgirl in Cheshire, the druggy, empty realities of the Camden scene – exhaustively relived by its various players these past few anniversary weeks – meant nothing to me. The Dublin Castle and the Good Mixer might as well have been in the Maldives. I simply loved the songs and loved the mouthy boys in parkas and mouthy girls in slogan T-shirts who sang them. A lot of the time they made me laugh.
It is tempting to look back and decry Britpop; even the name is naff. Its critics will dismiss it as throwaway, or worse, backward-looking and brattish. Perhaps. It was also the music of my teens and, like most adolescent choices, does not bear too much adult scrutiny. Menswear and Kula Shaker are best forgotten. Suede, Blur and Pulp still sound magnificent.
Oasis, if they do play Glastonbury this summer, will be as much of a teary triumph as their old rivals were five years ago. Because once upon a time, they spoke to me and to thousands of other teenagers. I can’t really remember what they said, or whether any of it meant anything, but the beauty of pop music is that that does not matter one bit.Reuse content