Remember the Arctic Monkeys’ first album? I know I do. Heck, living in Yorkshire in the mid-00s, everyone already had all the bootlegs and live tracks and had a friend of a friend who went to school with them all.
That was 2006. Music listening habits were often defined by the odd moments where you could snatch a listen to it in its entirety. I remember my Mum dragging me out to the shops and, whilst she went around doing whatever, I’d always come back early and just sit in the car, the CD player on, letting the muffled sounds of Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not echo around a half-empty car park feeling cool as fuck for those 40 minutes before my Mum came back to drive us home…
Roughly a year later, it’d be Burial’s album Untrue instead and I got to listen to that on my own time, uninterrupted. Times changed fast back then.
I might have known Burial but I didn’t know K-Punk in 2006. No one I knew heeded the cry of bullshit from his corner of the internet. “Where is the chorus of disapproval and disquiet about a group like the Arctic Monkeys?” he would ask in his brilliant post, “Is Pop Undead?“:
Granted, it is not that the Arctic Monkeys are significantly worse than any of their retro forebears (although if anything ought to set alarm bells ringing, it is a situation where ‘not being worse’ than mediocre predecessors is thought of as worthy of comment, still less of muted celebration).
I think this might have been the very first K-Punk post I ever read and it certainly caught me at the right time, when a discontent with the indie obsession of just about everyone I knew was starting to get a bit intolerable. I’m sure I shared it on Facebook on the occasion of the release of the Arctic Monkeys’ second album, by which point I had no time for anything that involved sleazy men and guitars. (I was infinitely disgruntled by the fact this also included the entirety of my social life in Hull at the time — a city still barely over the dull intensity of that moment.)
The indie explosion of the 00s had (and has) a lot to answer for but what was so surreal was just how oblivious everyone was to true nature of things. Reading K-Punk at that time was like donning the sunglasses in They Live but, rather than seeing the infrastructure of societal control writ large, you would instead see all these images of Oasis, Arctic Monkeys, The Fratellis, Coldplay, Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand, Hard-Fi, Kasabian, The Killers, Muse, Razorlight, The Kooks, Klaxons, Mark fucking Ronson, The Hoosiers, Kate Nash, Newton Faulkner, Editors, Keane, and The Libertines with a new set of eyes.
They all looked the same anyway but suddenly these images were all replaced with the word “CUNTS”. You looked around you and all the Gallagher clones also looked like cunts and the club on the high street that had the one indie night which suddenly played indie all week had changed its name to “CUNTS” and the magazines with the free CDs also changed their name to “CUNTS” too whilst offering you the chance to hear the new cunts before they were famous or, better yet, even be the new cunts if you sent them your MyCunt band page and all you could imagine was the poor cunt intern at CUNTS magazine having to listen to all those millions of cunts.
This may have been 13 years ago but what never fails to surprise me is how these cunts just keep on living. If I go home these days, they’re still all there with their Gallagher haircuts and sex pest swagger and you turn on the TV and they’re still there too.
What misfortune I felt earlier tonight having this grace my Twitter feed.
There are some signs that things have changed. The BRIT Awards have always been an utter shitshow but it’s interesting to see the likes of Kamasi Washington get nominated by International Male Solo Artist (although the cynic in me puts this down entirely to the BBC Radio 6 Music zombie boomer contingent which is also so desperate to congratulate itself on how interesting it is.)
The odd outlier aside — exemplary of the fight that R&B has brought back to the charts in this country — it’s still a largely white affair. As Mark would note:
Indie may have all but driven black musics out of the British charts, hybridity may be off the agenda, but you can bet your bottom dollar that all of those Indie bands just love hip hop and r and b. Pop at its most febrile was stoked by critical and negative energies that are now exhausted — or which have been exiled as far too impolite for today’s pot-pourri, pomo buffet in which you can have a bit of Indie here, a bit of r and b there, where contradictions and anomalies have been photoshopped out, where it all happily fits into one well-adjusted consumer basket. If the revolutionary tumult of the postpunk era was characterized by restless dissatisfaction, anxiety, uncertainty, rage, harshness, unfairness — that is, by an atmosphere of relentless criticism — today’s Pop scene is suffused with laxness, bland acceptance, quiescent hedonism, luxuriant self-satisfaction (ALL those awards shows!) — that is by, PR.
Nothing’s changed there. In fact, that’s all I hear. With my They Live headphones on, every time Alex Turner slurs the words “rock’n’roll” into the microphone, all I hear is “PR… PR… PR…”
Their acceptance speech is nothing but a testament to Mark’s most damagingly resonant indictment: “What Pop lacks now is the capacity for nihilation, for producing new potentials through the negation of what already exists.”
Please someone negate the Arctic Monkeys to fuck already.