3
May 12

1993: The Love Post

FT32 comments • 1,099 views

There’s been some discussion on the latest Popular post about 1993 being a particular musical doldrum. I was 20 at the time – so enormously biased of course – but I don’t remember it like that, so I’m republishing an old post I wrote on my Tumblr about it.

1993 in Britain was the apex of scene-a-week genremaking by the UK music press: history focuses now on the proto-Britpop stuff (because it ‘won’ and because it was pretty good) but at the time that wasn’t such a sure thing at all and there was a forest of other stuff going on.* Such as!

New wave of new wave – reputationally poor punkiness, aggressive and political (SMASH, These Animal Men) – all the bands involved released second records which were apparently a lot better than their first ones but by that time Britpop had come along and their fate was oblivion.

Collision pop – sample-heavy ravey rock, hip-hop influences, aggressive and political though also danceable – Senser, Back To The Planet, Chumbawamba, Credit To The Nation, Hustlers HC

Any excuse for a Back To The Planet picture.

Riot Grrrl (UK edition) – ziney, DIY, political (esp. sexual politics) but also with a bit of dayglo POP rhetoric which survived through Britpop and ended up at Bis I guess.

A sort of vaguely “world pop” thing which was basically an attempt to categorise Transglobal Underground: Dance genres were their own hive of activity but definitely there was indie crossover going on via TGU, the weed-heavy spliff-end of ambient (The Orb were still big with students), Leftfield (“Open Up” was enormous), and so on.

“Lost Generation”: Butterfly Child, Disco Inferno, Papa Sprain, Seefeel, Laika, Pram – this is a Simon Reynolds coining for the arty wing of UK indie. Because of the support of Simon R and to a lesser extent of Pitchfork it “survives” in reputation better than most of this stuff

Proto-Britpop: Suede were a bona fide Big Thing but there was no great sense the ideas Blur were kicking around would work; Pulp hadn’t made their breakthrough; Denim and Cud, the Auteurs… all that lot.

Boho sceneless mavericks: Like PJ Harvey, Tindersticks, Bjork – serious acts who got quite big quite quickly and were definite presences on the indie scene but nothing really coalesced around them. There were attempts with Tindersticks – throughout Britpop there was a little wing of groups like Jack in London doing similar nicotine-stained atmospherica.

Random guitar bands we remember because of what they did later: Post-shoegaze noiseniks like Verve; one-hit local wonders like Radiohead. None of any significance at this point, or so it felt. You might as well have bet on Adorable or Thousand Yard Stare.

Adding to the confusion loads of these micro-scenes would happily cross over with one another – it was a time of genuine flux, a vacuum because the big bands of the previous few years had either imploded (Happy Mondays), vanished (Stone Roses), or were deep in the studio changing their sound (Primal Scream). A lot of fun to be part of.

*and of course the best music from then isn’t mentioned here at all – jungle, American indie rock, hip-hop… – this is just trying to dissect the fractured British indie scene of the time…

Comments

  1. 1
    23 Daves on 3 May 2012 #

    I had no idea this would be a talking point! It was a comment I meant to make in passing, really, largely in response to the fact that I can’t get enthused about a lot of the 1993 records in “Popular” so far.

    I’ve given this a lot more thought, partly thanks to your list above, and I’ve realised that actually there were two albums issued in 1993 which I’d probably place among my all-time favourites, namely Tindersticks’ first album and The Fall’s “The Infotainment Scan” (my favourite Fall album). There were other good records issued as well, but one of the things I’m being reminded of as a result of your list is the earnestness present throughout the year. A lot of the acts listed above had a clearly defined sense of purpose and often political leanings, but not much character, or in some cases tunes. Across the pond, that was also the case with grunge, where frivolousness surely couldn’t be considered a dominant force.

    Ultimately though, a lot of this may be personal. 1993 felt like an odd year to be young and living in a small town. Perhaps because of the splintered nature of the music scene, most gigs and club nights felt unusually poorly attended and the atmosphere often seemed rather flat (I don’t recall the audiences at NWONW gigs being quite as frenzied as the NME would have us believe they were). And when I first started attending club nights in 1991, Manchester bands were mixed liberally with Dance music, whereas by ’93 the plaid shirted mob didn’t seem to want to pay attention to anything which didn’t contain guitars. But the experience of a club-goer in London or Bristol or Manchester at this point may have been very different, and the fact that I wasn’t in a particularly happy place myself at this time may have muddied my memories.

    What does strike me as unusual about 1993 is how nobody regarded Radiohead as being anything other than a poor cousin to Kingmaker, at the start of the year nobody would have known that the ex-lead singer of The Sugarcubes would release one of the year’s best albums and become a fashion magazine darling, and (as you mention) Blur were regarded as little more than a band who were just managing to stay signed to EMI by their skin of their teeth. There’s no question it was an odd time, and if I’d known what was around the corner I might have been more excited (at this point I’d also bracketed Pulp as being “a fantastic band who were never going to sell loads of records”).

    And as a friend of mine flippantly said to me the last time I mentioned my loathing of 1993: “Every year is a good year for music”. Which is probably fair enough (unless it was a year which fell within the duration of World War II, perhaps).

  2. 2
    punctum on 3 May 2012 #

    Riot Grrrl (UK edition): ended up at Popular 1996.

  3. 3
    CarsmileSteve on 3 May 2012 #

    just to get it in first: I BLAME THE TURTLES!!!

    also the name for proto-britpop (as coined by mr maconie in THAT select) was LIONPOP wasn’t it? i don’t think it actually becomes britpop until 94?

    (hilariously, googling “who do you think you are kidding, mr cobain?” brings up an old poptimist column as the first hit!)

  4. 4
    punctum on 3 May 2012 #

    De La Soul blame the Turtles as well, though probably not the same ones.

  5. 5
    Tom on 3 May 2012 #

    Lion Pop! I think maybe Lion Pop was ONLY Cud.

    #1 re clubs – I remember the student discos I went to making a sudden lurch away from Stereo MCs/House Of Pain/Credit To The Nation/Transglobal and towards full-on guitars pretty much the week Definitely Maybe came out. It was undoubtedly more gradual than that in reality.

    The indie disco anthem of the year – and probably the single song which comes to mind most immediately when I hear the word “indie disco” is this though.

  6. 6
    punctum on 3 May 2012 #

    Closely followed by this.

  7. 7
    Alan not logged in on 3 May 2012 #

    I happen to have the NME singles of the week for 93 on my piepod:

    1 of 18 Arrested Development Tennessee
    2 of 18 Belly Gepetto (Remix)
    3 of 18 Senser The Key
    4 of 18 Madder Rose Madder Rose
    5 of 18 One Dove White Love
    6 of 18 Tindersticks Marbles
    7 of 18 Credit To The Nation Call It What You Want
    8 of 18 Utah Saints Believe In Me
    9 of 18 Swervedriver Duel
    10 of 18 Björk Venus As A Boy (Edit)
    11 of 18 Elastica Stutter
    12 of 18 Spiritualized Cool Times
    13 of 18 Smashing Pumpkins Samshing Pumpkins – Cherub Rock
    14 of 18 Apache Indian Movin’ On Special
    15 of 18 PJ Harvey 50ft Queenie
    16 of 18 Sugar Tilted
    17 of 18 Grant Lee Buffalo Amercia Snoring
    18 of 18 Leftfield & Lydon Leftfield/Lydon – Open Up (Vocal Edit)

  8. 8
    punctum on 3 May 2012 #

    Senser; long-term favourites from within the cabinet marked “The Steve Lamacq Crap Indie Collection.” Wot no Eat Static?

  9. 9
    Tom on 3 May 2012 #

    #6 sad to say that was a bit more divisive – everyone rushes to the floor for the intro, a contingent rush off when they hear what it is. (And some would head back disappointed if it turned out NOT to be).

    I was asked to leave a ‘rock pub’ once for putting it on the jukebox on what I’d genuinely forgotten was the anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s suicide.

  10. 10
    punctum on 3 May 2012 #

    I’m not saying that’s what you get for going into a “rock pub” but, erm…

  11. 11
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 3 May 2012 #

    Are there Lost Generation pubs and would they serve old-style stella?

  12. 12
    Steve Mannion on 3 May 2012 #

    #9 Ah so that’s what this “Ewinging” I’ve read about entails.

  13. 13
    swanstep on 3 May 2012 #

    Atari Teenage Riot’s appropriation of Teen Spirit came out in 1993. But did anyone hear it then? (I didn’t catch up with it until 1995, i.e., when the nifty vid. emerged.)

  14. 14
    Alan not logged in on 3 May 2012 #

    Ewinging is more commonly used to mean “cueing on Templehead 10 times”

  15. 15
    23 Daves on 3 May 2012 #

    #5 – Ah, House of Pain. I could be imagining this, but I’m sure they were played on the last couple of occasions I was at indie nights (once in Ottawa, once in Melbourne) in 2004/5. Though I should state for the record that at both nights I think the DJ also played James and Shed Seven, so I’ve no idea what was going on there.

    House of Pain’s “Jump Around” is ridiculously memorable for me if only because I used to go to a basement club with a low ceiling (only just over 6ft high) and people would still try to jump to the record, raising their feet ever so slightly and carefully off the ground whilst keeping their heads bowed. I have no idea if the track ever caused any fatalities there.

  16. 16
    Another Pete on 3 May 2012 #

    One story I heard in regards to why the UK hiphop scene never really got off the ground or to at least half the height it currently is, was that it cost too much money to clear certain samples. This saw said bands ditch the samples and play their own instruments instead hence why there has always been a slight indie leaning on 90s UK hiphop as with the aforementioned collision pop.

    If 1993 is considered the musical doldrums, I’d hate to think what term would describe 2011

  17. 17
    fivelongdays on 3 May 2012 #

    Tom @9 – There’s something I would say that vaguely relates to that sort of thing, but I’ll wait until Popular gets to 1994!

  18. 18
    Alan not logged in on 3 May 2012 #

    for similar dancefloor false-footing, see also Soho ‘Hippychick’

  19. 19
    Ed on 4 May 2012 #

    The issue here, surely, is that 1993 is the year that Popular breaks the taste “sound barrier”, in the sense that its accelerated faster-than-real-time velocity has brought it inside the 20-year nostalgia limit. From now on, we can no longer rely on distance to lend charm or character to music that would otherwise seem confusing, or threatening, or simply boring. We are in uncharted territory here, and it is making some of us – me included – feel queasy.

    Skimming through the last few Popular entries, without reading the comments, I became increasingly disaffected, and it is striking how many other commenters feel the same.

    As Tom says, though, there was a wealth of great music in 1993. (There is in every year, of course.) I like his list, and it was good to see Utah Saints and One Dove cropping up in the NME. PJ Harvey has never been better than she was in 1993.

    My own personal highlight of that year, though, was seeing Bark Psychosis at Ronnie Scott’s. I think it must have been the show where, according to legend, American Music Club heckled, shouting for ‘Wipout’. But if it was, I didn’t notice them at all; I was too awe-struck by the unearthly beauty of the music. That was probably the last rock (as opposed to pop or hip-hop) show I saw that really blew my away.

  20. 20
    punctum on 4 May 2012 #

    Good lord, Ed, I was at that gig! Who’d’ve thunk it?

  21. 21
    Tom on 4 May 2012 #

    #19 that is a really interesting point. I think – dare I say it – age may play a bit of a part too: the nostalgia-canon forms first among younger listeners, and there are a handful of commenters (I wish there were more!) who were kids or early teens in this era.

    But definitely we’re moving into a period where there isn’t really a collective assumption of what was or wasn’t “good pop”. Some of that was also the manipulation of the chart that was going on – I don’t agree with the idea that the charts in the 90s (and beyond) aren’t representative of anything but definitely the idea that the charts were a consistent barometer of public taste was dying. Ironically of course the constant priming of fanbases and first-week sales made them more vulnerable to enormous hits whose origin was (essentially) outside the music biz – we’ve seen this with Adams already.

  22. 22
    23 Daves on 4 May 2012 #

    #19 – Bark Psychosis! I’d completely forgotten that I saw them live in Portsmouth in 1993 (or was it early 1994)? A truly incredible live show from a band I think were actually more influential on the Bristol music scene than they’re given credit for. “Hex” is a great album as well.

  23. 23
    thefatgit on 4 May 2012 #

    Well it’s goodbye to Adam Yauch who lost his fight to cancer today. Deeply sad. Trying to tie this to 1993 somehow and all I can come up with was that was the year Luscious Jackson signed to Grand Royal.

  24. 24
    Ed on 5 May 2012 #

    @19 Age is part of it, I am sure. I remember reading about a study showing that on average, the music that people liked the most was released when they were 23. That surprised me when I read it, because I might have guessed something a lot younger – maybe 14 – but it does fit with my own experience. If I had to pick just one year’s records for the desert island, it would probably be the years I was 21, 22 or 25.

    (I can’t remember whether “on average” meant “the most common age people were when the music they liked the most was released” or “the average age of people when the music they liked the most was released”, or even “the average age in the highest scores from people rating how much they liked music.”)

    On the other hand – arguing against my own earlier point here – I have looked ahead and seen some great stuff coming up. The late 90s now look like a bit of a purple patch, including plenty of music that, I would have thought, falls fully inside that collective definition of “good pop”, or even “great pop”.

    So maybe 1993 was just an objectively* poor year for number ones. Although there is an absolute cracker coming up next…

    (*Where “objectively” means what it usually does, which is “in the subjective opinion of everyone you talk to”.)

    @20, @22 They were fantastic, weren’t they? The second great gig of theirs I saw, after an earlier mind-blowing performance in a 20-minute slot supporting Cranes at ULU in 1991. Cranes were OK, but Bark Psychosis were unfollowable.

    I still feel a bit wistful about that Ronnie Scott’s show, for its sense of potential not realised. It felt like they were doing something wholly new, and powerful, and lovely, with rock, in a way that has never been repeated. ‘Hex’ is a good album, but it doesn’t capture the way they sounded that night. And neither they nor anyone else really followed up on the possibilities they seemed to be uncovering, except maybe Radiohead…

    …and, 23 Daves, now you mention it, the Bristol sound, too. I had never thought of that, but I can definitely hear it in Tricky and Portishead, especially comeback ‘Third’-era Portishead.

    Nice to know they are not wholly forgotten, anyway.

  25. 25
    lonepilgrim on 6 May 2012 #

    Bark Psychosis have passed me by until now so I’m delighted to have been pointed in their direction .

    I have no distinct musical memories of 1993 other than Bob Dylan’s ‘World Gone Wrong’ album – where my online name comes from. It was the year I finally got a CD player and began ‘upgrading’ albums previously owned on vinyl or cassette – and an end to the buying of singles. A great many of my friends were doing the same and it seems no coincidence that Mojo magazine should have been launched that year. I wonder if that withdrawal by so many from the purchase of current pop singles had an impact on the perceived quality of music from that year

  26. 26
    23 Daves on 6 May 2012 #

    This single (coming out on 30 May) does remind me a bit of Bark Psychosis, actually – especially in the way that it’s completely minimal for about four minutes then suddenly explodes into life:

    http://soundcloud.com/benin-city/baby

    But you’re right, nothing has really, completely touched them since. It’s odd the way they’ve been utterly under-referenced since. If they’d emerged in the late nineties rather than just before the whole Britpop explosion, you have to wonder what would have happened.

  27. 27
    swanstep on 7 May 2012 #

    Bark Psychosis are new to me to, and I’m finding Hex gripping on first listen. Thanks to Ed and others in the comment crew for the reference.

  28. 28
    pink champale on 8 May 2012 #

    i’m another who saw bark pyschosis in 93 (the duchess of york in leeds, i’m another who thought they were truly extraordinary, and i’m another who thought their records (even scum which is in its own way pretty amazing) never came close to capturing it. though actually, don’t think i’ve ever heard hex.

    i’m wondering wherer american indie rock and hip hop really were the best music around in 93? obviously american indie rock was mind blowing from 87-91/92 but cannonball aside i can’t think of anything particularly good from 93 (no thanks smashing pumpkins) and to me there was never much that great from this point onwards. (even pavemement, the last great band in that line didn’t release anythign in 93 i don’t think).
    and 93 seems to me* to have been a year where hip hop was taking a bit of a breather trying to work out where to go next – with the chronic and 36 chambers being the answer, and sparking hip hop’s incredible mid 90s golden age. (which we’ll even see the odd glimpse of in popluar).

    *though this could be totally wrong as being a casual hip hop fan in the uk in the early 90s (as now), what you actually ever got to hear about or hear was a tiny sample heavily curated through people who weren’t neccessarily first and foremost hip hop fans

  29. 29
    Mark M on 8 May 2012 #

    Re 28: The Chronic was out in December 1992, so 1993 for most people – and Doggystyle came out in November 1993. Pretty damn epic. Also fairly sure than the UK release of Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde was 1993 – it came out late 1992 in the US.

    In response to the main post, Tindersticks seemed in early 1993 to be socially linked to Huggy Bear and their chums – not the international riot grrrl movement, but their garage-punky, trash aesthetic, let’s swap instruments microscene (Voodoo Queens, Blood Sausage, Mambo Taxi). Obviously, Tindersticks didn’t sound or look anything like that lot, but they all seemed to be in the same places. Also, the first couple of Tindersticks singles were more low-fi and less cinematic than their debut album, and had handmade sleeves. Huggy Bear’s Nikki Sin sang on their Nancy/Lee homage A Marriage Made In Heaven – later, when they had a superior contact book, they remade it with Isabella Rossellini (the Nikki Sin version is much better).

    They were fairly close in look and mood to Gallon Drunk and their lot, a scene memorialised in Cathi Unsworth’s terrific noir a clef novel The Not Knowing, which borrows its title from a song on the first Tindersticks album.

  30. 30
    Steve Mannion on 8 May 2012 #

    #28 I’d stopped listening to Westwood (still on Capital) and reading Hip-Hop Connection by this point but having got Sky (as mentioned on Mr Vain thread) I’d started watching ‘Yo! MTV Raps’ and it seemed like a well curated show covering all the main styles of the time, indicating the huge range within the genre. Singles from the two aformentioned LPs were on heavy rotation but so were the ones from Midnight Marauders, Black Sunday, Doggystyle, Very Necessary, Buhloone Mindstate, Straight Up Sewaside, Bizarre Ride… So it didn’t strike me as a lull or breather period because of the relative range and quality, but admittedly if it wasn’t for that show I wouldn’t have encountered most of that stuff when it was fresh.

  31. 31
    pink champale on 8 May 2012 #

    #29/30 yeah, i guess what i really mean is that 93 wasn’t a vintage year for me because i didn’t catch up with all the good stuff until later*. to my shame, three of steve’s list *still* draw a complete blank from me – i did say i was a casual fan.

    *i.e. because i was getting my advice from the inkies

  32. 32
    Emily Robinson on 4 Aug 2013 #

    I’ve always said 1993 was one of my favorite years for music, if not my favorite. I had no idea it was considered a dull time. It’s the year I became a teenager, and I was into everything, though. Re: Blur and Britpop, it’s the year “For Tomorrow” and MLIR came out, and therefore the height of Britpop imho!

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