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Oct 14

MR OIZO – “Flat Beat”

Popular78 comments • 4,715 views

#820, 3rd April 1999

flateric Just what we needed, another corporate puppet at Number One. To be fair to Flat Eric, he was in fact an indie puppet – if you hired French house act Mr.Oizo, the yellow flannel sidekick came as mandatory. The Eric we see in the Levis Sta-Prest ad that birthed “Flat Beat” was reworked by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, and he has that irresistible Muppety limberness. But none of Kermit’s pals were this aloof: Eric – and his pal Angel – drive around a suburb, Eric flexing and banging his head to techno. When the police pull them over they switch the music to a country crooner, and Angel complies with the cop’s request, flipping open the trunk to show immaculately folded shirts and pants. He lets them go. They put Mr Oizo back on, and the policeman glumly considers his own crumpled, suddenly uncool clothes.

It’s inscrutable, a snapshot of a world that makes sense only on its own terms. Even the obligatory product shot – those perfectly folded shirts – is framed surreally. But it’s not a world that invites you to fill in any gaps – to make sense of Flat Eric would be to invite the same sleepy-eyed condescension Angel gives the police officer. This is a flat world, deriving its cool precisely from its lack of dimensionality. Why is any of this happening? Why not?

You could say the same about “Flat Beat”’s two weeks at Number One: it’s a very enjoyable record, but its laconic, bone-dry style is a world away from the year’s main trends in chart dance – big-room pop trance, and the filigree sweetness of UK Garage. Those musics, in very different ways, feel like music for crowds, but the Levis ad gets “Flat Beat” right: this low-key electro sound is a more hermetic, solo experience, better in my mind for driving or strolling. The track has the regularity of a self-righting spinning top – those fat squobs of bass causing it to topple over and each time just about rebalance itself. Its gyroscopic rhythm is fun to listen to, but works best in forward motion, when its wonky motor can become yours.

The fact that the year’s most sonically unforgiving Number One is also its biggest sell-out – the end of the decade’s long parade of Levi’s soundtracks – raises a similar gallic shrug to the ad. Levis, Sta-Prest cool notwithstanding, had begun a slide that was to last through most of the 00s – if the ads had ever been effective beyond just tweaking sales, they were so no longer. But as much as any actual 90s artist, Levi’s had developed. They began the decade as an agent of conservatism, making still lives of cool using soul, soft rock and punk – reminding me why these were legacies that needed to be wriggled free of. Over time, though, the brand got more interested in promoting current music – albeit in ersatz (Stiltskin) or family-friendly (Shaggy) versions. It had tried techno before – a 1994 ad used Biosphere’s “Novelty Waves” – but the tie-in single release tanked. Now, with “Flat Eric”, it had finally become an effective vector from bohemia to the charts.

And the ad acknowledged it. The music Eric scrambles onto his car’s cassette deck is utterly obscure – Don Gibson’s B-Side “What’s Happened To Me” – and as such unlikely to have itself appeared in an old school Levi’s ad. But it has the style right, a marketable patina of old-timey yearning : you can imagine some brand, in the late 80s, picking this up and trying to make a thing of it. Ten years later, in this commercial, it’s a symbol of the uncool, the crumpled. The golden age of golden oldie advertising is dead: Flat Eric nods compulsively over its grave.

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Comments

  1. 1
    punctum on 7 Oct 2014 #

    At the time of the initial onset of Acid House I was pleasantly amazed at the multiple and endlessly renewable ways in which ostensibly radical music can feed directly through to the mainstream and become popular. Listening to uncompromising early “pure Acid” milestones – especially Phuture’s 14-minute “Acid Tracks” which redefined everyone’s idea of minimalism – my eyes can still blink with wonder at the thousands of dancefloors this helped fill; not to mention things like Li’l Louis’ “French Kiss,” ten minutes long and something like the House equivalent of the first movement of Gorecki’s Third Symphony (the same palindromic architectural structure) with added beats and post-“Je T’Aime” sighs, a number two hit in the desert-like environs of mid-1989.

    “Flat Beat” clocks in at approximately five-and-a-half minutes, and as well as becoming the first purely wordless number one since “Eye Level” – there are sampled voices but they do not utter anything discernible other than short, sharp blasts of gasps or chuckles – it is also one of the least compromising; minimalist French techno worthy of release on the Basic Channel label which sets up its beat and sticks with it, and to it. Using only a handful of elements – the aforementioned vocal snatches, a brief rainbow refrain of harmonically ambiguous melody, squeals and air blasts like party streamers floating twenty feet in the blue sky ceiling and a shuddering, tripolar bassline which deliberately and subtly dislocates. There is even an unexpected hint of “White Car In Germany” towards the end as the track stops dead, and then, after a few long seconds, suddenly reappears like the tail ends of a particularly curious dream before the bass signs off with a triple nod.

    So how did Mr Oizo – a.k.a. Quentin Dupieux – manage to achieve this unusually hardcore number one? For one, the chart climate remained open to cunning interceptors; at around the same time, the Aphex Twin’s “Windowlicker” became the most radical single to make the Top 20 since “Death Disco.” But for a very emphatic two, it was down to television and a headbanging orange glove puppet; “Flat Beat” was used as the theme for the 1999 Levi’s ad campaign (some distance from “Stand By Me,” hmm?) which featured said puppet, whose name was Flat Eric, in the passenger seat of a truck, merrily pogoing away (in a sedentary fashion) to the hypnotic techno emanating out of the radio. How ironic that out of this week’s bunch of number ones, largely crucified by being burdened down with too many words and too little to say, the one which says the most, er, says the least. Another one Meek would have been glad to live to hear. Number 9, Number 9…

  2. 2
    Brendan F on 7 Oct 2014 #

    This was probably the first #1 that was beyond my ken at the time. In contrast to the things I saw and heard in the indie chart on The Chart Show in the late 80s, which intrigued me to the point of obsession, this just left me cold at the time. Listening to it now, however, it is much easier to understand it in the wake of Daft Punk et al and I very much enjoyed it.

  3. 3
    iconoclast on 7 Oct 2014 #

    BiotW narrowly missed being a sublime return to better days; this mind-numbingly tedious electronic scribble is an unarguably ridiculous and unwelcome jerk back into the real world of late-20th century popular music. It’s the musical equivalent of the Art world’s soiled nappies or dirty urinals, something so utterly devoid of redeeming features that it can only have been a prank, asking the listener (or viewer, or whatever you call someone who looks at works of art): “can this not also be Art”? The answer technically has to be yes, but it’s a special kind of Art whose appeal is fathomable only to the specially initiated, and whose actual experience for The Rest Of Us delivers no rewards which might explain or justify its existence. That it was considered worthy of commercial release is baffling; that British record-buyers favoured it over everything else for not one but two weeks is just depressing. One to forget as fast as possible. ONE.

  4. 4
    James BC on 7 Oct 2014 #

    This puts me in mind of a comment in the KLF’s Manual along the lines of “eventually someone will release a single that is just a drumbeat with nothing on top of it – and if there are two versions one will be better than the other and everyone will know which it is.”

    Though there is more going on than just a drum track here, I can echo Brendan’s feeling of being baffled at the time – and I knew and liked Daft Punk’s Homework. Very minimal.

    It’d take a lot for anything like this to ever be number 1 again. There have been some fairly uncompromising euro-dance instrumentals that have been hits lately, but they all get a pop vocal added for the UK release.

  5. 5
    Ed on 7 Oct 2014 #

    @3 Duchamp’s urinal was clean. At least, the one I saw was.

    It’s a masterpiece, as is this. 10

  6. 6
    Alan on 7 Oct 2014 #

    There was a 2006 number 1 that was musically similar – to the point where a mashup of this and that did the rounds

  7. 7
    weej on 7 Oct 2014 #

    This is an easy ’10′ for me and I’m a little disappointed not to see it score higher. It’s easily the most sonically interesting thing to top the charts for quite a few years, and (I would say) one of the most enjoyable listens too. As much as 1999’s parade of one-week wonders could be depressing, at least it gave the chance for something as odd and as brilliant as this to hit the top.

    Unfortunately I was a little disconnected from the charts at this point, and wasn’t even watching TV in my student halls, so missed the ad too – but I picked up the album (Analog Worms Attack) a few years later and would absolutely reccommend it. No commentary on Flat Eric is complete without the comments of Mr Oiso’s son at the start of No Day Massacre for a start.

  8. 8
    Mark G on 7 Oct 2014 #

    I loved it then and I love it now.

    I have the CD single, and a Flat Eric lives in the loft. It’s a signifier of the treasures that lurk within my loft, as far as the kids are concerned.

    Ten, easy.

  9. 9
    Tommy Mack on 7 Oct 2014 #

    I was utterly non-plussed by this at the time. ‘Is THAT it?’ was my reaction to both the song and TV ad when I caught up with the playground buzz. As the frequent and unwilling gauche recipient of the cool kids’ sneery disdain, I had little time for insouciant hipster cool (still don’t: living your life on a ‘Flat’ emotional plateau just so that you get to feel better than people who aren’t doesn’t seem like a great choice). That I dismissed the music as aimless poker-face minimalist doodling seems more of an oversight (sorry, Iconoclast) especially as if you’d asked me at the time who was the best and most important and most artful band of all time, I’d have been like ‘Duh, The Velvet Underground of course!’.

    Listening back now, I’m surprised how jaunty FB sounds. I expected to admire it’s monolithic minimalist futurism but more than that there’s a real charm to it’s wonky lope (helped no doubt by memories of Flat Eric in the ad.) I’m still not a massive fan of minimal/tech stuff (Ketamine? No thanks) but I can dig it; head-nodding like Eric can be fun for a bit.

    I was also going to say stuff like this demands at least half-decent stereo equipment to enjoy (the boy racers at school loved it because it sounded great through a sub-woofer) but actually, it sounds fine through my laptop speakers. I doubt very much I’ll be returning much to Flat Beat (got the rest of Hacienda Classics to get through) but it’s put an unexpected smile on my face today.

    An aside: I thought Sta Prest were preppy mod-ish chinos but when I bought a pair off eBay, they were nasty drain-pipe stonewashed jeans with a crease pressed into them and an anti-wrinkling treatment. If they were fakes, someone had gone to a lot of trouble with the Levi’s tags. Bizarre.

  10. 10
    iconoclast on 7 Oct 2014 #

    @9: When I read “Sta Prest” I was immediately reminded of the StayPuft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters. I have an itchy feeling this is relevant, but I’m not sure how.

  11. 11
    lonepilgrim on 7 Oct 2014 #

    what I love about this is that, despite its machine like beat, the main bass riff sounds so analogue – almost ham fisted. As well as the House connections this reminds me of the Flying Lizards in its wilful witlessness. 8 for me

  12. 12
    Chelovek na lune on 7 Oct 2014 #

    Although I fear it marks out my philistinical tendencies, I *still* don’t get this. (And saying I was too old for it – 24 – in 1999 is not going to cut the mustard either – although I certainly never went anywhere where I could have danced to it, then or since.). I like a bit of minimalistic acid house, and indeed minimalistic music of various other kinds, too, but I really can’t appreciate this at more than a detached, quasi-intellectual level. Which, as this was not designed to be appreciated that way, and really doesn’t reward that way, either, evidently misses the point. I’m still not sure if that it is my failing or that of the record. Maybe it is too clever for its own good, though?

  13. 13
    Tom on 7 Oct 2014 #

    #9 I just popped out for lunch and there was a lad parked at the Coulsdon traffic lights in a car marked STREET ELITE pumping out something enjoyably Flat-Beat-esque. That bass you like is going to come back in style.

    In the same queue there was a man-in-van whose van was called MARLON VANDO.

  14. 14
    pootle on 7 Oct 2014 #

    My favourite minimalist-techno-igetallthesubgenresmixedup song is “LFO” (or, to be honest, the fifteen-minute mix of ‘I Feel Love’), but this is kind of cute. There was a semi-ironic nostalgia for 1988 in 1999 that really improved the charts a little before the corporate boot came down for good.

    It has inspired me to make an mp3 playlist of all the most one-note minimal music I have because it’s so soothing.

    Also the puppet made a very pointed return as an early ‘The Office’ joke.

  15. 15
    Chelovek na lune on 7 Oct 2014 #

    #14 I also love LFO (even have a soft spot for Tricky Disco, helium-voiced screams or not) – but it strikes me that one thing that worked so well, on several of those early WARP records numbers, was the alternation and interplay between deep bass sounds with other melodious elements (or at any rate: synthesised sounds of higher pitches.) Whereas this, conversely, is, to coin a phrase, all about the bass, and not much else.

  16. 16
    weej on 7 Oct 2014 #

    Chelovek @ #14 – there’s plenty more going on here than the bass – the countermelody a couple of minutes in is the hook as much as anything is.

  17. 17
    wichitalineman on 7 Oct 2014 #

    NOW watch. This was tucked away on disc 2 of Now 42. Odd that it kicks off with a song that stalled at no.4, but maybe Robbie’s people insisted he start the disc. Beyond that, a rather intriguing collection of post-Britpop moves (All Seeing I’s track was written by Jarvis, wasn’t it?). I thought The Cardigans and Divine Comedy songs were a couple of years earlier, seems all wrong to my memory cells that they were out the same time as Dru Hill. It runs like a K-Tel comp of old, properly random (Flat Beat into Erase/Rewind!). And why was Dusty on there?

    1. “Strong” Robbie Williams
    2. “Fly Away” Lenny Kravitz
    3. “Praise You” Fatboy Slim
    4. “You Don’t Know Me” Armand Van Helden featuring Duane Harden
    5. “Flat Beat” Mr. Oizo
    6. “Erase/Rewind” The Cardigans
    7. “Just Looking” Stereophonics
    8. “Walk Like a Panther” The All Seeing I featuring Tony Christie
    9. “National Express” The Divine Comedy
    10. “Tequila” (Mint Royale Shot) Terrorvision
    11. “How Long’s a Tear Take to Dry?” The Beautiful South
    12. “Wish I Could Fly” Roxette
    13. “A Little Bit More” 911
    14. “These Are the Times” Dru Hill
    15. “My Love” Kele Le Roc
    16. “War of Nerves” All Saints
    17. “Inkanyezi Nezazi (The Star and the Wiseman)” Ladysmith Black Mambazo
    18. “Tender” Blur
    19. “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” Dusty Springfield

  18. 18
    Cumbrian on 7 Oct 2014 #

    All Seeing I song – written by Jarvis.

    All Seeing I song – version with Jarvis:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uh-ZTtIqZA4

  19. 19
    Tom on 7 Oct 2014 #

    The opening lines of “Walk Like A Panther” are one of my favourite ever scene-setting openings, almost up with the Happy Mondays’ “Son, I’m thirty…” couplet.

    I don’t think the rest of WLAP quite lives up to them – the verses are way stronger and more venomous than the chorus – but it’s a good record.

    Jarvis also wrote the follow-up, “First Man In Space”, which was voiced by Phil Oakey and is a tremendous record that’s nagged at me increasingly as the years go by.

    I liked both enough to buy the All Seeing I album, which is – from memory, and hauling the thread back on-topic – not all that far away in a lot of places from the very dry, arch electro sounds of Mr Oizo, though more on a “taped-together vintage gear” tip.

  20. 20
    thefatgit on 7 Oct 2014 #

    Irrespective of whether Levi’s sold more Sta-Prest or not, FB was enormous and inescapable for at least two weeks. I would be willing to bet more Flat Erics were sold than Levi’s super sharp trizers, which had the look of Rain Man’s wardrobe for probably double the price.

    Anyway, the radio edit iirc, was shortened to around 3 minutes, with perhaps only Tong and Pearce giving it the full 5 and a half on Radio 1. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if even longer mixes existed. And yes, LFO is an obvious precursor and worthy of praise until the cows come home.

    Tom’s point about forward momentum is apt as well, it sounds so much better as a driving tune. I had a mixtape in my car that had this and a couple of other minimal techno tracks, as well as Daft Punk. Great to drive to, and fantastic for destroying factory-fitted speakers.

    I wub this. (8)

  21. 21
    Cumbrian on 7 Oct 2014 #

    That All Seeing I album is really good. Didn’t Britney Spears cover “The Beat Goes On”? Which is itself a cover – I have just discovered?

    Agree that the verses on WLAP are much more venomous than the chorus and really make the song – if I remember correctly, Tony Christie didn’t much like singing it because it was a bit nasty and he didn’t think it reflected well on him at all. FMIS is superb – sort of a happy (happier?) ending to Space Oddity – with just the right voice singing it (rather than Bowie who I don’t think would have done half as good a job of it as Oakey does – plus Oakey’s from Sheffield to fit the concept of the album).

  22. 22
    mapman132 on 7 Oct 2014 #

    Never hearing this in the US but yet hearing it described as “line noise” at the time, I sought this out in the Youtube era due to curiosity. Bizarre and repetitive. When Harlem Shake became a very dubious US #1 years later, I immediately thought of this. I didn’t “get” the HS phenomenon and I sure don’t “get” this either. Ungradeable.

  23. 23
    JoeWiz on 7 Oct 2014 #

    I thought this worked quite nicely over the 30 seconds of the advert, but was too into guitars at the time to really listen. Now, it does sound like a record that would never in a million years get to number one now, it’s oddly cold and unapproachable, but never gets dull despite not really deviating from it’s initial 30 seconds or so.
    A 6 from me.
    And I can’t think of Flat Eric without seeing David Brent’s smug, knowing face as he points at him to his new member of staff. Brent, one would assume, didn’t buy the CD single.

  24. 24
    Kit on 7 Oct 2014 #

    Britney’s cover of The Beat Goes On is basically her vocal slapped on the All Seeing I’s recording. Is it too late to start a craze for “the Cher riddim”?

  25. 25
    Flat Erix on 7 Oct 2014 #

    I rule!

  26. 26
    Lazarus on 7 Oct 2014 #

    #17 Dusty died at the beginning of 1999 of course – perhaps that track was re-released by way of a cash-in, I mean tribute? Didn’t chart again as far as I recall, but perhaps someone at the record company was enough of a fan to close the collection with it.

    As for Mr Oizo, I didn’t hate the thing but I sure couldn’t warm to it either. I was nearer 40 than 30 by this time and it wasn’t hard to figure out that it wasn’t really meant for me. Don’t remember the video, but I liked the hot dog gag. 3.

  27. 27
    James Masterton on 7 Oct 2014 #

    Dusty was on the Now! album as a tribute as she’d just died. A bizarre, random thing to do, almost as if the licence for the track that was supposed to appear there fell through at the last moment.

    As for Flat Beat, it always strikes me as the greatest ever Emperor’s New Clothes single ever made. A record which nobody really feels comfortable critiquing or expressing negativity towards for fear of appearing uncool or the proverbial old fart. It was a record so far out of the mainstream, so utterly beyond any other prevailing musical trend that you either got it or just had to pretend that you did. In that sense it was bulletproof.

    I cannot conceive of listening to it for pleasure, to have it stimulate my senses in any way or even to dance to it (surely no such thing is possible) and it is truly the kind of track that only makes sense after the eighth pint of the evening, lying on the edge of coma on the stained seats of a grotty nightclub whilst the flashing lights play havoc with your brain’s desire to either shut down or activate the vomit reflex. Flat Beat is the record that makes me dread the hangover I’m going to have tomorrow. Yet thanks to a TV ad it was a Number One record.

  28. 28
    Shiny Dave on 7 Oct 2014 #

    Utterly uncompromising, isn’t it? No surprise it’s divided the commentariat so sharply.

    That bassline feels about, oh, twelve years ahead of its time? It certainly feels like a precursor to dubstep. The rest of the production, especially the high synth line that precedes the entry of the bassline, is more of-its-time Francophone techno cool, and none the worse for it.

    However, none of that really matters that much to me, and Tom’s remark about the song working for driving or strolling does. Like many autistic people, I’m inclined towards “stimming” – repetitive physical movements or sounds, like flapping or bouncing. I don’t know how I forgot about this record so comprehensively, but this is just about the perfect stimming record – the “gyroscopic” rhythmic bassline is fun to mimic, repetition, repetition, repetition, and not even a vocal line for distraction.

    I expect to be head-nodding and flapping to this on my way to work tomorrow. And many a day thereafter.

    8.

  29. 29
    Tom on 7 Oct 2014 #

    It seems a stretch to say it’s completely divorced from its time, though. The beats and overall vibe aren’t too distant from Homework – which had spawned hits – and the bassline feels quite similar to the Azzido Da Bass”Dooms Night” remix which was a huge hit the year after. And Marcello’s shout to “Windowlicker” is a good one too.

  30. 30
    pootle on 7 Oct 2014 #

    I should add that I like dancing to this sort of thing. You just sort of acknowledge each little ‘ting!’ and ‘parp’ variation with a slightly different movement.

  31. 31
    Own Goal on 7 Oct 2014 #

    I was just introduced this track about a year ago and had no idea that it had reached number 1 until reading this. At the time, a friend with more knowledge of electronic music than I introduced it to me with the question, “wouldn’t this work really well in a modern electro set?” Interesting how different people have different ideas of what “should” work in a club, no?

    Anyway, this is an easy 10 for me. And might I had: banger!

  32. 32
    Mark M on 7 Oct 2014 #

    I remembered the phenomenon very clearly, but not the track. It’s OK, as in I like the noises, but I could do with a bit more… something. I’m afraid that I often feel that way about hyper-minimal music – it would make a good sample, or it’s a sketch for something. It’s a bit like how I feel about Neu!

  33. 33
    AMZ1981 on 8 Oct 2014 #

    I don’t get to be the clever clogs to point out that this was the first purely instrumental one since 1973 as #1 was straight off the mark but it was one of two instrumental number ones from the 90s (a faint vocal line disqualifies Doop as a pure instrumental). Both interestingly were one hit wonders; both despite high scores from Tom are unlistenable drivel in my ears. It will be a while before we encounter another instrumental – probably the longest gap in intervening chart toppers although not in years.

    The presence of Flat Eric made this pretty much a novelty record and novelty is key to the number two watch. For the first week it beat Witch Doctor by the Cartoons; a harmless enough record that showed up the state of the charts at that time by getting to number two. On Mr Oizo’s second week the charts got hit by a comet.

    Except that at the time My Name Is by Eminem felt like a novelty record. While one could laugh guiltily at the sick humour and enjoy the wordplay Eminem still had one hit wonder written all over him. At the risk of bunnying we will meet him and we’ll discover that My Name Is was the first of a long string of hits that continues to this day and would reshape the cultural landshape. But that’s another story.

  34. 34
    swanstep on 8 Oct 2014 #

    ‘Flat Beat’ might work as (part of) a backing track for Kanye or Peaches, someone with personality and something to say, but taken by itself I find it boring and pointless.

    I’m reminded of an objection I used to raise to students about Fight Club (1999), that its twist didn’t work because if all the fights we originally see are in fact self-fights then the clubs that catch on would have to be self-fighting clubs, which is (a) not what we see either originally or in debrief and (b) absurd because self-fighting as opposed to fighting is perverse or has very limited appeal and so couldn’t catch on. My students objected that, no, self-fighting *could* catch on, among themselves for instance; that they themselves had enjoyed hanging out and punching themselves as hard as possible in the face when in high school. Complaining about ‘Flat Beat’ (or its getting to #1 or its being given crazily high scores) strikes me now as a little like my attempt to insist that self-fighting clubs couldn’t be a thing. So… knock yourselves out:
    3 (mainly for the vid.)

  35. 35
    Billy Hicks on 8 Oct 2014 #

    The week this got to number 1 – w/e 03/04/1999 – is my favourite top 40 of all time, containing my favourite song as a child at #2 – the aforementioned ‘Witch Doctor’ which became something of a primary school Year 5 anthem – and my favourite song today, System F’s ‘Out of the Blue’ ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qgx_V0So0qk ) which must have sounded absolutely astonishing at the time as one of the hardest trance records to ever chart anywhere near the top 20. Plus New Radicals, ‘Windowlicker’ and all the other classics of the first half of ’99.

    In my Funfax diary I describe Flat Beat as simply ‘Rubbish’, listing tracks including Steps’s Better Best Forgotten, Witch Doctor and (er) Chocolate Salty Balls as ones I prefer. But then something as weird and unmelodic as this was never going to appeal to me at that age even if the advert (which, whenever I saw it, always seemed to be the surreal shortened version featuring just Flat Eric’s headbang in the car and nothing else) was oddly hypnotic. I think in general I was just pissed off it beat Witch Doctor to #1. Today I enjoy it a lot more and I’ll give it a 6 or 7.

  36. 36
    Mark G on 8 Oct 2014 #

    Oh god yeah, the Cartoons! Nearly forgot to add my tale..

    Basically, I was in the big Virgin Megastore at Tottenham Court Road, surveying the racks of that weeks singles, some of which were piled up in quantity on their own circular display rack (remember how things used to be folks?).

    Then, the whole of the Cartoons group appeared behind me, cheering and pointing to their own single on their own rack.

    One of them then looked over and said “ah, there’s the Flat Eric single, look!” At which point they all sighed and went “yeah..” and sloped off.

    I did wonder “what kind of super-heroes are these then? Couldn’t you lot have even tried to go “Grr” and wave fists at them?”

    (none of the details of this story have been exaggerated or enlarged, this is exactly as it happened)

  37. 37
    Rory on 8 Oct 2014 #

    New to me, and my initial reaction was on the wrong side of 5, not because of an Iconoclast-ic aversion to electronica, but because it didn’t stand out as a particularly noteworthy example of it. In the early 2000s I was listening to bucketloads of this sort of stuff, at album length, so I don’t instinctively dislike it, but it does strike me as completely orthogonal to the charts. A very odd number one indeed.

    But the thread prompted me to have a listen to Analog Worms Attack, which isn’t hard to find (ytcough), and at album length I quite like what Mr Oizo was doing; each individual track is fairly one-note, but over sixteen tracks he has… sixteen notes… and okay, it’s not the greatest electronic album I’ve ever heard, but it wasn’t bad as late-night background listening. “Flat Beat” comes at the end of the album, and sounds more engaging in the context of the other tracks that came before it.

    In that context, I’d probably give it a 5; it’s fine, but will I really return to Mr. Oizo when there are other preferable instrumental Misters, such as Scruff, Hermano, and even Clean? In this context, I’m tempted to go higher just for its being a totally unexpected chart topper; but then there’s the Levi’s effect to consider against it…

    But I like the puppet and his hotdog cigars. Oh all right, 6.

  38. 38
    thefatgit on 8 Oct 2014 #

    @21, 24 etc…Buddy & Cathy Rich, which could be the maximalist opposite to Flat Beat, could it not?

  39. 39
    23 Daves on 8 Oct 2014 #

    This single divided opinion sharply at the time too, I think – I distinctly remember pub arguments starting with the line “Just goes to show you can stick anything on an advert and it will get to number one these days!” Patently untrue, irrespective of the brand any track is being used to promote. I think The Lilys “Nanny In Manhattan” (another Levis choice) only managed a modest top twenty placing the year before this, though the Biosphere track Tom mentions is a better comparison.

    Anyway, I loved “Flat Beat” then and love it now. There’s something so beautifully clean and simple about it, and yet – and YET – each little minor, slight variation in the track draws attention to itself just by its very appearance. Elements which would be subtle changes or progressions in any ordinary track, things you wouldn’t notice until perhaps the third or fourth listen, are utterly exposed here and seem gigantic, hugely significant when they appear. It feels as if the nuts and bolts of the music are utterly exposed (Shall I make a reference to the Pompidou centre? No, let’s not).

    I wouldn’t know about it being great to drive to, but I do know that its made its way on to my training/ running playlist on my iPod many times over the last five years (since I’ve started to make an effort to stay fit). It’s utterly perfect for me at least – there’s a certain shoving propulsion about it which urges you on, as well as having the right volume of minimalism to not distract you from the task in hand. That’s possibly not the way it was meant to be appreciated, I realise, and it’s not the only time I listen to it, but I have found it to be really useful from that point of view. An 8 from me.

  40. 40
    Paulito on 8 Oct 2014 #

    I fully respect anyone’s right to like, love or even adore this track. However, I find it somewhat disconcerting to note the several “10”s casually tossed out, each accompanied by a terse line or two that conveys absolutely no sense of why the track warrants this supposedly rare and wonderful accolade. These entries therefore smack variously of wanting to make an impression, of knee-jerk auto-voting born of a heady rush of nostalgia (“God yeah, I remember this one, bangin’ tune wasn’t it?”) and of the intense but fleeting enthusiasms of a 10-year old kid.

    Come on, chaps. Don’t just tell us it’s a 10 – at least try and tell us why.

  41. 41
    Ed on 9 Oct 2014 #

    Ha! You have got me. I have to admit I was one of the knee-jerk 10s above, partly piqued by Iconoclast’s dissing of conceptual art, which is an argument for another day.

    I was actually listening to Flat Beat again this afternoon, and thinking “you know, this is more like a 7 or an 8, really,” but I wasn’t going to come on here and correct myself until you called my bluff.

    Part of the reason, I think, is that a record as uncompromising as this forces you to take sides. No vocals, no guitars or other “real” instruments, very little melody: it’s a minimalist statement that is daring you to come down off the fence. These ideas have been commonplace in “art” music for decades, and even in rock since the 1960s, but they have never made it to number one in such an extreme form, either before or since.

    And actually, Iconoclast’s analogy with conceptual art is exactly right. I think it’s fantastic that music and art like this is reaching a mass market, whatever the quality of individual pieces might be. Hence my instinctive reaction to give this a 10, even if on more sober reflection I realise I don’t really mean it.

    On Twitter the other day I noticed a sneering reference to a “Prime-time R1 DJ talking about Xenakis” (a reference to this piece: http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/oct/04/classical-music-joins-youth-underground). Flat Beat is not exactly Xenakis – as Tom and others have noticed, it bears a discernable likeness to other features of the 90s dance landscape – but it is different, and challenging, and exciting for that reason.

    Also, Flat Eric was irresistibly cute. Not liking the record I can understand, but how can you deny the puppet?

  42. 42
    Kinitawowi on 9 Oct 2014 #

    So I was wrong about To You I Belong; turns out it wasn’t close to the last CD single I bought. There were another four – two relatively random, one other epic bunny, and this.

    Which means I obviously loved it at first listen, but the single purchase didn’t stick in the memory long enough. Obviously as soon as I restart it it all comes flooding back – “Oh, yeah, I used to know Quentin, he’s a real, he’s a real jerk” etc. Which at the time, knowing far more of the oeuvre of Quentin Cook than of Quentin Dupieux, I took as a shot at Fatboy Slim.

    Nah, this is good fun. Almost insulting in its simplicity, but that’s worked for more than enough other media; the advert was fun, the video moreso, the puppet reminded me of a coked up Gordon The Gopher.

    Stupid, ridiculous, still funny. 7.

  43. 43
    Izzy on 9 Oct 2014 #

    I like this well enough for what it is, but it’s close to being ungradeable. I couldn’t distinguish much between this and a thousand other minimal dance numbers. I tend towards the more maximal stuff from the era – had Cassius or Etienne de Crecy scored a no.1 I’d feel more comfortable knowing what I liked about it and why, and why their contemporaries did better or worse. To some extent, this just is.

    It did get me wondering what makes a good instrumental hit though. The things I would add to it – a skittering lead line (vocal ideally, but I’d accept alternatives for these purposes), delayed synth washes, ultraclipped disco guitar – would make this more featureful, but less unusual. Whereas this does work as it stands, but I’m not sure it succeeds like it does on a basis beyond the sheer strangeness of a-track-like-this-at-a-number-like-this.

    That said, I showed the ad to the kids and they were glued to it. The little one danced; the older one liked the puppet but was puzzled by the storyline. Either way it works as a masterpiece of economy.

    PS it’s Don Gibson, not Don Simpson.

  44. 44
    Tom on 9 Oct 2014 #

    #43 Ha, good spot! Perhaps the cokey-ness Kinitawowi identified in the ad influenced that slip…

  45. 45
    iconoclast on 9 Oct 2014 #

    @41: Thanks for validating my off-the-top-of-the-head analogy!

    But: you say: “I think it’s fantastic that music and art like this is reaching a mass market, whatever the quality of individual pieces might be.”

    You have to be careful that this doesn’t turn into giving Bad Art a free pass solely because it’s the Right Kind of Art. I would contend that if you have to explain your Art to someone before they can appreciate it in the way you want them to, you’re probably doing it wrong. Others will disagree, of course.

  46. 46
    Tom on 9 Oct 2014 #

    This was Ian MacDonald’s point about “Revolution 9”, wasn’t it – of all the events and artefacts of the 60s avant-garde art scene, this track was the one that was genuinely put into the hands of a mass audience, WITHOUT explanation, for them to use (or ignore) as they liked.

    (There wasn’t really any explanation offered for how to enjoy Flat Beat – so Iconoclast’s suggestion that people needed one to enjoy it doesn’t really apply here. It’s also slightly unclear in this analogy who the highbrow elitists pushing extremist art on the masses would be – Levi’s? Sonic extremism really isn’t their job. My point in the review is that they’d FINALLY worked out how to get some level of genuine subcultural cool transferred into an ad after a decade of getting it mildly wrong – of course having achieved this they basically quit doing it.)

    Incidentally, we have a track that is genuinely more baffling to me – in a “why on earth did anyone buy this?” way – within the next 10 or so songs! Whereas, honestly, this seemed no more inexplicable (if a little cooler) than any other dance track hitting the top. It’s no “Poing” by Rotterdam Termination Source.

  47. 47
    Steve Mannion on 9 Oct 2014 #

    Without the delightful headbanging puppet and the advert itself being probably Levi’s funniest to date* I do think this track would’ve been much less of a hit. ‘Doom’s Night’ is a better track for me (likewise ‘Da Funk’) with a bit more going on. I recognise the appeal of the more hardcore minimalist drive here but I don’t think this in itself would’ve got ‘Flat Beat’ to #1. A shame Mr. Scruff didn’t do a bit better with ‘Get A Move On’ as the cutesy video sells it so well. Then again ‘Doop’ didn’t need any sort of mascot or discernible identity beyond retro attachment…and there’s another rodent-based novelty near-miss to consider at the year’s close.

    Cannot over-stress how much I enjoy instrumentals doing this well though and long for those days to return. I see there’s one from last year but I’m not familiar (and from the name I would not expect to like it). Other charting monotonous bangers of note from 99: Pete Heller’s ‘Big Love’, Cassius ‘La Mouche’ (the DJ Falcon remix), Underworld’s ‘King Of Snake’ (Dave Clarke mix), System F’s ‘Out Of The Blue’. A particularly amazing time to be in Paris though where I doubt the World Cup hangover had worn off.

    *Nice Adam & Joe spoof too in which the copper inspects the car boot only to find Buxton’s BaaadDad held captive inside.

  48. 48
    Ed on 9 Oct 2014 #

    @45 I am glad we agree on the analogy, although we come down on opposite sides of the dividing line that it draws.

    For me, “giving Bad Art a free pass solely because it’s the Right Kind of Art” is exactly what I do want to do. Much better to try to do something new and different, and fail in the attempt, than to rehearse something you have heard countless others do before you, and probably better than you, too.

    @46 I appreciate the outflanking move of “You call that extreme techno? That’s not extreme techno. This is extreme techno!”

    But I think for someone like Iconoclast, who I imagine believes – and shoot me down in flames if I am wrong here – that pop music reached its all-time unsurpassed peak with Rubber Soul and Motown Chartbusters Volume 3, Flat Beat is still quite extreme enough.

  49. 49
    punctum on 9 Oct 2014 #

    #46: I do recall that earlier in the nineties Levi’s used Biosphere’s “Novelty Waves” for an ad, without much commercial success. At the time I was in my “good Lord somebody else has heard of Artist X” mood.

  50. 50
    mapman132 on 9 Oct 2014 #

    #46 I can guess which bunny you’re referring to: a single that manages to be less musical than even this.

    I was probably a bit harsh in my initial comment on FB – it’s really not that bad, certainly there’s been far worse discussed on this board. But still, I think James at #27 makes an excellent point. It seems like the type of track that people would say they like just for the sake of hardcore/hipster cred. Maybe people really do think this is a 10, but it’s far too repetitive for my tastes. I mean if I can describe/recreate a number one record by making a sound effect with my mouth for 20 seconds, and then saying it goes like that for 3 minutes, that doesn’t seem like a good thing, does it? I think that in 2014, FB would be a one or two week Youtube meme and that’s about it.

  51. 51
    Tom on 9 Oct 2014 #

    I think assuming someone is only saying they like something for [x reason] is basically never an excellent point, sorry.

  52. 52
    glue_factory on 9 Oct 2014 #

    For me the parallels with earlier Levi’s adverts (Stiltskin and Babylon Zoo) are clear; it worked well in the context of the advert, was utterly thrilling, in fact, there, but played to its full length and without the visuals I found less to keep my interest. And like others that’s not for want of liking hard or minimal electronic music; oh to be discussing something like Aphex Twin’s Quoth or something by Ancient Methods.

    And like those earlier number ones, it stuck around for longer than a week, presumably giving the lie to the idea that people were instantly disappointed on hearing it as a single and not a soundtrack.

    5/10

  53. 53
    glue_factory on 9 Oct 2014 #

    ” I mean if I can describe/recreate a number one record by making a sound effect with my mouth for 20 seconds, and then saying it goes like that for 3 minutes, that doesn’t seem like a good thing, does it?”

    It depends. If you can do it, and have a single, glorious, chord change halfway through, like the Punctum mentioned French Kiss, then that’s a FANTASTIC thing.

    (The groaning and the slowing down were always the least interesting bits of that record for me)

  54. 54
    iconoclast on 9 Oct 2014 #

    @48: “Rubber soul?” Plastic soul, more like; they’d long since sold theirs to commerciality. Captain Pepper’s where it’s really at, man.

    Tom’s mention of “Revolution 9”, a piece of which I have a high opinion, has made me think long and hard about my reaction to FB. If it’s fair to make the comparison, and assuming both are indeed “avant-garde” pieces of music, then the difference for me lies in my perception that in R9 – which *develops* quite substantially over its length – the Artist is sincerely trying to take the Listener on an emotional or mental journey, whereas in FB – which just sits there more or less unchanged – I mostly hear the Artist and his select audience sniggering behind the Listener’s back and thinking “let’s see what the belpers make of *that*!” In short, in R9 the Artist assumes the Listener is an intelligent human being, whereas FB takes the Listener for a fool.

    Others will, of course, have exactly the reverse perception; de gustibus non disputandum est.

  55. 55
    Tom on 9 Oct 2014 #

    To be fair Iconoclast I am arguing that it ISN’T a piece of avant-garde art, it’s just an electro house banger – I think Ed might be right in that the framing/presentation of it as a hit single from a cool advert is a little bit Duchampian, though, which adds a layer onto it. R9 is a bit different – in a way its asking people to find a use for it, interpret it, find a way it fits into their lives and expectations. I really don’t think the use of “Flat Beat” is terribly obscure! It’s a dance record. You either want to move to it or you don’t.

    The hidden issue here is that utilitarian dance records are very hard to WRITE about in the same lit-crit/art-crit/pop-sociology derived terms that a lot of pop is. This has always been a huge problem! (I find dance records tough to write about too – if you look at Popular it’s almost always on dance stuff that I fall back on expressive metaphor as a critical tool, yer sonic cathedrals of sound) But being hard to fit into the literary frame of “a piece of art you appreciate as an individual listener” is really not an inherent fault of a recording’s.

    This is what “rockism” was about, by the way, much more than “liking rock” or not. Rock (especially the arty end of it) succeeded as a critical object because it could be written about very easily. (This point borrowed from DUBDOBDEE I should say!) Attempts to apply the same styles to other music often led to incomprehension or bad assumptions about them becoming common currency. Frankly it led to that for a lot of rock as well, PARTICULARLY the stuff that – as Fivelongdays would point out – actually rocked.

  56. 56
    Ed on 9 Oct 2014 #

    That is a good point.

    Classical music is an absolute bugger to write about, it seems, which is why everyone loves Alex Ross of the New Yorker so much: he is one of the very few who can do it well.

    Paul Morley is making a decent go of it at Sinfini, too: http://www.sinfinimusic.com/uk/features/series/paul-morley

  57. 57
    flahr on 9 Oct 2014 #

    “Ptolemy” really is rather wonderful, isn’t it?

  58. 58
    Wheedly on 9 Oct 2014 #

    There’s some really great and perceptive comments here. And some that leave me groaning. Believing that you understand another listener’s response to a piece of music better than they themselves do is an unsustainable, not to mention pretty arrogant, position to take. Assuming that you know what the artist was thinking at the moment of creation is even more presumptuous.
    To talk about any art outside your own tastes and experiences meaningfully, you have to engage with it first, experience it with as many of your own preconceptions, prejudices and opinions stripped away as you can possibly manage.
    Imagine hearing Flat Beat with someone’s ears other than your own. What does it sound like? Think beyond notes, chords and rhythm. Think in terms of frequency, harmonic content, dynamics. What does it feel like to listen to? What do you see when you hear it? What does it make your body do? Do you enjoy the physical sensations it provokes? How about the mental ones?
    Yes?
    No?
    Why?
    Done all that? Now you’re engaging with the music itself. Which in most pop music criticism may only be half the story, but it becomes a bigger part when surface meaning through lyrics and easy signifiers like big, swelling arrangements are stripped away.
    So having called others out, I guess I have to be brave enough to offer my own opinion. I liked it at the time, I like it now. If anything, even more so. The reason FB became such a big hit, I think, is because it’s playful. That juxtaposition of the beep-beeps against the huge, near-steady state bass is a dead giveaway here. As Tom keeps insisting, it’s not avant-garde, it’s a banger, albeit a very minimalist one, made by a guy with a peculiar but entirely audible sense of humour.

  59. 59
    Ed on 9 Oct 2014 #

    You might think it’s pretty arrogant to tell people how they ought to listen to music :)

    More seriously, asking people to listen without their own “preconceptions, prejudices and opinions” is a hopeless exercise, surely?

    “How would I feel about this record if I wasn’t me?” I am pretty sure I don’t have the necessary philosophical detachment to answer that question.

  60. 60
    Wheedly on 9 Oct 2014 #

    OK, point taken. :) Put it another way, then. If you’re going to discuss music with others, it’s more rewarding if you’ve tried to take the music on its own terms. Since someone’s already mentioned Ian McDonald upthread, let’s wheel him out again: Pet Sounds is an abject flop considered as a heavy metal album.

  61. 61
    Andrew Farrell on 10 Oct 2014 #

    If there’s one thing that Flat Eric is doing in the video, it’s rocking out.

    As a shield-bearer of clan Techno, I have to say I don’t think this is it – it doesn’t have the interesting things happening to the rhythm track that say Rotterdam Termination Source does, it’s house as far as I’m concerned. Though that could frankly be just my way of saying “I don’t like it”

    (Is anyone going to take up #40’s challenge, by the way?)

  62. 62
    Paulito on 10 Oct 2014 #

    @58: “Assuming that you know what the artist was thinking at the moment of creation is even more presumptuous.”

    Not always. The motives of many music-makers are entirely transparent. And what you describe as “assumption” is often more a case of inference or gut instinct.

  63. 63
    katstevens on 10 Oct 2014 #

    #40 & #61 The more I feel something is [10], the generally harder it is to describe in words why that’s the case. Instinct? A sudden formation of neuron pathways? While pulling apart why something is awesome and attempting to explain it to others can contribute to your enjoyment of it, so can the baffling realisation that something so simple and relentless can flick your switch in the same way as the blimmin’ Bolero.

  64. 64
    punctum on 10 Oct 2014 #

    The reason why writers get in a flap with non-lyrics-based music is because they by and large don’t have any musical training, as opposed to the Eng Lit most appear to have studied at university (hence the stock reliance on lyric as meaning/significance carrier). If you are a trained musician you can spot exactly what’s happening in a specific piece of music and make a reasonably good guess at why it’s happening. The downside is that detailed technical musical analysis tends to be a turnoff for readers so the challenge for the music writer is to strike a balance between informative and entertaining.

  65. 65
    Rory on 10 Oct 2014 #

    @64 Bang on. I always remember a reader’s response to a review I wrote for a student mag many moons ago: she wrote that I must be a “really boring political-type person” because I’d lauded a song she disliked on the album and dissed another that she liked. But although I’d noted the former song’s lyrics with interest and approval, my main reason for liking the song was its music, which in hindsight I could see I hadn’t written about at all because I didn’t have the language. Similarly, I disliked the other song for its music, not for its lyrics, and yet her defence of it was all about its heartfelt lyrical message. Dancing about architecture, we were.

    This is a problem for someone whose longtime favourite musician is predominantly an instrumentalist whose occasional lyrics are notoriously rubbish: how on earth can I explain why his music matters to me? We can’t all spend years in music training in order to be able to talk authoritatively about music.

    Or perhaps we can and should. Maybe we should expect all our kids to get a musical education that gives them the language they need to talk about it sensibly, even if they don’t have the ability to make music themselves, just as we try to with English and other core subjects. (See also: visual art. Cue rant about undervaluing of the creative arts in school today, fist-shaking at Gove, etc.)

  66. 66
    Tom on 10 Oct 2014 #

    As Punctum says, the trick is to do it entertainingly. Certainly, more should try. Musicology is one of – but not the only – underrepresented skillset in music writing, though it may be the most crucial: but programming and the technical elements of production, marketing and PR, choreography and stagecraft – all areas where the contributions of genuine experts could make a difference.

    I think as a writer you have to start by owning your knowledge and admitting your gaps. I’m obviously not a musicologist at all, for instance, but I also don’t have a lit crit background – my degree was history and my career has been in the research and communications biz. (Speaking personally, I think Popular has improved over time as I’ve loosened up more about embracing the historical approach and including that in the entries. But then I would think that!)

  67. 67
    Steve Mannion on 10 Oct 2014 #

    #63 I remember ‘No Limit’ getting a chain of “TEN TEN TEN” responses and thinking “yeah but whyyyy tho” just a bit. I would’ve for something I like more too but I do like to think that everyone has their equivalent of this even if they do show the working.

    A lot of us have a clear preference for the kind of thing tracks like ‘Pump Up The Volume’, ‘No Limit’ or ‘Flat Beat’ represent (all different from each other but also clear connections). I’m probably too strict about dishing out 10’s personally – but that’s just part of my own Popular fun :)

  68. 68
    Tom on 10 Oct 2014 #

    I have been too ungenerous with 10s, to be honest. Britney joins “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Stand And Deliver” on the list of 9s I should probably have gone one higher on.

  69. 69
    punctum on 10 Oct 2014 #

    The trouble is that if you give enough records a ten, then the mark stops being unique and special, and it should really be reserved for those number ones which *cringeworthy management jargon alert* go the extra mile.

  70. 70
    Rory on 10 Oct 2014 #

    Tom @66: I think (hope) it’s clear to those of us who aren’t market researchers that your background in that area has been enormously valuable for this project, and I suspect is what’s keep you at it for 10+ years. When there’s a stretch of duds there’s only so many ways you can say “I don’t like this much”, but even with those entries you’ve found interesting and insightful things to say about the songs’ broader context thanks to your MR background. This entry is a case in point, really (not that you thought it was a dud; but it has interesting things to say even for readers who do). I have a feeling that this can only strengthen as we move solidly into the era that overlaps with your own career, when you will have been thinking about each new number one in this way as they happened rather than forming your responses in hindsight. It’ll certainly keep me reading through coming stretches of number ones I’ve never heard before.

    Right, that’s enough flattery. But I think you’re quite right about owning your knowledge and admitting your gaps. We see it in our collective comments, too, where different commenters offer insights into different aspects of the songs. I suspect it’s also why many of us delve into autobiographical anecdotes for our comments: we may not have much to bring to the table for particular entries that others haven’t said or couldn’t say better, but we do have our unique experiences of this track at that time in that place. As a reader, I find those valuable too: each comments thread is collecting a kind of folk history of each track, the UK-number-ones equivalent of a bunch of social researchers going out with their tape recorders to interview WW2 veterans.

    @68: “Stand and Deliver”: yes! One of mine.

  71. 71
    weej on 10 Oct 2014 #

    I’ve been thinking about how to answer Paulito at #40’s challenge for a couple of days now, and am still sort of stuck, but not for most of the reasons put out upthread. Firstly I genuinely do think this is a ’10′, even after rethinks and relistens, and I genuinely *do* think there’s something new going on with the track which differentiates it from other French house and the cheeky lounge music of Mr Scruff, etc. Putting my finger on exactly what that is though, well that isn’t easy – as Kat correctly says at #63, the closer something is to a ’10′, the harder it is to explain why. Punctum at #64 has a good point that lack of training in music means that we lack the vocabulary to explain why something works or doesn’t, but while I’m fascinated to hear Howard Goodall talk about the use of the Dorian mode in ‘Eleanor Rigby’, I suspect this approach would fall down with ‘Flat Beat’. Any attempt to strip it down to its components would surely result in the essence going missing somewhere, I fear, the tropes and precursors aren’t there to lead us in our deconstruction. It’s just a nice, odd sound that I enjoy a lot. I know that isn’t helpful, but you have to trust me that this is sincerely how I feel about it.

  72. 72
    Rory on 10 Oct 2014 #

    Weej @71: My dad used to have a photocopy in his studio, which I wish was online somewhere but isn’t, of a one-page comic depicting a student potter’s defence of her work in front of a group of chin-stroking art profs who were trying to get her to explain its worth in formal art-theory language. They kept poking and prodding her using more and more convoluted terminology, while she struggled for words, in the end saying: “Um, I think it’s nice, I like the shapes.” (Followed by further panels of them tearing their hair out and pushing her out the door.) Every time I find myself struggling to explain what I see in something, I think of that.

    (The cartoonist was Gaynor Cardew, who I’m sorry to learn is now the late Gaynor Cardew. One day I’ll find out whether Dad still has the photocopy, and get it out there.)

  73. 73
    iconoclast on 10 Oct 2014 #

    @60’s invocation of the sadly departed IMac brings to mind a pertinent question which has been floating around in my mind since before I started adding my tuppence-ha’penny to Popular: is it correct for the Critic to pass judgement on something in a genre to which s/he does not otherwise listen? Slightly rephrased: how much value is there in the opinion of a Classical music purist on a simple pop song, or of a teenybopper on someone’s Unfinished Symphony? Is it correct to judge, say, “Flat Beat” by the same standards as, say, “Penny Lane”? And if not, why not, and what are the correct standards, and why are they correct, and who gets to decide?

    I think I should shut up now.

  74. 74
    Ed on 10 Oct 2014 #

    @73 Personally I enjoy reading Penny Lane fans’ views on Flat Beat, and vice versa.

    As you imply, it’s ridiculous to start insisting that there are “correct” critical standards for approaching music, or any other art. It may be that some approaches are more interesting and productiver than others, but I certainly don’t think that means only techno experts can express opinions on techno.

    Put another way, I think it could be quite interesting to approach Pet Sounds as if it were a heavy metal album.

    I really like Rory’s point @70: the heterogeneity of the set of UK number ones is one of the features that makes Popular interesting, and the Mass Observation-style diversity of views is what makes the comments worth reading.

  75. 75
    PurpleKylie on 11 Oct 2014 #

    I remember the ads very vividly. As I was still a kid at that point I of course loved the Flat Eric puppet and thought the song itself was strange but enjoyable, I remember at a school disco I was sat in a chair and just nodded like Flat Eric did through the whole song.

    As an adult who’s more knowledgeable of the French House scene it kinda makes me glad that such a song made it to #1 in this country, even if it was only for that puppet.

  76. 76
    thefatgit on 13 Oct 2014 #

    So it’s RIP Mark Bell. Only a few days ago LFO was mentioned on this thread. Thanks to Tom for the heads-up by posting “We Are Back” on This Is My Jam.

  77. 77
    punctum on 13 Oct 2014 #

    From the other end of the decade, more or less, yet LFO said so much more to me about life as I knew it than Westlife. Not to mention MB’s producing of Bjork’s unassailable Homogenic.

  78. 78
    ciaran on 25 Nov 2014 #

    Not really much to say about this.Its had a big critical reappraisal recently.

    I liked the french dance scene of the late 90s a lot but I’m fairly indifferent to this.Indebted highly to its advert. Almost the sound of a genre too pleased with itself .A bit of a swansong for Levi’s and the charts. The kind of thing commercialbreaksandbeats /shazam was invented for.

    On the plus side it’s not a con trick like Babylon Zoo and not the worst thing about 99 so 5.

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