Interzone 2002

In 2002, nothing much happened. Again. Those fans and writers who like to plot pop history in eleven- or thirteen- or eight-year cycles were once more left looking like cultists, forever trudging up hills in search of an end of the world that never comes. Wishing for a new world may be more sympathetic than longing for apocalypse, of course, but the truth is we’re stuck with the one we’ve got.

FT Readers’ Tracks Of The Year – Matthew Perpetua
The Flaming Lips “Fight Test”
Taylor Savvy “Share The Dream”
Clipse “Young Boy”
Spoon “Something To Look Forward To”
Shimmer Kids Underpop Association “Another Planet”
Banjo-V “Experimental Fashion”
Imperial Teen “Our Time”
Guided By Voices “Back To The Lake”
Weezer “Keep Fishin'”
Cam’Ron “Hey Ma”
Scarface “On My Block”
Shakedown “At Night”
Scissor Sisters “Comfortably Numb”
Kylie Minogue “Come Into My World” (Fischerspooner remix)
Electrelane “I Want To Be President”
U-God “Wildstyle Superfreak”
Clinic “Mr. Moonlight”
Wilco “Radio Cure”
The Walkmen “Stop Talking”
The Kills “Wait”
Sonic Youth “Karenology”

Plenty of people would disagree with me. The editor of the NME, for a start. For Conor McNicholas, 2002 was the year the future arrived, in the peerlessly punky forms of The Vines, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Datsuns, The This, The That. Raw rock’n’roll selling again by the – well, there’s the thing. A creative shot in the arm for rock is a welcome event, but so far the new rock n roll has made less of a dent in the public consciousness than Britpop did, and Britpop was hardly a musical revolution. Rock, and punk, and soul, and dance, and hip-hop, and any of the great macro-genres that act as a palette for our tastes became important because they created a public for themselves that was big enough to make everyone else listen. Is anything likely to have the clout to do that again? I’m not convinced.

Playing devil’s advocate for a second I think years without ‘big things’ are often more enjoyable, less stressful, for a critic than the times when everything’s moving fast and you find yourself rushing to keep up. Especially nowadays. For all the parallels drawn between 2002 and a doldum-year like 1975, there are two massive differences which have changed the way critics and listeners alike can approach pop. One is the unbounded expansion of CD reissue programs, which mean that almost anything (check Marcello Carlin’s fine ‘best compilations of 2002’ for an idea of the breadth available) from pop’s past is now commercially available. The other, of course, is the Internet, where worldwide mail order and file-sharing have completely changed the dynamics of what’s available to who.

You know all that, right? But think of all the punk-kids-growing-up stories you’ve read. A common theme is how limited their listening was – you really had to work to find out about underground, or overseas scenes, and even if you’d read about the records in question actually hearing them was yet another struggle. So the crapness or quality of the big-name bands – the ones your local shop would actually stock – would have been that much more important. The part of 1975 that played out in public stunk, so the whole year stunk.

FT Readers’ Tracks Of The Year – Phil Turnbull
Wire – “Spent”
Beck – “Paper Tiger”
Liars – “Mr Your On Fire Mr”
Jim O’Rourke – “Get A Room”
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Bang”
Essendon Airport – “How Low Can You Go?”
Tarwater – “Be Late”
The New Pornographers – “Mass Romantic”
Wilco – “I’m The Man Who Loves You”
Sonic Youth – “Disconnection Notice”
Elvis Costello – “Tear Off Your Own Head”
Aimee Mann – “Guys Like Me”
The Notwist – “One Step Inside Doesn’t Mean You Understand”
Cornelius – “Smoke”
The Hives – “Hate To Say I Told You So”
Asa-Chang and Junray – “Tsunginepu To Ittemita”
Boards of Canada – “Gyroscope”
Clinic – “Walking With Thee”
Pere Ubu – “Slow Walkin’ Daddy”

In 2002, CD reissues remove the barrier of time, internet mail order removes the barrier of space, and increasingly – though you need to be able to afford computer and connection – MP3s are removing the financial risk of just diving in and exploring any nook of music you like. Of course nothing – not even bulletin boards, alas – can replace the explosive vibe, vitality, and mystery of a scene in its big-bang stages, but those blue moons really should stop being the driving force of music criticism. Year by year, the ‘celestial jukebox’ becomes more of a reality, and we are all dilettantes now.

And 2002 was a very, very good year to be a dilettante, partly because most of the musicians seemed to be too. Thoughout the 90s there was always something new happening in electronic music, or hip-hop, or R&B – it was easy to dismiss stuff that sounded ‘retro’, narrow your focus down and concentrate on innovation. Not this year: from electropop through bootleggers to the Neptunes to the drum’n’bass revival, everyone had one eye on the past. But mostly they were being playful, joking as well as invoking. Philip Sherburne has made the gloomy suggestion that the last fifty years of pop have been a blip, a bubble of energy and creativity that will now fade into mediocrity and memories. But you can flip that argument: what if the last fifty years was a creative period in which the basic tools of pop – amplification, electronics, sampling,etc. – were getting established, and with that done the good stuff starts now?

FT Readers’ Tracks Of The Year – Job De Wit
Massive Attack / Mos Def – “I Against I”
LCD Soundsystem – “Losing My Edge”
El-P – “Deep Space 9mm”
Nas – “Made You Look”
Digital – “True Natty”
Moguai – “U Know Y (Punx Squad Edit)”
Chicks On Speed – “Fashion Rules”
The Cinematic Orchestra with Fontella Bass – “All That You Give”
Echelon Network – “Direction”
Seiji featuring Lyric L – “Loose Lips”
PD Syndicate – “Ruff Like Me (AD Vocal Mix)”
N.O.R.E. – “Nothin'”

Both positions are extreme – too extreme – but listening to 2002’s output I’ve got to lean to the latter. An odd thing happened to my ears this year – instead of hearing new records as if they sounded like old ones, I kept hearing old records that sounded absolutely contemporary, or even better hearing records and not being able to trust my judgement as to when they were made. Chromeo’s ‘Needy Girl’, for instance, utterly disoriented me – a Cameo-style piece of electronic soul-funk, I assumed it was from ’84. Then I thought, hold on, maybe it’s a pastiche from this year, and then I thought no, back to ’84 again – this time entirely convinced. It is a 2002 track, as it happens – but it summed up the year for me, a strange interzone in which any and every style might return to life and matter again for as long as it could hold your attention. If everything’s retro, how can anything be?

* * *Over the next two or three weeks I’ll be posting my write-up of my favourite 2002 tracks to Freaky Trigger. I made a list and cut it down to 101 – some tracks represent entire albums, some albums are represented in near-entirety. I ranked them for fun and to make it more exciting – but every track there could slip 20 places up or down depending on mood. The list specifically and intentionally lacks authority. No critic anymore can keep up with everything, and the non-specialist should stop pretending to – we are lucky enough to live in a pop world where by typing ‘soca 2002’ or ‘microhouse 2002’ or ‘dancehall 2002’ or anything 2002 into a file-sharer’s search function will get you two or three fabulous tracks at least. There is so much going on, for me to say these were the 100 ‘Best Tracks’ of 2002 would be as stupid as walking along a beach for an hour and declaring that you’d found the ‘100 Best Seashells’. These are just songs that I enjoyed and I’d recommend you download. I wasn’t an expert on music this year; I was just a traveler, wandering around, taking the odd note.

One final note: personally 2002 was a red-letter year for me. One of the best holidays of my life; a move back to London; new purpose at work; opportunities aplenty; so many fantastic days, nights, weekends out with old and new friends; and best and most-hoped-for of all, Isabel coming out of four often ghastly years of illness and our setting a date to get married. The last couple of months I’ve been walking on air – this colours my perception of 2002, and my selections. In less happy times, and I’m sure they’ll come again, you’ll find less happy music on lists I make – no apologies for that, or for ignoring it right now. Thankyou for reading Freaky Trigger, for bothering with my lists and opinions, and I hope you’ll find at least one or two things that make you curious.