Analysing David Hesmondhalgh's British popular music and national identity.
After reading his great article, I would like to summarise some important ideas which will make a better idea of the British music nowadays.
David Hesmondhalgh decided to cover latest trends in popular music that increased consciousness of national identity in Britain. Although it is still on top, popular music has changed over the years. For a long time British music was associated with rock music represented by The Beatles and other beat musicians. The 1960s was the time when the music industry was globalised by American corporations promoting their music performed mainly in English. That was the chance for many British musicians to appear on the world stage. Later on, the genre has undergone changes what fructified in development of punk – a genre which was also very popular but could not beat the record of rock – the phenomenon of American and British roots.
Although rock is still very popular it is not dominant anymore. The diversity in British popular music gave birth to many other genres that are much more fashionable nowadays. Hesmondhalgh does not claim to describe all of them but will cover those having the greatest impact on Britishness and British nationalism – certainly it will be indie rock, electronic dance music and so called black British music.
According to the author, music is not just an entertainment but it is rather the way people express their attachment to certain beliefs, views, social groups or preferences. By listening to a particular genre one can manifest its support to a view or, what is also possible, one’s disagreement and difference in opinions. Although this process can be considered as “unconscious or semi-conscious” the reader can still withdraw the conclusion that music has its great ability to unify or divide people. This happened in 1990s when certain groups identified indie rock as a clear consequence of the original rock resembling the changes in the society representing now bigger disagreement to the traditional forms. That also caused the popularisation of electronic dance music which was considered as hedonistic and “connected to a network of global flows of culture”.
There is a clear beginning of Indie Music in Britain. In 1992, there was an interview of Suede singer, Brett Anderson where he explained that the group wanted to thwart the Europeanization and Americanization of British culture. The interview had its comment by Stuart Maconie who said that the group cultivated tradition of celebrating Britain in its artistry, following such bands as the Beatles or the Fall.
That caused a great avalanche of criticism towards American domination and gave effects in sales of local rock bands. This was the time when the term “Britpop” became used widely in music press describing particular trends in music represented by eccentric, usually androgenic and characteristic artists. The genre was highly popularised during the conflict between different types of Britishness.
Although Britpop’s aim was to unify the Britain and find its national identity, the existence of the term caused certain confusions. It was expected that the genre will contain certain features distinguishing it from other genres – this was not possible to achieve because there were no official goals set for the whole movement.
This discourse had more important political impact rather than artistic or musical. First of all, the genre seemed not to be interesting from the aesthetical point of view – the struggle for keeping the pieces British caused development of copying the canon of classical rock. There was nothing new to discover – rather unconscious remixing or rearranging. Britpop, though, brought a great political discussion about British identity. That was a strong motivation to re-establish British nationalism.
This discussion was taken up by the Conservative Party which convinced many Britpop artists to support their opinion that stronger and stronger connection with Europe cause more harm for the British culture than good. By the represents of the Party the artists were to change the Britain’s image as being much more vibrant and positive rather than keeping the post-colonial, pessimistic attitude. Britpop dominated also other aspects of art, e.g. fashion design and fine art. There were struggles for changing the attitude towards British nationalism – it had to be modernised and, what was more important, not exaggerated.
Talking of a unique music genre was supposed to homogenise the society that did not seem to share common values and features. According to the author, the idea failed for three main reasons.
- Firstly, there were certain cracks in distinguishing Englishness from Britishness.
- Secondly, Britpop’s understanding of Britishness was narrowed to white Englishness. - And the latest; the artists could not avoid the phenomenon of mixing of cultures.
These three features created a very narrow discourse that could not fit into the dynamically evolving society.
There was a genre that had a greater impact on the British culture - it was electronic dance music. To be more precise, electronic dance music in Britain meant all the pieces that held beats designed for dancing. For some people this music was supposed to lead people to common respect and freedom, for others it was a great tool to manipulate masses.
Clubbing became more popular because of the increasing interests of the youth. Attending club parties was a way of expressing maturity and freedom. This entertainment was popularised especially among students and cosmopolitans. The other reason for this popularity was the existence of Ecstasy which was one of the factor driving the party. And the last, the new genres were dominating those places. DJs becoming more fluent and encouraged to make more and more difficult to finish mixes had their own piece in this popular movement. That noisy places attracted the attention of the police which brought many people wanting to experience something forbidden.
The cosmopolitan aspect of those places was caused by the anonymity present in the music. Dancing was anonymous and the music also did not seem to represent features of any culture or countries. Dance music was a hybrid of many different flows coming from all around the world. Lack of words allowed artists from other countries to be heard in the UK. This meant that this music was not limited to the British Isles but also anywhere else in the world.
Clubs were source of utopian hedonism – everyone would look for joy and happiness after the cultural changes that were brought in order to make clubbing more attractive. Despite the great popularity of the genre, Britpop, as focused mainly on rock, neglected the impact of dance music.
Also, there was another genre that faced the ignorance of British music society. It was, so called, Black British Music. Just few artists could be described as successful to meet a wider public. One of the causes was domination of American artists in such genres as hip hop. The other is simple ignorance of the white audience which is also represented by many record companies being not likely to invest into black artists. The reason was hidden in history of racism. According to the author, though, racism did not stop black people to dominate the world of dance music – the British were more open for intercultural and interracial dialogue. Jamaican music was the one to create harmony among different races. Britpop discourse, not only ignored ska but also such genres as jungle, ardkore techno and other coming from British multiracial origin.
As a conclusion, David Hesmondhalgh, states that Britpop was an answer for the fear that appeared when Britain became the centre of cultural exchange and thinking that British culture will disappear. It is not easy to track roots of many music genres because of music’s constant evolvement and unimportance of location. According to the author, it is not wise to think that a particular genre will give another chance to the nationalism. Although rock changed the image of Britain to much more positive, it focused on following the classics of rock and marginalised the importance of many other genres.