Originally published here
in October 2005, these pieces represent my earliest (and most confused) writing on UK post-rock. They're worth re-publishing mainly because they take issue with some of Simon's own opinions about what post-rock is/was.
AN OPEN LETTER TO SIMON REYNOLDS (PART ONE?)
I know this sounds like a Half Man Half Biscuit song title. But, seriously, I mean it. I have recently been having an email conversation with Simon on the topic of the early-90s UK post-rock scene - which he was single-handedly responsible for pointing-out the existence of, and naming. It stemmed from a mild resurgence of interest in said scene, particularly an article on Pitchfork (of all places!)
Anyway, seeing as Simon has encouraged me to start blogging again, on a couple of occasions, I though I would post my latest answers in a public forum. I hope he doesn't mind.
One problem. I actually CAN'T open the last email Simon sent and I can't even seem to open the last one I sent to him! This has never happened to me before. My Yahoo account usually works like a dream. Perhaps this is destined never to happen but I'm pretty determined to get there in the end.
As far as I remember, the main comment he made in the last email was that UK post-rock was never destined to have widespread popular appeal or commercial success. Maybe he's right. Certainly, the large audience that now exists for "left-field" music wasn't around back then. In fact it was the moment that UKPR represented that created it, to a large extent. Before 90s post-rock, post-techno etc., it wasn't the case that the audience for experimental music largely consisted of people who were weened on indie rock and electronic dance music. I even remember, at the time, giving up on the melody Maker and starting to read The Wire instead. A truly seminal moment for me and one that generally sums up the transformation of the avant audience from being a small enclave of people interested in contemporary composition and free improv to being a rather larger enclave of jaded indie rockers and burnt-out ravers.
Having said that, post-rock did produce a fair number of catchy pop songs (Disco Inferno's "Sleight of Hand" and Bark Psychosis' "Blue" spring to mind). Certainly, I think the most accessible post-rock songs were a much better, more honest and more compelling commentary on 90s British society than anything produced even by the more intelligent Britpop groups. I guess Moonshake's "Second Hand Clothes" was never going to be a bigger hit than "Common People" but it's still surpising to me that it, and songs like it, didn't garner a substantial cult audience at the time. I suppose the feeling of the nineties was one of surpisingly positive pre-millenial optimism and people didn't want angst-ridden social commentary.
So I guess Bill Clinton is to blame for the commercial failure of UK post-rock.
AN OPEN LETTER TO SIMON REYNOLDS PART TWO
Simon was nice enough to dig out some of the email exchanges that I couldn't access, so I'm able to address a few more of his thoughts on his unloved child UK Post-Rock.
Last time, I wrote about what I think we all agree was the total and utter commercial failure of UK post-rock. This time, I'm going to address one of his other concerns: post-rock's "contraction to basically what it is now, pleasant instrumental music with a tinge of experimentalism (or eclecticism construed as/mistook for experimentalism)".
This is a good point up to a point. All it really amounts to, though is that US post-rock sucked. Most of the British acts either dropped off the face of the earth (Hello? Insides?) or moved into more purely electronic forms (Bark Psychosis becoming Boymerang). Not that some of them didn't also start to suck (I'm thinking of Scorn here, mainly). It's also worth pointing out that there was, to a tiny extent, a second generation of UK post-rock that was divided between those who kept the faith with the original scene (Third Eye Foundation...) and those who aped the American style (Fridge...)
One mistake, I think Simon makes is his association of post-rock with self-conscious futuristicness (if that's a word). I took him up on this and he commented that "well most of the British bands did definitely want to be if not futuristic, then contemporary..." He's both right and wrong here and you have to deconstruct his wording just a tiny bit to know why. His sentence sorta suggests that "futuristic" and " contemporary" mean basically the same thing, which is clearly not true in the literal sense. However, when seen in the context of early-90s experimental rock and dance music, this conflation does make sense, kind of. That is to say, to be self-consciously contemporary in the early 90s was to be de-facto futuristic. It has to do with the birth of the information age and the paradoxical pre-millennial optimism of early 90s life. For Disco Inferno, Bark Psychosis and Moonshake, "giving people something real" inevitably meant embraces recent advances in technology and technology-based music. Other acts, like God and Scorn, were more futuristic per se but still very much within the framework of the early-90s discourse on what "the future" was going to entail. Their brand of Futurism was very much of its time.
This leads me to my other point. Simon has always seen post-rock as being distinctly anti-rockist but I would say that UK post-rock is specifically an example of what happens when someone applies an extremely rockist attitude to making experimental music. In that sense, I think it fits in with Simon's concept of Neo-Rockism rather nicely.
Basically, my argument about UK post-rock was that it was not futuristic or iconoclastic so much as it was an attempt to be natural and "real" in a more honest and thoughtful way than is usual in rock music. Simon has suggested that Britpop was a more real reflection of British rock life and music at the time, which is a de facto truth, I suppose. Nevertheless, Britpop was drenched in artifice, irony, retro-referencing and almost entirely overwhelming crapness. It did a bad job of capturing the truth of early-90s British life but provided the white middle class rock consumers with a cosy, matey vision of Britain that made them feel very cosy and not a little proud. I think I covered my feelings about this issue in the last post, so I'll leave it at that.
That's all for now. Questions and comments are welcomed.