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2 Oct 2017

The Fallacy of Britpop's 'Big Four' Revisionism.

Britpop was a glorious era for British and Irish music, when bands from almost every major city in the country were generating enough groundswell to rack up Top 20 and even Top 10 hits regularly, and many of them replicating their home shores success worldwide.
The Radio Industrial Complex hadn't fully kicked into gear - regional stations hadn't been gobbled whole by centralised conglomerates - and the Madchester scene had proved that local areas could flourish on a national stage if given the exposure. And so it proved, if a band from Downpatrick could conquer the Belfast scene, they could find themselves leading the soundtrack to a Hollywood movie starring Ewan McGregor and Cameron Diaz.


For a while in the mid nineties, the charts were flooded with music from across the country that straddled genres from the burgeoning rave/trip hop/house end of the spectrum to Uk hip hop finding it's feet with Mark Morrison, and the album charts awash with records that were recorded in every country of the islands.

Eventually the things ran their natural course, tastes moved on, output from reliable artists veered into the middle of the road, Napster ambushed the business model of an entire industry that refused to embrace the future, 9/11 triggered a diktat that coursed through American radio that implied music was a source of evil, and reality television delivered manufactured music to the masses cheaper, quicker and more reliably than ever before.

So Britpop became a memory, one which has very selectively been shrunk to a Big Four - Oasis, Blur, Pulp and Suede. To narrow one of the most expansive periods in music to four bands is woefully reductive, but what of the Four that were deemed Big. Oasis and Blur were unquestionably the two biggest acts of the era, with their chart battles becoming the stuff of legend, and few bands personified the propulsion of regional music better than Jarvis Cocker's Pulp, who had spent years in Sheffield clubs before hitting the big time.

But Suede? How did they get elevated to this bracket? Yes they had hits, and a massive album, but so did lots of bands. Why not Supergrass, with their records of wall-to-wall hits? Why not Manic Street Preachers, who managed some of the most subversive Number 1 hits in chart history (how many other ones were about the Spanish Civil War)? Why not Ocean Colour Scene?
Was it their alternative credentials? They why not Placebo, or Elastica, or Skunk Anansie? Their pop song-writing sensibilities? Then why not The Beautiful South, or The Lightning Seeds, or The La's, or Divine Comedy, all of whom fit the 'pop' part of the genre's moniker much better than Suede.
And given that Suede's classic lineup with Bernard Butler on guitar had dissolved by 1994,  were they even at their creative best when they were seized by the Britpop tidal wave?

The reason I'm taking umbrage is that people will look back on Britpop, and look to discover more of it. But if the prevailing narrative is that there's a Big Four - an arbitrary number that seems to have been ordained because there was a perceived Big Four in the Premier League (also proven foolish), so let's have a Big Four for everything - people will be less inclined to seek out the breadth of music that was being scattershot across the airwaves at the time. Could you blame a 17 year old going down a Spotify corridor, and assuming that they had got the gist of Britpop because they listened to Suede's greatest hits, given the way they've been artificially promoted to the Champions League spots after the fact? The implication of even having the Big Four, is that everything else was just a sludge of mediocrity that can be bypassed by history. This has undoubtedly happened with many genres before, but this is the one I lived through, and kids today have the greatest access to recorded musical history of any generation, so let's not short change them by skipping over the likes of Sugar-Coated Iceberg.


What other bands should we not allow history to forget? Let me know in the comments!Gamiss Bucket hats from £5 at Gamiss.com
Bucket hats from £5 at Gamiss.com