Retromania: Pop culture's Addiction to its Own Past. (New Simon Reynolds book).

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there has been an 80's revival going on since 1990

I first became aware of it with this album, which came out in '96, by which time the early '80s signifiers were distinctly retro, were distinctly of the past.

timellison, Monday, 25 April 2011 00:41 (2 years ago) Permalink

I've always thought of eighties revivalism as ramping up around 1997 - early nu-electro (e.g. IF), indie synth pop revivalism (e.g. The Pulsars), "Your Woman" at the top of the charts.

The only early 90s eighties revivalism I can think of is The Magnetic Fields. What else?

Tim F, Monday, 25 April 2011 00:48 (2 years ago) Permalink

US cover is much worse than the UK one.

I was about to disagree, but then I saw the apostrophes in the years.

jaymc, Monday, 25 April 2011 00:54 (2 years ago) Permalink

The alt-rock radio station I listened to in the early '90s had (ca. 1993-94) an '80s hour every day at noon, in which they played mostly college-rock/new-wave stuff like the Violent Femmes or the B-52s or Wall of Voodoo.

jaymc, Monday, 25 April 2011 01:04 (2 years ago) Permalink

"The only early 90s eighties revivalism I can think of is The Magnetic Fields. What else?"

well there was a carry over from the 80's to the 90's, but new people making goth and industrial and ebm and other 80's strains ran with the 80's sounds. not strictly retro but similar enough and most of their inspiration was 80's-derived.

scott seward, Monday, 25 April 2011 01:14 (2 years ago) Permalink

kinda like how younger people (or non-western people from japan or south america who came to the party late) started making '68 psych in '72.

scott seward, Monday, 25 April 2011 01:15 (2 years ago) Permalink

well there was a carry over from the 80's to the 90's, but new people making goth and industrial and ebm and other 80's strains ran with the 80's sounds. not strictly retro but similar enough and most of their inspiration was 80's-derived.

Not really revivalism though, right? Like, it's more the equivalent of post-Nickleback bands always still sounding like 1997, yeah?

Tim F, Monday, 25 April 2011 01:33 (2 years ago) Permalink

okay i'm bored and being critical but thats okay cuz critics can be critical right? but this from the blurb just keeps sticking out:

"and that although earlier eras had their own obsessions with antiquity - the Renaissance with its admiration for Roman and Greek classicism, the Gothic movement's invocations of medievalism"

soooooooooooo, correct me if i'm wrong, but both the renaisssance and old school goth were periods of, like, 300+ years? can you really even judge the modern pop era yet? there was a whole lot of friggin' derivative lute music going around for a loooooooooooong time way back when.

scott seward, Monday, 25 April 2011 01:35 (2 years ago) Permalink

Haha -- the eighties revival on my college radio station started in '93! A year after the first Living in Oblivion comp. A Flock of Seagulls, Adam Ant, Romeo Void, Spandau Ballet, etc were already taxonomized as "eighties."

My mom is all about capital gains tax butthurtedness (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 25 April 2011 01:37 (2 years ago) Permalink

"Not really revivalism though, right?"

right, but music identified with an earlier time. using the sounds and techniques of that time. like dixieland bands in the 40s and 50s. there were people who played it at the time of its origin and there were younger people in dixieland revival bands. just as there were younger industrial and goth people in the 90's and beyond who aren't strictly speaking nostalgia acts but whose music will always be identified with an earlier time.

scott seward, Monday, 25 April 2011 01:41 (2 years ago) Permalink

I mean contemporary artists signifying "eighties" in an explicitly revivalist sense.

soooooooooooo, correct me if i'm wrong, but both the renaisssance and old school goth were periods of, like, 300+ years? can you really even judge the modern pop era yet? there was a whole lot of friggin' derivative lute music going around for a loooooooooooong time way back when.

Without knowing enough about these eras to comment, I think it's probably fair to postulate that:

(a) the past becomes "the past" culturally much faster now than ever before;
(b) the cycles of revivalism have also sped up over the last 40 years or so, and now double over each other; but
(c) such revivals are still "revivals" (at least initially) and so can be distinguished from, say, periods of slow development of largely derivative music; and certainly
(d) having regard to the above, creates a dynamic rather distinct from previous historical obsessions with the past, such that the answer "but revivalism has always and will always be with us" does not dissolve the point of difference the writer is trying to capture.

Tim F, Monday, 25 April 2011 01:42 (2 years ago) Permalink

The past becomes "the past" much faster as we age, and we're all at or approaching Simon's age.

My mom is all about capital gains tax butthurtedness (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 25 April 2011 01:44 (2 years ago) Permalink

yeah, i mean the evolution of sound and music in the 20th century was so blindingly fast, like a mad race, and its kinda crazy to think that it would keep that speed up. people's brains need time to grow more and also internalize all the stuff that happened in the last 100 years. a lot happened!

scott seward, Monday, 25 April 2011 01:45 (2 years ago) Permalink

right, but music identified with an earlier time. using the sounds and techniques of that time. like dixieland bands in the 40s and 50s. there were people who played it at the time of its origin and there were younger people in dixieland revival bands. just as there were younger industrial and goth people in the 90's and beyond who aren't strictly speaking nostalgia acts but whose music will always be identified with an earlier time.

Again, though, isn't that distinct from the notion of "retro" in terms of travelling back in time to bring something back to the present?

Like, Phil Collins doing "You Can't Hurry Love" in the 80s was "retro", Marillion crafting odes to Selling England By The Pound was not.

The key difference being an essentially unbroken line of continuity in the second case, with the implied underlying statement "this sound has not changed (substantially) and ought not to change."

Whereas retro always carries with it the implicit acknowledgment of jumping back over all sorts of contrary developments in between.

Tim F, Monday, 25 April 2011 01:46 (2 years ago) Permalink

hmmm, i'll have to think about that. phil's cover always seemed very much of its time to me!

scott seward, Monday, 25 April 2011 01:48 (2 years ago) Permalink

The past becomes "the past" much faster as we age, and we're all at or approaching Simon's age.

I meant in the past 100 years.

I'd say actually the opposite of the above possibly - in line with Tom's piece on the long past and the short past.

Tim F, Monday, 25 April 2011 01:48 (2 years ago) Permalink

but i get you. 50's rock DID stop. in the early 60's. and by the mid 60's it was "oldies" music. and has been ever since. but people still don't call 1976-style punk bands "revival" acts because there is a continuous line. it never stopped completely.

scott seward, Monday, 25 April 2011 01:50 (2 years ago) Permalink

did it really? I always thought that Sha Na Na, Bryan Ferr's These Foolish Things, Bowie's Pin Ups and a host of cover albums by the Band and Nilsson from the same period showed how by the early seventies rock had formed a canon.

My mom is all about capital gains tax butthurtedness (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 25 April 2011 01:52 (2 years ago) Permalink

*Ferry's

My mom is all about capital gains tax butthurtedness (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 25 April 2011 01:52 (2 years ago) Permalink

Yeah I think implicit in a revival is the idea that something has gone out of fashion. Once it's revived it never really falls out of fashion again I think.

80s revivalism stopped signifying 80s revivalism once the (full-fledged) revival era had become as long as the era it was reviving. It is now substantially longer.

but people still don't call 1976-style punk bands "revival" acts because there is a continuous line.

The closest thing to a revival would be the 2001 "new rock revolution" (with the caveat that it was by no means all 1976) - because what was not continuous was this music dominating the critical (and to a lesser extent commercial) sphere, even though bands of a similar nature had been floating around during the entire intervening period.

Tim F, Monday, 25 April 2011 01:55 (2 years ago) Permalink

i'd like to read the book cuz i want to know how much simon goes into how people USE the past now. if they use it differently now that they have a seemingly infinite amount of past sources to plunder. people can pinpoint one year in one music scene's life in one place in the world and study it comprehensively and never leave their couch. what does that do to music and how people deal with that information. or does it make any difference. it makes it easier to be knowledgeable about the past obviously. don't know if it makes for better music.

scott seward, Monday, 25 April 2011 01:55 (2 years ago) Permalink

i think it does make for shorter attention spans. it takes time for a "movement" to grow.

scott seward, Monday, 25 April 2011 01:59 (2 years ago) Permalink

how people USE the past now. if they use it differently now

I don't know. Did Sha Na Na use the past in a distinctly different way than Xeno and Oaklander?

timellison, Monday, 25 April 2011 02:02 (2 years ago) Permalink

um, maybe?

scott seward, Monday, 25 April 2011 02:04 (2 years ago) Permalink

One of the reasons I'm interested in the specificity of the idea of "retro" is that I don't feel like pop culture is very explicitly retro. Like, when Lil Wayne samples Haddaway I don't think he's doing it because he expects it to remind people of Haddaway; rather, it's more that the source material chimes in with the current sound so as to make it a logical hook to plunder. It doesn't signify "the past" that strongly to me.

Was it always like this? Is this what you mean about Phil, Scott? That his Supremes cover didn't actually call to mind the 60s at the time?

In dance music definitely there has been a shift: 10 years ago you could talk sensibly about various strains of classicism and traditionalism and revivalism, but these have all have been done so much now that it all codes as this kind of hazy contemporaneity, music doesn't code so clear as present-focused or past-focused any more.

Tim F, Monday, 25 April 2011 02:06 (2 years ago) Permalink

yeah, i don't think phil was going for straight-up nostalgia. like sha na na were. it was a very modern cover of an old song. obviously people would be reminded of the old song, but i think he just liked the song! i dunno. i don't things now are all that retro now either actually. especially in the undie/indie world. people are using old sources, but they aren't using motown, they are refrerencing pretty obscure stuff that a lot of people have never heard in the first place. this is true of rap and other beat-derived music too. and modern r&b too.

scott seward, Monday, 25 April 2011 02:10 (2 years ago) Permalink

To be fair the clip rather hit you over the head with the revivalism angle:

Tim F, Monday, 25 April 2011 02:12 (2 years ago) Permalink

strict retro re-creates almost totally. like The Faint did with 80's stuff. people who steal a synth line from a Goblin track aren't retro. they just know a cool sound when they hear it. and as we all know theft is timeless.

scott seward, Monday, 25 April 2011 02:12 (2 years ago) Permalink

In dance music definitely there has been a shift: 10 years ago you could talk sensibly about various strains of classicism and traditionalism and revivalism, but these have all have been done so much now that it all codes as this kind of hazy contemporaneity, music doesn't code so clear as present-focused or past-focused any more.

yeah - after ten years of instant digital availability the history of pop music feels more like a continuum than discrete eras

donut pitch (m coleman), Monday, 25 April 2011 02:14 (2 years ago) Permalink

yeah, totally. about phil. but it sounded perfectly normal next to huey lewis and john cougar and john fogerty or whoever on 80's pop radio. it was totally in keeping with the 80's thing. it really was a modern cover.

scott seward, Monday, 25 April 2011 02:15 (2 years ago) Permalink

Collins also, unwittingly, sold a song from his past back to fans. It worked as a gesture to the fans his age who remembered the Supremes and were already getting teary-eyed about their lost youth, and to young'uns like me and Scott just discovering the Supremes.

My mom is all about capital gains tax butthurtedness (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 25 April 2011 02:16 (2 years ago) Permalink

but it sounded perfectly normal next to huey lewis and john cougar and john fogerty or whoever on 80's pop radio. it was totally in keeping with the 80's thing. it really was a modern cover.

Yeah I can see how a revival of early motown was just like a logical extension of all sorts of tendencies in 80s pop (thesis: eurythmics as singlehandedly summarising the 80s' drift from future to past).

Today's equivalent (though not as good as Phil) would be "The Time (Dirty Bit)" - which sounds very 2010/2011 if only because so much contemporary music is informed by the 80s with greater or lesser degrees of consciousness and intentionality.

Tim F, Monday, 25 April 2011 02:19 (2 years ago) Permalink

(thesis: eurythmics as singlehandedly summarising the 80s' drift from future to past).

Reynolds and Marcello Carlin would say that the success of Eurythmics signaled the ossification of New Pop or something -- the duo's obsession with The Canon, ec.

My mom is all about capital gains tax butthurtedness (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 25 April 2011 02:21 (2 years ago) Permalink

what about those godawful Motown covers by James Taylor and Linda Rondstart in the 70s. more like clumsy appropriations I suppose - or hijackings.

and the retro-soul trend in 80s black pop. Nelson George coined the term "retro nuevo" in a Village Voice review of Regina Belle

donut pitch (m coleman), Monday, 25 April 2011 02:22 (2 years ago) Permalink

it's the post-modern thing, no? probably starting with rap, i guess. collage. pastiche. use anything and everything for effect. pop art. whatever. everything is fair game. its simpler in a lot of ways, but its also confusing to sort out. and post punk/indie-rock its also in many ways the only choice a lot of creative people in the underground have because most of them can't read music or play actual instruments and that has changed the game in many ways. people don't sit in rooms practicing scales ten hours a day like they used to unless they are metal/classical/jazz musicians. in many ways, people are incapable of aping the past because they can't play the past. and the people who DO ape the past faithfully are fully-fledged revival artists playing old blues, old rock, old folk, etc. older forms that are more folk art now than anything and not really critically or (pop)culturally relevant to a lot of people.

scott seward, Monday, 25 April 2011 02:27 (2 years ago) Permalink

christ that was some sort of x-post but hell if i can remember to what. i went away for a smoke...

scott seward, Monday, 25 April 2011 02:28 (2 years ago) Permalink

and yeah the reissue phenomena is amazing and all that, but just because people are obsessed with collecting every afro-pop and afro-psych and cumbia-psych comp that comes out doesn't translate into people everywhere MAKING that music again. cuz, like i said, lots of people wouldn't know how. it does make for cooler record collections though, and i'm all for that. and a wider awareness of past coolness. maybe some of that will rub off. we can only hope.

scott seward, Monday, 25 April 2011 02:32 (2 years ago) Permalink

My problem with current (Top 40) music is that it's too stagnant and everyone are using the same handful of producers or not borrowing songs from other writers once in a while as an effort to "keep it real" so the artists end up burning out faster.

Leopard on the Cheetos Bag (MintIce), Monday, 25 April 2011 02:32 (2 years ago) Permalink

what about those godawful Motown covers by James Taylor and Linda Rondstart in the 70s. more like clumsy appropriations I suppose - or hijackings.

Along with Motown, how about the endless hijacking of Great American Songbook?

Leopard on the Cheetos Bag (MintIce), Monday, 25 April 2011 02:36 (2 years ago) Permalink

My problem with current (Top 40) music is that it's too stagnant and everyone are using the same handful of producers or not borrowing songs from other writers once in a while as an effort to "keep it real" so the artists end up burning out faster.

waht

My mom is all about capital gains tax butthurtedness (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 25 April 2011 02:37 (2 years ago) Permalink

modern pop and r&b totally cyborgian 22nd century stuff more often then not. even when it steals from, like, 90's trance tracks.

scott seward, Monday, 25 April 2011 02:39 (2 years ago) Permalink

If there's a phenomenon that distinguishes this period from others is the degree to which "Top 40" is a discrete entity with which no listener has to engage unless the exposure is impossible to escape.

My mom is all about capital gains tax butthurtedness (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 25 April 2011 02:40 (2 years ago) Permalink

the future is now as far as that stuff goes. but maybe even futurism is old hat.

scott seward, Monday, 25 April 2011 02:40 (2 years ago) Permalink

Alfred, to get back to one of your earlier points, when I hear the Association, it's not just me interacting with some text in 2001. There's also this awareness that I am NOT interacting with the text in 1967, when it was created, and that the song, in a way, belongs to that time.

timellison, Monday, 25 April 2011 02:40 (2 years ago) Permalink

pretty much everything is a discrete entity now.

scott seward, Monday, 25 April 2011 02:41 (2 years ago) Permalink

I mean -- it's easier for, say, an avid Pitchforker to avoid "Top 40" than it was in 1989. The success of "Paper Planes" only seems weird when I remember that a half dozen "Just Like Heaven"s and "So Alive"s and other weirdo college radio one-offs infiltrated the Top 40 regularly.

My mom is all about capital gains tax butthurtedness (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 25 April 2011 02:42 (2 years ago) Permalink

velko, Monday, 25 April 2011 02:42 (2 years ago) Permalink

i learn something new from the past every day. i'm inspired by the past every day. but i don't live there. i live here. i think that's true of a lot of people.

scott seward, Monday, 25 April 2011 02:43 (2 years ago) Permalink

Alfred, to get back to one of your earlier points, when I hear the Association, it's not just me interacting with some text in 2001. There's also this awareness that I am NOT interacting with the text in 1967, when it was created, and that the song, in a way, belongs to that time.

Yeah, I get that. If you meant to say "yet" in that last clause I THINK I get you.

My mom is all about capital gains tax butthurtedness (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 25 April 2011 02:44 (2 years ago) Permalink

no, in part because we're pretty conscious of what every 2004 artist was reviving themselves

da croupier, Thursday, 7 February 2013 19:42 (1 year ago) Permalink

the 12-year-olds-think-rodriguez-is-bob-dylan comment is pretty lol-some though.

not really related but it made me think of when Dylan went to china a couple years back and the young folks in the audience were singing along way more to his newer stuff than the old classics. Thought that was pretty cool.

brimstead, Thursday, 7 February 2013 20:06 (1 year ago) Permalink

i'm guilty of overrating some things because they have a compelling back story or w/e, but ... who cares? back story is part of the fun. i think at this point, that rodriguez album is probably overrated. it's good but not THE MOST AMAZING RECORD YOU NEVER HEARD or anything. but that doesn't mean it's not a fun thing to listen to/think about/etc.

tylerw, Thursday, 7 February 2013 20:09 (1 year ago) Permalink


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