Sometimes anniversaries are interesting; oh, it’s been 50 years since ‘Songs Of Leonard Cohen’ or ‘White Light/White Heat’ came out? Cool. 30 years of ‘Hairway To Steven’? Cool. Jet touring 15 years of ‘Get Born’? Now that just sounds like a punchline.
Seemingly, over the last couple of years the easiest and simplest way to market a band that have fallen out of relevance has become to find an album with a birthday coming up, and tour it, playing a set that contains every song from that album.
This trend started about a decade ago, with seminal bands playing exclusive sets of this nature for All Tomorrow’s Parties – such as Public Enemy and Sonic Youth, to name a couple.
But the past few years have seen this pattern grow to wild proportions, with the likes of Bloc Party, Animal Collective, and Jet all cashing in on it over the past fortnight.
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Maybe I haven’t quite put across how widespread this phenomenon is. This year alone we can all see (deep breath…) Escape The Fate, The Gaslight Anthem, Frightened Rabbit, SUM41, Simple Plan, Garbage, and Gomez tour “classic” albums - I say throwing the word lightly. And if that doesn’t quite quench your nostalgic thirst, you can get in your time machine and go back just 12 months to 2017, where we were treated to 10 years of Milburn, The Hoosiers and The Pigeon Detectives’ first albums, in the form of nationwide tours.
Perhaps I’m too jaded, too cynical, but has anything ever screamed to you ‘lack of ideas’ like Bloc Party, whose last album was greeted by the shrugging of shoulders, playing their not-so-bad debut live? On the 14th anniversary? With only a fraction of the original lineup? Here is a band so wayward, so musically lost, that they can only draw a crowd playing songs a decade and a half old. They can only shift tickets under oath that they won’t play anything from the last ten years.
Bloc Party - and I don’t mean too much disrespect to them, they’re just the best example - also seem to have drummed up some excitement for this Fourteenth Year Anniversary. It was practically frontpage news on every site (including this one!), and the shows sold out in less than a minute.
So, despite the disingenuous nature of this, you’ve got to ask whether its harmful for the UK’s thriving underground to constantly plug old things.
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Simon Reynold’s Retromania is cited so often in think-pieces of this nature but it bears repeating; this obsession with its own past that our culture has is harming its future. This infatuation with the past is particularly prominent in the UK’s indie and punk circles, too, as it’s simply impossible to imagine Brian Eno touring 40 years of ‘Music For Airports’ or The Butthole Surfers playing a 30th Anniversary show for ‘Hairway To Steven’ (although reissues of already widely distributed albums are a matter of their own).
This country has an exceptional guitar music underground – go check out recent albums by Shame, Hookworms, The Magic Gang, and countless others - so it’s genuinely hard to get your head around the fact that people are more interested in seeing Milburn celebrate 10 years of mediocrity, than catch a breaking band on their debut headline tour. It’s bizarre how much nostalgia there is already for the noughties, for not only was it a fairly barren time in comparison to now, it wasn’t actually that long ago.
2018 sees us at a juncture in time where Goat Girl are about to release a debut miles better ‘Silent Alarm’. Alongside that, The Orielles, Girl Ray, and Drahla are making genuinely exciting indie music, Sorry are dropping visual mixtapes like they’re simply litter, and The Fat White Family are preparing to release their third LP.
The UK’s underground is kicking, and really should be celebrating its immediate present. Just let Kele Okereke (and whoever is left in Jet, for that matter) have his mid-life crisis in peace, and leave superstardom to some kids with hopes and bright ideas.
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Words: Cal Cashin
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