Monday, May 12, 2014

Britpop and the Shine compilations: as broad a church as your indie disco requires

Looking back at Britpop from the vantage point of the 21st century, it feels much more like a moment than a movement. Many of the bands were the same bunch of Madchester survivors, shoegazers and post-grunge rock outfits we were listening to anyway. Just reshuffled and dealt for public consumption in a new pattern.

This eclecticism, and this continuity with the past, is what stands out for me in Britpop, despite media attempts then and now to impose this or that narrative upon it. And nothing reflects this better in my view than the Shine compilations.

Thanks be to Wikipedia, the track listings from all ten Shines, 1995-1998 can now be viewed online. Go on, have a look. Any nods or winces of recognition? Sighs at the inclusion of your then-favourite band? 

Manchester calling

The first one - the ur-Shine, if you will - supports our vision of a Britpop steeped in continuity. It was certainly not shy about joining the dots between the turn of the 90's indie-dance boom and the uptick in chart-bothering several years later. So while Blur and Oasis - the conscious and unconscious artists of Britpop - are both present from the beginning, so are New Order, James, The Inspirals, The Farm, Electronic, Charlatans and more. 

All of whom or their offshoots continued to make Britpop-aligned music throughout the period, by the by, and continue to feature in Shine after Shine.

As broad a church as your typical indie disco

What these compilations also dispel is the idea that Britpop was simply parochial in its tastes. They include a fair selection of American artists (Beck, Belly, Ben Folds Five, Fun Lovin' Criminals, Garbage, Gin Blossoms) as well as those who desperately wanted to be American (hi there, Bush!) and those who for various reasons simply wouldn't have existed without grunge (Placebo, Radiohead and, yes, Suede too)

And then there's the electronic and dance contingent (Republica, Sneaker Pimps, Underworld and the like), reminding us that even Noel Gallagher managed to collaborate with The Chemical Brothers.

To observe that not all of these tracks were much cop, or that their inclusion smacks of tokenism, misses the point. What matters here is that Britpop was as broad a church as your typical indie dancefloor. In fact you had to be willfully perverse to avoid its touch - you'll notice there's nothing by The Auteurs on the Shines.

Fourteen bands you'll have probably forgotten

Given its ancestor worship and the preponderance of established acts, it's perhaps no surprise that Britpop didn't break many bands in its own image.

Take a look at this long list of the fallen in Shine Valhalla: Blameless, Whipping Boy, Salt, Joyrider, Elcka, Ruth, Bawl, Sussed, Geneva, Symposium, Bennet, Jocasta, The Candyskins. Hurricane #1!

Which ones evoke fond memories in you, even if they have nothing to do with the music? For me, it's Bennet, who I saw supporting Number One Cup in 1997 at the Roadmender in Northampton. Happy days.

Can a compilation be worth a thousand words?

To call Shine and its offspring the definitive artefact of the Britpop years is on the face of it laughable. But the fact that they were compiled with no regard for anything other than what would make the best Halls of Residence party makes them much better at managing the continuity and contradiction of the music than your average journalistic or historical narrative.

And by mixing what will last - your Elasticas, Supergrasses and Pulps - with stand-out tracks from the second and third rank bands, Shine does illustrate that Britpop was a time of great pop singles. 

Truth in trivia, then.

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