Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Maggoty Lamb takes a dustpan and brush to NME's 'UK riots' issue

As Britain's alienated young rose up, where was the NME? Watching Wild Beasts and worrying about indie stock, sadly

It's not been the first subject on everyone's mind ? what with the death throes of global capitalism, a complete breakdown of civil order, and England's surprisingly ruthless annexation of the commanding heights of test cricket ? but I do think The Quietus has had an excellent summer. Whether compressing its innate hostility to contemporary chart pop into the satisfyingly pseudo-scientific coinage "the soar", delivering one of the more convincingly heartfelt responses to the grisly demise of Amy Winehouse, or playing host to one of the most considered pieces of anguished neighbourhood reportage produced by the recent riots, the blend of immediacy, emotional commitment and background knowledge attained by this website's best writing should be an example to all.

Across the digital divide at NME, things are ? sadly ? not looking so hot. Under pressure of what I had charitably assumed was a very tight deadline but have just realised wasn't at all, and perhaps as the expression of an understandable desire not to go out onto the smouldering news-stands of Britain with a cover-story about Laura Marling bowling a melon at ten bottles of mineral water (imagine the damage Paul Routledge or David Starkey could have done with that incendiary image of everything that is wrong with Britain today?), a fateful editorial decision was made. The paper's hastily compiled set of responses to the mass disorder that had just unfolded across Britain were bumped up into probably the most disastrously misconceived cover story in NME history (any and all suggestions re possible rivals will be gratefully received ? Danny Kelly's "Yo Boys" strap-line is certainly a live contender).

First, a quintet of banner headlines which might easily have been contributed by The Onion ? or even from beyond the grave by a gleefully satirical Steven Wells ? proclaimed the ominous truth. "Fires Destroy Album Stock Worth Millions", "Riots Devastate UK Indie Music", "Massive Campaign Launched To Save Labels", "Musicians Rush Out In Support" and "How YOU Can Help". Then, inside, Murph from the Wombats worried that the violent disturbances might compromise Liverpool's reputation for being a "vibrant and fun city". But there was also the reassuring news that "[Ex-Busted-false-metal-poster-boy-turned-tragic-troubadour-wannabe] Charlie Simpson was one of the lucky ones. His solo record Young Pilgrim still made its 15 August release date because he's got enough weight ? and cash ? behind him to repress" (So this is what Antonio Gramsci meant by a repressive hegemony).

The idea that the consumer society might be part of the problem rather than part of the solution certainly did not seem to have occurred to anyone. "Go to your record shops, buy the stock that's there, buy what you can" urged Alison Wenham, chairman and chief executive of the Association of Independent Music, her amped-up incitements a less poetic ? if more law-abiding ? echo of earlier BlackBerry Messenger calls to larcenous disorder.

The first really depressing thing about this journalistic debacle was that ? setting aside the cosmic lack of perspective involved in NME's foregrounding of the issue ? the potentially ruinous impact of the Sony warehouse fire on the independent sector of the British music industry was actually an entirely valid story for the paper to be covering. The second really depressing aspect of it was that ? as some of the more benevolently inclined respondents to editor Krissi Murison's somewhat puzzling mea non culpa with regard to British pop's socioeconomic deracination had already noted ? the ailing title has actually improved under her stewardship.

The paper's wilful retreat from the larger political fray into a parochial consumerist backwater was formalised under Conor "no longer at Top Gear" McNicholas's editorship (though "brand manager" Steve Sutherland also worked hard for this cause). A lot of both establishment and popular anger in the aftermath of the riots has focused on the uncontested ceding of territory ? for example, the hands-off policing which allowed looters to have the run of Wood Green shopping centre ? and it's possible to imagine the disillusionment of older generations of NME readers (and writers) taking on a similar form.

How must erstwhile NME political firebrands Andrew Tyler and X.Moore feel about their old campaigning organ publishing riot coverage worthy of rival trade and lifestyle magazines Furniture News or Interiors Monthly? Was Hamish McBain trying to enrage them still further when he brazenly tore up the paper's historic contract with the nation's armchair radicals to proclaim "Next time you, me or a band being interviewed here are moaning about how there's no danger or no rebellion in modern music, maybe we should think back to the danger and rebellion of August 2011, and remember that it wasn't much fun"?

Like those once assiduously liberal Twitterers who suddenly found themselves advocating a shoot-on-sight policy for anyone wearing sportswear, NME seemed determined to put all its eggs (letters page included) in the "It's not big and it's not clever" basket. Even Laura Snapes ? one of the more able of the paper's new writers ? felt the need to erect a barricade against the heretical suggestion that events up the road in Tottenham might somehow diminish the relevance of Wild Beasts' headlining set at Field Day. "Outside the park's fences" she noted, "battles rage in the distance, but for now accusations of solipsism be damned."

Over the past month, as lovers of unfettered self-indulgence gorged themselves on Pitchfork's fifteenth birthday feast, and Steve Albini and Tyler the Creator offered us the blog versus Twitter war answer to Alien vs Predator (Oscar Wilde's definition of fox-hunting ? "the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable" ? looks applicable here, although I did enjoy Tyler's "Surprised you knew how to use a computer" comeback), questions surrounding the apparent triumph of the personal over the political seemed to become ever more urgent. Perhaps a time is coming when accusations of solipsism must no longer be damned. Perhaps a time is coming when accusations of solipsism actually need to be addressed. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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