Some time in (I think), the late 80s, I came up with one of those observational laws like Murphy’s Law or Parkinson’s Law, but a bit less… well, less. This was a simple idea that major popular musical movements happen, every decade, around the 7th year. It seemed like a pretty good law-
1967- Summer Of Love, Rock Music “proper” is born
1987- Acid House/Rave
Now of course there are lots of different musical trends and styles appearing all the time, some become major fads and some don’t. But I felt that the “Law Of Sevens” described moments of defining change in popular culture. Nothing was ever the same again after each of my four examples. They each reverberated far beyond mere music, as part of a cultural revolution. I’m 43, so I don’t remember the 1960s (people say if you can remember them, you weren’t there anyway, haha) but looking at photos from that decade, the massive change between the first few years and the later years is glaring. One only has to look at The Beatles through their career, from smart lads in suits to long haired doped out hippies to see that. Everything changed. There was a culture shock.
Of course having declared my “law” it promptly broke down. There is nothing one can specifically associate with 1997. There was Britpop, but that was earlier, and Grunge, but that was earlier still, and no musical form really presents itself as defining the decade. 2007? Meh, again, no.
We might note that pop music as we know it today is primarily a British and American phenomenon, which might tie us into my anglospheric musings in other posts, since Britain and the USA are the two leaders of the anglospheric cultural hegemony. And we might observe that each of the four cultural moments I listed above rocked and shocked the ruling classes of those nations. Rock’n'roll seems mild today, but outraged the elders of the culture. The Summer Of Love, the filth and the fury of Punk, the moral panic surrounding Acid House- nothing is comparable in the 90s or 00s. In 1997 we didn’t get a music-driven cultural earthquake. We got Tony Blair.
It may just be that music ran out of new things to do. Or it may be that having shocked the world for four successive decades, the world became shockproof. But I wonder if something more unpleasant had happened. Perhaps we might say that Brit/American culture had reeled for four decades from an onslaught of social liberalisms, and by the 1990s that had been stifled. The ruling class had fought back, and won. Or, the revolutionaries of the past had got old and become the ruling class. I dunno. What one can say is that the anti-authoritarian spirit of each of those musical shocks, each in its own way, seemed to have perished. The barely organised chaos of, for instance, 60s rock festivals, 70s punk gigs, or 80s raves is absent now- the festivals are organised, corporatised and sanitised. Glastonbury is a little police state which people pay a great deal of money to enter, patrolled by policemen sporting CCTV cameras to spot the odd social degenerate who managed to get in and tries to smoke a joint. Our ability to mount a cultural revolt seems to have evaporated, or been utterly quashed.
It may well be relevant that the establishment reaction against the last of the sevens- Acid House- was, as Guido Fawkes pointed out in a Libertarian Alliance publication on the matter which I can’t find now, though it’s on the webs somewhere, based around a new tactic of Health And Safety. Raves were proscribed and regimented on the basis that they were not safe and approval by the powers that be must be obtained to safeguard their attendees. It’s very hard to be revolutionary when you’re surrounded by government inspectors and police demanding that everybody form an orderly queue and checking how many WCs per person have been provided. It was a very good tactic (from the point of view of those who dislike people dancing without a licence from the State) and, in retrospect, a foretaste of the social tyranny which now oppresses us all. I wonder how many social conservatives who cheered the health and safety crackdown on raves realised the same ideology would end up banning them from baking cakes for the church social because they aren’t state approved caterers?
I used to think the future was going to be a great place to live. Now it’s here, it seems a bit disappointing, to be honest.