Popular music: the playback years?
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HOARDS of people fill the Hammersmith Apollo, eager for the show to begin. There is a mounting excitement in my stomach and my eyes are gleaming with anticipation. I am minutes away from seeing the legendary Queen perform live. Wow. I scan the venue and see groups of older men and women with that slightly scruffy, classic-rock look that screams “old-timer." It feels as if I have stepped back in time attending a vintage, early 70s to mid 80s musical evening. It is now 21 years since Mercury’s demise and, yet, the music of Queen still packs out prestigious live venues such as this one. Queen and their temporary front man Adam Lambert prove to be a better ensemble than the earlier incarnation of Queen and Paul Rodgers; they seem energised at least, and their onstage chemistry is evident. Lambert makes a conscious effort to pay tribute to Freddie as he caterwauls through numbers like Fat Bottomed Girls, Under Pressure and I Want It All. He’s a fabulous eccentric and, somewhere, Mercury must be applauding approvingly. Footage of Freddie from the 1980s unexpectedly flashes up on screen as Love Of My Life reaches a soaring apex. My breath catches. The crowd gasp and a nostalgic twinge grips me. The screen invokes a memory of Mercury and his music catalysing my emotions that leaves me yearning for so much more. A lump swells in my throat and I realise that, while a talent in his own right, Lambert fails to compete with Mercury's legacy. I feel no time to absorb these emotions before I am witnessing such classics as The Show Must Go On and Radio Gaga, releasing the audience into unbridled euphoria. All too soon I am listening to Lambert croon along to the finale, Bohemian Rhapsody. My mind muses as reality falls away, and suddenly, he stops: “Ladies and gentleman, Freddie Mercury,” he pronounces. My attention quickly diverts to the left-hand-side of the screen and a frisson of anticipation runs through my body. My heart leaps with unadulterated joy as my eyes cast over to see Freddie’s holographic image, playing out the prolific curtain closer. His magisterial authority and operatic bombast swallow me. As his image disappears, an uninvited tear glazes my cheek. Why am I crying? The nostalgic ache rips through me again, a turbulent, sharp apogee forcing me to choke back tears. You’re quite the green-eyed monster for music bygone, my subconscious mind affirms, almost as if it’s protocol. I wasn’t even alive during Mercury’s musical reign, and yet I still feel this strong pull towards him; an overwhelming admiration unfurling at every given opportunity. Is it fair to say that we are a music culture submerged in the sounds of yesteryear? Music critic Simon Reynolds noted “is the greatest danger to the future of our music culture...its past?” “Almost any and every decade in the history of pop has somebody revisiting it and reworking it right now,” says Simon Reynolds, music critic and author of Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to its Own Past. As a result, music, he says, “seems to be in a weird holding pattern, caused in part by the archiving power of digital culture.” Consider the likes of 80s electro revivalist Lady Gaga and the vintage 60s chanteuse era reworked by Amy Winehouse and Duffy, and perhaps he has a point. Further proof is Adele's 21, which, at the time of writing enjoys its 87th week on the chart. According to the Official Charts Company, it has now sold 4.18m copies in the UK, making it the sixth best-selling album ever.“Then the big newcomer as a female artist is Lana Del Rey, whose whole sound and image is totally 1950s and early 60s, as filtered through David Lynch’s 1980s movies,” adds Reynolds. But is our compulsion to relive and re-consume pop history really that tangible? “There is individuality to what is being created today,” says Freddie Smith, a radio presenter for Kiss FM. “Everyone said that Oasis were copying The Beatles, but looking back on it now in this decade, it stands out as a 90s genre; Britpop.” Is it inaccurate then, (if not a little lazy) to make connections between musicians most popular in their respective eras - just because they follow a similar template? “[Oasis] were inspired, maybe, but they weren’t completely copying The Beatles’ innovations,” he adds. Over this decade, grime is exclusively identifiable as a British genre that fundamentally grew out of East London. Articulate and verbose, it too was a complete new wave of music, fostered by UK garage and spearheaded by artists such as Dizzee Rascal and Wiley. With this in mind, perhaps our current music culture is more innovative than we give it credit for.
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