The last episode of a series exploring British indie music looks at dance music's influence, the Britpop era and the emergence of new labels in the late 90s.
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This programme contains some strong language
Starting in the 1970s, a countercultural movement
would change the way music was made forever.
From grass-roots beginnings in the backwaters of Britain, a new
DIY approach to music-making would give rise to a whole new genre.
Not just a sound but an attitude and an ethos.
This is indie.
We'll discover why it spoke so perfectly to a generation
and reveal how this music for misfits eventually came of age.
In the 1980s, independent labels
and artists had started out as a subculture
but ended up achieving massive success in the mainstream charts.
Indie had become a genre of pop music
and in the 1990s a new wave of bands
would come along who would take this concept even further.
By the late '80s an underground dance movement had
a generation in the grip of euphoria.
Acid house had all but swept away the indie of old.
Acid house and rave culture is a huge,
huge sort of cultural shift, really,
away from scratchy guitar bands
into...things that sound a lot more expansive, a lot more modern,
and probably more commercial as well.
People were doing this around the country
with their own individual sounds and their own scene but all interlinked.
It was really exciting.
But not everyone was enamoured with the rave scene.
RECORD SCRATCH EFFECT
16 policemen were injured
when they tried to break up an acid house party in Surrey last night.
1,000 youngsters broke into this disused warehouse.
More than 800 people were arrested last night.
Violence broke out when the police moved in to prevent it
going ahead, and they were forced to withdraw.
They returned later with 150 reinforcements to make the arrests.
£2,000 worth of drugs was seized.
The illegal raves and stories of the drugs that accompanied them
meant that battle lines were soon drawn between the authorities
and the ravers, but for independent music-makers the new dance culture
inspired a seismic change in the country's musical landscape.
Fired up by acid house, London-based music press officer Jeff Barrett
wanted to start his own label, to capture the exhilarating,
freethinking attitude he was experiencing on the scene.
It was a very exciting time for me, that period, it was very...
Well, it was acid house,
and there was this meeting of lots of different minds from
different scenes kind of colliding, and there was a lot of energy.
A young journalist and fanzine writer, Bob Stanley,
had begun to make music with childhood friend Pete Wiggs
and was keen to find a way of getting it released.
The first ambition we had with Saint Etienne was just to make a record!
That was really it.
We recorded Only Love Can Break Your Heart in two hours,
it was pretty straightforward.
And that's what I played to Jeff.
And they'd brought a Walkman and I put the headphones on
and they played me a cassette of Only Love Can Break Your heart.
Oh, I mean, joy of joys, it was just like, "Wow, this is great."
And I said, "Play that again," they played it again.
He said, "Yeah, I like it. I'm starting a label called Heavenly.
"Can I put it out?" And I was, like, great!
Didn't have to spend six years going round in a Transit van.
That's it, we've got a record out.
It was one of the most freshest pieces of music,
a unique take on a great song but, regardless of that, just...
It was a unique record and it was so of its time.
# Yes, only love can break your heart
# What if your world should fall apart... #
Heavenly released Only Love Can Break Your Heart in the summer of 1990.
Bob's not like a crazy acid house raver,
he's just this very conscientious journalist,
just totally loves pop culture and the minutiae of pop culture,
so he gets, like, a little breakbeat of one track,
he gets a girl to sing it and he gets a Neil Young song to cover
and makes one of the best songs of that period.
But it sort of really catches that summery,
hazy feeling so perfectly,
and even now you listen to it, it still kind of drips that
optimistic, can-do attitude which also came out of acid house.
Barrett continued to meet people
and make connections within the club scene
that helped create a buzz around his new label,
including a group of ravers from north London called Flowered Up.
MUSIC: "It's On" by Flowered Up
I thought, "Oh, that's a great name. That's a brilliant name."
I mean, to be flowered up, what does it mean?! Right?!
Like it, though!
# So how was it last night?
# Yeah, sweet, I done 40
# I'd come to see the lost boy and I took it... #
Heavenly's early releases continued to reflect
the barrier-breaking possibilities that acid house seemed to suggest,
but their next signing were as far away from the rave scene
as it was possible to imagine.
But Barrett thought that a spiky posse of proto-punks
from the Welsh Valleys was a risk worth taking.
MUSIC: Motown Junk by the Manic Street Preachers
# Never ever wanted to be with you
# The only thing you gave me was the boredom I suffocated in
# Whoo-hoo-hoo... #
The Manic Street Preachers were a close-knit
group of friends from Blackwood, Gwent,
who'd spent their teenage years immersed in indie fanzine culture.
They played their first London gig in September 1989.
# Motown, Motown junk... #
Oh, now... That was some gig. They were really good.
They were really, really good.
We went backstage afterwards and we knew we had to do their records.
He told me that he was gonnae do this record
with this punk-rock band, and this was during acid house.
And he was gonnae bring punk rock back or something.
It was some insane Barrett rant,
and at the time I thought he was nuts.
# Why don't you just fuck...
# Don't wanna see your face
# Don't wanna hear your voice
# Why don't you just fuck... #
We're the most original band, I think, of the last 15 years,
just because we don't want to do anything that's been done before.
We will never write a love song, ever. Full stop.
We'll be dead before we have to do that, anyway.
We just want to mix, like, politics and sex.
And look brilliant on stage. And say brilliant things.
And that became the Manic Street Preachers.
# You love us
# Oh, you love us
# You love
# You love us, you love us
# You love... #
Well, I think a lot of people objected to us...
after they met us, basically!
I think they just thought we were gobshites.
Oh, people hated them, of course they did. You know what I mean?
I mean, boys in make-up? Hoh! Not having that.
How outdated, you know.
What a racket.
We loved Guns N' Roses, we loved metal. We loved sport as well.
We didn't quite fit into the indie fraternity
because we were just quite messy people from top to bottom.
# Us... #
They were fans of words, they were fans of the power of words,
the ferocity of Public Enemy, the kind of camp of Guns N' Roses,
and the desire to be as provocative as they could possibly be.
And it was straight up, you know. They only wanted to do two singles
because they wanted to go off and be, you know, enormous.
Their debut LP was going to be the biggest debut album of all time.
# Love's sweet exile... #
We had some kind of barefaced ambition.
You know, we wanted to sell 27 million records and all that!
"There's no way you little independent record label could ever possibly do that for us. We need...
"We need corporations behind us."
We didn't bother playing where we came from.
We just got a couple of shows in London and phoned lots of journalists.
Got 'em down, we had a couple of reviews, then we got a manager,
and then we got signed by Heavenly Records.
It was all quite simple, wasn't it?
Put out two singles and now we're signed to CBS.
It was just cool. It was just, you know, that's the bottom line -
a lot of these labels were run just by amazing people.
We'd put out three singles on Heavenly and not got in the top 40,
and Alan McGee was managing us at this point,
so I think he said to Jeff,
"I can do the distribution through Creation."
They'll effectively be pressed and distributed by Creation
but they'll still have the Heavenly logo on.
And then we did start getting top-40 hits.
# Nothing can stop us now
# No, no, no, no... #
Having worked as the label's press officer,
Barrett had close connections with Creation Records.
Founded in 1984 by Glaswegian scenester Alan McGee, Creation had
already forged a reputation with its instinctive signings.
I hadn't realised just how ambitious Alan McGee was as a man.
I knew he was a powerful force, it took me by surprise, though.
He was... You know, he wanted to be big. Alan just wanted to be BIG.
And again, while we're driving,
it was...somebody who just... didn't give a fuck.
Somebody that just thought, "I'm not hearing the music
"I want to hear so I'm going to sign it instead."
I remember Creation as being a label that you just bought into as a kid.
You used to get these little Creation singles,
the first Jesus and Mary Chain single,
the first Primal Scream single, the X-Men, the Legend.
Alan's main hope for Creation lay in Primal Scream, led by his
childhood friend and former Jesus and Mary Chain drummer Bobby Gillespie.
I just decided I was going to make Primal Scream superstars.
# Here she comes again
# With vodka in her veins... #
Primal Scream were seen as this sort of fey little indie band,
but they weren't, they had a lot more to them than that.
I mean, that song Velocity Girl, you know,
talking about a girl putting vodka in her veins.
That's not giving somebody a lollipop, is it? That's nihilistic.
But it was exciting.
Velocity Girl had been a much-lauded tune on NME's C86 cassette,
a collection of tracks that were said to represent the birth of indie-pop,
but Gillespie, ever searching for a new sound, was keen to move on.
And then they got into their sort of dirty rock and roll phase,
around the second album,
which people thought was just commercial suicide.
But it was a great record and they were...
And the hair was getting long
and they'd started to think they were the Rolling Stones or the Faces
and they started to live the rock and roll lifestyle a bit.
# Ivy, you're a girl that I can never taste
# I get violent feelings when I see your face... #
By the late '80s, after years signed to his old friend's label,
Gillespie was still no nearer hitting the big time.
I saw Primal Scream in '88 and thought they were past it.
I thought, "This was a fine band once but their moment has gone."
They just kept going because they didn't have anything else to do
and I just kept going because I'd decided that they were going to become successful.
I think at times I was more convinced than they were.
McGee had taken to regularly visiting his old friend
and mentor, Factory Records supremo, Tony Wilson,
here at the Hacienda in Manchester, where, with an endless
supply of Ecstasy, the Happy Mondays were changing the musical landscape.
Enthralled by the acid house scene, Alan McGee was keen to open
Gillespie's mind to the possibilities of a new musical direction.
If Alan McGee says I gave him his first E, it's possibly true,
if Alan says it.
I mean, Alan, again, you know, he did at that time,
you know, he moved to Manchester, he joined the party.
That was funny, though. He did, he...
Alan moved to Manchester and moved into a house with, like,
all Manchester's groupies.
Together, McGee and Gillespie went along to a Happy Mondays gig.
# I wrote for luck But they sent me you... #
Went to the Mondays' dressing room, Shaun came to the door, went...
And I went, "Three Es," got three Es, and I came back,
I dropped one, gave two to Bobby, and of course Bobby Gillespie,
he won't remember this, but he dropped it.
As in, he dropped it on the bloody floor, aye.
So I had to give him the other one, you know, and then of course...
Primal Scream changed. Do you know what I mean?
They went from being the New York Dolls to...you know, suddenly...
You know, they were regulars at Shoom.
And that happened within a month. There was a few like that.
But, yeah, it was the Mondays that got Bobby on an E.
I think sex can be really psychedelic.
I think being in a car crash can be really psychedelic.
I think looking at the sea could be psychedelic. You know?
I mean, the word's... If you look it up in the dictionary,
the word psychedelic is defined as "mind-altering drugs".
-I think somebody's first E back in the day would have
had an effect on, you know, everybody's way of thinking.
And it certainly did, yeah.
But it was Jeff Barrett,
then looking after the press for the Primals' second album
and struggling to convince the music papers of the band's relevance,
who had the idea of introducing them to writer and DJ, Andy Weatherall.
And Andrew picked up on the ballads on that record.
The Primals asked Weatherall
if he would remix the song I'm Losing More Than I'll Ever Have.
# I'm sorry I hurt you... #
I was very nervous, I didn't know what you could and couldn't do, but
I was full of piss and vinegar
and full of the confidence of ignorance, you know, so I don't
know that I'm breaking rules cos I don't know what the rules are.
Basically from a Faces kind of rip-off song, Andy cut it up
and handed it back, and that's the genius Andy Weatherall.
And it was just an anthem, with the samples and shit, you know?
Do anything you want to do.
I want to get loaded I want to have a good time.
The hedonistic sample that introduces the song is lifted from
the 1960s motorcycle film The Wild Angels.
In a classic act of teen rebellion,
Peter Fonda issues a statement of intent that resonated perfectly
25 years later for the ecstasy generation.
Just what is it that you want to do?
Well, we want to be free. We want to be free to...
to do what we want to do. Want to be free to ride.
We want to be free to ride our machines without being hassled by the man.
-And we want to get loaded.
And we want to have a good time.
Released in March 1990, Primal Scream's Loaded brought the
two cultures of acid house and classic guitar music together for Creation,
capturing the zeitgeist in the process.
It was crazy, it went up the charts. And, you know, we were shocked.
That's what an independent label is there for, I think,
to create something that's out of the mainstream,
that is completely brand-new.
So it was... That was a real moment. I remember that.
We were as uncool as it could be,
and then suddenly we were the hippest band.
And that happened within about a year. It was crazy.
'We want to be free to do what we want to do.'
While Creation was experiencing a golden age, other apparently
successful British independent labels were having hard times.
Rough Trade, run by Geoff Travis,
and very much the mother of the British indie scene,
was facing impending bankruptcy in its distribution division.
This led to knock-on problems with the record label,
and they had to sell the family jewels - the Smiths' back catalogue.
# I was happy in the haze Of a drunken hour
# But Heaven knows I'm miserable now. #
From just starting in a shop and somebody coming in
and saying "Can you get rid of these 20 records for me?"
and him phoning up a couple of mates in Edinburgh or Norwich
or Leeds and get rid of them,
to being this multi-million pound operation selling
millions of records - it was flawed, it was never going to happen.
Any independent label has a problem with success
because you have to pay royalties.
And there are situations where you may have spread yourself thin
with artists who are not ever going to be successful
but do have a lot of costs.
And you use your successes to fund the new signings.
So when that artist becomes very successful and they need
their royalties paid, you don't always have the money to do it.
All the rivets started to get loose,
and the whole thing just sort of shook,
and it literally fell apart.
Most of the management who had built the thing had gone.
Geoff had stopped going to board meetings for about 18 months
before it closed, and there was no way, no way of keeping it going.
# Here's where the story ends... #
So it just blew to pieces. It had run past its time.
I think it was one of the great tragedies, because it remains
one of the great countercultural institutions the UK has ever seen.
# Here's where the story ends. #
I knew Rough Trade was going to go down.
I don't know why I knew it, I just knew it was going down.
So we went from being about the eighth biggest indie to being
the second biggest indie overnight. So we did great, you know?
Creation's Hackney offices were now the centre of a hit-making hub
that was propelling its artists into unprecedented success.
We used to go down to the Creation offices
and they had all the floorboards that were all bent,
and you go in and think, "Who actually works in here?"
It was like a party, just loads of people jumping around on tables and chairs.
There was a couple of people seemed to be holding it all together, but it was utter chaos.
But they just kept putting these records out
and everyone kept buying them.
It was always exciting.
I remember the first time The Concept by Teenage Fanclub...
Well, that's an incredible record.
# I didn't want to hurt you Oh, yeah... #
It really felt like it was where a lot of things were happening.
They were bringing out great dance records, signing pretty good new bands.
Creation was more like a band than the bands were.
That's what was great about it - it was totally rock and roll, and that's why it worked as a label.
I mean, you can't do that forever - it doesn't do your head any good,
and it doesn't do your business any good -
but for that period of time it worked fantastically.
Everything that McGee was signing was turning into gold.
So at that point in time they'd become a really big label,
but I wouldn't like to be an accountant.
We were always on the verge of bankruptcy,
we really were on the verge of bankruptcy. It was like...
I think we were technically bankrupt for years, really, to be honest.
People realised we were putting out amazing music,
so they always cut us slack, do you know what I mean?
The wait for some of Creation's bands to deliver that amazing music
had left the label constantly teetering on the brink of collapse.
I remember one time after Bandwagonesque had been a huge hit
for Teenage Fanclub, they took ages to do the follow-up.
And Alan said he'd gone to the studio to see them
and they were just playing pool and he went mad.
The reason Primal Scream couldn't deliver the record was
that Thursday to Sunday they were taking drugs.
Monday, Tuesday, they were recovering.
Wednesday they would do some work.
So they were doing one-day weeks. My God!
So, with Creation just about holding it together in Hackney,
back in Manchester, here at their HQ, Factory Records,
the label responsible for some of the most innovative
and ground-breaking releases of the previous decade,
and also, arguably, the cultural resurrection of the city itself,
succumbed to years of financial mismanagement.
In the boardroom.
Just up there.
When they moved into the new offices they decided to
spend about 30 grand on a table that was designed by some artist.
It was hanging by wires from the ceiling.
And I went and sat on the table and destroyed the table.
You know, it just descended into chaos.
First of all, they didn't buy the building the Hacienda was in
when it was cheap, and then they decided to buy it
when it was really expensive.
You know, just terrible business. Terrible.
Mindful of the plight facing his heroes here at Factory,
McGee was also painfully aware of his own label's precarious finances.
They were releasing bucket-loads of great records and having one hell of a party,
but it was clear to Alan that he needed to confront the situation head-on.
In 1992 a £2.5 million deal gave major label Sony
a 49% stake in Creation.
We done the deal with Sony because we were going bankrupt
and Sony paid off the debt.
I remember meeting Alan and he said that they'd sold
half the company to Sony, and he goes, he said, "I'm a millionaire."
I was like, "I'm really pleased for you."
I'm not sure what it means for the label.
I think that's probably the end of it, really.
So, you know, it saved him financially,
but that was, yeah, I think from that point on I don't really
think of it being the same label any more.
It changed everything for me as a human being.
I mean, you've got to understand I never got into music to make money.
And then one day I woke up
and I had two million quid in my bank account, right? You know...
Overnight. Cos Sony just went and put a couple of million in, right?
And I was like, "God, I've got a bit of money, it's great."
Well, you've taken the King's shilling.
You can't be independent ever again if you've got somebody paying
all your bills and running your company the way they want it.
You may think you are, you ain't.
They're running it because they are, at the end of the day,
paying all the bills.
And that's what happened to all the independents.
In the early '90s, Creation records weren't the only independent
to take advantage of the funding a major could bring them.
Though they didn't exactly broadcast it,
Heavenly did a deal with Colombia and Mute got into bed with EMI.
As did Food Records, which was run by the former
co-founder of the Zoo label, Dave Balfe.
But what we were really, really inhibited by was money.
We just didn't have any money.
I mean, literally money to pay for rehearsal rooms, to buy enough equipment,
to do gigs, to do proper recordings.
So we did a deal with EMI, which, I think, was a great deal to do at that time.
But also we then hit the period of grunge.
If you were into alternative rock in those days,
seven out of ten fans were buying American alternative rock,
and that was really depressing.
SONG: Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana
And basically, we couldn't get arrested, hardly, getting on radio...
and we were just keeping ourselves alive through that period.
And it was really tough.
And the only band that seemed to be doing at all well in those periods were Suede, who were great.
# She's show, showing it off then
# The glitter in her lovely eyes
# Show, show, showing it off then
# And all the people shake their money in time... #
If the biggest movement in music at the time is grunge,
the worst thing to do is to form a grunge band.
We didn't want to be with all the other groups
on the other side of the room,
we wanted to be in the corner doing something interesting
and doing it long enough until people said, "What is that?
"What is that weird thing you're doing?"
And then eventually everyone moved to the other side of the room,
and I think that's what happened.
# So young
# And so gone
# Let's chase the dragon Oh... #
Everything had to be very snappy with us, and very black and white, that's the way we saw it.
We didn't want any blurred edges, nothing that could merge into one.
We weren't interested in that sound.
We wanted it to be razor-sharp, and me and Brett saw things as blocks.
You'd have a big block, a big rhythm, something that was powerful.
You know, everything had to be dramatic and powerful.
Fast gaining attention, Suede were clear about who they did
and didn't want to sign with.
It was important to sign to an independent label
so that we had control.
And we weren't a Creation band.
It was too much of a club and we didn't want to be part of the club.
Again, we wanted to be the outsiders.
Their choice of label was to further demonstrate how the distinct
worlds of indies and majors were beginning to blur.
The best opportunity that came up was when Nude Records formed.
A guy called Saul Galpern,
he had an opportunity to do a label backed by Sony abroad.
So in the UK it would be independent,
and so creatively, everything that came out would be independent
but it would be distributed abroad.
So it seemed like the best of all worlds.
# What does it take to turn you on? #
It was a set-up that worked perfectly for the band,
and the excitement that accompanied Suede's first releases seemed
to signal a change in alternative music tastes.
# Now your animal's gone. #
Eager to escape from the dominance of grunge,
the British music press began to champion bands much closer to home
in an attempt to create a new scene.
# He's not a prince He's not a king. #
The phenomenon that has become known as Britpop.
# We are young we've gone green... #
# I guess I'm all right Yes I'm all right... #
# But somehow the vital connection is made... #
The defining moment where indie finally goes overground is
when the term Britpop is coined.
The term Britpop was used in the '60s
and so it's not a new term, but in the '90s I think some
wag at the NME decided to recoin a group of bands who were
hanging around the London area, in the Camden area, and call it Britpop
because it was commercial.
Not all bands were keen to be labelled with the Britpop moniker.
Suede were particularly unhappy to find themselves
draped in the Union Jack on the pages of the music press.
I had no interest in the British flag, in England or whatever.
I still don't regard myself as British.
I've got no patriotism at all.
So I thought it was an absolute load of crap, the whole thing,
and it really annoyed me. It was a commercial movement.
SONG: Disco 2000 by Pulp
I don't understand how Pulp became part of that Britpop thing,
other than they wrote really good songs at a time when
people were looking for really good songs from ostensibly alternative bands.
# We were born within an hour of each other
# Our parents said we could be sister and brother... #
It strikes me they don't have anything, really, artistically
in common with Oasis or Blur, except that they seemed very English.
If you want something to happen enough then it actually will happen, OK?
And I believe that.
In fact, that's why we stood on this stage today after 15 years, cos...
..we wanted it to happen, you know what I mean?
Oh, the Pulp thing was like this weird triumph of this band
who'd worked for 15 years to get where they were,
or maybe longer, suddenly headlining Glastonbury,
and doing it, and absolutely managing to do it.
SONG: Common People by Pulp
# She came from Greece She had a thirst for knowledge
# She studied sculpture At Saint Martin's College
# That's where I
# Caught her eye
# She told me that her dad was loaded
# I said, in that case I'll have a rum and Coca-Cola... #
And I've seen bands fall on their faces there
when they can't quite do the big stadium thing.
But they won everyone over, and it was quite an amazing thing.
# I want to live like common people
# I want to do whatever Common people do
# I want to sleep with Common people
# I want to sleep with Common people like you... #
You know, some people try to write songs of social observation
and it's quite a theme in Britpop, but in a song like
Common People you can actually hear anger and you can hear experience.
# Sing along with the common people
# Sing along and it might just get you through
# Laugh along with the common people
# Laugh along even though they're laughing at you
# And the stupid things that you do
# Because you think that poor is cool... #
It's very accessible.
If you've got no money and you don't feel like you fit in,
it's very wonderful you've got someone with a number two single
pointing the finger at people who drive you mad all day.
And for all the idea that the '90s was euphoric
and everyone was always punching the air,
possibly the best song of the era, Common People,
is a wonderful song of typical British rage.
# Whoa, la la la la Whoa, la la la la
# Whoa, la la la la Oh, yeah. #
# Girls who love boys who like boys to be girls
# Who do boys like they're girls who do girls
# Like they're boys. #
With bigger recording budgets, multiformatted releases
and blanket media coverage, Britpop was doing major business.
I saw Britpop as EMI's answer to their flagging sales.
I mean, a brilliant campaign. Brilliant, brilliant campaign,
but that was definitely a major record company.
# All the people
# So many people
# And they all go hand in hand
# Hand in hand through their Parklife. #
Blur saved EMI. I mean, suddenly Blur were EMI's new Beatles.
So that you got this...
Because that's when, you've got to remember,
when these record companies of this size get it, they take it to a different level.
# Live my life in the city There's no easy way out... #
While EMI were developing Blur's career,
an unknown band from Manchester called Oasis had
chanced their way onto the bill at a spit and sawdust venue in Glasgow.
They got to play. I saw them. Like, they were brilliant.
And I thought, I should sign them.
But I had a few doubts, because that was, like, Sunday night,
and by the Thursday, I was thinking, "I wonder if that was bullshit."
As in, "I wonder if that was because I was off my tits." Do you know what I mean?
"I wonder if they were really that good."
SONG: Supersonic by Oasis
Oasis came along and they were the band that did it,
that took a - again - putatively alternative sound
that was also really familiar to people.
Ambition was all, I think, in the early '90s and the mid-'90s.
To be ambitious was OK again.
I think Oasis were one of the big proponents of that.
"We're working class, so we CAN be ambitious.
"We're not posh, so we CAN be ambitious. We've got no money."
That kind of thing. Whereas the Happy Mondays,
you knew were just going to be in a puddle somewhere after a gig.
We just want to be the biggest band in the world.
-As big as we can be.
-For today. And that is it, end of story.
And we want all the things that go with it.
I want to be a big pop star and I want to do loads of people's heads in cos they're going,
"Look at him, look at him!" And I'll be going "Nyeh".
Know what I mean? But I want it and I don't... I'm not embarrassed about it.
# Maybe I just wanna fly Wanna live, I don't wanna die
# Maybe I just want to breathe Maybe I just don't believe
# Maybe you're the same as me We see things they'll never see
# You and I are gonna live forever. #
These definitely weren't the kind of fey boys with the bowl-cuts
and the cardigans that you'd see at a Talulah Gosh gig.
However, for Sony, Oasis were a defiant vindication
of their multi-million pound investment in McGee's indie intuition.
# Today is gonna be the day
# That they're gonna throw it back to you... #
I didn't think I was signing the biggest British rock and roll band since Led Zeppelin.
I had no idea that I was signing somebody that was going to go on to sell 60 million records.
I was like, you know... I'd not a clue.
But a lot of it is being in the right place at the right time.
Was it a surprise that we bumped into Oasis?
Because it was like, who else would have been out on a Sunday night
in King Tut's Wah Wah Hut, do you know what I mean?
SONG: Roll With It by Oasis
SONG: Country House by Blur
It's been called the biggest battle in pop music for nearly 30 years.
# You gotta roll with it... #
The music industry hasn't seen anything like it.
# He lives in a house A very big house in the country... #
Blur and Oasis...
# In the country... #
..have begun the biggest chart war...
# You've gotta say what you say... #
..in 30 years.
In one corner, four young middle-class men from the
south of England collectively known as Blur and, in the other
corner, five young working-class men from Manchester called Oasis.
I loved it.
That whole Blur-Oasis thing, Blur V Oasis, that NME cover,
and it being on the Nine O'Clock News.
Of course it was brilliant.
You had your working-class northern lad against your
middle-class southern kids.
And one maybe won the battle but the other won the war.
Who knows? It was fun. At least music was on people's lips.
At least you walked down the street
and Mrs Miggins in the pie shop would know who Liam Gallagher was.
And the Best British Group...
There are seven people in this room tonight
who are giving a little bit of hope to young people in this country.
that is me, our kid, Bonehead, Guigsy, Alan White,
Alan McGee and Tony Blair.
And if you'd all got anything about you, you'd get up there and shake Tony Blair's hand, man.
He's a man. Power to the people!
With Britpop making headlines, what once had seen itself as proudly
anti-authoritarian had become firmly part of the establishment.
Indie was the mainstream by 1995. Do you know what I mean?
That was rock and roll. That was pop music.
That's the thing, as well, you know.
Indie music was sort of music for outsiders,
and by the time it gets to Britpop it's clearly not music for outsiders.
Having devoured an indie sound whilst discarding the indie ethos,
the majors, desperate to sustain the Britpop cash cow, began to
swamp the market with their new signings.
# Will there be another breakdown? #
The problem with any movement is people think there's a formula,
and they don't realise that the people who started it had
something to say, and so when you see a formula, a lot of people,
both from the music industry and from the artist community, sign up to it.
And so you get a diluted formula.
When you get dilution, that musical form becomes meaningless.
# Where did you go? #
Guitar music suddenly came back into the charts in a big way.
And then everything was independent.
Independent was as broad a church as the record companies could make it.
And every good-looking boy with a pudding-bowl haircut was...
You know, everyone that was holding a guitar was basically indie.
There was no taste filter, you know?
It was just accepted that all Britpop was good.
And it was played and it was played
and the listeners were bored, you know?
# My favourite thing has gone away... #
The dream had been shattered, the bubble had been burst,
and it was almost like we'd been found out.
# I stole his shoes and ran away Trying jolly hard to see
# If we could catch him round the bend. #
Britpop was the end of that secret society.
It was the end of just experimenting and, you know,
scrabbling around in the dirt, and it meaning something to you.
You know, after that, to be an indie act,
you actually had to sell some records.
Meanwhile, back at Creation, McGee began to realise that the
culture and spirit of his label had been irrevocably changed.
He wanted out.
I mean, shit happens, man.
Sometimes you've got to just move and do what you got to do.
And that's... If you want a definition of indie, maybe that's what we were.
I'd had enough of the bullshit of Sony music.
"Fuck you, I'm going."
With McGee gone, Sony realised they had little to hang their hat on
and quickly pulled down the shutters on Creation Records.
For many it was a dark period for independent music.
But a ray of light came in 1999 when Geoff Travis relaunched Rough Trade.
And the signing that reconfirmed them as a pre-eminent force was
The Strokes, a New York band with impeccable vintage style.
# Last night
# She said
# "Oh, baby, I feel so down
# "See, it turns me off
# "When I'm feeling down"
# So I
# I turn round
# "Oh, babe, I don't care no more
# "I know this for sure... #
Rough Trade's huge success with the Strokes
meant that it was, once again, a label that bands wanted to sign to.
# "I feel so down
# "See, I don't know why"... #
You know, I wanted the limos and the big guy with a cigar
and a contract,
but Peter was very insistent on following the Rough Trade route,
cos he was greatly influenced by Morrissey and The Smiths.
This one particular day, this girl called Bani had been calling me.
She said, "Could you come and see my band? I have got this band
"called The Libertines."
She was bleating that I was going to meet the new Lennon and McCartney.
We had to call in all of our favours and all of our friends and everyone
from around the sort of scene at the time and get them all to come.
So, I go along. I get there at 1am.
I walk in to, like, Sodom and Gomorrah. I walk in to the last days
of Rome. They are all, like,
resting actors. They are doing, like, film or doing photography.
They are all... Everybody is off their nut.
There was all sorts. There was that girl Ariel, remember?
She used to wear fig leaves.
There was a scene. Basically, it's a scene. I walk into a scene.
Then The Libertines walk on.
MUSIC: Up The Bracket by The Libertines
# I saw two shadow men on the Vallance Road
# Said they'd pay me for your address Oh, I was so bold
# I said, "You see these two cold fingers
# "These crooked fingers
# "I'll show you a way to mean no"
# Well, they didn't like that much I can tell you... #
I run into the office on the Monday morning and say to Geoff Travis,
"Geoff, The Beatles in Hamburg, 1961 - I've just seen it.
"We have to sign this band."
Everyone who was there was really making it look like, at midnight -
when we played, for James Endeacott's benefit, largely -
that this was a whole scene happening that was going on.
It wasn't so much.
Almost, engineering a bit of a swizz, a swindle.
And we signed them for next to nothing.
I think it was what we wanted. It suited the band, as well.
Nothing we went in with was going to be too shocking.
That was good to know.
And we could take it as read that they would be behind us.
With the freedom that Rough Trade allowed them,
the band set about doing things their own way,
using the internet to chronicle their antics
and communicate with their fans.
Pete and Carl were all-encompassing -
"Get the audience on the stage, let's hang out with them.
"Let's have gigs in our house. Let's hang out with the people
"who are buying our records. Let's just be a part of it.
"Let's smash down all those barriers."
Everyone now dreams of things going viral.
And before people knew what "going viral" meant,
The Libertines went viral, basically.
And it was before....anyone had a sense of how this could be
harnessed or controlled or used to do anything commercially.
It was exciting. It was liberating.
For a few months, maybe a year, it was really liberating.
You really felt as though something was going to change.
There was a definite sense that something had been bypassed.
That the rules of how, you know, you build a career for yourself -
you do a gig and you get a good... all that had gone.
Rough Trade was suddenly hip again. In fact, probably hip
for the first time. I don't think Rough Trade
had ever been hip, actually.
It had always been important, but I don't think it had ever been hip.
# Don't look back into the sun
# Now you know that your time has come
# And they said it would never come for you... #
But despite Rough Trade's new-found cool,
via their signing The Libertines in 2001,
it soon became the band's - and particularly Pete Doherty's -
behaviour, rather than the music, that dominated the media coverage.
The Libertines seemed to be unravelling,
and before long the relationship between the band
and Rough Trade disintegrated.
The re-emergence of Rough Trade in the early 2000s, and the success
of The Strokes and The Libertines, coincided with a renewed excitement
about guitars and indie music once again being released on indie labels.
Soon after, stories began to circulate about a thrilling new band
coming out of Glasgow.
We started playing music... for our friends,
for the people around about us. We wanted to make a scene in Glasgow.
We took over this warehouse.
We called it The Chateau. It was a shithole.
The windows were all done in. We got Perspex and fixed up
all the windows. We, literally, sprayed the pigeon shit
out of the building. And we put on shows there.
Artist friends would put on their work and we would perform.
We'd get DJs down to play.
It would just be kind of wild parties.
So, when we were writing songs, it was for that environment.
We weren't thinking at all
about record deal or any of that stuff. We were thinking about
our immediate environment and just creating songs, in the first place.
# You are the latest adventure
# You're an emotion avenger... #
The buzz around Franz Ferdinand resulted in a rush of interest
from record companies, but it was a struggling London label
that was to well and truly prove that indies could compete with majors
on their own terms.
# Know that you will surrender... #
Laurence Bell, founder of Domino Records, had had moderate success
with other artists, but he was in no doubt of Franz's potential.
# My lips undress your eyes... #
Laurence at Domino, I think always was interested in what
was happening in Glasgow. If you are in A&R, it is really seductive
knowing that a band has already invented their own world,
particularly if it is a world that seems popular.
That was the sense with Franz, that they had made this scene in Glasgow
and were ready to take it to everywhere else.
Word started going out about Franz Ferdinand in the music industry
in London and people started coming up to Glasgow to see shows.
We were so, er...
suspicious of everybody then!
Anybody that came near us.
And we were always convinced that they were going to try and buy us,
in some way. If they ever tried to take us to a pub or a bar
and offered to buy us a drink, we'd be like, "No, I'm buying my own,
"thank you very much." And so, for us, a label like Domino,
where you trace the whole label back to someone like Laurence Bell,
is completely different from a label like Sony or Epic,
who just have these professional faces who come in and come out.
# When I woke up tonight, I said
"I'm gonna make somebody love me
"I'm gonna make somebody love me"
# And now I know, now I know now I know, I know that it's you
# You lucky, lucky You're so lucky... #
It helped a great deal that Domino went and found the same sort
of money they were being offered by other labels, which sort of
disputed the idea that they were sort of small fry.
If it had gone down, he would have gone down.
He would have been personally bankrupt
if our first album had flopped.
But rather than feeling worried or guilty about it, I loved it.
It was great - "Och, yes! Take it on!"
The best things you do in life are reckless.
You take a chance and you could fuck everything up drastically,
but, my God, it feels twice as good when it works out.
Having taken that risk, Laurence and the band were rewarded
with near-instant international success -
hit singles and a multi-platinum-selling album.
People were just astonished that they had signed for Domino.
Absolutely astonished. I think even more astonished
when they sold just as many on Domino
as they would with any other label. Because the people at the majors
like to think they are in charge of that degree of success
and it can't happen without them. So when it does, it feels like
terrorism to them.
MUSIC: Take Me Out by Franz Ferdinand
# So if you're lonely
# You know I'm here waiting for you
# I'm just a crosshair
# I'm just a shot away from you
# And if you... #
We weren't trying to play rock music.
We weren't trying to play indie rock music.
We were trying to play dance music. We were trying to play...
use our guitars the way that synthesisers had been used in music.
The kind of music that we were hearing on the dancefloor,
you think, OK, there is an arpeggiated part,
or, here is a part that is just running a long play,
the likes of a...like you'd find in a Giorgio Moroder or a house part.
"What if we play the guitars like that? What if we don't play chords?
"What if we take the beat that we are hearing in dance music and get
"Paul to play that on the kit?"
MUSIC: Take Me Out by Franz Ferdinand
# I say, don't you know
# You say, you don't know
# I say
# Take me out! I say, you don't know... #
With Domino and Franz cleaning up and the success of bands
like The Strokes and The Libertines,
independent music was thriving once again.
But indie's next huge success came from the way fans were using
social media to communicate genuine grass-roots enthusiasm
about their new favourite band.
We're Arctic Monkeys and this is I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor.
Don't believe the hype.
It's the post-iPod generation now,
so the internet's there. If you like one band,
you go check another band out.
People are super knowledgeable about music now.
But where's their bands?
Arctic Monkeys are a new generation. This is the next generation,
this is the post-Libertines generation.
# Stop making the eyes at me
# I'll stop making the eyes at you... #
The Arctic Monkeys had built up a fiercely loyal following
by concentrating on playing around their native Sheffield in the north.
The resulting record label frenzy to sign the band
was virtually unprecedented.
# I bet that you look good on the dancefloor
# I don't know if you're looking for romance or
# I don't know what you're looking for... #
The fan base emerged initially
as a result of file sharing on the internet.
They say that you can hinder a band file-sharing and that,
but it's actually made the Arctic Monkeys.
# What a scummy man
# Give him half a chance I bet he'll rob you if he can... #
They didn't get into this game to be on the telly
or be in people's faces.
They wanted to write songs and play music.
The thing that's real to them is playing music live to their audience.
Everyone wanted to sign them.
Some quite old-fashioned old-school music business types
wanted to be involved.
And then they signed to this, this sort of upstart label
that's had this wildfire hit with Franz Ferdinand,
but seemed to think they can repeat the trick all over again.
Why don't they understand they just got lucky?
I probably offered significantly more money than Domino offered them.
# Fake tales of San Francisco echo through the room... #
You know, they chose to work with a small team,
and there is a huge benefit in that.
What about, er...like, one of them?
Despite the small team at Domino,
there was nothing small-scale about the Arctic's subsequent success.
# Over there, there's friends of mine
# What can I say, I've known them for a long long time
# And they might overstep the line
# You just cannot get angry... #
Their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not,
went on to be the fastest-selling UK debut album on record.
And all four subsequent albums have sold millions around the world.
# Oh, no... # Here it comes!
# Oh, no, no... #
The Arctic's triumph seemed to signal something
about signing to an indie label
and achieving sustained mainstream success.
In some ways, it was a validation of the idealism
and rebellious spirit of those misfits
who founded the indie labels and bands
in the '70s, '80s and '90s.
But with massive acts as diverse as The xx, Roots Manuva,
Radiohead and Adele signed to independents,
what does the concept of indie mean now,
and why does it continue to appeal to subsequent generations of artists?
Is it about creative control?
Is about retaining ownership of your music?
And is it in any way about that original sense of rebellion?
MUSIC: Headlights by Wakes
What we're rebelling against is the idea that
success is only tied with fame or money.
And those things aren't the be-all-and-end-all
to a successful artist, in my opinion.
When we started the label in 2006, it felt like we were
rebelling against the indies because, in a bizarre way,
they were the majors to us because we were so small.
Indie as a sound now is anything that's not mainstream, I suppose.
I don't particularly think there's a particular jangly guitar sound
or anything, I think it's more that there's a wealth and...
Just, there's so many niches of indie itself,
that it covers a huge amount of ground and a huge amount of music.
we've created more of an entire music sort of management company
where we publish music, release music on the label, manage artists.
We play in our band and release our own music
and we also put on events and run a festival.
And also, Emma does artwork across all of that.
I designed the artwork for Gwenno's debut LP, Y Dydd Olaf.
And I jumped at the chance. I love her music,
and I've known what she's been doing for a long time.
And that initial run sold out.
She was picked up by a bigger independent label,
Heavenly Recordings, who are based in London,
and they re-released the record and now it's everywhere.
And that's really exciting to me, because I get to play a small part.
SHE SINGS IN WELSH
Independent labels have a massive part to play in this age.
Yes, you can stick your music just up on Soundcloud,
but I still think that there is room for independent labels to be
the gatekeepers in many ways.
I see them as sort of cultural gatekeepers,
because they're people that have obsessed over music
and dedicated their lives to finding music.
I don't there's ever been more of a need for independent labels
than there is today.
You know, look at the mess the majors have made
of pretty much everything in the last 50 years.
There's only three of them left.
The perfect storm that made indie what it was
is that the amount of effort you had to put into it,
the amount of effort you had to do to make a record.
I think it's important to have some kind of,
some kind of arbiter who can...
Is that the right word, arbiter?
So, someone that... almost like quality control,
someone to represent what's good so it doesn't get lost in the world.
In a world where everyone can make their own thing
and put it on the internet, you've got, like,
a million screaming voices
which no-one can differentiate between or hear.
It's good to have somebody flying the flag for a bit of quality
and you've got to have someone keeping that alive.
You get a good sense in your heart from labels like Domino
or Rough Trade or Factory, or Chemical Underground or Fast,
who took chances with artists that would never have been taken
with major labels, and made our lives richer because of it,
because of these quirky, crazy, egocentric, wonderful individuals.
Who might be a pain in the arse,
but might also be the people that change your lives.
# I am lost for words
# But I kept my nerve
# But it's not hopeless
# If you take rest... #
The story of British indie over three musically diverse episodes. Much more than a genre of music, it is a spirit, an attitude and an ethos.
It's 1989 and a new grassroots music craze is sweeping across Britain. Despite the authorities railing against 'the zombification of a nation', acid house and its bed partner ecstasy are influencing a wave of indie bands. On the eve of a new decade while original independent labels struggle in the wake of acid, young indie labels Heavenly and Creation are thriving, signing both Manic Street Preachers and Primal Scream respectively.
By the mid 90s, in a bid to break the stranglehold of American grunge bands, the music press construct Britpop and push two bands, Oasis and Blur, to the top of the pile. The key thing that separates Britpop bands from the previous generation is the mindset. These bands, who grew up in the Thatcher era, want to sell (and make) a million. Bands with an old indie ethos, such as Suede, are still breaking through but will switch from independent labels to majors, thus guaranteeing international recognition.
Indie truly goes mainstream when Noel Gallagher shakes hands with Tony Blair and Oasis fill Knebworth. The spirit of the DIY boom had all but gone and indie becomes a genre rather than an alternative approach to making and releasing music. The late 90s are dark days for indie, but as Rough Trade rises from the ashes with two fresh signings - The Strokes and The Libertines - it feels like a new dawn.
More new completely independent labels emerge. They've learnt from the mistakes of old and are excellent at artist development - labels such Domino, who manage the Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand. We hear why these two bands - who had the majors tripping over themselves to sign them - choose Domino instead.
These bands also heralded a new way in which music was being discovered. It's the fans at a grassroots level, sharing their favourite band via clips on social media, who would be the new A&R - alerting the record labels to new talent.
We finally come full circle to discover just what constitutes indie music now, if there still a need for independent labels and, finally, whether the spirit of rebellion that inspired the DIY movement of the 1970s still exists today.
The series is presented by BBC Radio 6 Music's Mark Radcliffe and this episode features exclusive interviews with performers including Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays, The Libertines' Carl Barat, Stuart Murdoch from Belle & Sebastian and Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne. It also includes interviews with a number of influential music industry figures such as James Endeacott, formerly of Rough Trade Records and founder of Sony BMG subsidiary record label 1965 Records, Heavenly Recordings' Jeff Barrett, Creation Records' Alan McGee and indie music author Richard King.