It seems to these eyes at least that, as the ‘industry’ has imploded and the artists have become more influential on their own upward trajectory, that – weirdly – cool has become a more important factor than ever before.
Why weirdly? Because I assumed that, when technology set us all free from our record biz slavemasters, we would also be able to cast off the shackles of cool a bit, and that haircuts and scowling photos would count less than before.
Instead, we are witnessing an arms race of cool, with bands endlessly circling one another, eyeballing to makes sure they have the right moody photos, the right Topshop clothing, the correct typeface for their de rigueur bandname.
Bands always copy one another, sure, but now the churn rate is so fast I worry that the songs themselves don’t have time to breathe, grow, and mutate into, you know, good songs.
Here are two bands. They’re both very good young new bands.
I think they’ll both become successes in their own way. In terms of cool, one is really on-point with now, and one isn’t.
There is no wrong approach here, but this difference is worth acknowledging.
First, FANS – a talented bunch from (I think) the north of the UK. They’ve recorded a bunch of ambitious and expansive demos, and All This Time is a great example of their punchy, tuneful, keep-it-simple-stupid ethos.
All This Time has a bunch of surprisingly poppy hooks that will keep the song spinning in your mind. This knack for a chorus is their trump card, and they ought to progress nicely as a result.
So, FANS are prioritising songs over everything else, happily. They also, for want of a better phrase, ‘fit’ the image of a new band right now. Their B&W imagery, their slight anonymity, the kerning of the font used for their bandname, and the aural references are on-trend.
Please note that I’m not saying this is a bad thing in any way, or a cynical ploy, I’m just saying they are very now, and this is fine.
Compare them to The Minx, a band who also have good pop tunes, the right musical ethos and a very specific image.
It’s just that they’re not cool, not now. Which band feel easier to love?
I think Forest Bank is a spot-on pop song with a chorus that bounces like crazy. The band appealed to me because of their songs but also because they are so visually and sonically opposed to the vast majority of their peers.
I also know that some people see the band’s shirts and haircuts and shoes and the fact that they look like they are from a housing estate (they are) and that they smile in their photos, and that these people automatically engage their Cool Filter, and conclude that they’re terrible.
It’s hard to be objective about music – that is clearly not the point – but when I see these opinion being spouted I get a bit furious, because whether you like The Minx‘s songs or not, you can’t avoid the positives: they have a bunch of hooky pop songs, they connect with a real-world audience, they fill good venues with ease, etc.
I hope people are broad-minded enough to listen to FANS and The Minx and judge both accordingly on their individual merits. I hope they will embrace both as good new bands.
I know this won’t happen. I also hope the current slavish addiction to cool dissipates a bit, because if certain bands who don’t fulfil a narrow-minded, middle-class, quasi-bohemian criteria get overlooked through sheer snobbery, we will all lose.
NB – Full disclosure: I also know The Minx via various bits of promo work in one of my real jobs. I think they’re a good band regardless, and I think the above point would stand either way; but feel free to factor this in.