The 1990s began for me, in 1989, and ended in 2001.
I’m probably not alone in that sentiment; the fact that the decade was bookended by the collapse of The Berlin Wall and 9/11 adds gravitas to what was, essentially, a massive party for anyone hitting their ‘going out years’ during this, until quite recently, much-maligned decade. The Berlin Wall coming down, and the revolutions leading to the collapse of punishing communist regimes in Eastern Europe, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and protests in China, kick-started a decade-long, celebratory sensation of freedom.
9/11 was us hitting the ground with an almighty smash.
This is apparent now, and we can draw socio-political conclusions with the benefit of hindsight.
In 1989, I was 16, and I didn’t give a fuck about any of this. All I cared about was how wide my flares were and blagging enough money to go out and get leathered on a weekend. I was yet to be seduced by acid house, rave, clubbing, call it what you will, and was still rocking a very weird, Sideshow Bob haircut, making the awkward transition from fully-fledged indie kid to be-flared, baggy Stone Roses disciple. I tried to do this gradually, which meant that on occasion I’d wear a Cure-esque tie-dyed or polka-dot black shirt with 24-inch flares, a battered suede jacket topped off (or bottomed off) with outlandish leopard-print brothel creepers. It wasn’t a good look. I wanted to go full baggy, but didn’t want to be accused of changing tribes, so I spent about a year of looking like a complete dick. Bizarrely, this was the time in my life where I became attractive to girls. Maybe they felt sorry for me and wanted to dress me properly.
No, I didn’t really care about the goings on in Tianan’men Square. I just wanted to get Loaded. Natch.
Oasis – Supersonic
I went to see the new Oasis documentary, Supersonic the other night, and unsurprisingly it ignited overwhelming feelings of nostalgia in me, nearly bringing me to tears on more than one occasion. It’s a straight-ahead Oasis documentary, charting the rise of the Manc geezers from formation (and before) to their staring-into-the-abyss watershed moment, when they played Knebworth Park, in the summer of ’96. There’s very little in the way of contextualisation, but who needs that when you’ve got expert raconteurs like Liam and Noel Gallagher, telling us their singular story? It’s a great story, which places us right inside the bubble, in the eye of the hurricane. In fact, there’s so little in the way of acknowledgement of anything existing outside of their cocoon, that the bitter Blur/Oasis chart battle of summer ’95 doesn’t even get a mention. They were like a tornado laying waste to everything in front of them, that’s a lot to cram into a 2-hour film.
As is presumably the intention, it got me thinking deeply about that period of my life and life in the ‘90s in general; the sense of wistfulness I felt during and after the film was overwhelming, stunning me into a silent, pensive, almost catatonic state. The Roses were my coming-of-age band, but Oasis were my “of-age-and-fucking-having-it” band, and they are synonymous with some of the best days of my life. It irks me these days that any mention of Oasis is met with a sneer and pithy put-down. It’s always the same, lazy criticisms that have been written into the unofficial music-snob’s manual, and I will refute any of them with a passion burning on lunacy. It’s akin to CCP indoctrination; if you think you know music, you have to, at some point, declare your contempt for the Gallaghers, (and it is the Gallaghers, because, bar Bonehead, the other players are just a revolving cast of supporting characters in their story.) No, the scorn poured on them is unacceptable, and for most of the critics, they were their gateway band, although no one would never dare to admit it. I remember queuing up with you for ‘Be Here Now’, pal. I remember you jumping on the bandwagon for a couple of brief years before the media turned you on to the next fad. I remember you with your Liam cut, your Manc pimp-stroll and your cocaine habit. I remember offering you a ticket for Earl’s Court for free in ’95, and you dismissing it a ‘gay indie shit’, and the next moment wetting your knickers at the prospect of going to Knebworth. So when you register your disdain in front of an audience on Facebook, there’s always someone with a big nose who knows…
I do take it personally, because it’s the same as pissing on someone’s life. I would never dream of openly mocking someone’s taste in public, music is personal, and I’m way past the playground mentality of lambasting someone’s taste. What’s to gain? A momentary smugness in front of your peers? It must be great. I’m doing a slow-hand-clap while I write this.
Inevitably, good reviews of the documentary will bring out the naysayers, loudly proclaiming that, actually, at the beginning they were rather good. Some may even go to see it and begrudgingly enjoy it, for it is a hugely enjoyable film. Liam and Noel are on top form throughout, there are some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments, some heartstring-tuggingly melancholic moments, and some chest-beatingly life-affirming moments. Predictably, it ends up focussing on the dynamics between the brothers, who couldn’t be more different, and their power struggle, both visibly coveting what the other has. There are some unaffectedly touching moments, where both brothers pay each other the highest compliments, perhaps seeing this film as a vehicle for their reconciliation, because evidently they are too stubborn to tell each other face to face that they need each other, as the song goes…
Liam emerges from it surprisingly well; we know he’s charming and hilarious, but there’s a depth to his observations, his reflective moments shining through the bluster and the clowning. He’s not the yob that his adversaries relentlessly level at him, he’s an extremely insecure, sensitive soul who uses his braggadocio to mask his anxieties. Noel we know can spin a good yarn, and he doesn’t disappoint. It’s a film that will have grown men of a certain age feigning hay-fever on a few occasions, as they recollect their glory days. It’s a powerful piece of cinema that transports you right back to those few years, not only as spectator, but as participant, such is the intimacy of some of the footage. Most of all, it’s top notch entertainment. A must for anyone who was mad for it in the 90s and anyone who’s ever been affected by Oasis’ music. And despite protestations, the smart money is on every detractor having been touched by at least one Oasis tune.
Some 90s Context
Let’s return back to the ‘90s where we’ll try to make some sense of it all, and I’ll attempt to refute some misguided claims about Oasis.
My trajectory was:
The Top 40 -> Indie -> The Stone Roses/Madchester -> House music -> Oasis -> Britpop -> Everything else.
That’s an honest lineage. I’m not going to lie and say the first album I bought was ‘Revolver’, I didn’t really properly discover The Beatles until after The Roses. And Oasis reinvigorated my love of guitars, so turned me on to all sorts of stuff from the 60s and 70s. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, back catalogue culture was almost non-existent in the 80s, when I was growing up. The Roses were an indie band when I first discovered them, so it was a logical progression; house came after I went to Spike Island, where Paul Oakenfold was DJing, and I was mesmerised by this music at a rock gig; I’d previously thought the two were incongruous, but that day opened my eyes. Now, the path back to Oasis and guitar music is a little more complicated, but on reflection, not overly so. I spent the years from 1990 to 1994 getting lost in the blissed out world of clubs, travelling the length and breadth of the country going to such hallowed institutions as The Hacienda, Renaissance, Back To Basics, Up Yer Ronson, Hard Times, and our very own Déjà vu and Welly Club in Hull. All the time I kept a watchful eye on the scenes, from Shoegaze to Grunge, the Bristol sound to ‘alternative hip-hop’ and Acid Jazz, and all the other sub-genres which were raved about in the NME. Suede caught my attention with their council estate Bowie-isms, but it was Oasis who really got me excited, and the path headlong into them was not as strange as it seemed; there were similarities between the House scene and them.
For a start, I always maintained that Oasis’ music was house music set to guitars. For them, living in Manchester, it was impossible to avoid The Hacienda, and it obviously influenced Noel and Liam Gallagher. In fact, the unreleased early demo ‘Better Let You Know’ is a straight-up steal of the club classic “Feel The Groove” by Cartouche from 1990. The life-affirming lyrics about Living Forever, feeling Supersonic and finding a brighter day mirrored house music’s wide-eyed positivity, and their concerts mirrored the communal atmosphere of a rave or dance club. It was the same people too, the kids that were into clubbing were at Oasis gigs on ecstasy at the beginning. Like The Roses, Oasis were their audience, they were just like us, a group of lads out for a laugh, into football, sex, clothes and drugs. For a while, in the first couple of years, it reminded me of the communion that was found at Roses gigs, where the indie kids rubbed shoulders with the council estate dandies from the rave scene; there was exactly the same overlap as the two worlds collided and segued seamlessly into each other. And we were with these boys every step of the way.
It’s difficult to explain how momentous that first blast of “Columbia” sounded on first hearing to people who were too young to experience the first seismic rush of Oasis. Yes the music was excellent, but it was the whole package with these lads, and the culture of the country moulded around them, much as it did with The Beatles in the ‘60s. That’s no exaggeration, they were at the epicentre of a cultural movement, that, for better or worse, and the broadsheets tell us it was for worse, engulfed the whole social landscape of the country. People from Portsmouth were talking in Manc accents, the lingo changed, the clothes, people’s gait and behaviour, the whole musical landscape between 1994 and 1997 danced to Oasis’ tune as ‘indie’ music became the mainstream, and our bands were getting to #1 in the charts every week. We would’ve balked at that in the ‘80s; we didn’t want The Wedding Present being successful. God forbid! They were our secret. But The Roses’ ambition to be successful beyond the confines of the indie charts had obviously had some impact, because four years later, the musical panorama had been turned upside down. Even Kylie Minogue was working with indie musicians. It was strange at first, but we soon embraced it. Only the extremely churlish rejected it, still harbouring that elitist notion that becoming successful equates ‘selling out’. Oasis and Blur smashed the door wide open, and with it, obliterating the idea that success should be something to be ashamed of.
Critics like to harp on that Oasis destroyed the ‘indie ethos’ of Creation Records, when, in fact they saved Creation Records; always on the brink of collapse at the best of times, but I think Alan McGee was at the last chance saloon before he happened upon Oasis that fateful night he stumbled into King Tut’s in Glasgow simply to ‘do his ex-bird’s head in.’ Perhaps they destroyed the belief that indie music was solely the preserve of white, pasty underachievers, but I didn’t see those bands complaining in the wake of their new-found commercial clout. The likes of Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub, and The Boo Radleys all benefitted greatly from the revenue that was generated from Oasis’ success. It also allowed McGee to indulge his love of the left-field and bank roll acts like Super Furry Animals, an oddball assortment of psychonauts from the Welsh mountains and also bring a reinvigorated Nick Heyward back from the wilderness. Previous to Oasis, only Ride and Screamadelica-era Primal Scream had really matched McGee’s vision with units shifted, only for My Bloody Valentine to haemorrhage the lot on ‘Loveless’, the long-gestating follow-up to their 1988 indie classic ‘Isn’t Anything.’ McGee needed Oasis as much as they needed the credibility his label afforded them. But they put to bed the notion of ‘indie’ as an elitist club for music snobs, and rightly so, a good few years before the dawn of the internet, which would blow all that apart anyway.
If you strip away the context: the events surrounding their rise to the top, the cultural impact, the tabloid bullshit, and just the whole part of being young and ‘mad for it’ in the 90s, what we’re left with is the music, Liam Gallagher’s often bizarre tweets and Noel’s position as elder statesman of ‘rawkenrowl’. Shorn of context, and with the passing of space and time, it’s not that difficult to see why the younger generation greet Oasis with disdain, they’re the establishment now, why shouldn’t the young uns give it the finger? But AT LEAST OFFER SOMETHING IN RESPONSE. There was definitely a sense of excitement of being part of something historical, and, at the risk of sounding patronising, I can understand if you don’t really ‘get’ it, and that’s fine. I love The Beatles, but I don’t have the same emotional connection because I wasn’t born then. But I approach other people’s past with respect.
It’s de rigeur these days, sadly, to slag off everything, usually on the internet, and I see a worrying trend of people being defined by what they don’t like, rather than what they do. It’s insane. A quick scroll down a Facebook news feed reveals sheer hatred. For Coldplay, the X-Factor, the new Roses song, Justin Bieber, refugees, Tories, Jeremy Corbyn, Donald Trump, David Guetta, Oasis…the list is endless. I don’t understand why people waste so much time getting hung up on shit they hate, it can’t be good for the blood pressure. Just scroll on by if you don’t like it. Filter it out. It must be exhausting carrying around so much negativity. Especially in these dark times, people should be filling their lives with things that they love. Ignore the rest unless it directly affects you.
Oasis inhabited a different time. That is important. The ‘90s were a time of relative peace in the world. There was no ISIS, little terrorism, no scapegoating, Britpop was slap bang in the middle of a resurgence in the arts in Britain, our club culture was the best in the world, the Tories were being shown the door, there was no austerity, no internet, people were generally pretty happy. When you went out, every night was a celebration. I don’t remember too much violence, except when people were protesting a bill that was a direct assault on how we party, the abhorrent Criminal Justice Bill. There really wasn’t too much to get pissed off about. And Oasis harnessed this positivity, and there was a communion, albeit often chemically-induced, not seen since the 1960s, or at least our second-hand view of that decade.
We now live in an age of too much information, and it affects us in a bad way. In those days, a mere 20 years ago, it was simpler, there was no internet and you simply didn’t need to come into contact with potentially annoying shit. We didn’t dwell on things that angered us, we put all our energy into consuming that that we loved. Acid house was a huge cultural movement, built on positivity, and Oasis were the natural successor to this, expertly judging the mood of the nation and taking it into a new direction which ran concurrently to the club scene. Club kids started going to gigs, and indie kids started going clubbing, prompting events of cross-pollination as the two worlds collided and exciting new artforms sprouted out of the chaos. It was biblical, man…and I will point anyone in this direction should they decide to shit all over the whole Britpop thing, as it’s fashionable to do. Times were totally different. And to understand the impact, one has to understand the context.
The ‘Be Here Now’ Myth
It’s received wisdom that Oasis’ third album, the sprawling ‘Be Here Now’ was the nail in Oasis’ and Britpop’s coffin, and was widely derided. This is a blatant example of history being rewritten by people who weren’t there. You couldn’t be more wrong. That album remains the fastest-selling album in the history of British music. The album received unanimous 10/10 reviews (check if you don’t believe me,) and was playing everywhere. Oasis were kings, and the excitement around the band was at fever pitch. I went to four of the gigs on that tour, and they were some of the best of their career.
So, why the about-turn?
Had the notoriously middle-class, southern-based media had enough of these northern oiks upsetting their parties in their exclusive members’ clubs that they has infiltrated?
I have a theory: one Thursday night in late 1997, a clearly refreshed Noel and Liam bowled into Radio 1’s studio when Steve Lamacq was on air. Lamacq had been a champion of the band from their early days, and had acted as an influential media insider. But here they were, guests on the show, pissed-up, the sound of sniffing coke clearly audible, and they offered their opinions on various members of rock aristocracy who had taken swipes at them in the press. At one point, Liam launches into a scathing diatribe against Keith Richards, where he offers him out for a fight on Primrose Hill, along with George Harrison, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney to ‘beat the fucking living daylight shit out of them old farts who live in day centres.’
He precedes this with ‘I’ll shut my mouth after this, right…’
He obviously doesn’t.
He goes on to say ‘leave your zimmer frames at home, and I’ll fucking hold you all up with a good right hook,’ it’s absolutely hilarious, but you can tell he’s genuinely hurt by their criticism, and he won’t let it go. Noel’s a bit more pragmatic, but he’s noticeably incoherent, his thoughts bouncing around in all directions, as he struggles to control his little brother. Anyone who’s ever taken cocaine or been around people on cocaine will recognise the psychotic babble that spews forth from the brothers, as they constantly shout over each other to be heard, one minute arguing, the next professing their love for each other, with Lamacq powerless to keep control of the situation; at one point the brothers coming close to a fist-fight as Noel continually belittles his brother live on air.
For all the tabloid coverage, they’ve never been more raw and exposed. Once the laughter has subsided, you know that they’ve gone one step too far, and you start to cringe for them. You simply cannot challenge the establishment in this country, yet here they were, aiming pot-shots at everyone, live on the BBC, complete with trademark swearing-as-punctuation. That was the nail in the coffin as far as the media was concerned, as the press rounded on them in spectacular fashion. The die-hards stayed, but the floating voters, the casual scene-hoppers left in droves as the press pointed them in different directions.
Saying you’ll put rock royalty in those little kids’ swings in the park, push them, then beat them up was not cool it was decided.
And there you have it. In my opinion, the turning point; when people’s affections were ushered in a different direction. ‘Be Here Now’ didn’t sink them, they sank themselves with the aid of cocaine, lots of it by the sound of it. If you consider a band who would go on to sell millions more records over the next eleven years and sell out every stadium, park and field they played in, sunk, that is. It didn’t help that that year ushered in a new wave of post-Britpop experimentalism, with landmark albums from Primal Scream, Spiritualized, The Verve and Radiohead, which kind of signalled the end of Oasis Mk1.
The party was still in full swing though for the brothers, as they became ubiquitous tabloid fodder, more famous for their offstage antics than their music, but the line had been drawn in the sand. Their B-sides compilation, ‘The Masterplan,’ that arrived the following year though, was greeted with unanimous praise, as you couldn’t argue with the quality. Besides, the songs had already been deemed classics, so bad reviews simply weren’t an option.
End of part one.
That was the last we’d see of Oasis professionally that decade.
And in the End…
So, the film sent all that lot racing round my brain, and I thought I’d share.
The ‘90s were about so much more than those three glorious years though. There was loads going on: Madchester, rave/house, shoegaze, grunge, new-glam, Britpop, post-Britpop, Americana, stadium dance music such as The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers and the post-punk revivalists. Genres crashed into each other, nicked ideas from each other and chucked it all into the melting pot. For all the claims that Britpop set music back twenty years, there was a Roni Size, a Leftfield, a Massive Attack, a DJ Shadow to offset that, so I don’t really hold truck with that line of thought, it was a decade of experimentation; in any case I always found the term ‘Britpop’ to be lazy, as it was just a loose term for any band with a guitar. You can’t say Elastica were in any way similar to Cast, who were hardly Pulp sound-alikes themselves.
The ’90s ended in 2001 with The Strokes debut album, released a week or so before 9/11. The party kick-started by the collapse of the Berlin Wall was long and exhilarating, and would come crashing down with some severity, but for those 12 years, we were mad for it, whatever…
Here’s a handy toolkit for dealing with Gallagher-bashers:
“They sound just like The Beatles”
“Not really, but that’s a criticism? Seriously? Are your favourite band totally original or do they sound like Television/Talking Heads/Gang of Four/Joy Division/The Fall/Oasis?”
“Their first two albums were ok, but then they went shit”
“Oh, there’s a coincidence, handily corresponds with when the media decided they were shit after awarding BHN glowing reviews. Tell me, have you listened to their other albums? There must be a couple on ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ you don’t mind. Oh? Not listened to it? Let me make you a playlist of about 30 post-WTSMG songs that you haven’t heard that equal those first two albums that routinely appear in ‘Greatest Albums…’ lists that you clearly devour.”
“Noel’s good value, but Liam’s a complete cock.”
“Funny you should say that, because the general consensus is that Noel’s aloof and mean-spirited when he’s not got a microphone in front of him, and that Liam’s one of the sweetest, most big-hearted, hilarious people you’d ever meet. Are you sure you’re not just being hoodwinked by the media’s representation of them? I thought you sought all your news from non-mainstream media because mainstream media is all corrupt. See how they paint Jeremy Corbyn? Yep, that.”
“Noel nicked loads of melodies and lyrics from the annals of rock history.”
“So did The Beatles, The Stones and The Who. Punk? Sixties garage rock. Bowie? How long have you got?”
“Thank god Britpop died with ‘Be Here Now’, can you imagine if that dadrock shit wasn’t killed dead in 1997?”
“Most people who picked up a guitar in the ‘90s are in some way indebted to Oasis. That would be the current crop, then. Have you seen that clip on Youtube of Pete Doherty queuing up for ‘Be Here Now’?”
“They’re just a group of football hooligans who managed to blag it. I find their laddish antics vulgar.”
“Do you prefer reading Gallagher interviews or Royal Blood interviews? Perhaps if there were more like them, our current music scene wouldn’t be so bland. Can you even name any of The 1975? Liam Gallagher is the last great rock star. Now they all resemble careerist geography teachers with nothing to say.”
“Oasis are shit.”
“Why? Please sit down and tell me why and I’ll pick holes in every single one of your second-hand opinions with well-thought-out arguments, because my guess is that you know nothing outside the first two albums. You can’t hate every song, surely? That’s just imbecilic.”
“I wouldn’t mind seeing that ‘Supersonic’ documentary.”
“Really? I have you on record as saying ‘they’re fucking garbage’ on Friday 13th October 2009 (produce a logbook of all Oasis criticisms. With dates). What happened? Did Pitchfork give it a good review?”
“Actually, I think their later work is due a reappraisal.”