The Weekly DiScussion: celebrating our Gateway Acts
A boozy bar-side discussion gets nostalgic: just who did turn you onto music, beyond the popsters filling the charts (and, of course, fuelling the comparatively weaker budgets for some of our favourites) and the regular channels spewing sound-alike boy/girlband slush? Rifle through memory banks pixellated by pints too many, over years too few (a necessary evil of this business, at least ‘til you’re forty and/or diagnosed with something preventative)… um… oh yeah.
Everyone has to start somewhere, and this week’s DiScussion celebrates those bands; the brave men and women who had a chance taken on them, and their thrusting forth into the wider world opened teenage ears (or pre-teen lugs, even, if you were lucky/cool enough) to sounds fascinatingly new, even if they weren’t, really. These bands, we’ll call them Gateway Acts – today you can look at a band like Enter Shikari, crazy-popular with The Kids, and acknowledge that they are a Gateway Act. Today them, tomorrow Refused… and then on to Botch, maybe. Basically, a world is opened by a source deemed creatively irrelevant by critics such as myself. They serve a purpose beyond any surface-evident intentions.
Me, I was getting into music just as something significant was stirring stateside; before I knew it I was copying a copy of a copy of a Soundgarden cassette, Badmotorfinger, and getting fed names by a friend whose older sister was, at the time, this amazingly cool girl who knew all about the sort of music I wanted to be owning. Red Hot Chili Peppers – brilliant, before I’d even got a copy of Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Mudhoney – I wanted to be in them well prior to pressing play on Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. These names were like mythological greats to me – names I wanted scrawled on my First Year pencil case, on my glasses case, on anything I displayed publicly at school, where the lines were drawn regarding Who Likes What Music, And What That Says About Them. I was, before I actively sought to be one, a ‘grunger’.
But, of course, one band above all set me on my way: Nirvana. Absolutely, positively, the most important band the development of my musical tastes and appreciation. I played my Nevermind tape to death, its final few minutes sounding awful as the deck chewed up the cheapo C90 I’d used to rip-off another copy of a copy. (Incidentally, I ‘properly’ owned Bleach _before _Nevermind, although the latter LP was already widely available at the time of said purchase. I’m not that cool.) When I got the album on CD, I was hooked: I accumulated as much Nirvana material as I could, up until I was about 20, and now have a shelf full of singles, promos and crap bootlegs; they, however massively popular they were in the world outside of my bedroom, meant everything to me. The first anniversary of Kurt’s passing was marked by my group of mates, one of whom still a ringer for the late singer, with a trip to Southampton to watch Dumb & Dumber. Tears of laughter, tears of sadness, muddled with only Jim Carey for comfort.
From Nirvana, I moved through some Britpop – Oasis, Blur, Pulp, early Radiohead – and onto a group of bands I’d read about but never ever would have listened to had it not been for the Nirvana Affect: The Melvins, The Jesus Lizard (yes, I have the split, on blue vinyl), Flipper, Earth… many more. Now, whenever I look over my Nirvana collection, I’m spurred to play something else. No disrespect to the band that quite clearly kick-started my love of music; more a celebration of the fact that their influence has pointed me to so many more brilliant bands, either directly or completely not.
So, that’s me. I’d also say Radiohead have been hugely significant in my musical growth, but they didn’t click with me ‘til the second release of ‘Creep’ (as featured on Now 26, where I first properly heard it). And besides, they’re still firing on all cylinders and are, quite possibly, still a Gateway Act for eleven and twelve year olds today. Maybe... Okay, probably not. Now, some other DiS staffers recall their own Gateway Acts:
Mike Diver, 27
Christ... now here’s some dirty laundry I don’t want to air in public – my inroad to music geek analdom would have to be the Manic Street Preachers, I suppose, after previous obsessions with Guns ‘N’ Roses, Nirvana and Radiohead amounted to nothing. The trick was they were very open about flagging up bands a lot better than they were, most notably The Clash, but also Buzzcocks, Wire, The Smiths, Joy Division and, when I’d started scraping the barrel of UK punk with makeweights like The Undertones, the artier/less-shouty strains of the American punk scene. I was actually into Television, The Stooges, Richard Hell et al just before The Strokes hit, which led to intermingling feelings of smugness and territorial despair on my part. And some dodgy leather jackets.
Alex Denney, 25
I can understand why At The Drive-In might seem a dubious choice for a Gateway Act, given that they weren’t Green Day, or Oasis, or the Libertines, never achieved any real commercial success and they’d all but imploded by the time I got round to hearing ‘Arc Arsenal’ for the first time. But it’s the distance that lay between myself and the quintet – I never once saw them live – that, I think, allowed my interest in them to explode into teenage obsession. Before that, all had been on hand and obvious, my record collection belonging to the classicist rock canon that continues to vaunt acts inbred by ‘60s Byrds jangle and the Beatles’ impish pursuit of popular culture. ATD-I didn't measure up to what my dad and my friends called ‘real music’, but to ears fortunately raised on the bruised destiny and skewed mind’s eye of Bowie the spine-tingling dive mid-way through ‘Arc Arsenal_’ sounded like the real-est thing I could be listening to at the turn of the century.
My relationship with that record was cemented on a gruelling coach trek around the European sites of World War II and when I returned from Auschwitz, Krakow and Prague with the sole CD I’d taken with me I set about collecting everything else they’d written with urgency. Acrobatic Tenement is still vastly underrated, ‘Napoleon Solo’ still affects, ‘Extracurriculur’ still vexes all spiders within a twelve mile radius,_ et cetera, ad infinitum_. The Mars Volta and Sparta may both be rubbish, but it doesn’t matter too much when the band they used to be still exists at the bottom of a well somewhere. I’m gonna go and chuck a rope down now, actually, though I’m sure I’ll be met with the contemptuous scowls fit for a dewy-eyed tosser.
Kev Kharas, 22
Rejuvenating the flailing interests of anyone hesitant to affiliate with the nu-metal and (speed) garage brigades, with fringe on lip and politely scuffed knee, Julian Casablancas and his set of Manhattan garage revivalists rekindled greying enthusiasts’ past affections and inspired young oiks to rummage through uncle’s Pavement, Talking Heads and Ramones records.
Off the back of the hype that the Modern Age EP garnered, it marked a move from the necessity for the inanely epic production of records. Raw and with a sullen cool, it was the simplicity and pop sensibility of it all that was so engaging rather than any particular awe-inspiring genius, but the fact that The Strokes inspired a new glut of individuals to listen to Jonathan Richman instead of Chester Bennington means the New York beatniks are well worth their salt.
Samuel Strang, 22
As a media-hungry adolescent with a fixation on* Radiohead*, it’s quite lucky that Thom Yorke has relatively good taste in music. It wasn’t so much attempting to find other bands like Radiohead, it was more following the recommendations of the band themselves. When I read a tale about the recording of ‘Creep’, it mentioned their self-depreciatory comment about it being their “Scott Walker song”. Bang.
After that, Scott 4 was procured and deeply admired. Then there were all the other deeply intense-looking ‘60s and ‘70s songwriters, from Neil Young to Tom Waits to Lou Reed. It was like a domino effect of cool yet maudlin artists looking corrosively angry and lamenting in turns. Somehow, that created a brief obsession with Red House Painters – either the most depressing or boring band ever, I still haven’t decided. Neil Young probably took me furthest into new territory, in that (alongside all the Gram Parsons-alikes et al) he flung open a doorway that ushered in Wilco, Whiskeytown and all the other alt-country flotsam and jetsam. An additional Gateway word of praise must go to the Super Furry Animals, given that they created a love of Brian Wilson, all things psychedelic and the Nuggets box set. Oh, and Dexys Midnight Runners. As you do.
Gareth Dobson, 28
DiScuss: What bands turned _you onto the fact that there was so much more beyond Top Of The Pops, and at what age? Seems most of us found our musical feet in our early teens, or just before. What Gateway Acts are in circulation today? Green Day, maybe? What about a band like Gallows, who may inspire slam-dance-happy youths to explore punk’s past? Are there any breaking-through bands right now that you can see eventually having an influence comparable to a Radiohead, or a Nirvana?