In praise of goths – the most enduring of pop subcultures

More than 40 years on, every town still has them, wandering the streets with pale skin, more make-up than you can find in Superdrug, swathed in acres of black fabric. Goths, rather unexpectedly, have turned out to be the great survivors among pop subcultures. Others have risen and faded, but the goths – laughed at, ignored, dismissed – have endured, seeing their style and their musical tastes slowly incorporated by everyone else (there’s even a goth version of hip-hop, known as ‘horrorcore’). Goth was a fitting name for the music: overbearing and foreboding; delivering ecstasy through the building and releasing of tension rather than through major chords and primary colours;

Too neat but it has hooks aplenty: Avril Lavigne’s Love Sux reviewed

Grade: B Yay, life just gets better and better. World War Three and now this. More petulant popcorn pre-school punk in which Avril spells words stupidly and tells ‘bois’ how much she weally, weally hates them but acksherly weally loves them. This was momentarily captivating on the magnificently catty glam-rock thrash of ‘Girlfriend’ 15 years ago. Trouble is, Avril is now 37, older than the Prime Minister of Finland – and there’s something a little unbecoming in a mature woman still hanging around the school bike sheds and shrieking at those bois: ‘When I think of you I wanna throw up!’ Shouldn’t she be writing about pre-nups, the onset of

One of the most exciting hours I’ve spent in ages: Turnstile at O2 Forum Kentish Town

Even leaving aside its origins as prison slang, punk has always meant different things on either side of the Atlantic. Forty-five years ago, in New York, no punk band sounded like the next one: the only thing that linked Ramones, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Suicide, Blondie and Television was that they played the same club, CBGB. Over here, by contrast, punk was rapidly codified into people shouting angrily over buzzsaw guitars. These days, it can seem as though the opposite applies. It’s the American punks who stick to a formula, while in the British Isles, the punk label seems to apply to any band with a guitar and a modicum

A glimpse of lost London – before the yuppie invasion

In a 1923 book called Echo de Paris, the writer Laurence Houseman attempted to conjure up in a very slim, elegant volume the atmosphere and especially the conversation of an afternoon a quarter century earlier that he had spent in the company of the exiled Oscar Wilde. It was a conscious act of imaginative recreation, seeking to place the reader at the same boulevard table alongside the participants. As the author explained in his introduction: The scene, as regards its setting — the outside of a Paris restaurant — is true to history; and if, toward the end, a touch of drama has been introduced, the reader will understand that

A redemption song, conventionally sung: Sky’s Tina reviewed

It has never been easy for women in the music industry. Once upon a time the evidence was largely anecdotal. Now it’s being recorded for posterity, frame by frame. Recent documentaries about Britney Spears and Demi Lovato exposed the trauma inflicted on post-millennial pop stars. Two new portraits of Anna Mae Bullock and Marianne Elliott-Said, better known as Tina Turner and Poly Styrene from punk group X-Ray Spex, ponder the price paid by their forebears. Turner’s story feels archetypal, a tale extracted from deep within the DNA of showbusiness. An abandoned child — ‘my mother didn’t like me’ — from a poor Tennessee background, the opportunity to fulfil her gifts

‘We knew there was greatness in these songs’: Steve Diggle of the Buzzcocks interviewed

Steve Diggle hasn’t spent this long away from a stage in 40-odd years. For the Buzzcocks guitarist, like everyone else, 2020 was a year of thwarted plans. Instead of touring Britain and America, Diggle spent the year in ‘self-analysis’ and writing a new album. What else for an ageing punk to do? Except, of course, curate your legacy, grapple with the past. When Diggle joined Buzzcocks in 1976, originally as the bass player, he didn’t imagine he would still be flying the flag 45 years later. It’s both a blessing and a curse. Though his band remains a going concern, the songs that shift tickets were written half a lifetime

‘You can’t have opinions any more’: Rick Wakeman interviewed

‘Classic rock’ is a rather fusty old oxymoron, but then the term ‘classic’ is applied these days to chocolate bars and that most in-demand of consumer undurable, lavatory paper, so I suppose one shouldn’t complain. Covid-19 will probably be remembered as a ‘classic virus’ one day not too soon, when there are other more baleful new-wave viruses with spiky hair pogoing around. ‘Classic rock’, meanwhile, is a term applied to the sort of chest-beating rawk that people of my generation admire: the Who, Bad Company, Blue Oyster Cult insisting, in timely fashion, that we should embrace death, and Lynyrd Skynyrd informing us, with unforeseen irony, that they can fly, free

Dysfunctional music for dysfunctional people: The Public Image is Rotten reviewed

A star is born, but instead of emerging into the world beaming for the cameras, he spits and snarls and announces his intention to destroy the establishment via the medium of rock records. But who is it? Is it Bob Geldof or John Lydon? Citizens of Boomtown: The Story of the Boomtown Rats — another in the ongoing trend of the BBC screening films that are fundamentally ads for a band’s new album — made the case for Geldof, suggesting he and his bandmates singlehandedly dragged Ireland into the modern age (the Daily Telegraph’s chief rock critic popped up to say they were the first roar of the Celtic Tiger).

Slight: Steve McQueen at Tate Modern reviewed

Steve McQueen’s ‘Static’ (2009) impresses through its sheer directness — and it’s very far from static. A succession of helicopter-tracking shots around the Statue of Liberty, it’s the first film you encounter in this quasi-retrospective from the Turner Prize-winning conceptual artist-turned-Oscar-winning film director. Shot shortly after the monument reopened after the 9/11 attacks, it offers the eye an exhilarating whirl of light and colour, while the mind — given the potency of that historical context — goes on an equally dizzying train of associations through the notion of American liberty. While you bring these associations yourself, they seem to emanate naturally and directly from what you’re seeing. It’s that essential

Did everyone in punk sell out?

For many people of a certain age (full disclosure: mine), punk has been a weirdly persistent presence. These days, we may not often be tempted to sit down with a glass of wine and an album by the Cortinas, Chelsea or Eater. We may even have belatedly realised that the most revolutionary record of 1977 — the year punk officially conquered Britain (and, incidentally, the country’s five bestselling singles were by Wings, David Soul, Julie Covington, Leo Sayer and David Soul again) — was Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’. Nonetheless, the sight of Joe Strummer barking out a load of heartfelt if incomprehensible lyrics while the Clash thrash away in

The open-hearted loveliness of Hot Chip

Squeeze and Hot Chip are both great British pop groups. But they never defined a scene. Their ambitions extended further than being hailed by a few hundred people in bleeding-edge clubs. Squeeze piggybacked on punk, but they were quite evidently never a punk group, even if they dressed up as one. They were of the street rather than the art school, but they had no interest in gobbing, and Chris Difford was able to turn vignettes of everyday London life into three-minute comic dramas. (Perhaps he had more in common with John Sullivan — another south Londoner whose characters combined humour and pathos in his scripts for Only Fools and

The grrrls are back in town

The last time Bikini Kill played in London was in a room that now serves as the restaurant of a pub in Kentish Town. What a change 26 years can bring: on their return to the city last week, they filled the 5,000-capacity O2 Academy, Brixton, for two nights. That changed status, in truth, is not the result of the timelessness of their music — scrappy punk rock that at its most tuneful was pleasingly familiar and at its least tuneful approximated the sound of fingernails scraping down a blackboard at extreme volume. So why had 10,000 people bought tickets to see them in London? Some of them, doubtless, actually

The weakest link

May was a cruel month for those middle-aged liberals who treasure their old alternative rock heroes. There was Morrissey, appearing on American TV wearing a For Britain badge. There was XTC’s Andy Partridge tweeting that ‘the holocaust is not holy writ, it isn’t a religion, it can be historically revised’. And there was Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream — the idiot inter pares of rock stars who foment revolution from the gates of their kids’ private school — appearing on Newsnight to say Madonna was ‘a total prostitute’ for performing at the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel (has he said the same to his friend Nick Cave, who has played

On another planet

How to Talk to Girls at Parties is set in the 1970s and has punk as the backdrop and an excellent cast (Nicole Kidman, Ruth Wilson, Elle Fanning). It also features what could be a decent premise (boy who treats girls as if from another planet meets actual girl from another planet). But everything it has going for it is undone by what it doesn’t have going for it, which is substantial. This could, in fact, have been titled How to Stay Awake Once You’ve Lost All Patience because, I now know, staying awake once you’ve lost all patience makes talking to girls at parties look like a walk in

The nonconformist

Viv Albertine, by her own admission, hurls stuff at misbehaving audiences. Specifically, when the rage descends, any nearby full cup or glass is likely to be decanted over the object of her ire. She’s remembering an incident a few years back, at a gig she played in York, when she felt compelled to introduce some persistent talkers to the contents of their pint glasses. ‘There’s such a fine balance there, because you don’t want to sound like a schoolmarm. Johnny Rotten used to walk offstage if there was spitting. The Slits [the groundbreaking punk band for whom Albertine was the guitarist] couldn’t do that because we would have looked like

Beauty and the beast

I was going to start with a little moan. About the shouty marketing, the digital diarrhoea, the sycophantic drivel, which, like a bad smell, hovered over Simon Rattle’s ten-day coronation. But then came the most amazing Rite of Spring I’ve ever heard and to moan suddenly seemed criminal. No masterpiece is harder to pull off than the Rite. So often it deflates midway and never regains its shape. Rattle made his name with the piece when he was at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, taming the brute, slowing it down, prising open its interior, allowing us to inspect its fangs, look straight down its snappy gob. Here, the beast

LCD Soundsystem: American Dream

Grade: B+ Number one. Everywhere, just about. You have to say that the man has a certain sureness of touch. Hip enough not to be quite mainstream, rock enough not to be quite pop. The knowing nods — to Depeche Mode, Eno, 1970s post-punk and 1980s grandiosity and always, always, Bowie. Fifteen years on from James Murphy’s first excursion in these clothes and the man from New Jersey, now grizzled and greying, has come up with an album as good as any he’s made — which is a qualified nod of admiration: I often find his tunes too eager to please, the neatly corralled stabs of funk a little forced.

A genuine oddity

The most compelling pop singers in music right now — at least in the branch where pop singers still play guitars — were on stage last week. The 1975, fronted by Matty Healy, finished the tour in support of their second album, a US and UK number one, with a headline show at the Latitude festival, the chosen spot for recreational drug-taking by kids who have just finished their GCSEs. Ezra Furman played his most prestigious London show yet, appearing at the Barbican as part of the 20th anniversary celebrations of his label, Bella Union. Healy and Furman are very different — the one a genuine popstar, the other off

Peter Perrett: How The West Was Won

Much though I loved it at the time, not a great deal of lasting worth came out of that fervid punk upheaval between 1976 and 1978. In terms of bands you would voluntarily listen to again, there was just The Clash and The Only Ones, in my book. The latter enjoyed no commercial success, despite leaving behind two of the best British albums of the decade and a single — ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ — which has been called the finest three minutes of rock music ever, ever. Problem was they were too musicianly and literate for a time which exulted in bellowing, grunting, spitting and staccato stabs of noise.

PWR BTTM: Pageant

How about some queercore garage punk? PWR BTTM — the name means something empowering to do with buggery — are a young, gay, two-piece band from New York State who live apparently hectic lives. Their new album, Pageant, was released last week and a couple of days later they were kicked off their record label and current tour after allegations of sexual predation were made against the pantomimely camp singer, Ben Hopkins. The greatest surprise was that the complaints came from a woman. Their career is now in limbo. Hopkins denies the allegations, of course, claiming that he is a consensual and democratic kind of chap. But it’s all rather