You may or may not be tired of old people telling you how they found out about new music before the existence of the internet. I can’t imagine that it’s a terribly interesting topic for anyone not in the process of reminiscing themselves. Probably a lot like hearing an elderly relative discuss, at great length, the churning of butter. If your elderly relative was prone to wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the names of obscure butter brands and even a stray glance at grandpa’s vintage Country Crock four-sided long sleeve was all it might take to inspire a forty-five minute amble through the pre-history of dairy.
So, like, I apologize. But I’m afraid the preamble is necessary if we are ever going to talk about Happy Mondays, the Manchester indie-dance band who were popular in certain circles thirty years ago, and who I’ve recently come to believe to be Very Important.
Before the internet, new punk and hardcore music was discovered via the purest and most integrity-driven means; ‘zines, doe-eyed skateboarders, fifth generation copies of skate videos, ink smudged catalogs stuffed into self-addressed envelopes, mysterious and glitter encrusted mixtapes, the interception of one of the trained ravens carrying punk rock and hardcore news in and out of Olympia, Washington, or just record store clerks in homemade Huggy Bear t-shirts who were required, by Thrasher Magazine Law, to have completed neither the third Green Day album nor their third year of college. In this way, finding out about new punk was both magical and possible.
The process for discovering music that was not punk or hardcore, but that still fell within the catagory of “indie” or “college rock” or, as it was eventually called, “alternative” was a bit more complicated. If you lived in a small town without the benefit of a college radio station, you were entirely dependent on a coterie of alternative music gatekeepers who decided what and when you heard. To find out about the next Cure or REM or U2, before they got famous and all the people who made you eat shit on a daily basis started wearing their shirts, a young alternative person had to rely on the not always reliable narrators of older siblings, SPIN Magazine, approximately a page and a half of every other issue of Rolling Stone, the occasional visit to the Big City Tower Records and, finally, the black leather jacket whims of Dave Kendal, the brittle haired VJ of MTV’s 120 Minutes. In this way, an alienated teenager could learn about bands like The Stone Roses or The Pixies or Cranes or Pulp or Throwing Muses or Fishbone. All delivered as “college rock” or “alternative” or “underground,” regardless of stylistic differences between artists. Even as the young alternative person pieced together chronology based on release dates and genre based as much on hairstyle as guitar tone, full context was unknowable. Full context was the purview of those lucky enough to live in England or New York or California. People who wore band shirts bought in places far cooler than Lolapalooza and who feasted on the endless buffet of alcohol, sex, and daily Jesus & Mary Chain concerts that was the right and privilege of all twenty-year olds.
So, in this essay, if I conflate different scenes or shoehorn a number of bands from the United Kingdom into shared categories that they resented even at the time, the reader will hopefully forgive me. Though bands like Stone Roses and Blur experienced their respective peaks years apart and are both now considered parts of two different epochs of English guitar music, I take both bands to be as much a continuous story as I do my teenage years. How I received these bands is indelible, in a way that resists both age and internet. So, despite it being seen as an anomaly in their catalog, in much the same way people take Radiohead’s “Creep,” I see Blur’s first single, “There Is No Other Way,” as a part of Stone Roses’ story, just a bit further along in. I understand intellectually that there’s aesthetic and historical differences between bands like Inspiral Carpets and bands like Oasis, but I still emotionally thread it all together. With little to no reliable guidance, I invented canon, invented entire chronologies, based on what was available at the mall. Now I have the internet to tell me the absolute truth, but I still pretty much still make my decisions regarding canon and influence in the same way so many friends use astrology; I look to the sky, informed by questionable literature written by dead and dying weirdos, to lead me in the direction that best suits me.
Are my arbitrary designations any more arbitrary than those determined by the notorious feckless and spite fueled writers of the New Music Express? The alt-rockist reactionaries of early ‘90s SPIN? The late night program directors of MTV? Well… actually how I remember things lines up pretty well with how all those formative jerks described it. And obviously I, you know, have a smartphone now. So most of the details are in order. But if I get too, too presumptuous, in any of my claims, the fault lies in the media (of course), my small town upbringing (of course), the chain stores at Berkshire Mall for prioritizing the shelving of new Garth Brooks albums over those by House of Love, and in the bands themselves, for not signing to the decent and hardworking punk labels of the coastal United States. If Pulp had been on Dischord, I’d have known every freckle of Jarvis Cocker’s discography. Anyway, if the recent Rolling Stone Magazine list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time has taught us anything, it is that all human thought and consideration is folly. If the house organ of both Swiftian Poptimism and Boomer Funded Classic Rockism can claim with a straight face that Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” is canonically superior to Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit, apparently I can just say any damn thing.
All I’m saying with this interminable preamble is this: the consideration of any art’s lasting influence, especially within the context of some real or imaginary rock and roll hierarchy or, worse, within the confines of a linear rock and roll history (a confine that memory warps and the notion of influence itself resists), is one slippery banana. I’m also trying to say that when I was sixteen years old and saw a video for Happy Mondays’ “Step On,” and watched Shaun Ryder and the band’s dancer, Bez, writhe around in their button boy-blouses and flip up sunglasses, I knew immediately that I eventually wanted to do drugs, and dress like there was no intelligent design to the universe worth acknowledging. I also had the first indications of what the school of cool, previously embodied by Lou Reed and (future Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile White Out producer) John Cale and their Warholian ilk, could pass into, when the cool was taken from mere posture to genetic makeup. Too cool for any school, actually, down to a cellular level. For good or ill.
But I couldn’t have possibly known how far the echoes of the band’s floppy goonery would extend. Now I do.
When considering slippery bananas, especially bananas as slippery as Happy Mondays and their contemporaries, it’s good to define some terms. For starters, It has been pointed out to me by my partner that “Madchester, “Baggy,” and''BritPop” are not the universally understood terms I thought they were.
While “Madchester” was coined in 1989, by Factory Records’ Tony Wilson, as a catchall designation for a moment and scene, and “baggy” just refers to the loose fit of the pants popularized by musicians within said moment and scene, both terms are nowadays used mainly only as musical descriptors. And, for our purposes, Madchester and Baggy are interchangeable, though I suppose “baggy” is useful for those artists not specifically from the English city of Manchester. Both terms apply to the style of music (and lifestyle) that originated in The Hacienda, the Manchester night club financed by the Factory Records’ owner (and subsidized by profits from the success of New Order, the band that Joy Division became after the suicide of Ian Curtis), in the mid eighties. The Hacienda sound was an amalgamation of organ drenched ‘60s revivalism, post-punk disarray, and the local (and Ibiza) interpretations of Black American house and techno music. The resultant music was a haphazard funk sound (usually tightened up, with kick drum accentuated, in remixes) that largely eschewed the jagged guitar attack of post-punk funk bands like Gang of Four in favor of a more synthesizer-cradled, drugged/blissed out, swing; a sound better suited for dancing the full MDMA-fueled 24 hours recommended for committed party people. Unlike much of the dance music that inspired them, baggy and Madchester bands still had full time singers who wrote words to verses and choruses. Unlike the post-punk that many of these same musicians had been playing just months before, the exact words the singers wrote didn’t really matter.
BritPop was the term for the cosmopolitan Extremely British- either in their laddishness or their arch refusal of laddishness- artists embraced by the English press in the wake of grunge. It came roughly four years after Madchester. Some consider BritPop’s reverence for classicist songcraft and varying degrees of class consciousness to be sonically/culturally distinct from Madchester’s shrugging apolitics, but most agree that there’s a lineage. Four years, while a lifetime in pop trends, is barely a blip in real time. And England isn’t that big a country,
As this essay will eventually be about how the sound of Happy Mondays (the band credited with, if not “inventing” the baggy/Madchester sound, then epitomizing it) has influenced contemporary artists, it’s worth at least attempting to quantify exactly what that sound is. Well, imagine if an American funk rock band like Brooklyn, New York’s Mandrill were a CBGBs band, transcribed their lyrics directly from the back of Crackerjacks boxes, and wrote and performed all of their songs in the throes of debilitating, almost interdimensional, drug addiction (leading their entire horn section -and flutist- to quit in disgust). Imagine the laziest, yet somehow still tight, Talking Heads cover band ever rewriting Fear of Music as a Voidoids record. Imagine if all the friends that you had to make a clean break from when you finally got sober bought a circus tent and threw a rave in it, and then the circus tent collapsed, and kept collapsing, over and over. Imagine if Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem made the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. Imagine if the Carnival of Souls had a house band. And the only song they knew was Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing.”
Now imagine all of this as an inarguable positive.
Shaun Ryder’s somewhat *cough* offhand profundities are slurred into originality in a way only someone completely unconcerned with conventional vocal-line writing could come up with (let alone pull off as compellingly as Ryder does). They are coupled with his brother Paul’s loping basslines, Gary Whelan’s decidedly un-indie-for-its-time devotion to groove, and guitarist Mark Day’s space-age bachelor pad rendition of Robert Quine/Ivan Julian riffs. Happy Mondays was the sound that gave permission to their contemporaries to unapologetically embrace the acid house dance culture that was already more relevant to United Kingdom youth than the increasingly staid and self-referential world of punk and post-punk. Making equal use of the black sounds coming out of Chicago, the sounds of mid-Thatcherite drug debauchery coming out of The Hacienda (while stripping it entirely of any of New Order’s civilizing influence), and the few useful aspects of white indie rock’s continued veneration of ‘60s psychedelia, Happy Mondays treated it all with an irreverence bordering on nihilism that somehow translated as a new Summer of Love. With “24 Hour Party People,” they opened the door for bands like Inspiral Carpets and The Charlatans, and a hundred other bands willing and eager to hand their farfisa and hammond jimmer-jammers over to the closest remix artist. For their third full length album, 1990’s Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches, Happy Mondays took John Kongos’ 1971 “He’s Gonna Step On You Again,” gave it a beat and sheen (provided by the album’s producer Paul Okenfield) that cut out out the need for a middleman remixer to make it club ready (there were still plenty of remixes), and balanced out Shaun Ryder’s Mancunian catchphrase-mongering flimflam with singer Rowetta Idah’s transformation of the original version’s relatively subdued, chanted chorus into a directly angelic bell tower of song.
By 1991, Happy Mondays were one of a seemingly endless stream of UK bands being shown on MTV late at night, all of whom were throwing James Brown beats under jangling guitar and sleepy singing. Unless the viewer was a college radio DJ or a regular reader of SPIN Magazine, it was unlikely they would know that Happy Mondays helped birth it all. “Step On” was Happy Mondays’ sole appearance on American charts, peaking at #57 on the Billboard Hot 100 on April 27, 1991. Blur’s April ‘91 submission to the Disaffected White Boy Drawling Over The Funky Drummer Beat sweepstakes fared slightly better; only making it to #82 on the Hot 100, but reaching number five on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.
In the long game of Baggy/BritPop influence, there should be no shortage of contenders. The music press of the United Kingdom, long notorious for it’s wanton cruelty, could also be way ahead of the pack in terms of slathering musicians with outsized praise. Of course, this adulation usually turned to contempt within a few months, but for any band able to ride the initial praise to any kind of notoriety amongst the credulous anglophiles in America, a medium-size mythology was usually set in stone. (For the purposes of this argument, “mythology” means “having a video popular enough to be played on MTV’s 120 Minutes at least once and/or having more than one song on the soundtrack to a teen romantic comedy based on the works of William Shakespeare,” and “set in stone” means “asked to reunite to play Coachella.”)
Having said that, and conceding that name recognition remains high for a number of Madchester and BritPop acts, the influence of the actual music is surprisingly limited. At least specifically. Of course there’s never been any lack of bands that sound vaguely *waves hand* “English,” few sound as specifically influenced by any specific English band. As opposed to the way that many young punk/indie bands rewrite Nirvana riffs to support their own small stakes bellyaches, and countless “alternative metal” bands would be forced to retire without the vocal melodies of Alice In Chains to mimic poorly. Bands that once dominated the anglophile conversation (Blur, Pulp, etc) are now almost footnotes; given neither the endless wordcount devoted to Radiohead’s tedious genius nor the grudging appreciation granted to bands like Muse or Coldplay. While shoegaze (and whatever dream pop is) are the genres of guitar rock that provide the most accessible shortcut around having to write a memorable chorus, and therefore remain popular inspirations for new bands, a surprising number of bands that were once deejay mainstays of Anglophile dance parties have fallen to the wayside. Even as the barrel of ‘90s reference is otherwise scraped clean, and entire festivals are devoted to bands that sound like bands that wanted to sound like Joy Division in 1985, musicians who look to Pulp or Blur, or most of their contemporaries, for direct inspiration are scarce.
In the case of Pulp, with the exception of the excellent Desperate Journalist, who covered “The Fear” but otherwise hue closer to the riffage and vocal acrobatics of Suede (and, to be perfectly honest, Tamaryn), I can’t think of any current bands even trying. Setting aside Pulp’s various pre-fame permutations and focussing on the Working Class Disco Dandy era they’re most beloved for, I suspect nobody apes Pulp because aping Pulp in any way that could be lied about is near impossible. To sound like Pulp would require an entire Jarvis Cocker pantomime. Without the accent and hand movements, your band would just sound like an icecream truck parked on stage. Plus, most overly book smart non-singers, thriftily taking into account their wardrobe budgets and innate tendency to dress like shit, quite reasonably opt for the early ‘80s Mark E. Smith alternative. (The exception to this is, of course, the works of the ever sublime Michael Grace Jr.. But neither My Favorite nor The Secret History’s admittedly-studied-yet-still-moving/bracing anglophilia should be contained to just one English time or English place or English sound. Theirs was an expansive anorak.)
With the exception of the aforementioned Desperate Journalist and the beloved-in-my-house badboygazers, Nothing (whose recent Delfonics cover shares the same uncharacteristically subdued, romantic rain cloud as this cover of “Brass In The Pocket''), the same reasoning can be applied to Suede. That band’s marriage of star-glam bombast and World Won’t Listen swooningly provincial despair is, perhaps, simply too idiosyncratic to ape convincingly. Probably doesn’t help that the fauxmosexuality that Suede singer Brett Anderson trafficked in, during Suede’s initial hype years, no longer flies. It’s also possible that, despite Suede’s glamourpus appeal, MySpace metalcore/stadium emo gave swooped black bangs a working class patina that indie musicians of today might (subconsciously, of course) find embarrassing. While we’ve returned to the indie days of middle class aristocrats dressing like skate park bathroom attendants, and god knows Actually Popular alt-rock genres like pop-punk is sucking in its cheekbones like nobody’s business, indie rock slumming continues to draw the line at skramz.
But Happy Mondays? I’m so glad you asked. The new Parquet Courts song, “Walking at a Downtown Pace,” is, in its spy-flick cool cool bassline/singing and in its wall of drumming and rave-up siren calls, a Happy Mondays song. The Native Cats song, “Rail Shooter” (off of their perfect, if not otherwise baggy, John Sharp Toro album), in all its hurdy-gurdy ghost-funk glory, is a Happy Mondays song.
<It should be made clear, before I list any other bands influenced by Happy Mondays, that I’m discussing musical influence only. Literally nobody is influenced by Happy Mondays lyrics. There’s periodically some discussion of Shaun Ryder’s lyrics; whether lines like “Do what you're doin' /Say what you're sayin'/ Go where you're goin'/ Think what you're thinkin'/ Sounds good to me” are conversationally profound or just the conversation one has while waiting in line at the grocery store. I will say that he has some exceptionally great lines- pretty much all of “Wrote For Luck”- and when he’s pretty terrible (“Four fall in a bed, three giving head, one getting wet”), he’s at least pretty terrible in a way that few indie musicians would even dare. One thing Shaun Ryder never is, is pretentious. Though, when he sings “Well i might be the honky/But i'm hung like a donkey/So i'm tied to a bed/With a pussy on my head” (on Bummed’s “Bring a Friend”), the listener might be inclined to think that maybe a little pretension couldn’t hurt… Regardless, songs about the joys of heroin dealing and an aversion to tight pants remain outside the purview of most contemporary indie rock lyricists. If this essay turns out to be of interest to more than ten (10) readers, I’ll happily write a longer piece about Ryder’s lyrics.>
Blur, if I’m not mistaken, still influences some very fine bands (very fine bands such as Richmond, Virginia’s Dazy seem fond of Modern Life Is Rubbish in particular) but Damon Albern’s post-everything sampledelica project, Gorillaz, probably looms larger in the millenial/zoomer collective unconscious. Also, while I wouldn’t swear to it being a reason, I’d posit that once your third most famous song (“Parklife,” after “Girls and Boys,” and the jock rock cash in) is memed into being synonymous with being a pompous bore, that’s hard to bounce back from. The fact that history has largely exonerated almost every single one of Russell Brand’s positions is immaterial. This newsletter’s intention is not to remedy injustices applied to English indie musicians and/or shirtless comedic social commentators. Our aim here is to do… something other than that.
As for Happy Mondays? The dance-pop-post-punk-acid-house-funk-rock band, who formed in 1980 but didn’t release an EP till 1985 (and that record, despite being released by Factory Records, doesn’t even rate its own hyperlink on the band Wikipedia page) and who, despite having albums produced by John Cale, Martin Hannett, and Paul Okenfield, have long been written off as a borderline novelty act: accidental artists who parlayed drug dealing, borrowed beats, and pin-eyed savant poetry into a semi-massive fame that flirted with punchline and never once left the realm of cautionary tale? Well, while Iceage’s most recent album is an extended meta commentary about the dissolution of Spaceman 3, their album before that, the transcendently woozy Beyondless, is a Happy Mondays album. The 2016 Dinowalrus album, Fairweather, was a Happy Mondays album, overlooked partially, yes, because of the band’s name.. But also because heads just weren’t ready for the incipient Happy Mondays revival? Hell, the good people at Force Field PR claimed to me on Twitter that the last Vampire Weekend album seems influenced by Happy Mondays. And who am I to doubt a publicity company making such an unmarketable claim? (I have reached out to Ezra Koenig for comment and will update if and when he responds.)
Fellow aging weirdos are probably now concerned about the legacy of the former baggy icons, The Stone Roses. After all, that band’s 1989 self-titled debut was, for many Americans, the first Madchester record (and, I suspect, for a few white American anglophile youths, the first James Brown ``funky drummer” beat) they heard. And, despite singer Ian Brown’s decline into Tory-esque crankdom, the album holds up as a reasonably timeless exercise in propulsively gorgeous classicism. Unfortunately, as their era’s blissed out version of The Strokes, that band must subsist within a one-classic-album loop of their own making. And therefore settle for being pretty much just a stated influence of (besides the entirely wonderful but largely defunct, and hardly new, Hot Chip) the altogether okay Sydney band, DMA’s. Whatever. I won’t join in the mocking of anti-vaxxers who die, but I won’t spare any tears for anti-vaxxers whose only real relevance lies in Coachella memes of the “zoomers don’t know who Stone Roses are'' variety, and being beloved by Australia’s answer to 21 Pilots.
As for the Happy Mondays, the band who has rated a mere eight (8) Pitchfork mentions (no reviews: five general news items, an- admittedly probably accurate- teardown of their 2007 Coachella set, one mention in a vaguely embarrassed appreciation of baggy, and an inclusion, at No.103, of their song “Kinky Afro” in 2010’s Top 200 Songs of The 1990’s) and whose singer had a reality tv show about UFOs that somehow managed to be really boring, they’re getting mentioned in band bios, without context, with the (correct) assumption that the reader will know exactly what the band means. Mind you, the band Low Life writing “like, if Poison Idea were given the kind of studio time and budget as Happy Mondays” sets for itself a near impossible standard to meet. Especially as any logical interpretation of the line can only lead to one place: Fucked Up’s Hidden World. And, judging from the first single and the band’s previous catalog, Low Life might just mean “Total Control with more flanger.” But the released song is good on its own merits, the full album comes out in November, and they still have eleven other songs in which to channel Shaun Ryder (and/or Tom “Pig Champion” Roberts). I was just happy they mentioned Happy Mondays. I sent them my $7 immediately. I’m cheering for Low Life to pull it off.
Now, I can hear the gnashing of teeth coming from the former record store employees. “Zack,” they say, finally taking notice of me even though I’ve been at their metaphorical counter for almost five minutes, “what about Primal Scream? WHAT ABOUT PRIMAL SCREAM.” To this I can only tell them… I dunno. If you’re talking about acid house Primal Scream, then I guess anything with a beat works. If you’re talking about XTRMNTR era Primal Scream (the only era this household fucks with… Zohra loves that album), then maybe L.O.T.I.O.N.? And if you’re talking about straight-up Stones-y Primal Scream… why would you do that? Life is so short.
But Happy Mondays? The band that had a dancer so iconic that New York’s Action Swingers wrote a mean song about him and his name became shorthand for rock bands’ male dancers? My friend, I’m not trying to overstate the case (I don’t even necessarily love them more than many other bands mentioned in this essay) but the facts are facts. Happy Mondays are, in terms of influence, for reasons known only to the Great Bez In The Sky, making a real go of it. The Canadian producer Breeze’s “Come Around (feat. Cadence Weapon)” is a Happy Mondays song, as is much of the album surrounding it. The producer is docked a couple points for painting his record as a nostalgic tribute to baggy. As any Dylan will tell you; real rip off artists, if they want to be artists, should at least try to get away with it. But points are returned for the album being hella delightful. The Canadian collective, Crack Cloud, is a Happy Mondays collective; thirty odd Bez and Ryders, maybe channeling Happy Mondays’ more Pop Group aspects of dread but still channelling the Madchester spirit of end-time rave. Merge Records’ Jade Hairpins may be more generally baggy than Happy Mondays specifically, but that’s only because they can sing real nice, and that’s hardly something to hold against them.
The only Madchester-To-BritPop band I can think of whose influence on young musicians even approaches Happy Mondays is Elastica. Always one of the few bands of their kind to even flirt with Actual Popularity in America, Elastica have also recently been given a just critical re-appraisal. Besides writers giving them their due, Justine Frischmann’s post-punk brutalists have been embraced by a number of the kids. As critic Judy Berman pointed out to me, Elastica’s sound looms both implicitly in bands like Dream Nails and explicitly in Olivia Rodrigo’s “Brutal.” I’d argue that while the riff of Rodrigo’s hit is Elastica’s (and Wire’s), the lyrics are pure Shampoo. But that’s ok. Teenagers shouldn’t have to worry about their heart making the grade until well into their thirties. (Also, while not kids, Ceremony’s best record, The L Shaped Man, is an Elastica tribute album. If you don’t hear it, I mourn your loss.)
As for the band of the Madchester/BritPop era that most retains the level of cultural fascination that they held at their prime, Oasis, what can I say? Plenty of bands claim the Gallagher brothers as an influence but, absent the sibling drama and larger zeitgeist of ascendant English asshole-ry and barely sublimated grunge envy, sounding “like Oasis” is a lot like sounding like, if not The Beatles, then any one of those countless bands, consigned for all eternity to the misty purgatory of being considered by critics “Beatles-esque.”
I’m tempted to throw Sleaford Mods on the Happy Mondays fire as well, but it’s 50/50 as to whether that would irritate them or not, and I try to stay in Sleaford Mods’ good graces. So we’ll put them down as a hard “maybe.” Other “maybes” could reasonably include Advertisement, Spiritual Cramp*, and W.H.Lung. If further “For Sure Influenced By Happy Mondays”s are still needed, the delightful art-dance outfit, Daisies, while proudly indebted to a wide swath of the era’s artists (spanning from St. Ettiene to 808 State to even, fuck it, New Fast Automatic Daffidilos), will also most assuredly rep hard for Madchester’s finest. And while, when I asked Algiers if they fucked with Happy Mondays, I’m sorry to say that Atlanta’s reigning kings of roller-rink-agit-post-funk responded in the negative, guitarist Lee Tesche did say that his other band, Lyonnaise, should be put in the “firm yay” column.
(*I reached out to Spiritual Cramp for comment via DM, asking if it would be a stretch to include them in this essay, and they responded, first from dancer/tambourine player/good vibologist, Max Wickham, “It’s not a stretch at all! I think it's too easy to say that I’m the hype man, but more an extension of the general experience. Bez didn’t simply stand on stage, but he took all of those danceable elements and kinda let it flow through him, inviting everyone in the crowd to join along. Putting an instrument in his hand was just to open the door for everyone else to live through his passion. I hope that when people see me onstage having a good time they feel it's an invitation to dance along too.” and then from whichever band member answers the band’s twitter DMs, “So like…’yeah kinda I guess.’” Which I’m taking as a hard “sure.”
Either way, Spiritual Cramp is a great band… buy their music or die a chump.)
I could go further down the list of Madchester/BritPop bands… The Charlatans, Inspiral Carpets, Supergrass, The Verve etc. And I deeply want to. Supergrass rules and The Charlatans deserve mention just on the strength of their recent albums. But I’m trying to get the length of these newsletters from “Lovecraft novella” down to “Alice Munro short story.” If the reader wants to make an argument for the expansive influence of Kula Shaker or Sleeper, they should feel wild and free to do so. I do love insane shit.
At the beginning of the 21st Century, there was little to indicate any re-trending of Happy Mondays’ rather peculiar synthesis of indie and rave. Even as the dance-punk revival burned silly and bright through the aughts, its participants looked almost exclusively to either Gang of Four or ESG, with many opting to base their entire aesthetic on a single Delta 5 song rather than consider any influences from the later, lamer, less “post-” end of the 1980’s. Of all the bands that made up the scenes in Williamsburg and other city’s Williamsburgs, only the Bay Area’s Outhud and New York’s !!! could reasonably be considered indebted to any of the works of the Ryder Brothers. And considering the membership overlap between Outhud and !!!, that’s a band-and-a-half worth of musicians inspired by Happy Mondays at best.
Even the “New Rave” scene that briefly dominated London and its related blogs during the mid aughts, a scene that was supposedly directly in tribute to the acid house/indie era, stopped at appropriating only the styles and psychedelic palate of Madchester, while sounding, in 2007, very much like 2005. The drummer of Klaxons was fairly representative of New Rave in being far more indebted to Sam Fogarino than he was to any Brit attempting to approximate a Clyde Stubblefield beat.
So... why now? Well, first of all, “now” is a strong word to just toss around. Even if indie bands of the aughts were inclined to draw influence from either harder four-on-the-floor post-punk dance acts, or just go straight to the North American or African funk acts that Happy Mondays themselves lifted from, that doesn’t mean that our Mancunian anti-heros were, after all other retro options were exhausted, just rediscovered yesterday. While I tend to peg the start of an “official” reappreciation of the band with Native Cat’s overt nod on 2018’s John Sharp Toro and the Iceage album of the same year, that’s arguably based on my previously noted solipsism. Like I noted, Dinowalrus was vibing Madchester in 2016 and when I asked around for other options, friends made strong arguments for Jagwar Ma’s 2013 Howlin’ album, Milk Music’s Mystic 100s (from 2017, and apparently “spiritually'' influenced), and even earlier work by fellow Olympians, Trans FX. (Someone even suggested Brian Jonestown Massacre, but confirming that would require my listening to Brian Jonestown Massacre and, besides my being Officially Team Dandy Warhols, Anton Newcomb once yelled at me for not playing enough Alice Cooper when I was deejaying. He may have been right, but it was annoying. So if they want to be included, they can do their own newsletter.)
Some people may claim that, rather than being influenced by Manchester’s finest purveyors of nihilistic funk, some of these recent bands just listened to a couple Fela Kuti albums before going into the studio or are just trying to sound like Talking Heads and failing miserably, but those people are just mean. Those of us still inclined towards wide eyed wonder at creation’s (and Creation’s) splendor know a zeitgeist when we see one. After years of worshipping at the pedalboard of Kevin Shields or the notebook scribbling of Mark E. Smith, some of the ever-dwindling rockist faithful have discovered that they can slur just as satisfyingly over polyrhythms and deceptively jolly synthesizer swells. On “Wrote For Luck,” Shaun Ryder sang “You use to speak the truth/ but now you’re clever,” and I would never disagree, but I also reject those two choices as mutually exclusive. Sometimes reality is just that cute.
It’s (way too) tempting to try to shoehorn a hodgepodge of artists from the last decade sounding well-enough like a band I loved when I was sixteen into some sort of inevitable result of a post-political-moment; an exaltation of dayglo ennui directly following four years of “These Dark Days'' posturing. But that would do a disservice to both the sincerely anti-rightist artists of the Trump Years, and the Happy Mondays themselves; positioning their authority-averse, racially utopian apolitics as a mere disco (milkshake) duck commentary on horseshoe theory. Shaun Ryder probably did (and does) find much to fault in “both sides,” but the band’s worldview was “working class” of the decidedly “work- outside of hustling- fucking sucks' ' variety. And their utopian vision existed outside the realm of earthly politics, in the way that the Toontown of Who Framed Roger Rabbit existed outside the borders of Los Angeles proper. Some of the usual theories of zeitgeist simply aren't applicable.
The (semi) youth embracement of Happy Mondays sound, besides the obvious of it being a previously underutilized sweet, sweet sound, can be understood as a (semi) collective desire to get the vibes of the 1960s right for once. As opposed to boomers attempting to monetize Woodstock in 1999, and Gen X-ers and Millennials attempting to derive clicks from tut-tutting that attempt’s crass, violent failure, artists (god bless ‘em) are perhaps trying to fuse tie-dyed euphorias and Black American hard-rythmes, but free of both nostalgia for boomer culture and a patronizingly fethishistic pastiche-rendering of Black American music. Like the No Wave/”fake” jazz of the ‘80s or the blooze-garage of the ‘90s and 2000s, but without hep-cat blackface or unfortunate “soulful” accent affectations. The result is... being wicked into Happy Mondays. Reasonable people might suggest that artists might be more respectful to draw directly from artists like Mandrill and Funkadelic, but… is that something we’d really want? After all, Macklmore would have grated significantly less if he’d been trying to sound like MC 900 ft. Jesus rather than The Roots.
That being said, I’m also perfectly willing to accept that the real reason is the simplest (yeah, obvious) one. Artists, being aesthetes, like cool singing over a groovy, vaguely punky, vaguely modern/vaguely timeless rythme. And artists who came of age with the full musical library of the internet can seamlessly pull from house music, disco, Yellow Magic Orchestra, B-52s, and, again, the Talking Heads, logically resulting in a sound akin to Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches. In one of the first interviews of Shaun Ryder I read, he simply said, “people like us ‘cos we got the E.” It worked in 1989, and both the formative albums and the drugs are even easier to get now. And if a counter argument can be made based on thirty years of drug use's ravages, and the contemporary terror of just what those drugs are cut with, it bears reminding that the musical/cultural euphoria Happy Mondays dealt in always came with a mean streak cooked in.
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