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A Magazine for Sheffield

Look Back In Anger

Out they shone, like two silver bullets, irreverent and derisive, poking through the see-through black shirt that barely covered the torso. Two small round nipples on Brett Anderson's pasty, lithe body that announced the arrival of britpop. Suede's 1993 Brit Awards performance was, apart from Jarvis Cocker's mooning of Michael Jackson, the defining image of britpop. Forget Liam and Patsy in a bed sheet. The dangerous, androgynous sexuality of Suede gloriously perturbed Middle England. Here was a new generation - confident, sexually ambiguous, and definitely not The Beatles. Sadly, Suede's beautiful revolution was overtaken by the louder, more obnoxious Oasis, who brought with them a barrel of tedious guitar bands with shaggy-haired, gobshite lead singers that flooded the pop charts. Lad culture was born. Emasculated males caught in arrested development prolonged their eventual decline into the morose responsibilities of adulthood, instead opting to suck Hooch up through a straw out of Bozzer's backside, while their mates belted out 'Wonderwall' and tossed each other off to FHM, or other PG pornography, claiming 'it's all banter'. The great dawn it was not. I wasn't old enough to be mad for it. I just remember wearing a shirt that nearly reached my ankles, buying a bucket hat and doing a Jimmy Saville impression, before we knew the horror. Looking back, most of britpop was a great turd sandwich that left kernels between the teeth. So many dodgy bands, including Dodgy, who were dodgy. If you want proof that it was all arse treacle, just think about the last time you actually pulled out an album by Ocean Colour Scene, or Shed Seven, or Cast. Your brain knows, even if you haven't caught up. But there was one saving grace, and that was the criminally overlooked female indie groups that were the real heroes of britpop. In the 90s, you were spoilt for choice for fantastic groups headed by women - Elastica, Sleeper, Echobelly, Catatonia, Björk and so many more - all with these ballsy, grungy, punk-inspired lead singers in men's shirts. Singers who weren't made-up models doing pretty dance routines. These were real women with wit and gusto, writing songs that challenged patriarchy with umbrageous self-assurance - Garbage's 'Stupid Girl', Hole's 'Celebrity Skin', or even Shania Twain's 'Man! I Feel Like A Woman!', which had a video that inverted the Robert Palmer 'Addicted To Love' video by having all the male backing musicians being fawned over instead. These were indignant women re-defining their gender roles, taking big Doc Martin boot strides towards equality, while men cowered, trapped in a lost boy's escapism and looking to Liam Gallagher for inarticulate guidance. Unfortunately, like all subversive movements that look to unsettle the apple cart, the initial energy fuelled by angst is soon subsumed and mollified by the mainstream. Just like when they started selling ripped safety pin t-shirts in BHS and you knew that punk was officially dead, it was inevitable that this movement would meet a similar end. So it was that this new empowerment was cast off as 'girl power' and the Spice Girls were born, a sugared-down form of protest that was easier to market and less incendiary than the female-led indie bands. Girl power, which proudly declared that women could be whatever they wanted, as long as they fitted into a tight British flag dress and an easily recognisable category that succinctly wrapped up their entire personalities. The rightfully angry female voice became infantilised in the form of Baby Spice, made a parody of with Scary Spice, all fitting conveniently with established male fantasies, and the battle was lost. We all too quickly returned to traditional gender roles - Christina Aguilera ass chaps and boys in leather jackets chugging their guitars, a distant world apart and utterly dull. Now, watching X Factor and seeing the lengths that women have to go, and the items of clothing they still have to take off, to have a hit record, you can't help but wonder what could have been. When Oasis return to the Brit Awards wearing see-through tops and g-strings, I'll no longer look back in anger. )

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