Monday, November 29, 2010

UK Music Scene Insularity and Xenophobia

One aspect of the UK music scene that amuses me is the frequent British accusation that other countries' music scenes are insular, when in fact the UK music scene is about the most non-inclusive of all of Europe's. This article on the new French Radio London highlights the wanton ignorance the British have of a music scene that lies just 22 miles south of the English coast. While the British chuckle at the fact that France mandates that a certain percentage of the songs played on French radio be in the French language (oh that silly French pride!), for years (forever?) one has always been able to hear plenty of English on French radio, whereas the UK seldom returns such linguistical favors with its own radio programming.

French Radio London is addressing a French-speaking audience, which would seem to invite some obvious questions about the changing demographics of London, though the article fails to raise any. Why is a French-language station being offered now? I am left to guess, and mine is that it is in response to the recent influx of immigration not so much from "traditional" French people as the mighty wave of French-speaking African immigrants. The French Afro-pop sound, championed by such bands as the classic Magic System and the more recent Congolese artist Les Jumo, has long been a staple on the French pop charts. While the news media rightly reports on the ethnic tensions in France, one has to admire the French pop charts for their inclusiveness (something I can relate to as an American, since in the U.S., despite our oft-discussed Mexican immigration issues, we cheerily consume Spanish-language pop music). This interesting angle is left entirely out of the written article (it is barely touched upon in the included video); the focus instead being how funny French pop music has been over the years, with the most egregiously goofy examples rolled out to "prove" the point. But as Sturgeon's Law crystalized several decades ago, by cherry-picking the worst examples of music from any genre, one can always create the impression that the genre as a whole is a failure; 90% of any genre is crap, after all, with no exceptions.

The haughtiness of certain vociferous segments of the UK music scene was on display again recently when DJ Mag published its annual Top 100 DJs poll, leading to much hand-wringing over the fact that dubstep (90% of which is crap) was almost or entirely absent from the list, alongside much moaning that nobody listens to trance anymore despite many of the top DJs being champions of this form of music. Regarding dubstep, perhaps it is unreasonable to expect that joyless, dance-unfriendly music with English-language lyrics will play well in Romania*. And regarding trance, clearly the Dutch (who, it should be added, live in a country only a couple hundred miles away from the UK) are rightly pleased with their own DJ countrymen and the trance music that those guys play.

To the BBC article's credit, the quotes from Stuart Maconie, presenter of BBC 6 Music's Freak Zone, get everything right. But no sooner does Mr. Maconie finish speaking than the author pours on the snark again.

For the UK music scene the thought of anybody singing a pop song in a language other than English seems to be a terrifying prospect (thank goodness Daft Punk offer their lyrics in English). Fortunately, the demographics of the UK are changing and an ever more vibrant, multi-cultural society is emerging. The music will get even more colorful, and dreck like this BBC piece will come to be seen for what it was: a xenophobic curio from another age.

* Actually, I like some dubstep stuff, and some, like Chase & Status, can exhibit some joy, but let me have my moment of argumentation here. ;-)

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