Hello again dear reader it’s your ever present, effervescent and resident Karma.Punk back again with another tale from the naughty step…
Back in 1986 NME journalist David Quantick, an English freelance writer and critic was interviewing Jamie Wednesday a Streatham indie band which included the two men who would become Carter USM. In the interview he predicted that cannibalisation would be the downfall of pop music, due to the endless recycling of old ideas and that eventually, ‘pop will eat itself’ and that at some point the perfect theoretical pop song could be created by combining the best parts of all successful pop songs into one track.At the time of the interview Stock Aitken Waterman – an English songwriting and record producing trio consisting of Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, and Pete Waterman. Were enjoying great success scoring more than 100 UK top 40 hits, selling 40 million records and earning an estimated £60 million. Their usual method for creating the music was to first write the songs, next they would record the music with extensive use of synthesizers, drum machines and sequencers; and then finally bring in a singer solely to record the vocal track. The press were horrified by their autocratic style of making records (“If you get too friendly with an artist,” counsels Stock, “the next thing you know, they’ll be asking to do their vocals again or change the lyrics or something”) and their prodigious, production line-like output and similar song structures led to them being referred to as the “hit factory” while popular wisdom said it was achieved by churning out records like fast food: cheap, disposable, unwholesome and identical. Unsurprisingly it attracted criticism from many quarters, including the Guardian newspaper who unflatteringly dubbed the team, “Schlock, Aimless and Waterdown”.
They also incurred bad reviews from the British music press establishment when they strong-armed the group M/A/R/R/S into a legal settlement over a sample that M/A/R/R/S had taken from SAW’s own recording, “Roadblock”, and used in their surprise hit “Pump Up the Volume”. Pete Waterman wrote an open letter to the music press calling such things “wholesale theft”. The press fired back that Waterman was currently using the bassline of Colonel Abrams’s “Trapped” in Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”. Indeed, “Roadblock” itself could be described as inspired by the classic Average White Band hit “Pick Up the Pieces”.
Quantick’s observation would prove to be chillingly prophetic – a prediction of future pop’s ever more repetitive instinct for recycling and recombination that has – ultimately – led to the current state of the music business – which is, essentially, in the shitter. Basically, pop music would rather regurgitate old ideas rather than create new ones even though that tactic has seen a year on year 20% fall in records sales for the past few years.
If you’ve read any of my previous columns (and I hope you have) you’ll know by now that I’m about get to the actual point. And my point is? I hear you scream.
Well, isn’t tattooing going in exactly the same direction? This week I saw exactly the same reference image tattooed three times by three different artists in almost exactly the same way and a quick glance at some of the most successful artists (of the moment) portfolios shows an almost Stock Aitken Waterman-esque approach to art. Their prodigious but production line-like output and similar layouts could be seen in the same way as the much criticised ‘hit factory’ technique. And whilst these artists are picking up awards, garnering coverage in magazines and on the web whilst being applauded for their efforts in every corner of the social mediasphere, commanding huge fees and beating sponsors away with shitty sticks will they – ultimately – leave anything of any value behind? Or are they simply making low-budget pop aimed at an audience, proudly described by SAW as “ordinary people with Woolworth ears”. We should be so lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky.
When the 80s came to a close, Stock Aitken Waterman struggled to dominate the charts like they once had. Beating off stiff competition from the Chernobyl disaster and the Ethiopian famine, they were recently voted the second worst thing about the 80s (Margaret Thatcher pipped them), which must put them among the most reviled record producers in history. They were completely ‘of their time’ and as a result, the tunes have not aged well, The grinding repetition and rehashing of musical ideas, the near total lack of character in SAW’s puppet acts and the endless stream of vacuous catchphrase lyrics mean that they have now been completely (and thankfully) placed into the ‘shit things from history’ pile. Compare this to the The Cocteau Twins album – Treasure, Kate Bush’s – Hounds of Love, Joy Division’s – Closer, Tom Waits – Rain Dogs, the incredible Pixies – Doolittle or Sonic Youth’s – Daydream Nation all of which were released in the 80’s but enjoyed nothing like the success, album sales or hits (with the possible exception of Kate) that SAW output did but have stood the text of time as sublime artistic statements by the truly talented created with real intent and you have an idea of where these (no doubt) talented but sadly repetitive and unimaginative artists work will figure in the future of tattooing.
So, before your next tattoo or before you next tattoo ask yourself; is this just a rehash or is it something truly unique? Its it ‘when doves cry’ or just a another Bananarama ‘hit’?
Until next time