Kevin Shields thinks Britpop was a government conspiracy
If anyone has the right to be a little bitter about the Britpop boom of the 1990s, it’s Kevin Shields, frontman of My Bloody Valentine. Bands like Pulp, Oasis, and Blur all but wiped out the shoegaze movement of the late ’80s and early’ 90s in one fell swoop, ushering in a new era of rock n roll. But, looking back on that time, Sheilds argued that something sinister was at the heart of the ‘Cool Britannia’ phenomenon. For him, it was less a musical movement than a cleverly crafted publicity stunt.
While My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Ride had attracted a loyal fan base with their innovative approach to guitar music, many bands of their ilk were viewed with apathy by the music press. It’s almost like they’re waiting for them to fail. Maybe it was something to do with the non-confrontational nature of shoegaze music. In the eyes of many rock fans at the time, the ambient sound wall that characterized the shoegaze genre was clearly rock n roll. It seemed to come from a completely different musical tradition, one that was inspired by the “music of the furniture” of Erik Satie and Brian Eno. Indeed, the musicians themselves were perceived as being so little present on stage that they also seemed to be part of the furniture. By contrast, Britpop’s Noel and Liam Gallagher were loud, boisterous, and ready to grab the camera with both hands.
Britpop coincided with a moment of transition in British politics. After decades of Conservative rule, Tony Blair represented a new era. He was young, he was in a rock band and, according to Kevin Shield, he was exploiting Britpop to promote the cause of New Labor. In an interview, Shields argued that the “Cool Britannia” phenomenon was little more than a marketing trick. “Britpop has been massively pushed by the government,” he said. “One day it would be interesting to read all the MI5 files on Britpop. The wool was pulled right over everyone’s eyes there.
During his early years as Prime Minister Tony Blair invited several notable members of the Britpop scene to Downing Street, including Noel Gallagher and Damon Albarn. The aperitif took place in what has since been defined as Blair’s ‘honeymoon period’. According to Sheilds, the event was used as an opportunity for Blair to exploit Britpop’s popularity with young people. By showing himself shaking hands with Gallagher and Albarn, he consolidated himself as part of a new national identity.
But, by the time Blair invaded Iraq in 2003, the glamor had faded, and the public began to wonder if New Labor was really just Toryism under a different name. In a retrospective interview, Gallagher was asked how he felt about being a part of Blair’s elaborate dress-up game: “Nothing really changes, does it? Same shit, different day. What was it: “We’re all middle class now.” I find that really insulting. Being middle class is just one more step to outdo yourself, if you ask me. It’s just the most boring thing I can imagine.
Explaining why he decided to go to Downing Street in the first place, Gallagher added: “I just thought if the English PM wanted to see me then fuck me I must be a fucking geezer. I was sure I was going to be knighted that night. You live and learn, don’t you? These certainly sound like the words of someone who has been shot.