Mass Producing Individuality

In a few months time the 02 arena will host the 32nd 
BRIT Awards ceremony. Many of us will tune in and be witness to a parade of
young, kooky, oh-so-unique musicians: the recently reaped crop of Croydon’s
Brit School.  Paul Stokes from Q Magazine sums it up pretty well:
“it’s not the rock ‘n’ roll way of doing things”.

The Brit School in Selhurst, South London was founded in 1991
1991and in the last 20 years has played midwife to, in short, the contents of
Radio 1’s Chart Show. The institute has mechanically churned out such
Amy Winehouse, Adele, Jessie J, Leona Lewis, Katie Melua, The
Feeling, Athlete, Katy B and most recently, Rizzle Kicks.

The alumni of the Brit School certainly have an advantage when
breaking into the music industry. Words such as ‘favouritism’ and ‘special
treatment’ may be thrown about but perhaps we should place more
concern on the future of the British music scene than on disguising our
repressed jealousy (after all, whimsical dreams of ‘pop stardom’ are
never forgotten) as we feign in mock outrage at how brutally unfair it all is.

The Brit school is one of many performing arts and music academy
schools across the country, but what gives the Brit school its edge is
that it boasts being the only free performing arts and technology school in
Britain. I suppose we have something to thank founder Sir George Martin
for- if music academies insist on swelling the industry with bland mainstream
produce, at least it’s not all unbearably privileged upper-middle class
mainstream produce.

Paul Stokes reckons: “The Brit School is more geared up to producing
the kind of success that will result in a mainstream and therefore quite loud success.
That’s rather than, say, if you’re a band that are struggling away in your basement.
You don’t shoot straight to being signed and being on the telly, you have to work
and play lots of gigs.”

Stokes remembers an older time, a better time. He makes a good point. When did
being in the music industry stop being the lucky break, driving minis into swimming
pools, sniffing coke in hotel rooms , licking whisky out of underage girls
navels and not turning up to your own gigs? ‘The Dream’ these days is to
graduate from a music academy, receive a swift leg up into a music career,
record 2.5 albums, be a clean and inspirational role model for youths from
inner city estates and successfully launch a range of perfume/make-up/clothing.

There will always be sheep that stray from the flock, however. Amy Winehouse
graduated from Brit School but didn’t tread this path. In fact, she was pretty
rock n’ roll. She was so damn ‘cool’ in fact that she joins the ranks and stands in
line forever beside Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin and
Brian Jones as the latest member of the 27 Club.

The Arctic Monkeys even took a swing at the pop music production line at the
2008 Brit awards.  Front man Alex Turner rolled onstage on receive the award for
Best British group, flippantly thanking “the Brit School, of course, which I graduated from”.
Of course none of the Artic Monkeys have ever attended Brit School. They opted for
organic beginnings, giving out demos to fans and playing gigs in Sheffield city centre.

Unfortunately (putting Jessie J and her rubbish class mates aside) often good music is like
its counterpart, manufactured goods designed for niche market consumption. Manchester
record label Factory Records gave birth to Joy Division, New Order and Happy
Mondays and the creative impulse behind these musicians lay with Tony Curtis
and Martin Hannett, men hell bent on shaping up a music scene to put their
nightclub The Hacienda on the map.

Organic originality is dead and it’s frustrating. In a post-modern, eclectic culture,
anything goes, and we are numb to the remarkable. Each time Topshop mass
produces a vintage item, the irony is simply too much to bear. Everything
around us is a pastiche.

But rather than get caught in a spiral of despair about the state of our redundant
British culture, we should stop being so selfish and think of the future and of our
children: If it’s hard now, how the hell are they ever supposed to be ‘cool’,
or even different?

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