What is excluded from history is more important than what is included. I’m sure Rolling Stone or NME don’t intentionally *ignore* female musicians. I’m sure that Pitchfork doesn’t intentionally *ignore* good critical writing. I’m sure iTunes and Spotify don’t *intend* to always suggest the same broad pool of mainstream artists. But these omissions help shape reality far more than the inclusions.
Exhibit A: how much more manageable would life be if Radio One and Glastonbury was all about Southend band The Plan than Ed Sheeran and The XX? In class the other day, my students were arguing against Beyoncé because the songs on Lemonade are not ‘commercial’ enough. Yet commercial is a self-defining description: Lemonade sold plenty so whether the songs on it fit in with the template of what we the consumer have been taught (through countless reinforcement) to think of as ‘commercial’ is neither here nor there. See even more starkly: Jeremy Corbyn and the charge before the election that he was “unelectable”. The meaning words like that hold can be powerful but ultimately faintly ridiculous. Is Kendrick Lamar commercial? (Highest selling album of 2017 so far, according to one source.) Commerciality has little (or nothing) to do with song structure or production or earworms, and much to do with status. If you wish to define The Plan as not being commercial then sure, they are not commercial. The weight of evidence is against them, seemingly. It is not, of course. There is no evidence provided, only hearsay; aesthetic values, and these are based on taste, fashion, and hence are constantly shifting in terms of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Several years back – another age now – hundreds of thousands of people read my words, perhaps millions. Was my writing more mainstream then? Yes, clearly. Self-defined. Was it more ‘commercial’?
Someone has described The Plan as “Raincoats meets Fall meets Shirley Collins”. All of these are cult bands but… but… surely only through lack of exposure and targeting? If all was equal in the media industries (which it never can be) then The Plan would be overseeing a plethora of beautifully atonal challenging feminist Velvet Underground-influenced artists on the final of The Voice, not the mediocre painfully sanitised bilge we are usually presented with. Celebrity culture would be ugly-beautiful instead of airbrushed-beautiful or sweat-beautiful and life would be all the more interesting. Of course, celebrity culture would need to change from being part of the post-feminist discourse to being feminist once more – and again, life would be all the more interesting. Incidentally, the descriptive sentence at the start of this paragraph is not accurate. When I left Brisbane, there was a notable number of Wet Dog-influenced groups (Wet Dog are The Plan singer Rebecca Gillieron’s previous band), this lot not the least among them. And hence this lot (by proxy) too.
Drums clatter. A voice challenges. Guitars do what guitars must, a broadside of desire. Strange rhythmical, strangely magical music. This is The Plan. Playful yet not. Intent on changing your preconceptions or at least the coffee in the filter every few days. Growing up but not growing dull. Every day in every way I am growing more angry. Sticks to what they know but it would be real weird if they didn’t (and also, impossible). Again, I cannot listen to this one when anyone else is around. And so, once again, in an odd way this music is more representative of my life than anything.
And the old? Heard this yesterday, part of an exhilarating, six-CD, 126 artists, new Cherry Red compilation called Manchester North of England: A story of Independent Music Greater Manchester 1977-1993 – and was reminded how much I loved this band.
Strange rhythmical music and we’re never going to lose it.