British university students have access to an archive of all public television from the last several decades through a service called ‘Box of Broadcasts’. Now term-time is over, this website has catalysed many journeys down pseudo-memory lane for me — my visual diet on BoB has consisted mainly of old Later… with Jools Holland’s circa 2007–2010, Mercury Prize ceremonies from the same period, and this highlights show from Reading 2007 centred around the band Klaxons, originally shown on the then-nascent BBC 3.
Watching through these I was struck with this uncanny remembrance. Not only of presenters about the age I am now, back when I was about ten years old, but also this very tangible awareness of an indie history that persisted without my childish knowledge. Some of my favourite bands came to prominence during this time (LCD Soundsystem for one, along with other acts in the genre of ‘dance-punk’, or ‘New Rave’ to use the NMElogism), so I found myself weirdly nostalgic for music scenes that, back when they were initially thriving, I had no investment in. Their hipster worth gets considered in retrospect.
From this unfounded nostalgia came a dislocated melancholy. This was a weird time. As conventional wisdom has it the aesthetic of this period is in its nadir of coolness, but so recently passed that it still has the power of precedence in the now. The spectre of post-Britpop hangs ubiquitous in every clip — Gary Lightbody dazzles the crowd, resplendent in t-shirt and jeans. This was the decade described as a “capitalist realist desert” by Mark Fisher, remember, where New Labour’s capitulation to the right and monopoly on cultural capital had created the illusion of post-ideology, the notion that political struggle had succeeded. No Declan McKenna-esque figure was rearing its head out then. Just floppy-haired twinks smearing glowstick juice over their faces, wanting to get high.
Death everywhere, in this wasteland — three topless boys slugging their way through the mud of Reading ’07, milk-pale torsos versus their jet-black mops. I wonder where they’ve gone. Hopefully and probably they’re not actually deceased, but rather in their thirties — with jobs, marriages and sensible haircuts. Which, cliché youthful melodrama acknowledged, is its own kind of death anyway. It correlates to what Barthes argued in Camera Lucida, the image brings about a relation to death, be it those general losses of vital scenes, the loss of youth in presents, or a literal absence of life.
So while watching this old concert footage the latter-00’s begins to occupy a limbo between its resurrection as part of some nascent nostalgic engine, and its current status as a national embarrassment, in my mind. On the one hand, the former could be said to be underway — consider Virtual Self’s excellent self-titled EP, itself based on utopic notions of the internet, right in the embryonic stage of the new millennium (the ‘pre-9/11 21st century’). In that way the internet has decentralised one generation’s wistful remembering defining the zeitgeist to allow for a whole flood of revivals (Lhooq, 2018), which includes the years from 2005 to 2010. Even this article is a project to such a goal, along with being cine-excavation.
That said, Fisher’s quote does seem to ring true. This was the decade of reality television, the Great Recession and White Chicks (2004). The decade when the king of pop overdosed. A time when the Young British Artists became flagrantly blunt about their monetary ambitions. Perhaps here was when simulacra truly came to fruition — what was the Iraq War but a hyperreal stadium, conflict experienced directly by a minority, watched by a majority from screens? In this sense I do wonder what will be considered revelatory and quintessential from this period, when we have genuine distance between then and now. If in 2018 we are amidst a mass-revival of the ’80s (from bright colours to American presidents with dementia), a glut of style, then how will society revive the 00s, an ostensible absence of style? Maybe the real death I’m seeing, watching footage of Reading ’07, is of nostalgia itself. Perhaps those uncanny feelings of mine are a nostalgia for nostalgia; the desire to be those twenty-something presenters, those topless teens wading through the mud, but now, in their thirties with sensible haircuts and jobs, so I could be nostalgic for concerts that happened when I was ten, unaware of their existence. Desiring the simulacra of rose-tinted times.
When Rufus Hound talks about the novel wonder of playing your own music on a console mid-game, it’s amusing in hindsight, but also signals that a period in my own lifetime was now becoming crystallised, however recent the past was. And if we’re talking about deaths, then the ghost of Myspace rings implicitly true through all this. The fact it was the springboard for these music scenes, but subsequently died soon after, gives the website a unique resonance compared to the impenetrable immortality of monoliths Twitter and Facebook, entwined so tightly with the discourse, rather than being innocuous and concurrent to it. What would a popular Myspace look like in the age of the alt-right? And another death, the dictatorial grip of TV — youth of the latter-00s were the last micro-generation to have their counterculture dictated by the silver screen. In this lens the 00s was another type of limbo, between the internet’s social ubiquity and an era when the old models of media influence still held weight. This is even reflected in the music — what is new rave but growing pains, defined by new-found poptimism and adolescence, the liminal reach between indie rock and electronica?
In that sense I cannot look back at the previous decade as anything but a purgatory. Now I am nearly twenty, and the figures on these BoB clips are nearly thirty, I am to become who those people were; while they leave the territory of young-adulthood world, I cross over to their grave. I enter the muddied field, empty but for ghosts, tracing the digital echoes of a time just gone.
Barthes, Roland Camera Lucida (1980)
Fisher, Mark, reviewing Alex Niven’s The Last Tape (2014): http://www.zero-books.net/books/last-tape
Michelle Lhooq, “Porter Robinson’s ambitious, human Virtual Self”, The Fader (2018)