CMU Weekly Editor's Letter

Editor’s Letter: Headliner plus local support

By | Published on Friday 27 April 2012

Andy Malt

On Tuesday night I went to a screening of ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’, a documentary looking at the Oxford music scene from the 80s up to the mid-2000s. Crammed into the sold out downstairs room at The Social off Regent Street with an often obscured view of the screen, I nonetheless found watching the film for the first time an enjoyable and enlightening experience.

The story of Oxford’s music scene is a very interesting one. While Manchester and Glasgow are (rightly) lauded as cities that have given us great artists and musical movements, Oxford has never quite achieved the same status. This is partly because it’s never been entirely successful in capitalising, as a city, on the talent on offer (not even during Radiohead’s heyday), but there are other factors too, which are explored through interviews with many familiar and perhaps not so familiar figures from the city.

But on a personal level, what really struck me about the film (and I apologise for being a bit self-indulgent here) is how much it tied in with my own experiences with music and the music industry. It’s possibly a sign that I’m getting older, but most music documentaries I’ve seen tell me about a time in the past that I didn’t personally experience – and even if I was listening to the music a documentary is about, I never usually feel any direct connection to the artists or scene being discussed.

But on this occasion I found myself recalling various personal memories: from playing bad covers of Radiohead songs with bands while I was still at school, through to labels, artists and other people (many of whom appeared in the film) who I’ve met and/or worked with in various capacities throughout my fifteen year dalliance with the music industry.

Now, I was never a part of the ‘Oxford music scene’ (unless you count once playing drums in a rehearsal room there, while my guitarist friend waited for the rest of his band to turn up – you don’t? OK, fine), but I was surprised how closely tied the story being told in the film seemed to be to certain points in my life. Until Tuesday I’d never really considered this before, but actually, I’d say that the artists and music that have come out of Oxford in the last two decades have had far more effect on me than the output of other more prominent ‘music cities’.

Obviously I’m just one man, though. And in the grand scheme of things there are numerous other bands that have come out of other more famous musical cities that have the edge on Radiohead in terms of general and global cultural significance. But Radiohead aren’t insignificant, and nor are they the only great band to come out of Oxford. And in the late 1990s and early 2000s, bands from Oxford had a strong network of businesses and flag-wavers to support them. So why has Oxford never really become one of the names that trips off people’s tongues when talking about Britain’s cultural heritage?

This is one of the things ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’ explores – concluding in part that Oxford was a victim of itself at times. Some bands became so successful within the boundaries of the city that it was difficult for them to escape. Sometimes popularity failed to translate to the wider world. And, in the case of The Candyskins, poor timing dogged them at every stage.

Directed by Jon Spira, who benefits from having been on the inside of the Oxford scene but at enough of a distance to remain objective, the film tells the city’s story with charm, humour and the occasional helping of controversy. It makes particularly good use of awkward silences in a number of places, which are worth watching it for on their own.

Latterly, it explores how the scene became less insular and less of an incubator for bands, particularly with the sale of The Zodiac venue to the Academy Music Group. Having originally been set up with investment from various Oxford figures, including Radiohead, and having been a key venue for bands in the city, many complained that it no longer has that local focus – once local bands could rely on it for support slots with bigger out of towners, now line-ups for the venue are generally booked and brought in from outside the city too.

The internet is also often blamed for the breaking down of local scenes – something I’ve touched on before – ie these scenes often propser during times when a particular spurt of creative genius is a secret amongst a select community of locals, who get fired up by having unique access to something brilliant, and that sets something in motion that has time to develop into something really special before the world at large cottons on. Some reckon that in the internet age, such moments go global far too soon via bloggers and tweets and sneakily recorded YouTube clips, and burn out before they really get going.

But is it actually true that these exciting but low key local scenes no longer exist? Back in Oxford today much is often made of the Blessing Force collective, a network of bands including Jonquil, Fixers and Trophy Wife, and up in Liverpool tonight the first GIT Award will be handed out – a Mercury-style prize recognising the cream of Liverpudlian talent. Both cities still seem to have vibrant scenes that occasionally spiral into something very exciting indeed.

The topic of local music communities, how they work, how they can be developed, and whether they help or hinder artists looking for global success, is something we’ll be investigating at The Great Escape next month, coincidentally. Damian Harris, founder of Brighton-based label Skint, Robin Bennett, the founder of Oxford’s Truck festival among other things, Christophe Cassan from Barcelona festival Cruïlla de Cultures, and Matt Johnson from Manchester’s MDM Music will debate the importance of local music communities, how artists can harness their local scenes (if they exist at all) and what happens when you want to break away from your home town.

This is just one of the many exciting panels we’ve got lined up for you this year. The full programme for the CMU-programmed Great Escape convention will be available online next week – look out for more information in the CMU Daily. Though if you haven’t yet got your delegate pass, head over to immediately and address that situation, it’s going to be brilliant.

This week’s podcast sees Chris and I sitting down to discuss German collecting society GEMA’s legal win against YouTube, the streamlining of Roadrunner Records by Warner Music, the appearance of Martin Mills and Daniel Ek on the Sunday Times Rich List, and Courtney Love’s latest confusing court battle. You’ll find the podcast online later this weekend here.

Yesterday rumours began circulating that Roadrunner Records was to have its operations outside the US axed – something seemingly confirmed by members of staff on social networks. However, sources close to owners Warner Music have now told us that the metal label’s original office in The Netherlands is the only one that will be fully closed, though the company’s staff will be cut back worldwide as other Warner units take over back office activities. Cees Wessel, who founded the metal label as an independent in 1980, is one of the people departing the company.

Speaking about labels being bought and then downsized, as is likely if Universal manages to purchase EMI’s recordings division, that’s all still being investigated by competition regulators. Having approved Sony’s purchase of EMI Music Publishing last week, this week the European Commision sent out a new questionnaire to people with an interest in the sale of the record labels. Meanwhile, two pressure groups in America want US Congress (a Senate sub-committee to be precise) to consider the sale, in addition to the existing Federal Trade Commission investigation into the deal.

File-sharing news now! And the implementation of the UK’s three-strikes system, as given the go ahead when the Digital Economy Act was passed in April 2010, has been delayed yet again. No warning letter will now go out to file-sharers before 2014, if ever. Elsewhere, the Australian movie industry lost its final appeal to try to force Aussie ISP iiNet to tackle file-sharers, and the judge in the MegaUpload case suggested that there’s a strong possibility that the whole thing might collapse before it ever gets to trial. So not a great week for people trying to quell illegal file-sharing through litigation or legislation.

Meanwhile, there was a new development in the long running dispute between GEMA and YouTube, which saw a court rule that the video site has an obligation to ensure that songs owned by members of the German collecting society do not appear on its platform. It’s generally thought that this is a negotiating tactic on GEMA’s part, attempting to force YouTube to agree to pay the higher royalty rates it is pushing for, rather than having to block all GEMA-represented music.

Elsewhere in the courts, Courtney Love found herself in a tricky situation which means she might be sued by the lawyers she hired to represent her against her former lawyer who sued her for defamation. And speaking of unusual situations, Britney Spears’ fiancé is now also her legal guardian. Meanwhile, not a court ruling, but a ruling nonetheless, OfCom decided that Jazz FM breached broadcasting rules when it inadvertently played five minutes of hardcore pornography over the airwaves.

In good news, Robin Gibb is out of his coma, something which has apparently “confounded” doctors.Record Store Day last weekend was also a resounding success, with vinyl sales up 50% on last year, and, according to The Sunday Times Rich List, Beggars Groups founder Martin Mills and Spotify founder Daniel Ek are both very wealthy (even if their wealth is based on company valuations, rather than bank balances).

And finally, there was good news this week as Dr Dre said that there were no plans to take Tupac’s ‘hologram’ on tour. He didn’t rule it out though, and the Jackson Five and TLC were both also rumoured to be considering using the technology in order to reunite their original line-ups.

This week’s interview was with The Rapture‘s frontman Luke Jenner, ahead of the band’s upcoming shows in the UK, while playlist curating duties were handled by Jack Goldstein of Fixers. This week’s Beef Of The Week saw Aerosmith bassist complaining that he’d been tricked into saying some silly things by a journalist who had the audacity to bring her breasts into the room with her for an interview. Plus, of course, we had all the latest festival line-up announcements.

In the Approved column this week we very much approved of Purity RingPeaking Light’s remix of Nite JewelLast Days Of 1984, and The Leg. As well as that, we had new music from The Beach Boys (featuring Brian Wilson and everything), DJ ShadowGaz CoombesMaximo ParkFlux Pavilion,The BugOberhoferAlunaGeorge, and White Manna.

Plus, going head to head this week, ‘X-Factor’ alumni Aiden Grimshaw and Paije Richardson unveiled their debut singles. Both are actually quite good. Who’d have thought?