1990s: Indie Boom, Heavy Metal & Analog Recording

The reality of the music scene, on the ground, in 1990s Britain was much more culturally diverse.

Though this was not accurately portrayed in the recent, crudely titled, BBC documentary The Birth Of Cool Britannia. Brett Anderson may not have been too eager to be interviewed, though it helped remind us how good Suede were, or still are. The “Britpop” mirage, a media invention egged on by publicists and hangers-on, fizzled out towards the end of the decade. There was no word on progressive, electronic pioneers such as Portishead, Massive Attack, Prodigy or even Radiohead.

But the irony is that, what soon became mainstream indie guitar music, started to overshadow the original, indie DIY ethic. Soon enough, Napster spawned the nostalgic demand for legacy music we now find dominating streaming and social media. YouTube is now closely policed by armies of expensive copyright lawyers. Today, well-meaning journalists from the rock star era often imply that music itself is over. In reality it’s the decadence that’s over. The major labels never adapted well to change. Music has become less of an “industry” and more an ecosystem that’s growing.

Home Of Heavy Metal

In 1988, I formed my first band whilst studying graphic design at a technical college in East London. Our first drummer played like Keith Moon, but then confessed he had thieved his bright red Premier drum kit, with the help of his rogue father. It’s comparable with how Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols would pinch gear from other bands. Chris (16 years old) was a fantastic drummer, though quickly developed a drug habit. We’d soon change drummers and began playing at a local pub called the Ruskin Arms.

Iron Maiden had built their following around East London during the late 70s, early 80s. The Ruskin became their home gig, though I was slightly too young to have seen an early gig. In their wake came many bands attempting a similar rise to fame. These were the first gigs I went to, watching local hard rockers, often putting on quite a show, including dry ice and pyrotechnics. Though I mostly followed the contemporary US thrash metal bands of the day, watching local live spectacles like this was exciting and addictive.

Recording Our First Mastertape

I spend a couple of years unemployed back in the 1990s, but through attending a job seekers programme met a guy who knew a band called The Enid. They had a recording studio up in Northampton, which is where my next band Freakscene eventually recorded our first E.P. We were very tight musically and probably could have knocked out an album over the two days, if only a fairly loose recording. However, the post-production work involved during the days of analog desks and tape would have been too costly.

A big change to my guitar sound and playing in recent years is that I use little distortion. Though I rarely ever used fuzz pedals with a band and just drove the amp harder, maybe with a compressor for soloing. My playing style these days reflects what I now listen to, which is a lot of 1970s R&B or Jazz together with contemporary electronic music. Another change is I often feel more comfortable playing an electric guitar without a guitar pick. The sound is definitely more intimate and perhaps more vocal-like in tone.

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Ted Gioia, an insightful music writer, music historian and Jazz musician. In science I am presently reading The Book Of Humans by Adam Rutherford and have become a regular subscriber to Physicist Sean Carroll’s Mindscape podcast.

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