The Nostagia Trap – has music become too backwards looking?

While the local live music scene struggles to survive, the one that hosts established bands seems to be thriving. CD and download sales are providing less and less income for established bands, so they have no choice but to work harder on the live music circuit and at selling merchandise to survive. One of the effects of this is that many of those bands that weren’t touring before now are reforming to capitalise on the renewed enthusiasm of audiences to pay often over-inflated ticket prices to see live music. These reunions obviously rely heavily on nostalgia, and being that pop is in its seventh decade, there is plenty of nostalgia to be peddled.

The best comeback gigs, greatest hits shows and classic LP performances make great pop theatre and are (almost) worth the price of admission; The worst, fail to capture the old magic, and feel like a pointless waste of time and money. The latter are often the result of bands that have walked right into ”˜the nostalgia trap’, where, flattered by the success of a recent reunion shows, they attempt to recreate the old magic by performing new material. This music has often been written and recorded, and is now being performed, without a number of the original band members. As a result it is usually sub-standard, and always anachronistic and irrelevant. The audience’s reaction to it is a mix of uncertainty, indifference and scepticism: The moshpit (if there is one) will stagnate, the waving arms will come down, and queues will begin to form at the bars and in the toilets. That, after all, is not what they have come for.

The majority of those in the audience are there for one thing, and that is to celebrate the past, and enjoy the memories that the old tunes reawaken. I’ve been to a fair few of these gigs over the years, mostly to see bands, like Roxy Music and The Pixies, which I missed the first time around. Thankfully, both of these bands hadn’t yet fallen into the ”˜trap’ when I saw them, so the shows were free of any new material and pure nostalgia.

Pulp are reuniting this summer; Culture Club are about to do the same; Gun ”˜n’ Roses have just announced a huge reunion gig in the US; I’m sure there are more to come. My feeling is: do it, but please, please, please, resist the temptation, the commercial or record company pressure ”“ whatever it is – to make a new record. Let bygones be bygones. Use your reputation, your connections and your experience to make new music under a different name. Break from the past. Move forward.

Alas, even as I tinker with the umpteenth draft of this blog, news has just come over that the Pixies are considering making a new record. For God’s sake, spare us.


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15 comments on “The Nostagia Trap – has music become too backwards looking?”

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  1. As long as people listen to 6music there will be a market for nostalgia. I fucking HATE a lot of 6music output. I don’t individually hate any aspect of it, but why the fuck does anyone want to wallow in a luke warm bath of the mediocre bits of the present mixed with mostly forgettable aspects of the past? ‘That was Kula Shaker and this is the Kooks’ FUCK THE FUCK OFF!!!!

    fact is, a lot of people become very musically conservative – they dislike the now (boo pop music is not as good as back in the day!) and yearn for then (hurray!, that was ‘real music’)

    The 6music generation (e.g. can remember britpop) will get milked for all it’s worth as we are the last generation who grew up as traditional consumers of CDs/vinyl etc

    Or something.

  2. A lot of contemporary music is great, but most of it harks back to the past, so I can see why people want to the originals and why there’s a market for old reunited bands. What we need is a youth movement and attendent music with the kind of disrespect for its elders that punk had, things have not moved forward in years.
    Don’t want to disparage myself, or my peers, but there’s no way in a sane world, 40 odd year olds like us should be enjoying allegedly cutting edge new releases, it should be completely incomprehensible and offensive to our jaded, conservative tastes. C’mon kids, come up with the goods!

  3. Thanks DensityofSound, as I point out, nostalgia is a symptom of getting older, and I’m sure very few people get through life without feeling it. I’m not against nostalgia or reunions, exactly, I just think that great music strongly associated with an era is best left as part of it. The magic of that era can be celebrated, but not recreated. I feel the same about art, film, even cars, you have to move forward. The Ford Cortina was anachronistic by the early 80s and had to be replaced by the Sierra, and the Sierra eventually had to replaced by the Mondeo and so on, and God help us if they try to redesign the Ford Cortina like they have the VW Beetle. But back to music, bands like Pulp and Blur, even Oasis are about a time in musical history and about the mark they made on it, and their name will be greater if they draw a line under it creatively.

  4. What’s wrong with a redesigned Ford Cortina? I’m still waiting for the new Princess myself. All Pixes records sound the same so why not have another? you only need one but one more to choose from seems fine to me, they got to do something with their time. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a reunion gig, Stooges, Pistols, Roxy, I gave them all a side-step, you had to be there at the time in my opinion otherwise don’t bother unless they are writing new stuff. Lydon moved on with PIL and what a move that was! no need to look back, but then again we know why he did the same reason as he did back in the day, the Pistols were all about $$$$$$$. I don’t think groups/artists should necessarily change their names, press-gang new members etc just for the sake of moving on, look what happened to The Stranglers, a great act in my opinion, when Hugh Cornwell tried that, both parties turned to shit. PS When are Frazier Chorus reforming?

    • Ming, sure, some move on with more success than others. I agree Hugh Cornwell leaving The Stranglers was premature and a shame, but the Stranglers are flogging a dead horse now by making new records. I went to see them not too long ago, and they were pretty good, until they played their new stuff, then I really missed Hugh.

      As you point out what Lydon did with PIL was move on creatively, and it paid off. I hope the Pistols don’t make another record, but I probably WOULD go and see one of their reunion gigs if they weren’t so bloody expensive (like all gigs are these days).

  5. I hear the Pistols have not ruled out some new material.

  6. As an addendum to Revporl’s comment – a 17yr old genuinely told me in all good faith of ‘a new genre, called dubstep’ – Bless!

    I know some kids whose favourite band is queen because ‘you don’t get bands like that anymore…’


  7. I think what I mean to say is, as someone who works with teenagers for a living, I am often saddened at how conservative they are in their musical tastes. Not all of them of course, but I think the availability of everything from every era all the time has something to do with this.

    I was astonished at when I was 18 people I knew wanted to go to ’80s nights’ and listen to Rick Astley – It was weird, nostalgia for when we were 7 or something…

  8. A lot of dubstep really reminds me of On U Sound/Tackhead from the 80’s. There’s nowt new! I want new!

  9. Hey, it’s a post modern world!

    I think the newest sounding thing I’ve heard in the last couple of months was the Balam Acab ep recently – it is odd, it doesn’t sound like ‘fuck me – I’ve never heard anything like that’ but it is quite hard to place alongside things – it clearly has influences and reference points, but it doesn’t sound like anything if that make sense. Burial with Banjo…

    I’m not sure it is that there is less original stuff than say, 10 years ago, it’s more that there is such saturation now – anything new will be hyped to death so quickly that after 5 minutes it doesn’t seem new. 10 years ago, something that was new would maybe be played on something like Peel or whoever and be intangible and mysterious for weeks, till it was released. Now, you can jump on youtube or wherever and here that sound and in a way, that kills the curiosity and enigma of a fresh piece of music.

    I would definitely agree that dubstep is feeling tired now. A lot of stuff I’ve heard in the last 18months feels very formulaic.

  10. A fundamentalist approach to reformed bands making new material would have denied us Echo And The Bunnymen’s wonderful “Siberia” and The Go-Betweens’ beautiful and sadly final “Oceans Apart” (RIP Grant McLennan) both from the early ’00’s, but as I have spent much of the morning trying to think of a third example – and failing – I’m starting to realise these may be the exceptions that prove the rule.

    I do feel sure there’s (at least) one glaringly ovbvious post-reformation classic I’m forgetting, though. And no I don’t mean the sort of thing that’s bigged up by fanboys while remaining pretty obscure to the majority. I mean something any of us would have heard of.

    One thing that does really anger me though is the hefty prices charged by reunion acts. And I don’t mean your legendary bands, I mean bands that weren’t even any good in their day but had a minor hit or two. They can get away with this due to the large proportion of their fanbase who don’t actually like music any more and only ever go to nostalgia gigs, thus have no concept of what normal gigs cost (I’d say that at least 50% of the gigs I go to have a door price of a tenner or less, many much less). It angers me immensely when so many excellent bands struggle to make enough to afford petrol and van hire, while Ocean fucking Colour Scene are traipsing around charging 25 quid a ticket…

  11. It’s also a symptom of the music press – I mean, look at (and no disrespect if John’s involved in writing for any of these mags – a man’s gotta earn!) the variety of esentially nostalgia mags available now – Q, Mojo etc often have stuff like bloddy Dylan on the cover and the NME is terrible for it, still harping on about the anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death and fawning over 15 years out of date britpop rubbish. It’s no wonder some of the kids are nostalgic for music they were too young to see.

    Mind you, all the above said by me about nostalgia, the Pil gigs looked fantastic from what I’ve seen on youtube…

    I could listen to this song for just about forever and I was too young to remember it first time round… I couldn’t care less about the pistols stuff I’m afraid.

  12. If you ask any teenager or 20 something I’m sure they’ll be happy to wax lyrical about grime, dubstep etc being new and exciting. There’s even a punk edge to it from their perspective. Rebellion against the system or the norm has always been at the root of it all and if you listen to lyrics about knife crime, drugs and partying then you can’t really argue. You might not agree with it (anymore?), or you might think it extreme but essentially it’s the same thing in a different guise. Nostalgia is for those of us who do remember punk/new romantics/grunge/britpop/whatever, the first time around.
    To it’s core audience, new music isn’t nostalgic; if you go on YouTube, a lot of kids think Gimme Shelter was written for Black Ops on the Playstation!
    Personally I love it when bands reform to do a tour of their pivotal album or greatest hits but I also prefer to see them start new bands a la Them Crooked Vultures. John Paul Jones, Dave Grohl and Josh Homme are all prolific musicians whether writing and performing or producing and it’s great when you get bands such as TCV, Eagles of death metal, Foo Fighters, QOTSA, Led Zeppelin out of 2 musicians not to mention JPJ’s work with The Datsuns and REM on top of his stratospheric work with Led Zep. Even Robert Plant is doing well for himself without trying to squeeze the last drops out of the zeppelin legacy and a lot of his solo stuff was utter shit. At least he kept trying.

  13. AC/DC have been performing as their own tribute band since Bon Scott died. Not “bad”, just lazy.

  14. i’m in 2 minds about what i would now call a caberet circuit. most of these bands didn’t make a fortune so i don’t really blame them for cashing in to make a few bob for their grandkids. it can be a good sing-a-long with your old mates where the evening is just full of remember when’s. i’ve made a few mistakes over the years picking the wrong ones to go to. television were only there for the paycheck, magazine was just a whose who of so called celebs and the whole night was just a pose, buzzcocks now play faster than the ramones. it’s the bands who alway’s seem to play every 6 months or so i still love like the nightingales, pere ubu,wire, fall and subway sect they never seem to let me down and play at lot of “new” music. they usually have decent support bands with them as well. i said i was in 2 minds. the second being i would rather go and pay £3-£4 to see new bands. there are some great one’s about and many many poorer ones but do we judge them too harshly? the first thing i do is say they sound just like so and so when really we should praise their parents record collection. so the answer is yes and no

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