Famous In Your Own Lunchtime
Citizen K Magazine, Paris
Spring / Summer 96, Issue 9
Today, Elvis would have little hope of crashing into the stars. We're living in the age of minorities, of divided tribes, of cults which multiply like so many fragmented markets. Pop music which addresses itself to a mass public is disappearing.
When we speak of pop music in the widest sense, it's Tricky and Oasis, but it's also Foo Fighters or Coolio. What do they have in common, these brave contenders for gold and platinum, beyond the fact that they all make records and sometimes rub shoulders in the columns of Billboard?
Certainly it's not audiences they have in common. Even if they sell millions of albums, we can't really call them stars. The same goes for their elders, the Madonnas and U2s, reduced to cunning to hang onto their customers. While La Cicciolina reinvents herself as a lesbian or culture vulture, the Irish band falls into the yawning gulf between Pavarotti and Brian Eno.
It's the United Colors effect. No longer does one invent an image and hope the masses identify, instead one offers a collection of cliches which each tribe can pick up and make its own.
And then there are the moderns. People like Baby Bird and Momus. You don't know them yet... and perhaps you never will. They come out of the home studio culture, which, thanks to mini-computers, samplers, and that Esperanto of music which is the language called MIDI, allows anybody to make whatever sounds they like, for virtually no money. A real democracy.
So it is that Steven Jones, renamed Baby Bird in the spirit of Do-It-Yourself, decided, brazenly, to release six albums in the space of nine months. Soon to be added is the Best Of which his fans have carefully compiled by filling out the voting coupons included in each opus. A necessary ploy considering this inspired man claims to have recorded two hundred hours of music already.
And the miracle has happened. What Prince, the other studio hard labourer, wasn't able to impose on the all-powerful Warner's, Jones is doing successfully at his own level. After 'I Was Born A Man' and 'Bad Shave', here's 'Fatherhood', where the Englishman hammers together a junkyard of minimalist pop and exposes to the public his 'disturbed love songs'.
Momus, the other Englishman, exiled in recent years in Paris, is also a forerunner of this new race of anti-stars, all the more since he has been releasing albums, to an almost general indifference, for a good dozen years. His last work, 'Slender Sherbet', a collection of seventeen old titles revisited, exposes, as is his wont, an urbane spleen midpoint between a less trendy Pet Shop Boy and a 90s Leonard Cohen.
Not content with satisfying his perverse musical passions, he also possesses what is undoubtedly one of the most interesting home pages on the web. (http://www.demon.co.uk/momus). It's from there that, in a visionary essay on the future of pop music, he decrees: 'In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen people'.
There still remains distribution, jealously guarded by the majors and a few bold independents. Recording at home is one thing, being heard by the public is another. Happily, here comes IUMA (the Internet Underground Music Archive, based in Santa Cruz, California) to announce the disappearance of the CD as musical distribution medium and the arrival of distribution online.
Nothing could be simpler than downloading music from an internet site via modem and a sound card. True, it takes about half an hour to get three minutes of music, but it also allows unsigned groups to benefit from worldwide distribution: the universal alternative within the means of (almost) everybody.
For, in the end, everyone should be able to have their own Baby Bird.
Related article: 'Pop Stars? Nein Danke!' by Momus.
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