The 20 Year Theory

Okay ‘Spillers, I’m slowly starting to formulate a musical theory in my noggin. This year has seen 20 year anniversary editions of albums that came out when I first started to get immersed in the world of non-mainstream music – when I was 13/14 (you know, when everything was new and vivid and you didn’t even know they were all just ripping off the Velvet Underground cos you hadn’t heard of the Velvet Underground).

It’s only the start of February and so far we’ve has “Screamadelica” rereleased and today I was reading a 9.5/10 review of Ride’s shoegaze classic “Nowhere” on Pitchfork (about time they got their dues, reunion then? Oh no, you’re too busy with Liam Gallagher’s sodding Beady Eye, Andy Bell).

20 years. 20 years. Hmmmm. I’m now thinking it takes 20 years for a musical movement or style to kinda become something almost untouchable that’s firmly in the past and kinda beautiful and magical and spellbinding and worth emulating. The last couple of years has seen My Bloody Valentine come back into the hearts and minds, and shoegaze influences have been all over the alt. rock world. Now we’re getting to plus twenty for the golden age of Grunge, and I’m gonna start claiming that 2011/2012 is Grunge part two. Albums from Yuck and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart should be quite popular this year, both springing from an early 90s Smashing Pumpkins and Dinosaur Jr influences, following on from Male Bonding’s terrific yet retrofied debut last year.

It’s the likes of Nirvana, Pumpkins, Mudhoney, Dinosaur, Hole, Sebadoh, Teenage Fanclub, even Pavement that held the most appeal for me through the grunge era – over the more metally Alice In Chains/Soundgarden/Stone Temple Pilots axis – and it seems that this heavy or shoegaze guitar/drum with indie vocals vibe is the thing that’s making waves – and this makes me immensely happy.

I’m kinda rambling in my head here, so let’s focus slightly. Does the 20 Year Theory (20YT) make any sense? Does anyone remember the start of the millennium when everyone was rehashing the post punk/punk funk thing and like just now the charts sound utterly 80s?

Has this happened before in music, and what are the chances of it happening again? Does 20YT hold water or could it do with refining? Where is all this gonna end up?

I’ve posted a nouveau-grunge song that I can’t stop listening to right now, it’s from the band they’re calling Dinosaur Jr Jr, and is the b-side to their new single. The band is Yuck, and the song is called Coconut Bible.

35 thoughts on “The 20 Year Theory

  1. I like the theory – but had my fist Dinosaur album in 85
    first mudhoney in 88
    good for Pavement in 92!

    think Sebadoh released there first stuff at the same time as the Pixies 3rd album too about 89…

    been listening to all of these today because of the un-pinpointable theme – like my slack bands me… good thinking… but slightly flawed..

    hadn’t thought of yuck as din jr jr. yet – interesting.

  2. Aaaah, but Shane >> they only got more mass appeal a few years on, it’s just that you are too cool and ahead of the game.

    That said “Freak Scene” was pretty massive in 1989ish.

    I remember when Nirvana got big and suddenly my friends were claiming that Bleach was their favourite Nirvana album despite the fact they’d just bought it!

    • This is the thing – I’m a few years older than you – so all these bands were my age/subset of friends, cool thing in 85 to 91 ish – (age 15 to 21) and by that point in 91 Grunge was a watered down, dare I say, commercial type of OUR alt rock / paisley underground thing (dream syndicates – days of wine and roses is in my top ten albums release date 82 – I didn’t buy it then – but 85ish at the same time as my Dinosaurs first album) and yes all these bands had a huge VU dept – but Galaxie 500 (87-91) are mine and so are the dream syndicate and I’d given up buying Pixies albums by Doolittle (Past their best -even tho they are my fav band ever)

      by the time of grunge we had de-camped in fields with the Spiral Tribe and sheep on drugs – built buses to sleep in and were dancing around burning effigies of our own brains – because there were no jobs.

      • Yep, I only got into that Dream Syndicate album relatively recently as well as G500. I’d stopped listening to both the Cure and The Pixies by the time grunge went mainstream.

        Don’t get me wrong, by 93/94 I was raving in a railway arch or at a crusty free party along with everyone else as well as stage diving at the nearest punk gig when the opportunity presented. Or attending a local death metal all-dayer. I’ve always been a firm believer of having fun wherever you can.

      • yep – no discrimination of where I got trashed either – or what music – I think when we did Indie Disco a while back – the mix of music we listened to seemed eclectic – and I hope 17 year olds are doing the same now.

      • I am older still and grunge to me was always a follow on from the Pixies/Muses/Belly/Breeders scene in my mind.

    • “it’s just that you are too cool and ahead of the game”

      no – I’m your typical geeky artist – the thing is I never wanted to be in a band – the idea appalled me – so my (shall we say) – more exuberant friends dismissed things – because it wasn’t cool or they could do better – or they were smoking grass rehearsing! yeah right.

      I sat listened and took the tunes in – mostly because they had sleeves I liked- that’s how you become tuned to be ahead of the game (I also new a girl who worked in a recording studio in Boston – that help with Pixies – Throwing Muses axis)

      • I have put the Yuck album in my car – this means it will shortly be getting a lot of plays. Will report back.

    • maybe it’s only 10 years – someone younger has just said YUCK is: The Vines – Highly Evolved (2002ish date fans) ha ha.

      perhaps music is just the same dumb enjoyment as a puppy chasing it’s tail – eventually is spins round quick enough that it catches up – then falls nose over tail, get’s up and – JOYS – starts all over again… how many years it takes to catch the tail depends on how long the dog is.

      • I liked seeing Craig Nicholls interviewed, and that he fixed his aspergers obsession on this brilliant aesthetic of Kurt Cobain and having the right vintage Swervedriver t-shirt. Shame he let some idiot major label LA arseholes produce his records into a shiny pile of meaningless crap.

        Very funny that The Vines are even a reference point for those listening to Yuck. I guess I’m now officially an old fart, who upon hearing any record ANY record says “yeah it’s good but they’re ripping off **insert name of band here**, how come no-one has noticed?”. Indie trainspotter points in non existent game, where no-one’s taking score and there’s no prize at the end.

        Oh how I long to hear music I don’t understand and can’t contextualise. Stuck in a loop of nostalgic guitar feedback for ever and ever.

      • is that true? (Oh how I long to hear music I don’t understand and can’t contextualise. Stuck in a loop of nostalgic guitar feedback for ever and ever)

        or do you find alternatives – (say dubstep – or shoey has the congatronics remix album) but really what you like is – guitar feedback, so that’s what you drift towards.. because deep down that’s what you bloody well like.

        (Yuck – ‘Sunday’ has just started like a perfect Galaxie 500 track – ‘pictures’ – I wanna Indie trainspotter point)

        take the pleasure in being old and wise in your knowledge…

      • Shane, I just have to say that I love how you write even though I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about

  3. Think there is something in a 20 year cycle. Would suggest that you have to be around 18 to join/start a band. What are you going to play? Perhaps the type of music that was around in your formative years?

    The biggest change I’ve noticed is a shift away from rock/pop & back to folk.

    • Mebbe you form the band at 17ish, then it takes a few years to get good, and noticed = 20 years, give or take.

      Mebbe it’s the music you hear in utero, so to speak..

    • Folk is the odd one isn’t it?

      I wondered if the more melodic of the slacker style bands had that influence – certainly Dean and Britta always used the style in their music.. but with gentler feedback, than the rocking out.

  4. From a different angle, (son): I was around 14/15 when I got into the Velvets (when they started) and all the other ‘non-mainstream music’. I realise that a lot of the bands you mention – Dinosaur, MBV, Pavement, Sebadoh (does Throwing Muses qualify, too?) – are ones I’m fond of. Apart from Talking Heads, I’m not sure I picked up much of interest in the interval.

  5. I remember when I started playing close attention to the charts (82/83) a lot of it sounded like the early to mid 60s (at least I realise that now). Maisonettes – Heartache Avenue, Mari Wilson – Just What I Always Wanted etc.
    And of course the mid 70s charts were full of what were basically 50s tribute acts (Showaddywaddy etc)

  6. I think there may be a 20 year rule, there’s definitely one in fashion, take flares for example. I thought flares were the ugliest thing ever when I was small child, they were very uncool for a long time and then the second summer of love they came back in (I still refused to buy a pair though).

    So yes, you may be right, but now everyone can easily access music from any time with 2 mouse clicks and a list of similar artists, perhaps it will change? I do know youngsters who have ‘found’ goth bands I followed around in the 1980s through modern bands who’ve ripped off, sorry been inspired by their sound.

    I wonder if there will ever really be genuine trends in music again though, isn’t it all fragmented and post-modern now?

  7. Thanks Beth & Wyngate – looks like this theory may yet hold some water!

    Good point about the easy access to everything thing – I look my my 16 year old neice’s social network list of bands she’s into, and I’m flabberghasted. It took me much much longer to “discover” all that cool stuff, of course I like to kid myself that it must mean less to her (the myth of speed: the faster you go, the more you see; the less it all means), but I’m sure it doesn’t.

  8. nice post Blimpy, and I think you might be on to something.

    Either way, i’m loving the grungy revivalist sound that’s coming out at the moment so it’s allright by me!

    I was reading about Sonic Youth yesterday and learnt that Male Bonding was an early name for the band, i’m sure it’s common knowledge, but I like picking up these little links of useless trivia!

    • Thanks Mr Panther – I didn’t know that but I bet Male Bonding did. What else are you listening to that fits into the loose grungey revivial?

      The Yuck album has been getting plenty of play in my car – really loud. “Holing Out” is a super song. Infact I’m listening to it right now!

  9. Definitely agree on the basic idea of a 20 year rule. I’ve always thought of it in terms of decades – a two decade rule? – possibly because it sounded less precise. Sometimes it seems as if the interval is actually closer to 25 years.

    @Bethnoir, I agree that clothing fashion follows that sort of trend.

    I recall noticing a version of the 20 year rule in the middle of the girls’ teen fashion section of C&A in the mid-ish 80s (I’d barely started noticing music – I was a late developer – and my fashion sense was driven by what there was to buy). Everything was pastel. There were mini skirts. (I didn’t like mini skirts. They made my legs cold. Tights didn’t fit; I was too tall). Maybe my mum made a comment about remebering her youth. My sister (always more with-it) had just bought a 60s compilation album. I faintly recalled a recent 50s obsession in the 1970s (Showaddywaddy, anyone?). Ta-da! Theory.

    Later years only reinforced this. In the 90s, I was mostly shocked and horrified as the 70s made a comeback (levened by the resurgence in popularity of ABBA). I was happy to embrace disco, but rejected flares (aka “bootcut”) until they were nearly out of fashion again and I absolutely had to buy some new jeans. The upside was that the High Street was starting to catch up with my inside leg measurement.

    In the noughties, in crept the 80s, loud and brash as ever… and so it goes. You just listen out for the novel twists on what went before, and take it from there.

    My theory on why this happens? I think a lot of it is down to:

    20/30-something nostalgia
    In the interval between leaving education and having babies, people have a bit of spare cash . They start to spend it on things they lusted after in their early youth; the old records become more popular, new anthologies are issued. People in this age bracket work for record companies (affecting reissues and, crucially, new signings), in radio, even (I suspect) in fashion. They become, to a certain extent, the arbiters of taste.

    with a bit of:

    In time, people forget how awful some bits of the [insert decade here] were. Unfortunately, other people always seem to have a different opinion, and so white stillettoes make a comeback regardless. However, it’s easier to ignore the second time around.


    Some of these kids are too young to remember it the first time around! Tantalisingly just out of reach, they feel that they, too, could enjoy a bit of 80s decadence if only they wore white stillettos and dance around their handbags to something that sounds a bit like Duran Duran (yes, I mean you, The Killers). Other kids are more enterprising and make their music out of bits and pieces of half-remembered snippets of their parent’s record collections.

    I know I still haven’t caught up with the 90s revival. I never was ahead of the game, and I’m past that 20/30-something thing now anyhow.

    Glad to know that it’s not just me who’s spotted the trend, though.

  10. Like this theory too, though it’s hard to make sense of it. I’m not sure it’s about the music that was around in your formative years – can’t really see many 3 year-olds getting into Dinsaur Junior. Maybe it’s that the really cool kids don’t want to copy what their peers are listening to, or what there parents were into, so start investigating the stuff that happened in between.

    Doesn’t always hold water though… Britpop: 1995 – 1967 = 28. And when was Nu-Rave the thing? (I blinked and missed it, but I think it was a bit more than a 20 year delay.)

    Anyway, I’m enjoying the shoegazing revival and looking forward to 90s-themed fancy dress nights.

  11. Re. folk… I dunno, but I think it might be on its own, more leisurely cycle. It hangs around for longer, and has long-reaching, insidiuous ways of influencing other stuff. I remember a ‘new folk’ movement in the late 80s (Tanita Tikaram, Tracey Chapman, revival of interest in the Pogues and Billy Bragg etc) – which sort of ties it in with a 60s folk-rock revival thing. And again, in the noughties – the freak folk thing appeared (Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsome etc), and a few less scary things – like Laura Marling, for instance – happened in the UK around the same time.

    So – maybe a 20 year thing – but I think folk, along with blues, and anything else acoustic or retro-technology (the White Stripes using valve recording technology or whatever that was) is a sort of back-to-basics movement. It never quite goes away. There’s always somebody who (like my mother*) desires to throw their computer out of the window and use a manual typewriter instead (thing is, those ribbons are tricky to get these days….)

    *She hasn’t defenestrated any technology thus far…

  12. Thinking this through, what we really have is an endlessly reused palimpsest.

    Rock and roll took blues and country and “race music” and mashed it all up in the mid-50s, flower power emerged in the mid-60s, adding folk, jazz and other stuff into the mix and this has gone on over and over again ever since.

    The thing I like about music is how every few years or so a new sound emerges that is really just taking a seed from earlier and germinating it into a new hybrid.

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