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The Ballad Of Viva Brother (Or: Are People Sick Of ‘Next Big Thing’ Major Label Hype?)

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Oh yeah. Two titles for a post. We’re getting literary on your asses. As the kids on the interwebs like to say, this is SERIOUS BUSINESS.

The Twitterheads among you may have noticed a certain hashtag-fuelled flurry of activity over the last couple of days – one which draws attention to the oddly sad story of Brit-rock outfit Viva Brother. Here’s the story in a handy bite-sized capsule (look, we’re not getting too literary on your asses): in early 2011 a swaggering bunch of lads called Brother deemed themselves to be the future of rock and roll. They had a monumental hype machine behind them, courtesy of Geffen Records, which only served to bolster their arrogance. A short while later, they changed their name to ‘Viva Brother’ after another band called Brother threatened to sue them. Then – on April 1st 2012 – they split up. And … erm … that’s it.

The most interesting thing about Viva Brother was the reaction they provoked. There was an initial push across all media fronts, with once-respected outlets like the NME immediately hurling them on the cover and heralding their rise as the ‘return of the great British guitar band’. Several other publications followed suit, diving headfirst into the whirlwind of Geffen-sponsored hype.

Then – perhaps quicker than ever before – the backlash began. It seemed that Viva Brother were almost universally disliked, to the point of viciousness. Tim Jonze at The Guardian called them ‘unintentionally hilarious’ – a sentiment which seemed almost tame in the wake of the debut album reviews which followed.

Let’s just say that reaction to ‘Famous First Words’ (cringe) wasn’t pretty. Drowned In Sound ranted that ‘Geffen’s belief that this lot represent the future of UK guitar music defies comprehension’, The Observer claimed that they set back guitar music ‘a good 20 years’, and The Quietus put the boot in by saying ‘this is manufactured rebellion for the X Factor generation and that’s just not good enough in times like these. Devoid of hunger, anger and sex, Viva Brother are about as anaemic and pale as music gets.’

And – with the news of their split – reaction ceased to be any less hostile. Holy Moly mock-mourned the passing of ‘the country’s most hilarious band’, while The Guardian simply asked ‘Viva Brother, Where Art Thou’? Dancing atop the gravestone had officially commenced.

Buuuuuuut – here’s the thing. There’s no point in denying the obvious. Viva Brother were a truly terrible band. Not only did their arrogance during interviews prove to have zero backing talent-wise, but they made the fatal mistake of trying to revive Britpop. Seriously. Britpop. For American readers who might not be aware, Britpop was a mid-90s musical fad in Britain, during which guitar bands ditched all pretense of intellect and tried to appeal to a grotesque, beer-swilling archetype of the working class. This was coupled with a strange, almost xenophobic ‘patriotism’ which involved covering every available surface with Union Jack flags.

Entire books have been written on how crap Britpop was. Entire films have been made about it too. It was the godawful period during which Blur released their worst music, Pulp unfairly became associated with the scene and went on to have a nervous breakdown, and Oasis released a couple of albums which are kind of okay if you want something forgettable to soundtrack a summer’s day barbeque. While it will undoubtedly experience a revival one day – everything does, for better or worse – Viva Brother’s attempt to do so was a hideously misjudged.

Yet … one can’t help but feel that’s not the only reason behind the unprecedented backlash. Bands have long been hyped to the hills by major labels, and have long crashed and burned without attaining the world-conquering success they ‘deserved’. Remember Gallows? Terris? Gay Dad? Course you don’t. However .. with the strange delight many have in the failure of Viva Brother … is there another factor involved? A turning of the tide, maybe? A cultural shift?

No-one is pretending that the major labels are bereft of influence. Adele didn’t get to be a global superstar by sheer hard work – there was a massive corporate machine behind her. Yet modern-day 18-34 year olds – the golden ticket for the music industry – are savvier, more enabled and more clued-up pop-culture-wise than any generation before them. There are so many ways to discover new music now, and listeners can choose with their clicks. Digital consumption – while not reinventing the wheel – has introduced a new meritocracy to the system. If your bedroom-recorded tracks are good enough, and enough people share them online, you’ll be discovered. Sometimes the backing of a huge label isn’t necessary. Infact, when it comes to genres in which corporate approval is seen as a blow to credibility, it’s a positive bonus.

The major labels aren’t going away. And if they happen to discover an astonishing new act and share it with the world, more power to them. But the days of them being able to dig up any old crap and convince the public that it’s worth buying might be coming to an end – at least outside the bubblegum pop sphere. The Emperor’s New Clothes have been sent to the dry cleaners.

What do you guys think? Does the failure of Geffen’s pet project ‘Viva Brother’ herald an industry/consumer change? Or is it just a case of history repeating the sort of high-profile screw-up we’ll undoubtedly see time and time again?

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