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Built-In Obsolescence – Can You Be Too ‘Now’?

Have you heard White Lies yet? You really should, they are very decent and, frankly, you are going to anyway. Rising rather confidently through the ranks to ‘next big thing status’, they are currently playing the much-coveted ‘fourth on the bill of the NME Tour’ slot (that’s not a joke; in the last few years, Franz Ferdinand, the Kaiser Chiefs and last year the Ting Tings all had it.) ELM contributor and talent-spotter Salamander put me on to them and very good they are too. Brooding, dark, aware you need hooks and quite thrillingly in thrall to 80’s keyboard Goth. They are, as they say, poised.

But others have not been so keen. Indeed, I’ve heard them described as ‘this year’s Bravery’, which cannot be a good thing. The allegation is that they are very now, that scientists will be able to carbon date the release date of their single album accurately to within about four minutes.

Built-in obsolescence is the idea that something in the design will render it outmoded very quickly. Some companies do it deliberately – Apple are complete bastards about it because they want you to upgrade every 18 months. But does it apply to music?

It’s not an argument I believe holds a lot of water. If you listen to ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ it sounds like it was made in 1967 because it was. It doesn’t make it any less great. If you argue that technology dates music, well of course, but does that negate it’s value? Kraftwerk still sound great, as rinky-dink as those early Casios sound. It’s part of the charm; it adds to the sense of history, of timelessness.

But maybe, ironically, it’s because they are retro? They are very, very 80’s, from the brooding synths and thundering vocals (imagine Editors but good.) The argument goes that by spearheading your own launch into music of the past, the era you are in is trapped in it’s own little space. Hmmmnn. Music is cyclical, especially pop music. ELO were churning out Beatles riffs in the 70’s, we’ve had New Wave revivals, Glam revivals, punk revivals…everything is fair game.

Simply put, good music is good music. Can music be obsolete? No. Unfashionable, yes, but not obsolete. It may not be in style, it may not be cool, but it still means something to someone. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got ‘Ice Ice Baby’ teed up on the iPod.


24 Responses

  1. People have often said to me that my problem is I`m too ” now ” , it all makes sense now.

  2. Glad we can help Dusty! Now put down the fluorescent tights and step away from the angular wedgse haircut.

  3. I’m an 80s goth chick and always will be at heart even if I don’t have black spiky hair and buckles all over my clothes anymore. I don’t mean I was born in the 80s, I mean I was a TEENAGER in the 80s, those all important formative years when a love of music either grips your soul or passes you by (I feel so sorry for the people it passed by)

    So in the later 80s I quite goth because I played in a goth band – but in the early 80s (my formative years) I loved all sorts of music – electro, pop, rock, alternative, punk (although new romantic not so much it pretty much passed me by)

    Therefore I am LOVING the 80s revival right now. I think White Lies have something quite special in a gothic melancholy sort of way. They are v good live so I would recommend seeing them – I’m going to see them again at the Barrowlands when they play in May. Long may the retro phase continue

  4. Nothing wrong with retro AM! I’m looking forward to the New Wave of New Wave of New Wave.

  5. Lets hope its as good as the new wave of new rave which I also like v much even though I didn’t like old rave v much

  6. I was always disappointed that there wasn’t a New Wave of Surf rock. See what i did there?!

  7. Surfin` Safari ….with skinny ties !

  8. Skinny ties do rock. Unless they have musical notes on them, in which case you are Steve Wright.

  9. Anyone who turns up at the ELM gig – the one people are now calling” Elm-stock” – wearing a skinny tie with a piano key-board on it should be granted free entry and a complimentary lighter to wave !….

    ….or new-wave , as the case may be.

    …or is it ” nu-wave ” these days ?

    I`m wavering.

  10. Yer havering!

  11. My mate lives for this sort of music and is gnawing the ear off me to go see them on their upcoming UK tour.

    Not sure though. For me, they sound a bit too teenagey on some songs. Could get into songs like Unfinished Business though. Nice retro feel to it.

  12. I’m going to see them in May LO. Salamander gave them a good live review, she was very impressed.Plus, your mate will owe you a favour!

  13. Does nothing for me any of this business.


  14. Odd, given your age 🙂

  15. I still love music, maybe more than ever, but cynicism is setting in and with it the conviction that things ain’t what they used to be. Do we need these constant revivals? Must they be so desparate?

  16. We’ve always had revivals.

  17. Yes but many of these young bands seem to be sorted for agents, haircuts, management and record deals before they’ve written a decent tune…it’s all so ‘career in rock’.

  18. Do I detect a hint of bitterness there, Bertrand?

  19. I quite like a bit of creedance clearwater revival myself.

  20. I am just frustrated that the true legends never get that second chance, don’t get their ‘rivival’. The Worzels, Brotherhood of Man, Chicory Tip…..

  21. My general motto on this is if it looks or sounds like they are trying, it is because they are. For me, all this revival stuff smacks slightly of manufacturered pop – ok, it may not be at the hands of an evil pop svengali, but someone somewhere has made a conscious decision to try to sound like/look like/be like someone else.

    Generally, I prefer my music a little more organic. I want my songwriters to write songs because that’s what they sound like, not what they want to sound like. I find this si the music that stands up best over time, and that means the most to me.


    Great song.

    GGM – I know what you mean, but in this case I just think they are influenced by that sound.

  23. Aye, so they just happen to be like the 5th band in a row that suddenly gets launched with an 80 retro synth sound to great hype. Regardless of whether its being led by them or the record company, there is bandwagon-jumping afoot.

  24. The Chas`n Dave revival is a comin`

    I`m prepared.

    I`ve got me beer in the sideboard here……

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