I was sitting in my favourite coffee shop in town last month trawling through the Sunday papers to see if anything of interest jumped out at me from the morass of tedium and propaganda that usually has me shaking my head in disgust and disbelief. Somewhere amongst the noise I noted that Spotify was celebrating its tenth birthday. That set the old grey matter in motion. How much has the way we listen and interact with music changed, not just in the last decade but since rock and roll invented the teenager in the 1950’s. Back then teenagers treated their music as a form of rebellion. Today little Johnny will go and see his favourite artist with Mummy and/or Daddy as both parents and child will share the same playlists on their iPods. How did we let that happen? It wasn’t by stealth, oh no, it was completely in the open and it’s caused the rebellion of youth to turn into homogenised conformity that believes acceptance of the status quo is the way to go.
Because I have lived two thirds of my life without the internet let’s have a look at how many of today’s under 25’s experience listening to music on a streaming service. As it’s their birthday let’s go with Spotify, but bear in mind that this will apply to Pandora, Apple Music and others. If you have a subscription to Spotify you automatically get their “Discover Weekly Playlist” (DWP). I am told by the younger members of my social circle that this is a popular way to discover new music. So what is DWP? It’s a sophisticated recommendation engine that utilises algorithms programmed to connect your taste to that of other users it has deemed are akin to your own. But surely the music you chose to listen to should either be personnel or influenced by your immediate peer group shouldn’t it and not be accepted with such unblinking passivity. Doesn’t this probing by an unknown force that’s making assumptions about your musical taste come close to being told what tunes to like by a “so called” greater authority than you, that is to say “The Man” WAKE UP.
This may come as a shock to some of our younger readers but there was a time when the only way we found out about new music was on the radio, the music papers, hanging out at the local record shop or by having an older sibling that bought albums (on Vinyl) as opposed to singles. I remember hearing “Boredom” from The Buzzcocks Spiral Scratch EP in early 1977 on John Peel’s show and being so excited that I could barely sleep and then having to cope with the feeling of utter devastation when nowhere in Birkenhead (where I grew up) had the record in stock. I spent the rest of the next week with my head under the bed clothes listening to John Peel (he didn’t disappoint) when I should have been revising for my mock GCSE’s as well as having to forego my weekly intake of sherbet dips. I’d then have enough money for the train fare to Liverpool where I could make a clandestine visit to Probe Records that Saturday morning. Mission Accomplished I got home and went straight to my father’s hi-fi, turned the volume to eleven (full plus) and blasted “Boredom” through his KEF concerto speakers until the neighbours two doors down complained. Just a little footnote here, full volume is fuckin loud. The street, never mind the house, shook. Why so loud, well it was a badge of honour wasn’t it: Because a) my father hated me using his precious hi-fi and b) my parents and all the neighbours hated the music (and me) even more. Compare that with today when the most annoying thing about teenagers listening habits is the incessant Tst Tst Tst of the Hi-Hats coming from their pathetic in-ear headphones. But most importantly of all was c) This was letting “The Man”, the world and his wife know that I was an angry young man that wasn’t about to sit down and be accepting of what I saw as the raw deal being served to the school leaving youth of the 70’s, no jobs, no money, no future……..
Sorry I had to rush off and find a paper bag to breathe in and out of, that paragraph had me hyperventilating. Now that I’ve calmed down I guess I’m asking the youth of today to rise up and listen to lyrics of all those tunes you have access to and help them shape your opinion of what’s good and what’s bad about the world we live in and shout at the man and tell him to put it right before it’s too late. You’ve got unprecedented riches in your hands. Listen to what they tell you get off the couch and stop conforming, use them to do what my generation tried to do and failed. We still have the same issues to rail against, Racism, Immigration, Corporate Greed, Hunger and Homelessness. It’s your time stick it to the man and their algorithms and not fall foul of accepting what the man wants you to accept.