First published on 24 Oct 2011. Updated on 24 Oct 2011.
Elaborating on an afterthought that originated in his post-punk history, Rip It Up and Start Again, hyper-analytical cultural critic Simon Reynolds detects a ‘shameful’ nostalgic trend in today’s pop culture in his new book Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to its Own Past. Reynolds declares that postmillennial culture, obsessed with cannibalising earlier creations to fuel its current projects, sees unoriginality as a virtue.
Despite his seemingly progressive bent, Reynolds blames 21st-century technology for the global creative stasis – Retromania’s screed against the internet, YouTube and iPods sounds like a lost chapter from the Unabomber manifesto. Reynolds argues that the internet’s limitlessness is making history too easily accessible to the unschooled masses. But rather than build a convincing argument about why retro is turning the West into a cultural backwater, Reynolds allows his Oxbridge art-snob elitism to override journalistic objectivity, as he takes catty potshots at ‘record collector’ rock: the stylised psychobilly of The Cramps, Japanese retro-punk, musical primitivist Billy Childish, trad jazz and Northern Soul’s obscure ‘losers’, among others. Reynolds also frames indie rock’s neo-nostalgic noisemakers – namely, ‘freak’ folk and sound-collage ‘hauntologists’ – as gluttonous, aural scavengers circling like buzzards over history’s sonic detritus.
Ironically, Reynolds is nostalgic for an era that wasn’t nostalgic. He pines for the space-race optimism of the mid-1960s and the Italian Futurists’ anti-heritage radicalism. Although he indicts most musical genres of the last 40 years (including punk and hip hop) as criminally dependent on history, he nevertheless maintains his forwardlooking spirit: ‘I still believe the future is out there.’ Too bad Retromania’s version of the future sounds so laughably retro.
Faber & Faber $22