Them Be the Bells of Bow, Yo.

There’s this song that’s still at number two here in the charts and it sums up everything I hate about British pop music right now. They play it all the time on BBC 6 and now it’s stuck in my head. Kate Nash’s Foundations— OK, so she’s cute– much cuter than Lily Allen whose tough-girl pose is really tedious. Even the guy in the video is cute. The sock fight– nauseatingly cute.

If you want to see the video, go here as none of the YouTube links work. (To watch the video on her oh-so-quirky-cute site you have to give up an email, name and phone number and even an address I think. INSANE. but let’s move on.)

Nash’s song is better than any I have heard from Allen but she’s basically an Allen clone. She’s taken Allen’s game and bettered it for the 20-something-new-mortgage-from-daddy demographic, whereas Lily Allen was aimed at teenage girls who don’t remember white reggae from the first time around in the 80’s. Nash’s demographic actually has some money to spend, so, even though she’s a MySpace success story, maybe the A&R people are honing their game.

On the web many sites claim Allen and Nash are Cockney and that’s just rubbish. Neither were born within the sound of Bows Bells, if we’re going to get purist about it. Nash is from Rickmansworth, a north west suburb of London. And Allen was born in West London to a film producer an actor. I would like to say that accent is put on for the American market, but their songs are hits here.

It can only mean that Brits want to see themselves in a certain way– a juxtaposition of worldly wit and (pastoral throwback?) innocence with a sprinkling of East End grit (More akin to Dick Van Dyke tap dancing than any pearly king). The fashion for faux Cockney accents is a sure sign that it no longer refers to a specific people and culture, but a fiction. Kind of like in the current popular imagination, pirates are no longer sailors who raped and robbed people but ragamuffin swashbucklers with sexy eye makeup.

But it does seem the best way to be a pop star in Britain these days is to pretend you are Cockney. (though this can work even if you are a duo from Detroit) white stripes

It’s ironic. The East End, now totally gentrified, has become the bastion of the trendy, edgy and wealthy few who have pushed out the poor there so what remains is a mythology.

Something’s dead, gone, changed in London, even if there’s no real pointing to the Cockney mask per se, which Peter Watts refers to as “Mockey”. Hence the weird theme of nostalgia that crops up in so much white British hip hop. There are many examples but I’m thinking of Lady Sovereign’s “Those Were the Days.” where she’s wistful about her days growing up on the Chalkhill estate. Unlike the others I mention above, she actually did grow up on an estate, even if it was also in the west.

It becomes even more poignant when you realize she she’d be priced out of London if she weren’t a pop star.

And here Jamie T’s “Sheila” featuring the actor Bob Hoskins who is famous for playing Cockneys among other things. Here he is lipsynching the song with his scary white teeth. This is actually one of the worst videos I’ve seen in a really long time and it pretty much ruined the song for me.

And, though it’s not hip hop, I love Pulp’s nostalgic “Mile End” It’s old at this point, and recontexualized in Danny Boyle’s brilliant Trainspotting. I have no idea if what the song refers to was closer to reality than the faux-grit on the charts now. I have heard that it is about Jarvis Cocker’s first “home” in London, but I’m sure it too is creating a myth of a gritty London up for grabs, a London for anyone. (Not just a city of estate agents and property-ladder climbers, but anyone who could find a vacant corner, anyone who could live low rent — make art or music or write. Anyone who could tend to the city’s soul, but I digress.) In a lot of ways the city of this song, or the vision of London in Kureshi’s London Kills Me or even the parallel vision of Edinburgh in Trainspotting is more hopeful than this London I live in now that is doing so “well” if you believe the hype, a London that’s polished and primed, the richest city in the world, full of high street chains.

Now there are headlines about interest rates closing out first time buyers from the “property ladder.” But all this talk of building new homes on brown sites is too little too late. We didn’t have no where to live, / we didn’t have nowhere to go / til someone said /I know this place off Burditt road…

This new hegemony of the estate agent has made me wistful for squats. Maybe I should work on my Cockney accent and write a pop song about it.

4 thoughts on “Them Be the Bells of Bow, Yo.

  1. heh.

    same thing seems to be happening in new york, and really, here in sf. prices are getting so high, gentrification is rampant and spreading like a virulent, unstoppable menace. affordable gets pushed out to the fringes. the only people really able to afford say, manhattan, or hell, even williamsburg now, are trust fund babies, or merely kids whose parents are helping to foot the ever rising rent bills.

    these are the same hipsters who look like they are slumming it, wearing (expensive though) threadbare clothes, feigning poverty….but also going to misshapes and whatever else (i don’t know because i am not into indie rock, etc.)…while they live in a huge apartment somewhere, while mommy and daddy are at their beck and call and they are nowhere near destitute.

    the same thing happens in parts of SF, though it’s not as bad as i remember it being back in NYC. edgy is haute in nyc. it’s their lifeblood. coolness is inherent in dangerous situations.

    on another note, related to cost of living:

    no one can afford anything anymore…cities, i’ve found, are for the rich. doing well isn’t good enough, even. you have to be doing GREAT. a house down the road from our ridiculously overpriced apartment just went on the market for $3 million. another house used to be owned by a woman i know, down another nearby street, and when she bought it sometime in the 1990s, she got it for $300k. sold it in 1998 for $600k, and i don’t even want to know what it’s worth today. probably $1-3 million at least. inflation much?

    pete and i are seriously pondering a move to oakland this fall. sure, we’d like to stay in SF proper, but what’s the alternative? the rents here and home prices here just aren’t tenable. it’s disgusting…and even if they drop, how much will they drop? not enough to make it affordable, that’s for sure.

  2. Came across this while reading your excellent post about the sickening Selfridges punk exhibition, but-
    I don’t really know what you’re talking about when you say the East End is totally gentrified and full of rich people. Tower Hamlets is the most deprived borough in England and has the highest unemployment as well. If you’re not in Hoxton or Shoreditch it doesn’t look particularly gentrified either. I live off Whitechapel High Street- not a chain store in sight except for McDonalds, and certainly not much polish.

  3. Despite being American, I have an innate preference for UK bands that look good, sound good and have a point of view I say “listen”, but to me the way Brit artists looked – which was, almost invariably, better than their US counterparts – and what they said was as important as their sound. I was, and still am, knocked out by the effort they made in presenting themselves, and the way stance and attitude were considered vital, whether they could play or not. See the early Manics for an example of a band who knew what they stood for long before they acquired any musical skill to back it up – would being guitar virtuosos have made them any better? No way – but an American group with their sketchy playing skills would never have been nurtured through three albums, as they were before they finally hit pay dirt with Everything Must Go.

    Americans, meanwhile, tend not to put much thought into presentation – there will always be the odd theatrical type, like Alice Cooper, Kiss and the Scissor Sisters, but few rock acts offer what I consider to be the holy trinity of music, an identifiable look and a point of view. For every Nirvana – who looked and sounded unique (remember Cobain arriving onstage at Reading in 1992 in a wheelchair?), and stood for something (the right to reject success – how un-American can you get?) – there have always been hundreds of (I’m looking at this week’s album chart) Nickelbacks and Jack Johnsons. They do what they do and, uh, that’s about it.

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