Wednesday, 14 January 2009

I Don't Want To Have To Break Your Face

Mass debates on that old chestnut ‘twee’ seem to be doing the blog rounds again (thanks mainly to Tom’s grumpy old indie kid number here.) It’s a discussion that’s always good for a laugh, so I thought I’d stick my oar in.

As far as I’m concerned ‘twee’ was never a genre, it was a term of abuse. A v. brief rifle through the olde indie cuttings archive brings up a few instances of the word being used by big hairy music press types to CRUSH the kind of music that they don’t understand/ doesn’t speak to them because they are big hairy men (ug,ug).
‘Twee’ was an insult, but then no band seemed to want to own up to being ‘cutie’ or ‘shambling’ either. Surely, all those ‘scenes’ weren’t just a load of old crap made up by journalists? Picking through the cuttings now, it’s all a bit of a mess…

'Thankfully though times have changed. Where once there were wimpo twerps in anoraks ripping off all the Buzzcocks’ girliest traits, now there stand real men.'
[Review of The Soup Dragons from Sounds or somewhere, 1987 or something]

“Submarines was a silly, jokey name that tied us to the twee anoraks mob, which we aren’t…not that we’re the wild men of rock”
[The Submarines foolishly rename themselves Compass Flow, Record Mirror, 1987 ish]

“Sure we get crayon pictures through the post.” Well that’s your own stupid fault, isn’t it? Rip your name off a Buzzcocks song and what do you expect? “The name was chosen for reasons other tthan that. It was harsh image for a so-called wimpy band.”
{Razorcuts interview, Melody Maker,1987]

'Amelia launches into indie politics.
“What do you exect from a Blow Monkeys audience? The sort of people who slag us off and call us cuties are people who maybe like The June Brides, who are really close to liking Talulah Gosh but know enough about us to think they shouldn’t. They might shout at us. Blow Monkeys fans have no idea, nothing to react against…”
“I think they just thought ‘Who are those spastics up there?” decides Chris.'
[Talulah Gosh discuss supporting The Blow Monkeys (bizarrely enough) in Melody Maker 1987]

'At the mention of The Pastels, your whole conception of Stephen changes. Because this man fronts one of the few independent bands capable of extricating themselves from the tiresome and derogatory label, ‘Shambling’. '
[Interview with Stephen Pastel in Melody Maker, 1987]

'All I knew about The Pastels before their recent (and wonderfully over-ambitious) single, ‘Baby You’re Just You’, was that they were apparently a bunch of wimps in tatty v-neck jumpers…Sadly, they then relapse into twee tweaking – the title track is a sorry crock of mush if ever I heard one.'
[Review of The Pastels’ ‘Sittin’ Pretty’]

'They appeared on the abortive C86 operation and suddenly a whole group of bands claimed to have known them personally (anorak, I think, was how they were termed)...
‘Holy Moly’ was written for The Vaselines (Scottish sex god anorak group)'
[Everett True interviews The Pastels, Melody Maker, 1989]

I like what Stevie of Please Rain Fall

says, ‘A lot of people forget that the 80's was a time for taking sides.' True this. I'm sure a lot of it was down to the fact that everything is very black and white when you're young - chart music made us puke, twelve inch singles were the work of the devil - but we were growing up in a time of clear cut Left vs. Right politics, of fervent CND supporting and hardcore feminism and that made us actively despise anything that smacked of the right-wing, capitalist, patriarchal mainstream. This Us against Them mindset was empowering and was what drove the rise of our indieness - if what we did was dismissed as 'twee' then it meant we were being annoying. Good.

Everett True touches on the issue in his Vivian Girls interview in this month’s Plan B magazine:
‘Two decades ago I had to fend off accusations that the music I liked – not boorish, frailties intact, rooted in the Sixties femme pop of The Ramones and The Shaggs, often bordering on the shambolic – was somehow not ‘proper’. It was looked down upon as being amateur (like the word is an insult, like music is a competition). I was ridiculed roundly and often : the music got categorised and derogatorily referred to as twee…why?'

Excitingly, Plan B, those champions of ‘outsider music’ have a page dedicated to discussing the notion of ‘twee’. There are two points which I think are well-made and with which I whole-heartedly concur:

‘Twee’s something you accuse other people of being. If someone’s playing with the elements – delicacy, anti-macho, heightened sweetness, cult-of-naivety – and it hits you emotionally, you process them directly. If they miss, they’re twee.’
- Kieron Gillen

‘Twee can also encompass retro/kitsch; nostalgia; a very British kind of quirkiness. There’s a space on the Venn diagram where the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Oliver Postgate, Ghost Box, Trunk Records type stuff – even Broadcast, Pram etc – intersect with twee – it’s a space where things are nice, but weird ; biscuits and tea and soldering iron and ghosts. I approve of music that subverts, that celebrates the uncelebrated, and that gives credence to those with the quietest voices, celebrations of intelligence and awkwardness and confusion. What I don’t like is the un-awkward, media-friendly, attractive versions of the same.’
- Frances Morgan

So, in conclusion, to call something 'twee' is to insult it. It's not really a good thing, but it does seem to have evolved into a lazy way of describing a certain sound - although what that sound is precisely is kind of mysterious - try Googling 'new twee' (argh! I can hardly bear to type those words, bleugh!) and behold the hotch-potch of bollocks you get.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Who would have thought my little 'ol ramblings would cause such a fuss eh?

New twee? Christ on a bike.....