The Day I Realised I Was One Of THEM

I was always on the rebel side.

It was Us versus Them, the forces of rock and roll and musical freedom struggling against the older generation, those in power, the corporate and musical estblishment whose music was of a bygone age. I was always on the side of “Us” and would never change. Or so I thought . .

Of course, my friend and onetime Caroline colleague Christopher England would tell me differently. Chris has many hobby horses, and one of them is a dislike of “oldie music” and a disdain for how quickly the new young thrusting generation become oldies themselves, despising newer music from a younger generation, and believing that theirs was the only true generation of revolution.  Chris talks about this a lot, but it was not Chris who brought me to see the error of my ways, though funnily enough my moment of realisation did come when I was in his company, sitting beside him in a darkened theatre in central London, waiting for a tech launch.

Chris is my tech mentor in life you see. Even though I have been involved in IT for more than 30 years, and have worked either directly or on projects for the biggest names in the business – Microsoft, Apple, Dell, Compaq, HP – Chris has always been at least two steps ahead of me when it comes to living in the future.

My first ever mobile phone? Reccomended and procured for me by Chris (who had earlier got me into that great yuppie trend of the late 80s, the pager).

It was Chris who told me about the Orange network, which had this unique new geeky feature not available on any other network, the facility to send short SMS text messages. My first messages were to and from Chris.

Christopher England, in hiding.

When, at a technology exhibition in Earls Court in 1992 I tried out a very early video-phone on the BT stand, it was Chris who was the blocky, pixellated face at the other end, jerking around at a rate of about 2 or 3 frames per second (or that’s what it seemed like anyway).  Skype was far, far in the future in those days.

It was Chris who first mentioned some weird tech start up called Twitter, long before it was anything other than a curiosity, and at least two years before it became mainstream.

Not all of his playthings went on to success however. I vividly remember a huge, multi-caller, interactive premium-rate phoneline called “The Villa” which he was an administrator of, into which you could dial if you wanted to meet and interact with people. By pressing commands on the phone you could go into different areas of the villa, meet different people in different rooms, play games, chat etc. It was woefully clunky and terribly expensive, but I can’t help thinking back to it when I see some of the interactions on Facebook.

And so it was that when Microsoft were launching their huge step forward that was Windows 95, it was Chris that I was sitting beside in a large theatre or other such place somewhere in central London. I can’t remember the exact date, but a look back at the launch schedule for Windows 95 tells me that this must have been sometime around, or just before, August 1995.

As we sat waiting for the show to begin, I was very pleased to hear a Rolling Stones track “Start Me Up” being played. (of course, prior to the launch we would not have known that this was a planned part of the whole Win95 theme, in reference to the “Start” menu).

I remember thinking that, after years of big corporate giants being very conservative and oldies focussed in their music for events like this, that it was great that finally they were moving forward, and recognising the value of “our” generation’s music, being young and rebellious, rather than middle aged. Maybe we were winning our battles after all!

And then it hit me, and that one single moment changed my whole worldview on music. This was not big business recognising the value of youthful rebellious music. This was my generation, and our music having been around for long enough that people of my age were now moving up into positions of corporate and government responsibility. This was my generation’s music, in effect, becoming the new “safe” choice, favoured by people drifting towards middle age. This was the moment that I realised that, without so much as a whisper of warning, time had played the cruellest trick of all, and now “we” were becoming “them”.

And sure enough, the signs were there. A new generation of music bubbling under that was not really listened to by my generation, the fact that our music was now increasingly playlisted on mainstream radio . .

From that day on, I could see the truth in Christopher England’s polemic about how closed people’s minds became to everything new over time, and I resolved to think and act differently myself.  And this was a good time to do it, as around about the same time as Microsoft was launching Windows 95 another giant was rethinking its strategy, as the BBC started a revemp of Radio 1, to howls of protest from established presenters and audience, that would see a new generation of presenters coming on board, bringing with them the new wave of dance, rock and alternative sounds that had been there, but ignored for quite some time.

Later I was to end up at Phantom FM in Dublin, where for 11 years I was constantly fed a diet of new bands and live gigs. That really helped me to stay up to date, and I couldn’t help but smile when, on the station’s message board in the mid noughties, I saw listeners complaining about how the new music it was playing now was not the same as the new music it had been playing five years earlier.

“They are playing crap aimed at 16 year olds” these 21 year olds would complain, “not like when we were 16, the music was much better then”.

Having recently left Phantom to strike out on my own, I’m working harder than ever to keep up to date on new music, and try to feature a minimum of 50% new material on my shows each week on Radio Seagull. I don’t have the dislike of oldies that Chris has, but on the other hand I don’t have the dislike of modern music that so many of my contemporaries seem to have grown into.

And, though it is itself an “oldie” now in computing terms,  that’s as good a reason to be thankful for Windows 95 as any.


One Comment on “The Day I Realised I Was One Of THEM”

  1. Olaf Lipinski says:

    Hello Steve,

    So still true, I believe that you are describing is an expiring model. In a short few years time there will be “us”, those who know what you are talking about, and “them”, those who are too young to remember.

    Let me explain, what I mean:

    Since Bill Haley, every couple of years a new music-style emerged. But it was not only the music, but included dress-code, lingo and life-style, a new (sub-)culture. It was invented mainly to be different than your parents and peers and to rebel. Those, who really were into “their culture”, endured what ever it took to be different, including punishment at home and the occasional clash with people from opposing cultures. This formed a strong sense of “us”.

    The problem with new music-styles is that after punk, rap and hip-hop, we have heard it all. Nothing completely new is possible. The only fad music-wise afterwards was to cut a song down to one verse and loop the chorus, so that it makes a good ring-tone. And while most people, who are just a little bit interested in music, are able to name the music-style and leading artists of every five-year bracket from 1950 to max 2000, it is getting quite difficult these days.

    These days, many bands and “sampling artists” use the music of the history, as one large library to borrow from. Revivals of musical styles come and go and are meshed up with other styles more and more. The same happens with the clothes – borrowed elements from various decades and of course on top an mp3-player with 80.000 songs. Today this, tomorrow that – take what you like. The flexible life-style is the fad of the day. No commitment required. No “us” anymore. And how do you rebel at home, when your parents also have piercings and tatoos and your grand-ma paved the way for free love, anyway?

    Having said all this, what I currently see, at least on the musical side, is a way back to “real” music. Songs with three verses and artists, who did not find popularity through a casting show. Adele is of course the most obvious of all of them. Not coincidentally, in Germany, she was kicked of the No 1 spot by a new band called “Santiano”. These are five musicians, who have been around the block for twenty, thirty years. Santiano sings old shanties, sailors song and the odd Irish traditional, with a pop twang. Currently Santiano is on heavy rotation on every radio station in the country. But not just adult contemporary, but the youth stations, as well.
    Currently you hear sets with Taio Cruz, Santiano and Adele! Absolutely unthinkable of just a few years ago.

    What might also become big in the near future is 1930s Swing. Yolanda Be Cool’s “We no speak Americano” and some other songs, which are based heavily on old swing songs became not accidently top sellers, but they are just the forefront back to real music, with a little bit of life-style on top. Swing dances, like Lindy Hop and Charleston are just about to becoming seriously big in most big cities all-over the globe. Hamburg is Germany’s swing capital and every week 50 to 100 new “kids” in their early twens come to the big swing parties. Here, they dance next to people in their thirties and fourties and there are even still a few oldtimers, who have seen it all in the 1930, around. The kids had never ever before a dance-lesson, but they do not just come back, but go to dance-classes and workshops because it is real music, played by real musicians.

    So in the near future there will be probably “them” who listen, what ever the industry currently sells them and “us”, who listens to and lives, what we feel is right.


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