Monday, June 10, 2024

The Second Glam Renaissance (Romo versus Yob Rock)

Nothingelseon has just come to the end of a heroic run of archival activity -  scanning and making freely available the almost-entire print run of  Melody Maker and NME from the late '70s through to the late '90s. (And some other magazines too, but mostly those two UK weekly  music papers)

It's all here

An embarrassment of riches....  

A richness of embarrassments too! 

For amid the heights there's misfires, excesses, hapless hypes,  empurpled follies.... and a legion of makeweight plodders, the hamburger-helper of the rock discourse.

But it's all part of the tapestry, the highs and the lows and the mids. 

Nothingelseon decided to wind it up when he reached the end of 1996... 

Probably a shrewd move - things start to decline steeply in the last three years of the '90s, both in terms of the stuff the UK (non-dance) music scene was generating and the quality of the coverage it got. Still odd flickers, still some great writers hanging on in there by their fingernails... but it's a logical cut-off point, a sensible decision. 

One of the most fun things in all the approaching-the-finish-line material that Nothingelseon scanned and tweeted in recent months was  

I remember Romo fondly as the last blast of the old-style weekly music press - a scene willed into being, semi-fictionalized, born aloft on the rhetorical efflorescence of its champions

The product of hype in its purest sense -  that job we music journos do for the sheer sport of it

The original Romanifesto, penned by Simon Price and Taylor Parkes, is a classic of the genre

Wilde at heart!

This post is titled "the second glam renaissance" because 

a/ the first glam renaissance would be the New Romantics and the Bowie-Roxy admirers in New Pop

b/ "renaissance" because Price + Parkes were adamant that Romo was not a revival, it was a renaissance of the ideas and impulses of New Romanticism

so this would be a re-renaissance - another phase in the glam (dis)continuum


What surprised me with each subsequent issue after the Romo Special that got redeposited in the commons by Nothingelseon was the extent to which Melody Maker continued to throw its weight behind the movement, all through late '95 and deep into the following year

There was a MM-sponsored tour of the UK with the leading lights

There was a cassette, Fiddling While Romo Burns...


The big groups on the scene got double-page spread interviews

Also what surprised me was the controversy -  Melody Maker's letters page Backlash was full of, well, backlash... Romophobia ran rampant...  The bitter back-and-forth raged right through into the spring of '96... 

Then there came a proper Backlash, in the form of the Yob Rock issue and subsequent acrimony. 

I was in America and missed almost all of this, although I do remember on a visit to UK going to a concert at which three of the most touted Romo groops played... I think it was Dexter and Orlando and another... a group who seemed rather Duran Duran circa Rio...  Overall I wasn't swayed as much as I'd have liked.  (I do remember being quite taken with Minty and picking up one of their singles or EPs...) 

But honestly it hardly matters if the music substantiated the hype... the point was to put the ideas out there, shove them into the mix... and make a Grand Gesture against the laggardly ligging laddishness of  post-peak but still dominant Britpop

A bit of context:

The things that Romo defined itself against, rebuked, flashed garish against the dowdy flock included aforementioned Britpop (now in its Bluetones / Cast / Shed Seven / Northern Uproar / Sleeper  phase).... there was also still quite a bit of grunge around...    and there was the faceless brainfood or footfood of drum & bass, post-rock, IDM, Mille Plateaux...  

But there were also what you might call Romo Fellow Travelers  - groops not included in the Romo issue but who were also embracing sharpness and image: Pulp (in their ascendancy)... Moloko.... the EZ listening initiative (the Ratpack-homaging Combustible Edison + Mike Flowers in the charts, travestying "Wonderwall")...  the mod-ist immodest faction within Britpop: Gene, Menswear.... neo-glam (70s rather than 80s) flickers from Denim and Earl Brutus...  sharp-dressed man Ian Svenonious's besuited new groop The Makeup....   old glam gods lurching back into action (David Bowie, Boy George, Mark Almond, Human League) and then right there in middle of pop, accidentally aligned with Romo, there was Babylon Zoo... and poking through towards the end of this phase, the androgynous Placebo  

So some kind of rejection of post-grunge and post-Britpop ordinariness was being disparately mounted

Below you will find the first inklings and stirrings of Romo; then the Romo issue itself; a few bits and bobs from the aftermath ... and then the Yob Rock countermove. 


The first mention of Romo I could find is from June 1995 in this Pricey review which makes Sexus single of the week.




below just a few of the letters pages and special columns etc - none of the many double-page features on Romo bands, singles of the week, lead album reviews etc etc

By June '96, Romo has petered out, pretty much -  making for a year of livening up the pages of the paper,  since it was June '95 that Price's made Sexus's "Edenites" Single of the Week

 But mere moribundity doesn't stop the Romophobes rallying to give the good-looking corpse a good kicking 

For the June 29 1996 issue, MM investigated the phenomenon of "Yob Rock", convening a round table that contains a number of people representing ladpop and ladette-pop but also a rather large contingent of Romo musicians and Romo-writers, who deplore the Loaded-ladded hegemony 

There's also a sort of historicising thinkpiece about the yob tradition in British rock by Taylor Parkes 

Below, the Yob Rock debate -  Orlando members and Romo-in-spirit Placebo singer plus Simon Price critique the ladpop, while Ben Stud + some lad + laddette performers retort that this is elitism and snobbery and stereotypery

I think this is actually the UK music press at its best - purely ideas-oriented and ideals-oriented argumentation - flashbacking to similar debates about e.g. Synths in Pop, or the New Mod, that Sounds  convened around the turn of the '80s.

It gets pretty fiery.

Ben Stud: "Romo.... was a comprehensive failure" (from the most acrimonious bit of the exchange)

You might draw some discomfiting conclusions from the fact that in this Lads versus Dandies furore, the women present barely get a word in edgeways....   suggesting that Cavaliers versus Roundheads is just a fratricidal battle within the Patriarchy - Sons versus Sons.

In following weeks the surviving Romos out there bite back at the Yob Champions

- but futilely. 

And then Oasis have the front cover for two issues in a row - Loch Lomond and Knebworth

Followed, with a week's interval (Ash) by The Stone Roses 

(At Knebworth, John Squire joined Oasis on stage)

And then this!

A brief flicker of Romo-adjacent ambiguity

And then Oasis again!

Ladrock's grim hegemony holds fast

(1996 was really a dead-arsed year when I think back to it - outside of dance music and R&B)

A few diehards don't want to turn the page

August 31 1996

And Price still flies the flag now and then 

That's September 1996

But it won't be until electroclash circa 2002 that Romo-ish ideas get back in the ascendant (and even then they don't go mainstream)

The mainstreaming would come with the re-re-renaissance - and it would be female-led - Gaga, La Roux, etc


  1. I remember this issue well, outside the Suede (kinda proto-Romo?) "Best New Band in Britain" cover, arguably the Maker's most (in)famous cover page of the 90s.

    The Romo Revolution may have petered out in a handful of poorly attended gigs at Leeds Polytechnic, but I agree it represented the last great gasp of weekly music press audacity and coincided with the end of an era in UK music - certainly, looking at NEO's twitter feed, much of MM'S '96 cover pages are devoted to a dispiriting parade of Cast/Bluetones/Stereophonics ....their photos exuding all the glamour and mystery of lads down the pub (I suggested to NEO that he conclude his feed with the MM and NME reviews of "Be Here Now" to truly end things on an appropriately bathetic note).

    I'd moved onto electronic music & hip hop by then, but in retrospect, it's quite surprising how dead the late 90s were for UK guitar rock - the sole exception being Radiohead, who remained remarkably apart from their peers. Little wonder MM and Select went to the wall so quickly.

  2. Richard J. Parfitt of the 60 ft. Dolls has exactly the same name as Rick Parfitt; they even share the same middle name (John). Somehow I think that bit of trivia best exemplifies the intellectual level of that debate. Yes, they were discussing ideas, but not very well. For instance, nobody mentions the blindingly obvious point that it's possible for a person to like two different things for different reasons.

    That said, the subsequent letters page is much sharper (and someone does indeed point out the diversity in taste a person can have). Someone says that 30 years down the road people will be far more likely to remember Wonderwall than anything by the Divine Comedy, and that was spot on (does My Lovely Horse count?). But what really startles me is the number of references to Cast, and the rancour their supposed laddishness generated. Sorry, but weren't Cast just a bog-standard, utterly inoffensive indie band formed by some bloke from the La's, noted for a few slightly beery singalong singles?

  3. "just a bog-standard, utterly inoffensive indie band formed by some bloke from the La's, noted for a few slightly beery singalong singles"

    er, yes - that's why they were abhorred by the New Dandies! Plain fare peddling plodders.

  4. Cast may have been bland, but there's one reason why Cast had 7 top ten hits and Orlando only had one EP get to no. 96: Orlando looked like a big bunch of ponces.

    Joking aside (actually, not joking that much), the failure of both romo and electroclash strikes me as partly stemming from the preciousness of the major (hah!) players. Their sartorial choices, for example, come across not as arch and exploratory, but affected and ridiculous. It's the clang of someone trying too hard. That's especially fatal in indie (let's take romo as indie-adjacent, at least), which has scant regard for the signposts of showbizness. Your standard popstar comes with a phalanx of backing dancers. How many indie bands have ever had a dancer? How many successfully (forgive me, I had to drop them in somewhere)?

    Anyway, it's worth noting that the original new romanticism was musically very much a boys' club (albeit one where the boys were wearing their mothers' blouses). But there were women prominently involved in electroclash. Hell, Peaches is still going.

    1. Peaches might as well BE electroclash at this point, for all that it's disappeared elsewhere

      You're getting at something I was going to note, which is that Romo/electroclash was a damp squib precisely because by the mid/late 90s, upstart 'pop' bands could no longer compete on remotely the same turf as industry-backed solo singers and boy bands/girl groups - if one purveyor of proudly plastic thrills is stuck playing dingy clubs and the other is already playing stadiums packed to the gills with pubescents, then the latter's going to win on The Law Of The Charts by itself

      'Indie pop' doesn't really take off until the late 00s/early 10s Internet made acting like you're already global superstars significantly more plausible - see Hyperpop. Charli XCX's new one, which is essentially a bitter critique of a pop industry she still desperately wants to feel like she belongs to, seems like some kind of endpoint to that

    2. As I said elsewhere - when one group of partisans is feeling superior because their glamorous pop idol isn't overexposed, some inherent contradiction has wound itself to the breaking point

    3. Being able to record songs that sound fairly slick on your laptop also helped indie pop take off in the 2010s. It]'s easier to do work with Lady Gaga or Britney Spears' influence when you can access the same vocabulary of sounds without a major label budget.

  5. Missed all this at the time. Was installing escalators in the London Underground, and listening to Soundgarden.

    But I think the "they're just lads/yobs" angle does underrate the Britpop bands. In one of her 300 page essays on some minor academic point, Camille Paglia makes the argument that the saving grace of Anglo-American culture is its tendency to the elemental - to the wind-blown and storm tossed, which e.g. French culture has comparatively little of. Her examples were Lord Byron, Keith Richards, and Allen Ginsberg's "Howl". But one could equally posit William Blake, Wuthering Heights, "Mad" John Martin, Echo & The Bunnymen etc.

    And I think Oasis at times did reach that elemental level - on songs like "Live Forever" and "Slide Away" - the same with The Charlatans on "Tellin' Stories". And I don't think Cast were plodders really - they did have a certain Scouse fervour, a sort of excessive over-intensity.

    Also I'm a bit dubious about the automatic expectation of sympathy for being bullied because, shockingly, I think there are occasions when bullying is both appropriate and good.

    1. "Live Forever" is a magnificent song - but I feel Oasis are Exhibit A for the importance of lyrics in rock music; Noel's penchant for lazy "wishes/dishes/fishes" nonsense and even lazier deadening cliches ("Yer gotta find a way for what yer wanna say") robbed the music of a lot of emotional impact and is a large reason why their time at the top was so short.

      As for Cast...look, John Power always did present as a very likeable and surprisingly sensitive interviewee, but didn't one of the band notoriously pose for a photoshoot wearing a *shellsuit*....I don't think you can get any more anti-Romo than that!

    2. Not really invested in either band. In the mid-90's I stopped buying records and used to hire CD's from the local library for a quid. I hired both Cast and Oasis records, and in both cases I didn't resent the quid spent.

      The good thing about Oasis is that lusty, immersive guitar sound, which as I said does have an elemental quality to it - the band's saving grace really. Elementalism is also something I think that you may not be able to do with synthesized or self-consciously progressive music. It may require a reactionary bent. When you "move forwards" you necessarily abandon a part of the palette, I think.

  6. Another great advertising / editorial juxtaposition there: the Dex Dexter concert review next to an ad for Chuck Eddy faves Rancid, who are essentially the Bootleg Clash but with Bad Brains-level instrumental chops.


The Second Glam Renaissance (Romo versus Yob Rock)

Nothingelseon has just come to the end of a heroic run of archival activity -  scanning and making freely available the almost-entire print...