It occurred to me, as I was typing up a few words for the PS to Jonny’s ICA on Clearlake, that the first few years after the millennium coincided with a revival of guitar-led ‘indie-pop’ style music in the UK. It was probably more closely aligned to the Britpop era than to any part of the 80s, although it was evident that many of the singers and musicians were happy to declare their influences from both decades when talking to the media, be that print or digital.
There’s a school of thought that the immense success and popularity of the likes of The Strokes, The Libertines and Bloc Party had record company execs scrambling around for the next big thing, leading to far too many ordinary bands being signed up, only to be dropped after one or two albums, with the CDs ending up primarily in charity shops or being thrown out in the rubbish. These groups and bands went on to attract, from some, the derogatory term ‘landfill indie.’ It seems that the phrase was coined by Andrew Harrison in an article of his that was published in The Word, a monthly music magazine, back in 2008.
There was a wee bit of an on-line debate last year in which some folk ridiculed all the bands from the era, on the grounds that none of what emerged was original nor has it proven to have had any longevity or sustainability. Others, taking less of a highfalutin view, were quick to point out that quite a few of the bands, and their songs, were more than decent.
So, the idea of this new series – and again I’m happy to have guest contributions come in for inclusion – is to pick out a song from the era and to pose the question, should it be cast into the landfill site, or does it have enough merit to warrant saving?’
Feel free to join in or ignore as you see fit.
First up is a band from Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.
Hot Hot Heat are one of those who are more akin to the 80s, and indeed earlier, less likely from their geography to be influenced by Britpop. They were a hard working, touring band back in the day, a situation that led to Sub Pop Records signing them in 2001.
Debut album Make Up the Breakdown came out the following year, scoring high among the critics on the increasingly-influential blogs and websites, helped in no short measure by the fact they were on a label still thought to be hip a full decade after Nirvana had helped bring it to wider attention. It was given a 4-star review by the music critic of the Guardian newspaper over here:-
While most Canadian bands look south of the 49th parallel for inspiration, the Victoria, British Columbia quartet have more anglophile tastes, from XTC and Elvis Costello to the Clash and the Cure.
Every song appears to conform to some post-punk code of practice: cities are always scary, girls are always confusing and there’s always room for a spot of reggae skanking.
Crucially, Hot Hot Heat have also learned the art of the three-minute pop song. Make Up the Breakdown zips by in a giddy blur of taut punk-funk grooves and insanely catchy choruses.
Highlights such as Bandages and Get In or Get Out sound like lost classics buried in 1982 and only recently disinterred.
Dorian Lynskey, 28 March 2003
The lead single from the album, is one, I would argue is worth retaining and not being added to the landfill.
mp3: Hot Hot Heat – Bandages
It entered the charts at #25 in the first week of April 2003. But then it was removed from radio in the UK, from the playlist at BBC Radio 1, in the light of the war in the Middle East. Within two weeks, it was out of the Top 100….understandable since there was nowhere to actually hear it unless you had bought it!
The success of the debut album, which also spawned one further Top 40 hit in the UK – No Not Now (#38, August 2003) led to the band being offered and signing a contract with Warner Brothers. It took until 2005 until the next album was released, by which time the original guitarist, Dante de Carlo, had left albeit he appeared on the album but choosing to vacate things in advance of the promotional tour.
Hot Hot Heat kind of disappeared off the radar in the UK after 2005, but there were another three albums between 2007 and 2016 (one on Warners, one on a Californian-indie and the last being self-financed), before they called it a day.