I just saw this film about the rise and fall of Tony Wilson and the Madchester music scene. This was one of those films that did something to me. It was haunting. I think this is because it shattered my assumptions about the history of pop music as I knew it. For one thing, the film presented the early punk bands like Joy Division or Buzzcocks as just a step on the way to the madchester scene of Happy Mondays and eventually house/dance/dj music. I had always assumed that punk was more important and that dance music was just a passing trend, after this film I’m starting to think it was opposite.
In a way the film presented Happy Mondays as the last rock band. The narrator, playing Tony Wilson, even remarked in a scene in his Hacienda club in Manchester, the very moment when the audience no longer applauded the band, but instead applauded the DJ. This is a very important and very postmodern moment, marking the death of the author in a visible and historical sense. Punk may be more revered and fondly remembered today, but I think that the time will come when we will look back on the Happy Mondays, and the emerging club scene and realize the revolutionary importance of that music as well.
In fact it seems strange that Happy Mondays and the house and techno and rave music scene that they spawned are 17 years in the past. And what have we evolved to? War and the “fight against terrorism” and a world where all we care about is getting good ol’ American tax cuts and driving around the strip malls in our SUV’s (which are the biggest on the road) and where our kids must turn into little hard-working adults by grade 6 due to the “No Child Left Behind” laws. It seems like there is no more of the idealism about the redeeming power of music or communal love or even hedonism left from the hippie or rave scenes, just a boring materialistic world where all we can think about is how to protect ourselves and get home equity. But I’m not pining for the “good old days”, I’m impatient for the future. It seems to me as if we will encounter hippies and ravers at some point in the future, after we have evolved a bit more. They were only visiting before by some mistake in the time-space continuum.
But revolutionary importance and SUV’s aside, I’m just glad that the film reminded me of the Happy Mondays. They were an interesting band, equal parts drum and bass dance music, and equal parts rock. They sound at once like something you’ve heard before and like nothing you’ve heard before. And then they have Bez. Bez is their dancer, mascot, psychedelic guru. I’ve never heard of another band with a mascot who just dances and plays maracas. That alone makes the Mondays worth knowing.