The cultural revolution
- Nick Barley
- 11 December 2006
As The List’s editor puts the finishing touches on his last issues before taking up his new post as director of The Lighthouse, he argues that since he started editing the magazine, Scottish entertainment has undergone bigger changes than we might realise
As The List’s editor puts the finishing touches on his last issues before taking up his new post as director of The Lighthouse, he argues that since he started editing the magazine, Scottish entertainment has undergone bigger changes than we might realise.
I feel as though I’ve been working at The List for no time at all. But when I think back to September 2003, just over three years ago, it becomes clear that the changes we’ve witnessed are frankly gobsmacking. Yet it’s all so recent that we’ve barely had time to take stock.
Since 2003, the second wave of the net has hit the culture and entertainment world like a tsunami. As we all turned to Broadband, a world of visual and aural possibilities opened up, and into that space jumped Apple with its iTunes download system in mid-2003 (the UK version wasn’t released until June 2004). It was thanks to this online record shop that Apple’s natty little piece of hardware, the iPod, subsequently became the single most important cultural innovation of the decade. Sales of the iPod, which had launched quietly in 2001, soared and by 2004 it had become the must-have accessory for, well, absolutely everyone.
Once the iPod was established, not only was the death knell for CDs being sounded, but also for DVDs - even as we were still rushing to replace our redundant VHS recorders. Thanks to the imminent arrival of online video downloads, the price of DVD players was plummeting to around £30 in supermarkets.
Just at the point when record shops were coming up for breath, another wave broke over them, this time in the form of MySpace. A logical next step for the iPod generation, MySpace gave musicians the chance to make their music available online, directly to consumers. Although it had launched in July 2003, it wasn’t until last year that the site really began to take off, and MySpace now claims to have 108 million registered users.
The revolution continued apace with the launch - at the end of 2005 - of YouTube, another social networking site which allowed users to embed video clips into their MySpace pages. Not only was this great for bands on MySpace, but also for comedians, film-makers, ad agencies - you name it. As a result, it is now claimed that YouTube is the fastest growing site on the internet, and its reach has now outgrown that of MySpace. No wonder that Google splashed out over a billion quid on buying YouTube, less than a year after its launch.
What has this technological revolution meant for Scottish entertainment? Well, it probably helps the better bands to succeed more quickly. Three years ago, Alex Kapranos and his mates were old stagers on the Glasgow gigging circuit, with little prospect of any money to augment their earnings from teaching. The net was probably responsible for catapulting ‘Take Me Out’ into the world in February 2004, and helping the band to over a million sales of their first album. On the other hand, the net has probably contributed to the ever faster life-cycle of pop bands, and that may be no bad thing. Today, bands are lucky if their popularity lasts them beyond a second album -- as Franz Ferdinand might attest. How quickly will it be before another ‘hot’ band come along to replace the latest ‘sensations’ on the circuit, such as Dundonian band The View?
At the same time as all the virtual nonsense, Scotland has witnessed some other, possibly even more fundamental changes since I’ve been editor of The List. For a start, there was the completion of the Scottish Parliament, and while its construction was mired in controversy and its benefits to the government of the country remain dubious, the fact is that this new building has helped give the country a newfound cultural confidence. It’s a confidence which makes a mockery of Jack McConnell’s ‘Best (Small) Country in the World’ campaign. Personally, I hope it will also put a stop to that tiresome trope that’s so often trundled out: that Scotland ‘punches above its weight’ in whatever cultural sector you care to mention. Although the beloved Jekyll and Hyde split personality remains part of our cultural heritage, many Scots are beginning to turn their backs on the self-deprecating view of the country as somehow lightweight. Who cares that our population is five, not 50 million? It seems natural to me that we should have a National Theatre that produces world class theatre; that we should have world class writers, musicians, architects, artists and actors. Sons and Daughters, Douglas Gordon, Ali Smith, Nathan Coley, T in the Park, Martin Compston, Simon Starling, Red Road, Paulo Nutini, Sutherland Hussey, Claire Barclay -- the list could go on and on: these are not people or things who are ‘punching above their weight’. They are simply world class artists and entertainers emerging from a vibrant, post-industrial, 21st century economy.
Things have certainly changed, and I have no idea what the future will hold. But I know that things are more exciting, more vibrant and more optimistic than they were when I arrived. I’m privileged to have been here to witness the cultural revolution.