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Tuesday, March 9, 1999 Published at 14:03 GMT


Our Decade: The 90s and Revivalism



The 1990s - been there, seen it, done it, bought the T-shirt. But how will the last decade of the millennium be remembered? As we approach 2000, the focus has been fixed on looking back over the past 100, even 1,000 years. E-cyclopedia, the guide to modern living, is staying closer to home with a five-part series on "our decade".

You could call it the Cut and Paste Decade.

E-cyclopedia
In many ways the 1990s has been a rehash of what went before. Ideas, images, sounds and styles came crawling out of the cultural time machine for a second or third bite of the cherry.

Aptly, revivalism was not new to the 1990s. Ever since Frank Sinatra stormed back on to the scene in the 1950s, having been written off as a "40s-has-been", pop music has been well aware of its ability to recycle.

But, as John Harris, editor of Select magazine, puts it, "[In the 1990s] the turnover has got quicker, there just seems to be waves and waves of it".


[ image: The original Comback Kid: Sinatra in the 1950s]
The original Comback Kid: Sinatra in the 1950s
So whereas in the 80s, revivalism was chiefly about a decade - the 50s with its flat-tops and Levi's 501s - that most of "Thatcher's children" never lived through, these days an artist is hardly out of the charts before it's time for a comeback.

Witness the much-hyped 80s revival last year, the return of late-80s/early-90s "baggy" dance outfit the Happy Mondays and Lenny Kravitz's recent Grammy success.

And then there's the recent Abba revival revival (you read it right the first time). In 1992 Erasure kicked off the first renewal of interest in those ever-so-kitsch 1970s Eurovision winners when they topped the charts with Abba-Esque.


[ image: Abba: Always good for a revival]
Abba: Always good for a revival
The fuss died down only to return again this year with the new tribute West End musical, Mamma Mia!, and the recent homage performed by Billie, B*Witched and Steps at last month's Brit Awards.

Spanning both eras has been the phenomenally successful Abba tribute band Björn Again, who perform in front of 250,000 fans a year and celebrated their 10th birthday last Sunday.

Other 1990s revivals and comebacks include break-dancing and body-popping, Kraftwerk, Leo Sayer, Queen following the death of Freddie Mercury, the Bee Gees, Culture Club, ABC, Blur's Mod revival, Tammy Wynette, the Sex Pistols, the Who and Eurythmics.

And it's not just a music business trend. Bob Monkhouse, George Best, Adidas Gazelles, polyester tracksuits, lava lamps and magnolia paint have all done a turn on the "comeback circuit".

At the root of it all is money and the maxim to "milk it for all it's worth". Not a week goes by without a raft of CD reissues (digitally re-mastered or not) or a greatest hits compilation appearing on record shop shelves.


[ image: Mamma Mia, here I go again: Björn Again]
Mamma Mia, here I go again: Björn Again
And if revivalism will sell once, it will sell again. Roxy Music, the Jam, the Rolling Stones and Elton John to name a few, have all had their "best of" albums repackaged and re-launched in the 90s.

The live circuit is also very lucrative. Groups like Björn Again can make £10,000 a night for trotting out their well crafted cover versions.

"Financially it's a certainly. It's a way of making dead wood float again," says Harris. Artistically though "it's pretty awful," he says, before admitting how, as a young NME journalist, he almost single-handedly kick-started an early-90s punk revival.

"Late in 1993, it became obvious that on the back of grunge we were ready for a punk revival. There were a few bands around that we could shoe-horn into the mould.

"We called it New Wave of New Wave. It was just a joke but someone saw a reference to it in the NME and got together a gig on the back of it. It got as far as a piece on [BBC Radio 4's] Today programme."

A ready market

The point, he says, is that there's now a ready market out there for almost all forms of nostalgia and any time is the right time for a revival.

"I don't think people will get sick of revival. There's an endless appetite for it and the reach of the mass media is now so huge, the number of outlets so many. VH-1 is essentially a nostalgia TV station. Mojo and Uncut are nostalgia magazines."

"There will be a Britpop revival in 2002. Someone will make a movie set about now and it'll be full of people wearing combat trousers and union jacks and we'll all be listening to Blur's Parklife and Oasis again."


The E-cyclopedia can be contacted at e-cyclopedia@bbc.co.uk



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