Whatever happened to the heroes? An interview with Jet Black of The Stranglers
2012 was a good year for The Stranglers. Their first album in six years, Giants, released to critical acclaim, and went on a sold-out European tour – not bad for a band that have produced 17 UK Top 40 albums, 23 UK top 40 singles, and seen numerous changes in line-up. Drummer Jet Black feels a comfortable sense of familiarity embarking on a new UK Tour: “There’s no real difference I could identify [in the audience]”, he muses,“maybe the kids now don’t know what we do, unlike in the early days, but places still look pretty full everywhere we go.” The implication of the band’s longevity brings a knowing laugh: “We’ve been at this for a while now so we’ve got a pretty wide audience.”
It is the variety of audience which is intriguing. Although it is glib to group them in with the 1976 punk movement, The Stranglers do represent the same mode of intelligent angst and oppositionist guitar music which The Sex Pistols and The Clash produced. In their heyday, as their commercial success and lasting fan-base will attest to, this was music which permeated the music charts as much as popular culture. Several decades later, as Jet laments, this simply isn’t the case: “it’s hard for new bands to get a foot on the ladder…the industry is in a state of collapse, and records as such are pretty much nonexistent now.” It doesn’t take a trip to HMV to recognise how correct he is.
This was bound to happen for many reasons, he argues (the “digital age”, the “Cowell phenomenon”), and it only leads to one place: further down. “Now it’s harder to make money,” he says, “so there’s no opportunity for exciting new risk-taking in music.” Record labels simply can’t take a punt on more interesting and experimental bands. In the modern day, this is less true of small self-sustaining labels than major labels,but there is a sense that fans of guitar music will have to surrender the charts.
Of course, the NME will tell you that bands like the Strokes, the Libertines and the Arctic Monkeys came along and made us all believe again, and, for all the hyperbole, they aren’t that wrong. Many bands have managed to transcend the tribal nature of indie and find a mainstream audience, leading to an influx of bands. In truth, though, it simply has not happened lately; it seems that we have been waiting on a catalyst for several years, and have had to do with phony prophets and false second-comings. As Jet acknowledges, it is hard to see that the pub-scene which spawned bands like The Stranglers and Dr Feelgood could happen again. “It’s no good dreaming about the old times coming back”, he sighs, “that’s never gonna happen.”
You feel he knows that bands like the Sex Pistols and his own Stranglers wouldn’t get signed today. Such influential bands would be lost, and the music scenes which were so widespread as to catalyse countercultural movements in the ‘60s and ‘70s would fall on deaf ears today. There will be an odd sense of pathos when the Stranglers visit the Oxford Academy in March and sing seminal hits like ‘No More Heroes’. What ever happened to them? Good question, Jet.