Love triangles. Band rivalries. Heroin heroin heroin. The Britpop era was fraught with the sort of drama that could satisfy any tabloid lover. While most of the juiciest stories have been heavily guarded by the bands themselves (or perhaps forgotten in a distant drug haze), Luke Haines dishes up a bit of delicious dirt in his first memoir, Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part In Its Downfall (2009, Windmill). In his younger days, Luke Haines was the acerbic lead singer of the vastly underappreciated group, The Auteurs. The Auteurs are generally considered to be one of the first innovators of Britpop. In 1993, American music dominated the airwaves; any British music that snuck in between the static was generic, American-influenced, and generally uninspiring. English bands had seemed to have lost their own voice. A new wave of British music began with the February 1993 release of the Auteurs’ debut, New Wave. It was a critically-acclaimed chamberpop masterpiece. The album was closely followed by the debut of Suede, already heralded by Melody Maker as the best band in Britain. Since the two bands had been hailed as the saviors of British rock (this predates the term ‘Britpop’), Suede and the Auteurs were paired together on stage and in the music rags. The media set up a low-grade competition between the bands, which ended by the time Suede beat out the Auteurs for the Mercury Prize by one vote.
Bad Vibes recounts Luke Haines’ experiences from 1991-1997, covering the formation of his band and their first three albums, and promising stories from the rise and fall of Britpop. It should be noted that the memories are written from the perspective of Luke Haines circa mid-90s. The catty observations do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of modern day Luke Haines (or a sober man, for that matter).
Since they had a close kinship with Suede, there is a significant amount of text devoted to them early in the book. In fact, Bad Vibes is marketed as a treatise on Haines’ disdain for the band, but, surprisingly, he refrains from divulging anything too grotesque. Singer Brett Anderson is portrayed as a tragically foppish character, and bassist Mat Osman seems a bit dopey. The caricatured portrayals, as well as the lack of anecdotal detail, suggests Haines didn’t know his tourmates well, and maybe didn’t socialize with them much. Clearly, he respects the band, even as he expresses mild derision towards particular band members. His opinion seems to be warped by resentment for the attention they received and their greater success. Perhaps, Haines wouldn’t have been so soft on Suede had they remained on the trajectory established by the media hype surrounding their first two albums.
Recollections don’t become scathing until the Auteurs opened up for The The. Haines rips singer Matt Johnson to shreds, and it’s delightful. Once Haines really leaves out his first bit of venom, it’s hard not to want more. Wishes come true with his treatment of Elastica’s Justine Frischmann1. Frischmann ‘is a drag, an ambitious media arriviste,’ and, together with her then-boyfriend, Blur’s Damon Albarn, they paint a petty picture. Haines recalls, ‘The first time I see Damon and Justine together they are practically dragging each other along Camden High Street. A gruesome couple. A pair of greedy hobgoblins, knocking down small children in their path, batting away passers-by and anyone they perceive as a possible threat to their rise to the top.’ He later says that he ‘had more of a Carrie-style ending in mind for the nauseating couple.’ Surprisingly, he likes Blur’s music, albeit because he feels they’ve ripped off the best bits of the Auteurs and Suede, contributing only a mockney accent to the mix. ‘Parklife is nothing if not a masterclass in media complicity.’ Later on, Oasis is referred to as a ‘crap new comedy band.’ Their single, ‘Whatever’ ‘sounds like the fucking Rutles.’ Despite his sneering description of his dealings with the Gallagher brothers, he illuminates Noel as an amiable but sad figure lost in the shadow of his brother’s more pronounced buffoonery. And his prognosis on the Britpop scene? By 1995, ‘what looked like a low-level illness…turned into a modern day Black Death.’
On a more personal note, the memoir deals with several major events in the Auteurs’ history, including the decisive moment when he crashed fifteen feet into concrete during a 1994 European tour. The extended convalescence, in which he was told he might never walk again, resulted in both psychotic episodes and his third album, which reflected those psychotic episodes. The most entertaining chapter recalls a Britpop nightmare hallucination he had while on a bad acid trip with an alleged disciple of Timothy Leary. Haines went to get help at a local bar while the man prepared to trepan his friend, but, as expected, he was waylaid by a bunch of imaginary Britpop scenesters. One never expects to be threatened by Crispian Mills (‘a voice that speaks with deep knowledge of the mysteries of the east’) and Martin Rossiter on a night out while Justine Frischmann, Louise Wener, and Lawrence of Felt look on. Oh, and you’ll never forget the image of Robbie Williams pirouetting around the pub!
Bad Vibes is a curiously enlightening look at the scene we all thought we knew. What makes this discourse more notable than any other books on the subject is Haines’ unique position at the time. Here is a man who was both inside the scene and skulking along the perimeter of it. He was at the party hiding in the kitchen. Even if you aren’t familiar with Luke Haines or the Auteurs (there’s just no excuse), Britpop fans will still be entertained by his bitchy bon mots describing his peers. As long as you have a sense of humor because you just might see your favorite band slagged off.
1. The one who should write a tell-all is Justine Frischmann who seemed to have infiltrated most circles at some point. And she has loose lips.