Will Tattoo Eat Itself
Will Tattoo Eat Itself?
Regurgitating old ideas rather than creating new ones is a bad idea. Here's why.
Yes Tattoo Will Eat Itself. But first let me give you some background to this seemingly odd reference to artistic cannibalism! Back in 1986 NME journalist David Quantick, an English freelance writer and critic was interviewing Jamie Wednesday. A Streatham indie band which included the two men who would become Carter USM. In the interview he predicted that cannibalisation would be the downfall of pop music. Due to the endless recycling of old ideas and that eventually, ‘pop will eat itself’.
At the time of the interview Stock Aitken Waterman – an English songwriting and record producing trio were enjoying great success.
SAW consisting of Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, and Pete Waterman. During the 80’s they scored more than 100 UK top 40 hits, selling 40 million records and earning an estimated £60 million. Their usual method for creating the music was to first write the songs. Then they would record the music with extensive use of synthesizers, drum machines and sequencers. Finally they would bring in a singer solely to record the vocal track.
He also suggested that at some point the perfect theoretical pop song could be created by combining the best parts of all successful pop songs into one track.
The (s)Hit Factory
The press were horrified by their autocratic style of making records and production line-like output. Similar song structures led to them being referred to as the “hit factory”. Achieved by churning out records like fast food. Cheap, disposable, unwholesome and identical.
"If you get too friendly with an artist, the next thing you know, they'll be asking to do their vocals again or change the lyrics or something”
Unsurprisingly it attracted criticism from many quarters, including the Guardian newspaper who unflatteringly dubbed the team, “Schlock, Aimless and Waterdown”.
They also incurred bad reviews from the British music press. They strong-armed the group MARRS into a legal settlement. MARRS had taken a sample from SAW’s own recording, “Roadblock”. They used the sample in their surprise hit “Pump Up the Volume”. Pete Waterman wrote an open letter to the music press calling such things “wholesale theft”. The press fired back that Waterman was currently using the bassline of Colonel Abrams’s “Trapped” in Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”. Indeed, “Roadblock” itself could be described as inspired by the classic Average White Band hit “Pick Up the Pieces”.
Quantick’s observation would prove to be chillingly prophetic – a prediction of future pop’s ever more repetitive instinct for recycling and recombination that has – ultimately – led to the current state of the music business – which is, essentially, in the shitter.
Basically, pop music would rather regurgitate old ideas rather than create new ones even though that tactic has seen a year on year 20% fall in records sales for the past few years.
Tattoo Will Eat Itself.
This week I saw exactly the same reference image tattooed three times by three different artists in almost exactly the same way and instantly thought ‘Tattoo will eat itself.” A quick glance at some of the most successful artists (of the moment) portfolios shows an almost Stock Aitken Waterman-esque approach to art. Tattoo Will Eat Itself? Their prodigious but production line-like output and similar layouts could be seen in the same way as the much criticised ‘hit factory’.
These artists are picking up awards, garnering coverage in magazines whilst being applauded for their efforts in every corner of the social mediasphere. Commanding huge fees and beating sponsors away with shitty sticks. But will they – ultimately – leave anything of any value behind? Or are they simply making low-budget pop aimed at an audience, proudly described by SAW as “ordinary people with Woolworth ears”. We should be so lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky.