Margaret Thatcher and the Rise of French Electronic Pop

A couple of weeks ago a bit of a phenomenon took place on television, by the name of Stephest Colbchella ‘013. For those of you who’ve been living under a rock (no judgement – I was a grad student for six years, so I know what that’s like), the story in a nutshell is as follows: Stephen Colbert invited Daft Punk to his show, but they cancelled at the very last minute, because they decided they’d rather be on MTV. Never one to let it go, Colbert went ahead and put up a show Daft Punk probably wouldn’t even have dreamed of. I loved every moment of it.

What I’m not very pleased with is the aftermath. On the show, Stephen Colbert used one of Daft Punk‘s songs called ‘Get Lucky’. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Daft Punk, but I’m no musical snob either. (Ok, so there was that one time I pulled my six-year-old niece away from a cartoon show so she could listen to a small part of a Rachmaninoff symphony. But whatever, she liked it.) I was willing to endure the not-particularly-thought-provoking lyrics of Get Lucky for a while, especially because Stephen Colbert was dancing to it with the likes of Hugh Laurie, Jeff Bridges, and Bryan Cranston. But as it happens, Boyfriend has since caught the song like an ear infection in a swimming pool full of toddlers. For the two weeks since the show aired, he’s been singing it without a break. He sings it while he does the laundry. He sings it while he enthusiastically explores the wild and fascinating world of the Internet. While he showers. Even while he brushes his teeth.

Oh, Sweety, no. You're NOT getting lucky anytime until you stop singing that song. Forever.

Oh, Sweety. No one’s getting lucky until you stop singing that song.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot I’ll do for love. For two whole weeks I said nothing. But last night when I found myself humming the song, I knew a line had been crossed. This was way further than I was willing to go not only for love, but for anything. So I decided to put an end to it.

“But why?” Boyfriend feigned hurt. He does that pretty well.

“Because… because it’s annoying.”

“But you ought to like French electronic pop. I mean, you wrote an entire chapter of your dissertation on Margaret Thatcher.”

“Eh?! What’s Margaret Thatcher got to do with anything?”

Boyfriend’s eyes lit up from having spotted an opportunity. He straightened up, and assumed his speech-making pose. (Really. He has a speech-making pose.)

“Did you know that electronic pop rose to prominence in Europe as a direct result of Margaret Thatcher’s crackdown on house music in the UK?”

Ok, so I knew about Thatcher’s crackdown on house music, but I have to admit I hadn’t made a connection between that and the rise of electronic pop in the rest of Europe.

For the uninitiated, house music is a kind of electronic dance music that originated in Chicago in the 1980s, apparently in a nightclub called The Warehouse (thus the term house music). It shot to popularity and soon traveled to other cities like New York and London. However, the 1980s in London were – how should I put it – a bit of a difficult time. You see, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister.

Thatcher’s economic policies are lauded by many (although not without opposition) as having pulled Britain back from the brink of complete economic ruination. There was another side to Thatcher, though – one that manifested in her political policy and social attitude, and made her a passionately hated figure among certain groups. (Remember this?) Thatcher’s economic policies, while they may have lifted Britain out of the abyss in the long run, left scores of people without jobs in the short term, and hurt those who already felt marginalized by the rigid class structure of British society. And it didn’t help that Thatcher herself repeatedly made speeches or comments that highlighted her apathy to their plight.

One of the things to emerge out of this situation was that large numbers of disgruntled people – unemployed youth, immigrants, artists – started expressing themselves through the creation and proliferation of culture. Underground art movements, radical cinema collectives (My dissertation! My dissertation!), and alternative music scenes dotted the landscape of the inner cities in London and beyond. Every now and then Thatcher cracked down on these, and one of the unfortunate victims of her policies was house music.

Why house music? Because on a few occasions the genre had been used as a tool of mouthing resistance against government oppression. So in a trademark move, said government cracked down on it with a vengeance that seemed almost personal. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 allowed the police to crackdown on people listening to “repetitive beats” without a license. The party line was that it was for the public’s own protection, because places where such music was played were also venues for rampant drug use and unprotected sex. Mama knows what’s good for you, darling, Someday, when you’re all grown up, you’ll want to thank her, but it’ll be too late.

Anyhow, after this crackdown, a whole bunch of musicians and promoters moved to the friendlier climes of continental Europe, especially France. To quote a certain Mark Knopfler, “There ain’t no work on Maggie’s farm, Gotta headaway down the autobahn.” (Why Aye Man, 2002)

House music/electronic pop became an instant hit in France, and spawned more of its kind. Continues, in fact, to spawn more of its kind. Which is cool as a political statement, I guess. You know, given how it may not be the best thing for the evolution and forward movement of music as a whole. Just saying.

All right. All right. I'll stop beating up on electronic pop now.

All right. All right. I’ll stop beating up on electronic pop now. Image source.

Convention dictates that I include a song by Daft Punk at the end of this post. My dislike for electronic pop dictates I do anything but. So let’s go with the middle ground, yeah?

If you have to do Daft Punk, do it like this!

Want to know more? Go here. And here.



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