Indie Taliban should think twice before mouthing off at Mumford
English quartet far removed from their hayseed folkie image
Coldplay with banjos. The diet Waterboys. Posh London kids dressed up as farmhands. Their parents own half of Gloucestershire. They are David Cameron’s favourite band.They are closet evangelicals. They are the bastard sons of James Blunt and Worzel Gummidge. The indie Wurzels. An aristo-Amish joke. They look like they need de-lousing . . . The abuse/disdain goes on and on for Sunday night’s Phoenix Park headliners.
In fact, Mumford & Sons are one of the biggest bands in the world. They’re on a post-Glastonbury albums sales bump and have long since cracked the US market, where they are treated with reverence. Mumford & Sons have become the Dire Straits of their generation, making music for people who don’t usually like music.
It’s the genre they’re in that sets people off. If you’re a straight-up finger-in-the ear folkie singing about dead sailors and land rights, you’re lauded as authentic and cool. If you’re nu-folk, such as Fleet Foxes, you’ll have the Twisted Pepper crowd nodding approvingly over their macchiatos. If you’re pastoral whimsy, such as Nick Drake (the Kurt Cobain of folk!), then you’re straight onto the Dublin 6 dinner party turntable.
The indie Taliban might soften their stance somewhat if Mumford & Sons shopped at Urban Outfitters, dropped the banjos for some moody synths, stopped smiling and sucking pieces of straw, and sounded a bit more like The Vaccines. However, the big problem for the predominantly white, middle-class music commentariat is the Cardinal Sin of not being “Authentic”.
If only Mumford were the sons of the penniless farm labourers they appear to so desperately want to look like, they’d probably be re-classified as “ethno-folk” and lauded as agrarian-proletariat role models.
The white middle class love a bit of musical rough (whether council estate or ghetto) and reserve special contempt for musicians from the same background as them. But this is patronising, insulting and as daft as the clothes they wear and the bleeding-heart hand-wringing that misinforms their indie principles.
Bob Dylan was a nice middle-class Jewish boy from Minnesota who heard a Woody Guthrie record and then rewrote his past for the gullible New York folk press. John Lennon, Pete Townshend, Joe Strummer, Pete Doherty – all anointed as “urban poets” – come from backgrounds not that far removed from Mumford & Sons.
More and more of the music we buy (whether chart or not) is made by musicians who have been privately educated, the products of liberal arts-type parents who pack them off to guitar and piano classes and fund their early years slumming in Camden looking for a record deal . This trend is only going to increase as the recession slams shut the door on those who need to work for a living, as opposed to faffing around for a few years in some multimedia rehearsal space – on Dad’s credit card.
So, before trading your witticisms about posho Mumford & Sons this weekend, take a look at your own record collection. Whatever way you cut it, the reason Mumford sell in the millions is that, in a chart world of auto-tuned vocals and generic, over-produced r’n’b plasticity, they sound like a real band. It’s Gap Year music. So what?