from britpop to global chaos

ARTE – FRIDAY 20 MAY AT 23:25 – DOCUMENTARY

Damon Albarn is arguably the richest personality to emerge from Britpop, a scene that dominated the mid-1990s, paradoxically flattering this anglocentrism and nostalgia for British greatness that would triumph in 2016 with the Brexit referendum.

This handsome boy was then the lead singer of the London group Blur, engaged in a merciless battle against Oasis’ Mancunian rivals, brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher, for the top spot on the island podium. “Working North versus Middle Class South”as the documentary by Adrien Pavillard, programmed on Arte, reminds us.

Profitably orchestrated by the media and the record industry on the model of the (alleged) rivalry between Beatles and Rolling Stones, this “battle of Britpop” was won by K.-O. in 1995 by Oasis. This was undoubtedly the best service to the vanquished.

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Indeed, it will have enabled Damon Albarn to distance himself from the galaxy and emancipate himself by multiplying the projects: that of Gorillaz, this virtual entity performed with the graphic designer Jamie Hewlett, animated characters born in response to the chain musical MTV , or the supergroup The Good, the Bad & the Queen with a companion of Fela Kuti, drummer Tony Allen, bassist Paul Simonon (The Clash) and guitarist Simon Tong (The Verve). In less than an hour, the document captures this spectacular metamorphosis of a subject so british tireless adventurer who falls in love with Mali, a country, he says “culturally richer than us and also spiritually, in many ways”.

Cynical and clear words

However, the images of Blur at the time of its magnificence show that Albarn was not satisfied with this success against a Union Jack backdrop. For example, we hear him make cynical and lucid remarks when he comments on the failure of his group in America (“You are sent there to get rich”) or the cult there of Kurt Cobain (“an angelic face in malls”), britpop has been conceived as the British response to the grunge wave coming from the northwestern United States.

The musician’s evolution is well placed in its context, from the euphoria of Cool Britannia, during the Blair years, to the agonizing challenges of the third millennium, terrorism after September 11, 2001, climate crisis or Covid-19 pandemic. From which the second solo album of Damon Albarn comes, The closer the fountain, the purer the stream flowspublished in 2021, with contemplative beauty.

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However, this choice to present him as an artist of his time comes at the expense of his musical influences – only The Specials are briefly mentioned by the interested party for “integration and open-mindedness”. While Albarn is part of a line that goes through the Beatles, XTC, Madness or The Human League. Without forgetting Ray Davies, the soul of the Kinks, their obvious model for being bitter, tender or disillusioned with British social classes by turns.

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Above all, nothing is said about his family origin, which nevertheless explains his thirst for curiosity: Damon Albarn is indeed the heir to a family of creators (mathematical design on father’s side, theater sets for his mother), who, all of a sudden, makes his journey much less surprising.

Damon Albarn, an English story, documentary by Adrien Pavillard (France, 2021, 51 minutes). Available on Arte.tv until July 18.

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