"3 Colours Red will be massive"

Last night I read the novel ‘Kill Your Friends’ by John Niven. It’s a book that Lauren won from The Roaring 20s and I kind of brow-beat her into letting me read first. It’s set in London in 1997, at a major record label, and provides an inside-baseball look at how the A&R Department functions. That year was when I started really getting into music, and discovering newer bands, etc, and so the references meant a lot more to me than they would to most U.S. readers. One of the backdrops is the intense bidding war that centred around the mighty Ultrasound, for heaven’s sake. Each chapter begins with a quote from an A&R person talking up their latest signing, with rhetoric like “Gina G will be the next Madonna”. You don’t have to know who Gina G is, to know that she wasn’t the next Madonna.

The view of the industry is unrelentingly grim. The main character, Steven, hates the industry, hates everybody within the industry and hates everyone not within the industry. I’ll tell you what he doesn’t hate: booze, coke and prostitutes. The sentence “Nobody knows what they’re doing” appears on more than one occasion, and the impression formed is that everyone in the music biz, and especially A&R, was looking out for themselves and keeping one paranoid eye on everyone else. And this is in 1997! It’s hard to imagine all the cracks that exist these days.

So far, so misanthropic. There’s some neat dialogue, and the insight provided about the music industry, but I found it a little too unpleasant to really get stuck into. Reminded me of ‘The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs’ in that regard. Towards the end, Steven takes a turn and goes a little Patrick Bateman, which was certainly jarring. There’s a nice guest appearance from James Dean Bradfield, though, so that’s nice.

One thing, though. This is a fictionalized account of the music industry. (I hate how many times I’ve said the word “industry” in this post, but that’s what it’s about.) I’ve always had the impression that in music, the truth is always so mental that fiction becomes redundant. I’ll never forget when I read ‘The Dirt’, the Motley Crue autobiography, and one chapter finished with a bombshell along the lines of: “And then I woke up. My pancreas had exploded”. Admittedly, ‘Kill Your Friends’ may be set in a different world from 80’s hair metal, but I’m sure that true stories from London mid-90s are just as mental. I hope so – I bought Alex James’ autobiography while on holiday.

Like I said before, if you’re not into Britpop and mid-90s indie bands from the UK, then I can’t see too much appeal in this one. As someone that “got” it, I thought it was okay. Got through it in a couple of hours, that’s about it.


Lauren said...

But does he have a killer business card like Patrick Bateman??

Glad you [somewhat] enjoyed the book I got for you!

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