Dear John


Written by John Niven
05 Friday 05th March 2010

When John Niven was a major-label A&R in the mid-‘90s, he tried to buy Colombia – the country, not the classic label. Now he’s the bestselling author of Kill Your Friends and the Amateurs. The Red Bull Music Academy's Daily Note have him as their agony uncle. Heed his wise words.... 

I’ve been signed to a major label for the past 12 months and have been working on my masterpiece since then. I was recently mortified to hear that my record company are “remixing the record for the American market”. What does this mean? Have you heard of this before?
Chris, Kentish Town

Dear Chris, It’s a common enough complaint: you’ve delivered a towering mountain of indie dung featuring out-of-tune guitars, kitsch synth sounds, drums so muffled that they sound like they’ve been recorded inside a cow’s anus, and vocals so twee they make Belle And Sebastian sound like Metallica saluting the genius of the Anti-Nowhere League. Now, how are any decent labels  ever going to move that mother Stateside? Simple: everything you ever touched will be replayed, overdubbed, rewritten, remixed and replaced until ‘the kids’ in middle America (ie sub-mentals in ‘God Hates Fags’ t-shirts) can get their heads around it. The only evidence that you were ever involved with the record will be your own rambling pub-based lies. And people still have the temerity to say record companies don’t work hard!

I’ve been reading Joe Boyd’s book White Bicycles about the ’60s in London and it seems like everyone was having a much better time back then than we are now? Do you think it’s possible that our parents knew how to party better than we do?
Pee Wee, Kensington

Dear Pee Wee, You must remember that in the ’60s not everyone was smoking ‘cannabis resin’ with Nick Drake and enjoying Scotch and Cokes down the Bag O’ Nails or the Pantalooned Rapist with John Lennon and Viv Nicholson. The vast majority of ordinary blokes went out and worked hard down the mines six days a week then drank a dozen pints of ‘mild’ before staggering home to give the wife a proper beating while listening to Geoff Love’s Big War Movie Themes. Much as I believe the working classes do now. (If you substitute ‘dole office’ for ‘mines’, ‘Stella’ for ‘mild’, and the Kaiser Chiefs for Geoff Love.) Also, they only had ‘cannabis resin’ in the ’60s. They didn’t have Ketamine, cocaine, DMT, amyl or any of the other wonder drugs introduced by the house music revolution  of the mid-’90s. So how could they have  a better time? Eh? Eh?

The awful music of today fills me with terrible anger. I feel the bile rising the minute I see some sallow-faced, skinny-jeaned teenager take to the stage for a bout of whining, derivative, post-punk inflected bollocks –  to the point where I feel like I need restraining due to a fear I’ll do something stupid. Am I just too old to rock’n’roll and should I face up to it that I need to get a  new hobby?
C86 Fan, Bromley

Dear C86 Fan, It would be wise here to counsel you to calm down. However I think you should definitely do something stupid. Why not go and hang out somewhere where landfill indie bands are plentiful – backstage at any rock festival, the stage door to T4, Miquita Oliver’s flat – and physically attack one of them? I’m not saying go crazy and murder someone of course. Just really, really hurt them. For a first offence of GBH (breaking someone’s legs, fracturing a skull, etc) you’d probably get less than a year. Just think – you’d be getting out about the time they resumed recording their woeful debut album. Then you could do it all again. Just a thought...


Illustration: David Bailey /

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