Thursday, 8 April 2010

A Hatchet Job On A Hatchet Job

Hatchet jobs are strange things, really. The sort of thing you lap up with relish if it's done on someone or something you've got a personal dislike of, it's also exactly the perfect way to bait fan boys on the Internet for – well, whatever it is when we get the urge to bait fan boys on the Internet. We've all been there, so that's that. But in spite of the first example I gave, I've got to admit that I find hatchet jobs utterly infuriating when they're on a subject you're completely neutral towards – or worse still, towards a subject you haven't even had chance to form an opinion about.

So, ignoring all I've written, I'm going to attempt a hatchet job on a hatchet job – well, that's not strictly true, but I'm going to lament a hatchet job. This hatchet job, an interview with Florence of Florence and the Machine fame. Firstly, I'll come clean – I didn't have an opinion on Florence and the Machine before reading Laura Snapes' piece, I came out of it desperate to find one. Since then, I've discovered that a) her album is actually very good, b) she's rather attractive. Those are my two main thoughts. And it's going to look like I'm picking on Laura Snapes, but I know people who know her (albeit through rather...weak connections), and from what I can tell she's a perfectly nice person. The truth is that her piece is merely an example of the way pieces of this sort piss me off; she's far from the only one. In fact, as a mark of respect (and partially so should she ever vanity-google/should a potential suitor or interview subject of hers google her), I'm going to refer to her as “the interviewer”, so that when googling, with any luck this piece won't be near the top. Not that it would be on a blog this seldom read, mind. But sod that, it's time to deconstruct.
Florence Welch - hatcheted good and proper

First of all, it's fair to say the interviewer doesn't warm to Florence. Fair enough, there's a pleasing level of honesty in this article, no-one can be left in doubt from even the introductory, pre-article paragraph that there's some hostility here. We then get a rather snooty “Florence listens to music through a Walkman. Well of course she bloody does.”, and then on the subject of her troubles with using an iPod, “how stupid do you have to be to not be able to work an iPod?” The first of those comments is merely meant as an insult, but on the second of those, well, I get a bit in knots with the touch-sensitivity of iPods; it's why I've always used other mp3 players (that and that I hate Apple). How stupid do you have to be? Me stupid, I guess. And insert some kind of primal Tarzan noise from me too.

Later on, we get quotes from Florence with lots of pauses in: “Um . . . I don't know. I mean, I think . . . It's definitely like . . . It's just hard isn't it, it's like, I mean, I completely understand...” Come on, interviewer. Firstly, this is a question on a topic you've admitted is weighty – the troubles with illegal downloading, surely you must have expected she wouldn't have hadanyanswers, let alone all of them. Hell, I don't, but then again I guess I must be Florence Stupid. The fact is, those are the sort of pauses you'll get in any interview. Musicians are a notoriously incoherent bunch, possibly due to a life eschewing monotonous watercooler conversations in favour of determinedly experimenting with lots of rather ineffectual guitar tunings. Pauses happen. Most of the time, they're not printed. Why would you print this here, interviewer? Oh yes, you've already said Florence is stupid, you're just ramming home the point. She's me stupid, yes?

It's a long interview, and I could deconstruct this for as much time as I've got (a lot: currently, the end of the financial year a week and a half ago also rang the death knell for my last period of employment), but it hardly seems worth it. You can see the article for yourself, and you may as well give it a read, it's had a heck of a lot of hits already and the twenty or thirty extra that come through this blog aren't going to make any difference to anyone. But have a look, and see if it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.

It all just seems a tad unnecessary, as if the interviewer is not only trying to turn us off Florence and the Machine's music – and at this point I might add that surely this is a reviewer's responsibility; an interviewer generally is meant to give insight onto the person and to try to be unclouded and impartial, at least with groups they're not massive fans on. And of those who like – or discover that they like – Florence and the Machine's music: are we supposed to feel guilty? I like a wide range of things, from Salif Keita to Saul Williams, Múm to My Morning Jacket, Field Music to – yes, Florence and the Machine. I've never gotten the impression she's possessed of a Forrest Gump-level IQ (in fact, being the daughter of someone educated at Harvard might, in line with general theories of genetics, suggest that she probably isn't thick as two short planks), and from what I've read doesn't seem to have a particularly spoilt, stable childhood – although as in all these things there will be many who have had worse. It just makes me despair a little.

Actually, this article's had another effect on me, in that it's made me feeling guilty for lapping up another infamous hatchet job with relish. When Alexis Petridis gave a rather unfavourable interview with Cardiff band Los Campesinos!, he singled out for particular backhanded scorn singer Gareth Paisey. I enjoyed this because as much as I was not a fan of the band, my (albeit limited) experiences of the person had been somewhat negative. But looking back, my glee at that is part of the problem, isn't it? If we go round whooping and hollering at nasty snide comments and relentless negativity – especially when it's as disguised and catty as Petridis' – where will that leave us?
I'm sorry I revelled in your being hatcheted, Los Campesinos.

We're in a world where a good put-down and an arrogant demeanour are increasingly sought-after in people to hang on to, where the “rant” is actually becoming an art form (and as a fan of people like Ben Croshaw and Charlie Brooker, again I'm as much to blame as anyone). What good does all this perpetuation do? And can we stop it? Can I? Can you?


  1. If I were to write a similar article again now, I'd do it very differently. There are aspects of it that I don't agree with even now, but I'm still glad that I did it - learning curve and all that - and I still think the same as I did then. There are some points from your blog that I'll answer to.

    "no-one can be left in doubt from even the introductory, pre-article paragraph that there's some hostility here" - I had no predetermined hostility, that was all brought about by the content of the interview. I barely had an opinion of her before - saw her at Camp Bestival, thought she was quite funny, that was about it.

    “how stupid do you have to be to not be able to work an iPod?” - quite clearly followed up with a paragraph about her bloody well being able to work one, but saying that she can't as a sort of "ooh, I'm so ephemeral and olde worlde" - fetishizing technological ineptitude, I think I wrote.

    Downloading incoherence - she was briefed, she knew we would be talking about that.

    "The fact is, those are the sort of pauses you'll get in any interview." - no, no they are not. I'm yet to do an interview as stilted and useless as that one.

    "surely this is a reviewer's responsibility; an interviewer generally is meant to give insight onto the person and to try to be unclouded and impartial" - really? says who?

  2. laura: first of all, thanks for responding. i think a lot of your points here i can't really say anything back to - a lot of these things are based on your experience of the interview and my reading of your, er, write-up

    few things though: firstly, you say you didn't have an opinion on her before the interview, but you've referred very early on to what you call her "sub-Evanescence squawl" - did you develop this opinion between doing the interview and the write up, then?

    re: the downloading incoherence - i think of myself as a fairly intelligent chap (and modest, obvs), but even if i'd been briefed (who by? do they know what they're talking about?) i'd still struggle to make a coherent answer to a question like that, i suspect

    and, regarding the last point, this is going to sound obnoxious, but i say so. or at least i do in the context of this blog. i'm turned off equally by drooling fan boy-ish interviews - even of bands i'm a drooling fan boy of - as i am by the negative ones. maybe it's just the way i want to consume music journalism, but i want to read interviews for an insight into the creator, and reviews for an insight into the creation. obviously there's a link between the two but i'm looking for discussion of the link in content terms, rather than quality terms. i.e. "and you can tell he wrote this because of the tragic personal experience..." as opposed to "and you can tell he wrote this because it is shit and he's a cunt" - obviously that's a vast exaggeration over your piece, but, well, i guess it's all personal preference init

  3. I disagree with points A) and points b).

    Also... an interviewer can do whatever she wants, it is up the the reader to interpret their own opinion. That unfortunately is the way of the mediariffic world.

    I may have only skim read this entire article... so if I miss the point, ignore me, or just continue the same tradition as before...