Like a great number of the people who populate this planet, I am, it’s fair to say, a massive hypocrite – something I became fully aware of at some point in the late 90s.
Around that time, I was a big fan of twee indie-pop band Ooberman. Now, whether or not the “street team” phenomenon had being going on for years beforehand and I simply hadn’t noticed I couldn’t tell you with any authority, but it seemed to me that the way you showed your appreciation for a band at that time was not to buy a T-shirt or join a fan club (though, feasibly, I suppose you could have done) but, instead, to join a street team.
Street teams were groups of fans who would go out – either individually or as a group – to promote your singles, albums and gigs on your behalf in exchange for special freebies. If you were a band with no imagination, then you would usually get your fans to print out a few flyers, scatter them on the tables of their local live music venues and offer them a pin badge or two for their troubles. Ooberman, however, had much grander idea.
They wanted to bring down Steps.
Ooberman’s debut album, The Magic Treehouse, was chalked for release on the same day as Steps’ second album, Steptacular. Knowing that they had no chance of taking on the might of a major label’s advertising budget, instead they asked their street team to hijack the Steps campaign in whichever way they could.
Wide-eyed young spark that I was, I embarked on a relentless personal campaign. I spent a whole Saturday morning wandering around the five record stores in my hometown, covering up the shelves and shelves of Steps records with copies of the Ooberman album – returning in rotation to make sure that any officious members of staff hadn’t meddled with them. I went into Dixons with an Ooberman CD in my bag and pretended that I was in the market for a hi-fi system so that I and (more importantly) Dixons’ disinterested customers could hear just how good the album sounded with a sub-woofer. I even set up a new front page on my CompuServe OurWorld website (a site which would often garner as many as one dozen hits a month) detailing my work and encouraging other people to follow suit.
I have no idea where the album ended up charting (and the information seems to be missing from the internet – which gives you an idea of how effective the whole thing must have been) but my efforts won me a signed 12” copy of the album and a note from the band thanking me for my tireless support. I couldn’t have been more delighted.
What Ooberman didn’t know (but my sister will tell anyone who cares to listen) is that not three months earlier I had gone halves on a copy of Steps’ video album, Steps: The Video – one of the more esoteric and embarrassing items of the oeuvre.
(In my defence, I would like to point out that I went in on it on the strength of their cover of the Bee Gees’ Tragedy. I realise it’s a hideous version, but I had never heard the song before and was it not for Steps I don’t think I’d have ever taken the time to listen to the Bee Gees’ largely excellent back catalogue. I truly believe that, in some small way, this helps to absolve me of some blame for this transgression.)
Why admit to this?
I have an album and a half of Au Revoir Simone’s musical output in my iTunes library. Up until today I hadn’t listened to a single second of it.
Though lyrically it is a million times more accomplished than anything Steps have ever recorded (and it would still be a genuine shock to hear Au Revoir Simone attempt anything in the vein of 5, 6, 7, 8) the first song I’ve heard of theirs sounds astonishingly similar.
The rest, thankfully, seems much less so – but, as I said, I have got an album and a half’s worth of their stuff on my laptop. It has survived countless culls and trimmings, when disk space was scarce. Why? For the desperately unsophisticated reason that I like the band name and the three girls that make up Au Revoir Simone look quite pretty.
Do I have any Steps on my laptop? Not currently – though I know for a fact that Stomp (from their third album Buzz*) was on here at some point. It now isn’t. I must have deleted it. Somewhere between Steely Dan and Stephen Malkmus I will have spotted that solitary Steps’ single and I will have treated it like it was a mouse hiding at the back of one of my cupboards. I would have freaked out and would have been unable to concentrate on anything else until I was sure that both it and any trace of it had been banished from my laptop.
Will I do the same with Au Revoir Simone? Probably not. They’re from Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Williamsburg in Brooklyn is cool. Pitchfork give them good reviews. Pitchfork is cool. David Lynch says they’re brilliant. David Lynch is cool.
Do I like the music? More than I like, say, Steps?
Honestly? No, not particularly.
But, then, I am not cool. I co-owned a Steps video**. Albums like The Bird Of Music and Verses of Comfort, Assurance and Salvation are the only things I have to cover up that fact.
*Again, this Steps single (Stomp) sampled Chic’s Everybody Dance so heavily that it was practically a cover. It was what got me into Chic. I love Chic. Also, in looking for the song online I came across The Brothers Johnson’s song Stomp! – which is both different and brilliant. So that’s three bands I love I might never have found were it not for Steps. Really, I owe them.
** Whilst I’m taking out the trash, I should admit that I also co-owned Jump Up, Jump Down: Live – the B*Witched live concert video. That’s the last you’ll get out of me.