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Beyond Britpop: Whatever happened to the class of '95?

posted Jul 1, 2011, 4:07 PM by Vu Nguyen   [ updated Jul 1, 2011, 4:12 PM ]

Beyond Britpop: Whatever happened to the class of '95?
Saturday, 2 July 2011

Pulp are just the latest Britpop band to re-form. What happened to the other musicians who defined the Nineties? Alice Jones meets the retired rock stars

Michael Venning

Louise Wener photographed at her home in Brighton. She says: 'When I look back at Britpop now, it was like a bonkers holiday that we all went on'

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Then: Lead singer, Sleeper. Poster girl for Britpop. Sleeper's big break came when they supported Blur on their Parklife tour in 1995. They went on to score three UK Top 10 albums, including 1996's platinum-selling The It Girl. They split up in 1998.

Defining Britpop moment: The video for "Inbetweener", shot in an overlit supermarket and featuring a cameo from Dale Winton, shaking tins of Pringles like maracas.

Now: Novelist. Since 2001, Wener has written four well-received books, including The Big Blind about a female poker player. Her memoir, Just for One Day: Adventures in Britpop is out now.

Lives: Brighton, with her husband, Sleeper drummer Andy MacLure, and two children. She is 44 years old.

'When I look back at Britpop now, it was like a bonkers holiday that we all went on. It was mostly enormous fun. We toured the world and played amazing places. It was the culmination of a lot of things I'd wanted to do as a kid, and as such it had a dreamlike quality. It was also insanely druggy – who had the most cocaine was the definition of who was your best mate. Generally the atmosphere was one of hyper-competitiveness and schadenfreude. The women in particular were encouraged to be competitive, I think because there were fewer of us.

The way people access music now is so different. The idea that you would have a big movement that a whole generation was listening to at the same time, a whole summer that was defined by a certain band or album, is fading. It feels like Britpop might have been the last of that. But there was an innate arrogance to the movement – a belief in its cultural importance and relevance, above and beyond what its real worth was. My tendency is to deflate things like that; even at the time, I felt that people were really puffed-up about it. As for politics, I think it's the most naff thing a musician can do. The job of a musician is to stand on the outside and look in, criticise it and jab away with a pointy finger – not hang out in a posh suit and quaff champagne.

When Sleeper split up in 1998, Britpop was sort of falling apart. Our third album wasn't very successful and we thought, 'Let's pull our own plug. Step out before we're thrown out'. It seemed like the sensible thing to do. The first thing I did was work on a solo record but my heart was not really in it. So I bought a second-hand typewriter and started writing on the quiet in my little flat. It was the perfect way to step away from the music industry madness. I'd always wanted to do it; having written lyrics for so long, to suddenly have this empty canvas of 90,000 words seemed incredibly liberating. And having been written about for so long, the idea of owning words felt really tantalising. I wrote two half-novels that weren't good enough and junked them. Then I started on a third and felt it was good enough. So I sent it off, signed an agent and got a publishing deal. It was a slow burn. You can't just ditch one thing and immediately leap into another.

Now I write two-and-a-half days a week because one of my children is at school and the other is at nursery. I'm insanely disciplined. Publishing is much more sedate than music and the people working in it seem to be much more mature. There's something about the music business which attracts eternally childlike people – even those who are controlling it. It's been quite refreshing to have proper conversations with people.

These days I mainly listen to CBeebies theme tunes. Andy, who teaches electro at a music college, keeps up with music much more than I do. I've let that go and that feels right. When I see a great gig, of course I miss it. I get a real Proustian feeling. It's like going back to school where you recognise everything but it all looks a little bit smaller. It's a world I utterly know how to inhabit. I know what's gone on backstage, what the band have been doing that day – and I just feel a little ache, I suppose."