Sub Pop


Saint Etienne

When they come to write the dissertations, and all the deconstructions and doctorates are done and dusted, I hope the point is not lost. For how Saint Etienne subtly smashed the system was by mastering the art of being all things to all people. Rather handy it was too, as their name gave an entree to any strata of society.


So, when colleagues cornered you and asked the dreaded question: “So what music DO you like?” the words Saint Etienne were a godsend. Everyone seemed to know or have a soft spot for them. And when eyebrows were raised at arms aloft, shirt off antics, it was okay to say: “Oh, I’ve been at it since K-Klass learnt to spell. You should come up and see my Saint Etienne 12”s some time."


And if the headz behind the record shop counter in the discreetly logoed limited edition tee shirts looked down their noses at the Etienne vamping it up on the Radio One roadshow, they would drool into their goatees at the 45s Bob and Pete played down the Social. Then when the coffee bar philosophers gathered to put down the party people, it was good to state that present company excepted, no one could do more with a feather boa than Sarah. So the debate would continue about whether she was thee role model for the emerging Fabians jet set, flitting between Prada and Primark, the Third Way and Home And Away. And when the light was only provided by a scented candle and the talk turned to books, we would declare for Douglas Coupland and never resist mentioning his sleevenotes for the gorgeous Good Humor set and then speculate on what his favourite song was.


So, when homely souls said the Etienne were quintessentially English, it was easy to agree and say not even The Clash dropped as many London references. And one day someone would light out for the territory and trace the routes (roots!) of their lovers rock (though strangely not the Purley and Shirley of the south west). Then when the rootless internationalists claimed the Etienne as their own, it was only right to second this, pointing to Italian house piano magic and French disko bleeps and beats, Swedish flair and German adventuresomeness. And, yes, the mythical America of sitting around a Palm Springs pool swapping stories of dead pop stars and fallen footballers, with the Aphex Twin’s ambient works playing and the sun rising.


Whoops! I couldn’t resist inventing a Saint Etienne moment there. For really, home alone, that has been the power of their pop. They could be whatever you wanted them to be and take you wherever you wanted to go.


That’s not as easy as some would have you think, and that’s called magic.