Thursday, 20 November 2008

'Kill Your Friends' John Niven (William Heinemann 2008)

Having made a career in the music business, John Niven brings us a warts'n'all expose of A&R life in major record labels in the fictional black 'Kill Your Friends'. Set in 1997 against a tide of changing governments and the dying embers of Britpop and the phoenix of girl power rising from the ashes. Steven Stelfox is a coke-shovelling alcoholic empty shell of a man, concerned with looks, larging it, rampant misogyny and filling what should be his dream job with excuses to have it, drink it, snort it, and never fall into the trap of caring about anyone. Relationships, like hits, are disposable. Acts are all deluded pricks. Drugs are easy to come by and the reality of spiralling fictional budgets, excess and complete debauchery play out over a backdrop of real self-delusion, as we see the events that really inspired the action. As Stelfox's hits dry up and his position as an A&R becomes more tenuous, meaning the drug well could dry up and the status could disappear, he resorts to heinous violent murderous methods to preserve his tenuous grip on his job and on reality. This is a music industry American Psycho, he is Patrick Bateman, yet more empty and predisposed to caring about nothing, knowing nothing and feeling nothing for anything, not even the music he's supposed to be an expert on. He's clearly not an A&R for the creative endeavour. He's in it for the status, and he tells you in categoric terms: don't form a band, don't send your demo out. You're all shit and we're waiting to rape you financially and creatively. The interesting reason for dating this in the mid to late 90s means the internet hasn't taken over and changed the game yet; it rumbles in the background, but ultimately, this is when labels mattered and were at their peak, and cuntish A&Rs like Stelfox made and broke bands over lines of coke. While Stelfox is grotesque, evil, deadly and full of self-important coke-ego, there is a childish little boy lost element to him that make his scabarous, lethal rants so amusing and yet so meaningless. While this is a poor man's American Pyscho, it's a great treatise on what happened to the music industry that made it vomit on its own excess when the internet came a-knocking.

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