By his own admission Nottingham’s Ronnie Bonneville does not engage with the clutter of mainstream media: no presskit or pictures, mission statements, elaborate apocryphal back-stories or self-serving Twitter-generated myths and legends. He claims self-deprecatingly that the music he posts on Soundcloud is ignored by DJs and the music-listening public the world over. Whilst I understand that this might be a defensive manoeuvre, designed to avoid the corrosive process of propagating, and then finding oneself being seduced by, ones own bullshit, I can’t help feeling that it is somewhat self-defeating: the whole point of popular music is that it becomes popular, and this can only happen through increasing numbers of people listening to it and being engaged by it. This wouldn’t matter if it had nothing to say, but Ronnie and the Bonnevilles do.
The Bonnevilles’ first track, RnB, an idiosyncratic take on contemporary life, is set in an imaginarium peopled by ‘bohemian’ hipsters in artisanal cafes, the proprietress ‘with her damp cloth, and her textiles-related degree’, a world of smug smiles and the arrogance and complacency that comes with imagining you’ve skilfully steered yourself into the winning stream: a psycho-social space where, alarmingly, nothing interesting ever happens. The world of the hipster is the direct antithesis of the youth-oriented counter-cultural movements that for almost 50 years have expressed protest, dissent and attempts to articulate feelings of anger, alienation and disenchantment that for many have defined the very notion of being young in a late-period neo-liberal capitalist society.
One of the more curious events at this year’s Glastonbury was seeing Sleaford Mods (also from Nottingham) barracking the audience and declaring that ‘Glastonbury is shit – everything is shit’ to a tentfull of youthful revellers to whom actually saying something contentious is mildly baffling. In the intellectual vacuum of the world of the urban hipster, nothing is claimed and nothing contested. This most beige of social groups revels in its bland vacuity. As noted in an Observer article on Sleaford Mods, no-one in contemporary mainstream pop music is saying anything remotely provocative, a curious fact at a time when there is so much to be said.
Ronnie and Bonnie Bonneville’s slyly sardonic takes on the vagaries of contemporary life form an oblique commentary on the inanity of much of our social interaction: this, at a time when the election of Jeremy Corbyn, the newly-anointed philosopher king of the hard left, feted, feared and reviled in almost equal measure, seems to promise a new era of plain-speaking in an arena where such a thing as saying what you really think is commonly understood to be, in public life, potentially disastrous and in private life, a sign of chronic miserabalism or social ineptitude. Corbyn’s fate seems to hang on a delicate thread – how long will it take for him to be discredited? The knives are out in force – it may only be a matter of time. What is clear, though, is that there is a sizeable groundswell of anger and frustration energetically seeking expression.
To these ears, the Bonnevilles’ sentiments are eminently laudable, though their music comes over as a bit old-fashioned – generic old-skool beats and synthesiser lead lines and textures that could have been grabbed from a Garage Band loops and breaks CD of twenty-odd years ago. A touch more colour and originality would make these tracks far more attractive to audiences sympathetic to voices of dissent, but reared on the futuristic sound designs of artists such as FKA twigs, Ghostpoet and Young Fathers.
But then, that is not necessarily want Ronnie and Bonnie Bonneville are after – which is a shame, as deliberate and conscientious obscurity is doing no-one any favours, at a time when so much that needs to be said, needs to be said, and heard.