On the 10th and 11th of August 1996, Oasis played two enormous gigs at Knebworth which was the defining moment of the Britpop era if you believe how the mythology of those gigs are being painted today 20 years on. Well, they did define the era just not in the way many would like to admit. Firstly it’s best to explain a few things before dealing with what Knebworth actually means.
Britpop has a modern day media narrative. That is prior to 1993 the British music scene was in severe decline after the heyday of the late 1980’s rave culture which lead to a vastly diverse Indie scene which died before Britpop kickstarted British music again with acts like Suede, Blur and Oasis. This isn’t true, in fact rave culture transformed the British music scene from top to bottom and that included a diverse British music scene that wasn’t trapped in the past of referencing 1960’s acts like The Kinks or The Who which some later Britpop acts did. A more culturally diverse mix of bands hit the scene which split into multiple sub-genres such as the infamous New Wave of New Wave but that’s lost as the media tries to paint the picture of the British music scene as dominated purely by American music saved by Suede, Blur and Oasis.
The documentary Live Forever managed to capture some of that, but the thing is now in 2016 the Knebworth gigs are now being seen as something amazing and triumphant, yet even Noel Gallagher voiced that these gigs made him suffer in that there was nothing bigger for them to do but it really meant the end of Oasis as any form of a band trying to be creative as they turned into their own tribute act.
1996 was an odd year, there was no Glastonbury that year as it was a fallow year, so the Knebworth gigs were the biggest of the year, and on top of that the creative spurt of Britpop was burning out when bands like Ocean Colour Scene, Northern Uproar, and err, Gay Dad, would come out with tediously bland, generic guitar music which did hark back to the 1960’s, but were the musical equivalents of a frozen pizza; you might enjoy it for a bit while you’re eating it, but afterwards you feel a bit sick and realise it wasn’t as good as a home-made pizza.
Then there’s the fact the gig was pretty poor. Sure, if you’re an Oasis fan this was your pinnacle but having seen Oasis in their early days they were electric. This was a bad cover version of what they’d been only a few years earlier.
Knebworth was the end of Britpop. A few odd creative spurts happened afterwards mainly thanks to The Verve’s Urban Hymns album, but Knebworth saw what was an alternative music scene being absorbed into the mainstream not to mention it cemented the festival as something anyone could do rather than being the preserve of a counter-culture. Indeed, that’s year’s Reading Festival remains one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to but as a festival then you could see in retrospect how Britpop rather than create a forward thinking/looking movement ended up with a load of bands chasing the Big Gig with the money which comes with such success. The logical outcome of Knebworth was Coldplay, a band built upon big anthems which play to a big field full of people but musically is as risky as your favourite underpants. Pop music became increasingly dull to the point where today third generation guitar bands retread music that’s been retrod so often as bands no longer (on the whole) tried to be different, but instead tried to capture what Oasis had for those days in August 1996.
So when looking back at these gigs remember the main thing it did was to neutralise the British Indie scene, give us a coked out Liam Gallagher who can no longer sing, and Coldplay. It helped give us fucking Coldplay…