Theres something quite sad about the Warp 20 year anniversary. Not the fact that old fans pay a small fortune for a basically pointless box set, after all it’s clearly meant only for fans and I’m sure it’s giving them pretty much what they want. I have never been much of a Warp fan myself, I’ve never really understood what was supposed to be so amazing about the label even in its prime. A lot of people seemed to think that there was a golden age where you could buy just about every release on Warp and it would be amazing and groundbreaking, but I’ve never felt that way, their output came off rather uneven to me. Perhaps in the bleep era Warp was that great, but I wasn’t really aware of them back then, and the cult following only really began when they startet the whole IDM/album-techno thing.
Anyway, not being a fan I will not be listening to, let alone buy, that box set, but it is interesting to compare it with the releases celebrating the 10 year anniversary in 1999. First you might notice the cover design. The 1999-records had some modernist architechture/brutalism-thing going on – not executed all that great, but the idea was appropriate. The new box, on the other hand, looks like it could be a recent Pink Floyd compilation. Of course that kind of pseudo-scientific cod surrealism have always been a part of the Warp aesthetic, but the fact that it’s chosen to represent the entire Warp history is quite dispiriting. Still, the content is even more significant: With the 10 year anniversary records they not only made what is probably the ultimate bleep compilation, basically containing all their amazing early singles, they even released a great compilation of early house and techno from artist that came before Warp, a gesture that seemed so much more interesting and brave than just giving the countless newly converted Aphex/Autechre/Squarepusher-fans a pile of stuff they allready knew and loved. Ten years later, and half of the anniversary box is a compilation chosen by Warp co-founder Steve Beckett and “the fans”. And the other half is repeating the "idea" of the least interesting third of the 10 year anniversary – the tired trick of dressing a bunch of old tracks up in new remixes.
Well, obviously they couldn’t release another compilation of old bleep singles, but that’s actually the whole point of why the anniversary thing is so sad: In the last ten years Warp have not made any contribution to music even remotely as groundbreaking as their part in the bleep era. Or the IDM era for that matter. Because, rellay, even though there’s some good records here and there, when was the last time any of them had any actual impact on anything? That would probably be Boards of Canadas Music Has the Right to Children, which did indeed start a whole lot of things, but that was 1998!! Even if there have been the odd great warp record during the last ten years, that period do indeed seem utterly impoverished compared to the ten years that went before. And it’s bloody ten years. Ten years of almost nothing. Let’s not even mention the indie records.
In this way, the Warp anniversary somehow seems to represent how insignificant the noughties have been in comparison with the nineties. Now Warp never really got into the great stuff that actrually did happen in the noughties, unlike Planet MU they never tried to be a part of grime or dubstep or breakcore, so of course the Warp version of the decade is much more dull than it actually was in itself, but still, in the nineties there was huge amounts of incredible stuff going on that Warp didn’t participate in either, and they still managed to release a whole bunch of groundbreaking records. It often seemed like the nineties – especially the first half – simply had infinite levels operating at the same time. Looking back at the last ten years of Warp you realize that that was not the case at all during this decade. To come up with something new and original was the exception, not the norm. This is what really saddens me, and it kinda work on a personal level too: The thing is, when I heard about the 20 years of Warp, I suddenly realized that I remembered the last time Warp had an anniversary – and it seemed like yesterday!!!
Part of the problem here is obviously that you’re bound to feel old with such a realisation. Ten years passed and you hardly noticed, and all those things you wanted to do never happened. But equally sad is the reason the years seemed to pass so fast and leave so little: Unlike the nineties, the noughties didn’t offer more truly new stuff than it was possible to keep track on. Developments that could have happened simultaniously and in a few months in the early nineties followed each other in orderly succession in the noughties, and took years each - like the 2step-grime-dubstep-lineage. You could keep up with the new releases and feel that indeed things were happening, not realizing that you spent years following developments that would have happened in a flash earlier. For someone brought up on the nineties evolutionary speed, the noughties felt like an instant, because the musical evolution it offered would have happened in an instant in the privious decade.