Mathijs Peters
Author of Popular Music, Critique and Manic Street Preachers
email interview September 2020
by Rosey R*E*P*E*A*T

Read review of the book here

In his own words, Mathijs Peters is someone 'who has obsessively immersed himself in the Manics universe.'For years, he co-ran the highly informative and influential website Manics.NL, and he has recently turned his hand to writing an extremely detailed, thought provoking and important book on the diligence and depth of the band's lyrics. Along with their words, Mathijs also looks at how the band use their sleeve art, body-art, video-clips, clothes, interviews and live performances all to emphasise and reinforce their socially critical message. It is a serious book which deserves serious attention; having read it and almost finished his review of it, Rosey thought it was time to find out more.


Tell us a bit about your relationship with MSP – how much have they made you the person you are?

I think I’m not exaggerating when I say that they were and still are a part of my identity. They are one of the first bands that I discovered when I was around 13/14 years old and started exploring popular music in the obsessed manner that is characteristic of that age. Of course, the internet then was not what it is today, so I mainly had access to (their) music through friends, magazines, radio and TV (I remember calling friends when a video-clip of the Manics was shown on MTV), record shops, concerts and festivals. I also remember buying their releases or getting cassette tapes from friends. I did not have access to all of their albums at once (as you often have nowadays with YouTube or Spotify), but discovered them one by one, which means that every time I had acquired a new album or single I completely immersed myself in the universe that is shaped by each of their releases.

This was around the same time that I started to discover literature and cinema. More precisely, it was around the same time that I discovered how engaging and meaningful artworks can be. Not only how books, films or paintings open up a world and pull you in as a reader or spectator, but also how they present different, often critical perspectives on society and life in general, and how they do this with help of different styles and forms. By reading books, watching films and looking up paintings, I discovered how art can both be extremely personal - it can touch, trigger or affect you in specific ways - and more general - responding to historical conditions, to other artworks and movements, to worldviews, etc.

What made the Manics so fascinating to me, was that I loved their music, their energy, their image, but also that they managed to embed themselves in an intertextual network of references to books, films, authors, politicians, painters, architects and more. This made them into a guide for me. I started reading the books, watching the films and researching the people that they mentioned in lyrics, quoted on album sleeves or talked about in interviews. Since they also continuously coupled these references to political critique and social issues, they furthermore showed me the crucial role that art can play in political movements or in social forms of resistance against economic changes. This added another dimension to art for me.

The Manics brought these aspects together, and did this within the realm of popular music. And since it is especially this kind of music, I believe, that can play a pivotal role in the shaping of an identity when you discover it at a young age, all of these aspects gradually became a part of my self.

What inspired you to get involved with MANICS.NL and to make it the way it was?

At that time, there were already several sites devoted to exploring the intertextuality of the band, but me and my friend Thijs wanted to take it a step further by exploring this aspect in more detail. Not only did we decide to list the films, quotes, soundbites, painters etc that are mentioned in their lyrics, but also to describe and analyse them. Furthermore, we added authors and artists who, we thought, would fit into the Manics universe. For example, at that time the site already included an entry on Adorno, who plays an important role in my book, even though the band themselves never mentioned or referenced his works.

Partly, we also started the site because we wanted to collect all of the links and references that we ourselves had discovered in the lyrics and on the album sleeves. For example, I remember listening to The Rolling Stones’ ‘Rocks Off’ and suddenly hearing the phrase ‘The sunshine bores the daylights out of me’, which shows up – in a reversed manner - in the lyrics of ‘Another Invented Disease’. We eventually took the site down because we were too busy with our studies and we realised the English on the site was not very good (we are both Dutch). It was just too much work to keep the site up-to-date and to revise the texts.

Is this book MANICS.NL written out on paper, or does it seek to do something else?

The idea behind the book is that I present interpretations of the meaning of the band’s releases, mainly by focusing on lyrics, quotes on clothes and album sleeves, audio-samples, interviews, etc. References play an important role in these interpretations, so I think you can see the book as a specific way of connecting the dots - the references - that were described on MANICS.NL. I have tried to include many of these references in the book, but I do not list all of them.

It is important to emphasise that this means that the book presents just one way of interpreting and approaching the band. It is not meant to be ‘the’ definitive book on the Manics. For example, I do not specifically discuss the impact the band had and still have on their fans, their role in the music industry, the resonating aspects of their concerts, or the feeling of being overwhelmed by their energy and stage presence. This is an aspect that Simon Price, I think, captures well with help of textual descriptions, or that is shown by photography books like Forever Delayed, 4 Real or Assassinated Beauty. The recent documentary by Anton Corbijn, Spirits in the Forest, manages to grasp and show similar aspects of popular music very accurately in the context of Depeche Mode. Lastly, I think a fanzine like R*E*P*E*A*T, and its employment of cut-out techniques, collages and fragments, represents the band’s specific use of glam, glitter, decadence and the punk aesthetic, and the feeling that this shapes, in a manner that academic texts cannot.

My book, however, is an academic text, and I wanted to employ a different method to the band than the ones I just mentioned: I adopt a rather intellectualist approach and mainly focus on lyrics, presenting the band's releases as constellations that are the result of connecting references and quotes in specific ways. By adopting this approach, my aim is to show the theoretical consistency of these lyrics, a consistency that I try to grasp with the notion of the ‘critical model’. Almost all of their albums, I argue, present a different critical worldview - a critical model - that is constituted with help of lyrics that are so dense, theoretical and complex that they carve out a layer of meaning ‘within’ songs, within the popular music scene and even within society at large. These lyrics almost turn into essays that disconnect themselves from the music, in other words, and there are not many bands who manage to write lyrics that do this. Furthermore, I argue that whereas the band mainly write accessible and very melodic and catchy music, it is in the realm of lyrics that they go much further and explore different lyrical forms that are not catchy but, instead, force one to think and work through them. Again it is this aspect that I wanted to highlight with help of my approach.

Again, however, I do not claim that my interpretations are the only correct ones. What makes the Manics so fascinating, is that the dots found on their releases can be connected in different ways, resulting in different constellations. The excellent book Triptych, for example, presents different interpretations of The Holy Bible (although that book was highly inspirational to me), and Yusef Sayed’s blog foregrounds yet others.

The intellectual reach of the book is incredible, matched only by the band themselves I'd guess! You have such great knowledge of not just of the band but also the references they make to other bands, writers, artists, religions, thinkers and more. Is this a knowledge you had already amassed, or did you have to research it?

Thanks! I think a part of it has to do with the fact that, as I said earlier, my interest in books, films, paintings and more has to a large extent been shaped by the band, so it is no coincidence that I have immersed myself in many of the artworks and theories that they refer to. At the same time, I did research a lot of books, films and theories when I started writing the book. Also, since I studied philosophy and have always been interested as well in literary and film theory, I eventually became familiar with many of the other theories and writings that enabled me to develop my interpretations.

You also manage to marry this intellectual knowledge about the lyrics with an emotional understanding of what the band are about; how did the band effect you emotionally as you were growing up (and now)?

I’m glad you say this, since this has been (and still is) one of my worries: that an academic book like this is not able to really grasp the way in which bands like the Manics touch listeners emotionally; affect them. That my analysis is too cerebral, in other words. Of course, the book is very theoretical and intellectualist. But this has been a conscious decision, since it enables me to show how intellectualist, theoretical and programmatic the band’s releases themselves are. Still, I have tried to also emphasise my own emotional connection to the band.

But to answer your question: Manic Street Preachers have had and still have a very strong emotional impact on me, both through their music and through their lyrics. I think a part of this impact is very personal and difficult to put into words. For example, I really like the album Lifeblood, even though many fans - and the band themselves - often dismiss it as one of their weaker albums. The synth pop sound of that album, the references to ghosts, its poppy bleakness, the feeling of melancholia that permeates the songs, its white design… all of these aspects contribute to an emotional soundscape that still pulls me in every time I listen to it, taking me back to the specific time in which it was released. Furthermore, I lived in Berlin for a while and the links between the content and origins of Futurology and that amazing city make it impossible for me not to link the emotions I feel when listening to that album to my experience of living there. I can also remember the first time I listened to ‘The Masses Against the Classes’, hearing James Dean Bradfield open the song with that magnificent scream, departing from the softer and more accessible style adopted on This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours. This scream alone gave and still gives me goosebumps.

But the emotional impact of their releases really depends on the album/song and on my mood. Furthermore, it is entwined with more cognitive reflections on the content of these albums/songs. When it comes to the bleak lyrics of The Holy Bible or Journal for Plague Lovers, for example, my response is not so much emotional, I would say, but revolves more around a mood that makes me turn inwards and reject the world and humanity. When I listen to these albums a lot, their lyrics often pull me into a universe that is so bleak that I start looking for art in which similar perspectives are shaped, such as the films of Pedro Costa and Mike Leigh, electronic music by Burial or OAKE, or books by Kafka, Emil Cioran, Jean Genet or Céline. Another example is the 1982 film Lenz, by Alexandre Rockwell, about a man who gradually loses his sanity and eventually disappears. The film explores the form of film in a fragmentary manner, coming close to the exploration of the limits of language that characterises the lyrics of The Holy Bible and Journal for Plague Lovers. I’m rambling a bit here, but this shows how, in my relation with the band’s releases, my emotional responses are often closely linked to the content of these releases and to their theoretical meaning as well.

You use Adorno's work as a way approaching your analysis of the band, yet he was dismissive of popular music (and popular movements?) as a vehicle for change, whereas The Manics are always consistent in their use of both 'high' and 'low' culture. How do you feel academic studies treat popular culture, do they always give it the respect it deserves?

It’s impossible to read that last phrase without hearing James sing it in ‘Archives of Pain’… Anyway, I think this is a difficult question and it really depends on the study. Within academic fields like Cultural Analysis or Popular Music Studies, both high and low art are taken very seriously as providing us with keys to ways in which meaning is generated within social, cultural or political contexts. I think one of the main ideas behind this is that popular culture often manages to permeate the everyday lives of people much more strongly than forms of ‘high’ art. Academic analyses of the notion of ‘affect’ (referring to specific bodily experiences that may or may not also trigger intellectual responses) or sociological studies of the links between audiences, identity and musicians, for example, clearly take popular music, and its many dimensions, as seriously as possible.

At the same time, I think that what makes the Manics so interesting is that they not only pull high art into everyday life by entwining references to Francis Bacon, Emily Dickinson or Solomon Northup with popular music, but at the same time also explore forms of high art in ways that distance their releases from the realm of everyday life and popular culture. So their releases are pulled in both ways. An example is formed by the dense and theoretical lyrics of The Holy Bible or Journal for Plague Lovers, I argue in the book. It takes a lot of focus and intellectual work to decipher these lyrics, which makes reading them sometimes come closer to reading T.S. Eliot, Beckett or James Joyce than to reading the lyrics of other bands.

I use Adorno as an entry into the universe of the Manics precisely because he is so critical of popular music and of direct action, so I would not see him as characteristic of most approaches within Popular Music Studies. In his rather pessimistic view, forms of popular culture (as well as some avant-garde art and a lot of ‘high’ art) might touch, engage or shock people briefly, but we eventually get used to these experiences, in his view, and then the art loses its power. ‘The avant-garde of the past is the wallpaper of the future’, as Coppola said in his introduction to the recent cut of Apocalypse Now. Furthermore, since popular music is also a form of entertainment, Adorno argues that especially this type of music will eventually be usurped by commercial structures and lose its critical power.

But Adorno goes even further, and claims that especially critical forms of popular culture give people the feeling that they are critical, but eventually only make them accept the societies in which they live, precisely by providing them with brief moments of escape or catharsis. The only art that, to some extent, might preserve a critical meaning according to him, is art that becomes so complex and dense that it cannot be commodified or commercialised; that it cannot be transformed into entertainment. But this, of course, might pull art into an ivory tower that separates it from the society that it wants to change, resulting in the opposite effect.

I still use Adorno, however, for the following two reasons. The first is that his modernist and elitist position enables me to foreground several important aspects of the band’s lyrics, precisely because many of his worries were and are part of the band’s approach, I argue. Their embrace of Situationism, the density of The Holy Bible, and titles like ‘All We Make is Entertainment’ and Resistance is Futile, all show that the band’s releases are rooted in a struggle with making art that is so critical that it elevates this art above the structures that it criticises, while doing this within these same structures and while stating that these structures are inescapable (that Resistance is Futile). So instead of choosing a theorist who immediately validates the idea that popular music can be critical, I wanted to use Adorno to emphasise the struggles that, I argue, the band’s releases themselves are born in and that drive the intellectualist aspects of their lyrics.

This is why I use a passage from the From There to Here documentary as a stepping stone, in which James states the following about the band’s aim after the ending of the miners’ strikes: ’We wanted to be so intelligent that we were never gonna get beaten. You don’t want to just rely on the passion of a true heart. You want to be so intelligent that you’re never gonna get bludgeoned…’ The band continually, I argue, have tried to not only respond to historical conditions (such as the miners’ strikes), but also to distance themselves from these same conditions by taking this ‘intelligence’ to the extreme and by writing theoretical and complex lyrics. This makes them, I argue, concerned with similar issues as Adorno, even though Adorno arrived at different conclusions regarding social critique and popular music.

The second reason for using Adorno is that many of the concerns that he had - the rise of right wing extremism, the development of Europe before and after Auschwitz, the growing influence of consumption culture - return in different ways in the lyrics of Manic Street Preachers. Also, his observations on the writings of Kafka and Beckett enabled me to show how close certain lyrics by Richey Edwards come to the works of these (late) modernist authors. So I kind of use Adorno against himself.

What is your favourite Manics song and how did you feel when you first heard it? As someone who'd not heard of Popular Music Studies until very recently, but who has loved (and written about) popular music all my life, I wonder how you feel this academic area helps us appreciate and understand our favourite bands?

That is an impossible question, haha. Obvious candidates are ‘Archives of Pain’, ‘Of Walking Abortion’ or ‘A Design for Life’ because of their lyrics and sound. These songs hit you in the stomach, but at the same time challenge you to go to a library (or to go online) and decipher their lyrics. However, I also really like the metallic aggression of ‘Judge Yr’self’, especially because the song revolves around this Nietzschean attempt to overcome oneself, to shape oneself into a god and then implode. This makes the song, for me, into a juggernaut of powerful and critical meaning that immediately grasps you when you hear it for the first time. ‘30-Year War’ is also a favourite of mine, since it combines a way of looking back at the band’s past with an energetic emphasis on critique and resistance.

Ask me this question tomorrow and the answer will be completely different, however.

The question regarding the role that academic studies can help us in appreciating our favourite bands is very interesting. To some extent, I agree with the sentiment that some of these analyses lose themselves in overly theoretical observations that miss the point of what makes a band matter to audiences: their energy, the impact they have, etc. Maybe this impact is impossible to truly grasp in a text; you just have to be there.

However, at the same time I think one of the important aspects of many academic analyses is that they force you to think and reflect. For me, they present invaluable insights into the mechanisms behind my own experience of music. For example, these analyses often show that the way in which we respond to music is shaped by historical conditions concerning the history of music, our lives as individuals, our relationship with previous generations, economic conditions, etc etc. Other analyses make you aware of the way in which the notion of ‘authenticity’ is shaped - and used - by specific bands and genres, making you think about what we actually mean when we say a band is ‘authentic’, and about why we often value authenticity so strongly. And to give yet another example: I think the influence that blues and rock 'n' roll had on chords used in punk, and the way in which post-punk then tried to distance itself from blues scales, can only be convincingly highlighted if someone develops an academic analysis of these chord progressions and musical scales.

Pic Ed Sirs

Often, I find myself pondering these kinds of academic analyses later, even though when I was reading these texts I dismissed them as overly abstract or scholastic. Trying to analyse and capture all of these aspects, I think, eventually results in the most helpful analysis of a band. Since a lot has already been written about affect, impact and historical context, I wanted to adopt a different approach in the book and highlight the intellectualist aspects of the Manics’ releases, focusing mainly on their lyrics. 

So to summarise: I think that what makes many academic analyses helpful, is that they force you to not take anything for granted or experience it as 'natural', which, in my view, is one of the main drives behind the Manics’ lyrics as well. This is not to say that some of these analyses are not overly dry or take things way too far, and maybe I myself am guilty of that a bit too… 

By carrying out such a detailed, valuable and in depth analysis of the lyrics, do you feel you have had to neglect looking at the various outside factors (ie contemporary political events and struggles) that gave rise to these lyrics? Might examining these have helped you understand the changes in emphasis you chart across the career of the band?

Yes, this is one of the downsides of my approach. The main idea behind primarily focusing on the lyrics has been to take these lyrics (and the songs of which they form part) as seriously as possible as autonomous artworks. I think what makes albums like The Holy Bible, Know Your Enemy or Futurology so powerful, is that they do indeed respond critically to their historical contexts, but do this in such an intricate and complex way (at least, that is what I try to show) that they do much more than that and distance themselves from these same contexts, becoming artworks that cannot be reduced to these contexts.

For example, we can read Generation Terrorists as mainly born in a response to the ending of the miners’ strikes and the victory of neoliberalism, or The Holy Bible as a response to Tony Blair’s New Labour, the rise of right wing extremism, or to Richey Edwards’ psychological state. But I think that these albums are so much more than that. Instead of adopting a psychological or socio-historical approach, I therefore focus on these releases themselves, study how certain historical aspects have found their way into their songs, but also how they constitute a universe on their own that disconnects them from their historical context and their creators. Again, I have taken this approach from Adorno, who is embedded in a modernist tradition that values artworks as autonomous without disconnecting them completely from their social contexts.

However, I think you are right that this does make me overlook more direct links between historical events and music. If I had included this approach, the book would have been 300 pages longer, however, so I hope it encourages others to focus on other aspects of the band or develop different interpretations.

Do you feel that the inspiration James draws from Victor Jara in his solo record contradicts some of what the band (and you) say around other recent releases?

Yes, maybe… However, I think the band have always been clear about ‘having the right to contradict themselves’. And I think this is also one of the ideas behind my book: I argue that the band have released different albums that each constitute a critical perspective on the status quo. And often these perspectives clash - for example, the Nietzschean emphasis on strength, self-overcoming and Christian themes of Journal for Plague Lovers is contradicted by the emphasis on European values and the European and Russian avant-gardes of Futurology. So in itself, contradicting themselves would not be an issue. Again, this is also what I wanted to point at with the idea of the autonomy of the artwork: good art often flourishes in a context of contradiction, paradox and fragmentation, and different artworks present different perspectives and ideas.

But to return to your question: I think you are referring to the band’s claims, around Postcards from a Young Man and Resistance is Futile, that rock ’n’ roll has grown ‘dormant’ and has lost most of its critical edge? Indeed, the band couple these observations to rather fatalistic claims - in ‘Distant Colours’, ‘Don’t Be Evil’, ‘A Billion Balconies Facing the Sun’, ‘Anthem for a Lost Cause’, for example - about the disrupting influence of social media and tech companies. In the book, I link these observations to the theory of ‘digimodernism’. In many interviews, the band members suggest that, in the 1980’s, it was still clear who and what one had to criticise and struggle against, and that recent phenomena like fake news, populist politics and social media have blurred the political and social arena so strongly that no one knows anymore what to defend and why to defend it. They argue, furthermore, that the dialogue is gone and that the importance of critical reflection and of engaging with worldviews that contradict yours is not acknowledged anymore.

In my analysis, I couple these observations to the band’s increasing focus on the (pre-digital) past: to the historical avant-gardes, Yves Klein, postcards, polaroid pictures, and more. This focus suggests that it has become so difficult to know what to critique and how to do this in the present, that one can only look back at forms of resistance that took place in the past. This means that these later albums - and this already begins on Everything Must Go, I argue - are permeated with a form of melancholy that might be crippling instead of empowering.

To some extent, as you suggest, I think that JDB’s solo-album contradicts this idea. It clearly emphasises the importance of resistance and, especially, the crucial role that art and music can play in resistance movements, as the life of Victor Jara shows us. On the other hand, it is again an album that looks at the past, and that focuses on a form of music that resisted a very specific political system of the past in a way that might not work anymore in the present. This latter observation, I think, is also what makes that the album is, again, permeated with melancholy. Put differently: the album is not focused specifically on social struggles - at least, not directly, as many contemporary hip-hop and punk groups are - that are taking place at this moment.

Do you think music can change anything?

Yes, on different levels. The first is that it can change people’s minds, their perspectives, infuse their everyday lives with new ideas, as I have described about myself above. This is why I also like listening to music or reading books by artists with whose worldview I do not agree: this art challenges me, forces me to respond, which is a feeling I really like.

But music does not only change individual lives, but can also play a role in social and political movements. A book like John Street’s Rebel Rock clearly emphasis this. Think of hegemonic notions of gender as they were challenged by David Bowie; of the role that Bob Marley played in Jamaica’s political struggles; of The Clash’s involvement in the Rock Against Racism movement; of hip-hop’s ability to reflect realities that for a long time were not – and are still not - acknowledged; of Daniel Johnston’s touching ways of working with - or against - his mental condition; of the critical and highly creative politics of Afro-Futurism and bands like Parliament and Funkadelic; of the role that protest music played in movements resisting totalitarian structures in the former Soviet Union; of the way in which certain forms of metal challenge religious structures, etc etc.

Is resistance futile?

No, it is not: people can fight for social change and revise or reject economic structures or political regimes. But I think what is so interesting about the Manics, is that they show that sometimes the best way of contributing to social change is by saying that resistance is futile, mixing optimism with pessimism and fatalism. Again, this is one of the paradoxes that drives the band, I think; a paradox that I have highlighted with help of Adorno. By continuously combining an emphasis on the need to change and resist with highly critical and fatalistic observations on the inability of human beings to really change, the band present a worldview that embraces paradoxes and never becomes naive or simplistic. Put differently: their releases are always accompanied by a reflective and self-critical layer that questions their own standpoints, paradoxically emphasising the urgency of these same standpoints.

I assume English might not be your first language; if so this makes your achievement even more impressive. How international is the appeal of the Manics?

Thanks, yes I am Dutch. I’m sure you can read this in some of the grammatical constructions in the book and, probably, in this interview.

I would say that the band’s appeal is very international, but that the way in which they affect audiences is different in each country or even in each area. I mean, I am sure the meaning that the band have for someone who grew up in Wales and was there right from the beginning when they started carving out their place in the British popular culture landscape, is different from the meaning they have for someone who discovered them in a different political and cultural context, such as The Netherlands. At the same time, I think the fact that they have a very strong fanbase all over the world shows that they do manage to grasp different people from different countries, and that they resonate with and within different cultures. I think this combination of international appeal and culture-specific experiences of pop music is illustrated interestingly in the context of Iran by Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel – and film - Persepolis, in which she includes powerful memories of illegally traded cassette tapes of punk bands and Iron Maiden.

I think the Manics’ international appeal is also reflected by the internationally oriented network of references they embed themselves in, from the Beat Generation to Yukio Mishima, from Jean-Paul Sartre to the Sex Pistols, and from Victor Jara to Kevin Carter.

What other bands do you love and would benefit from a study like yours? I'd suggest IDLES and Public Enemy

Yes, IDLES would work very well! Joe Talbot even has tattoos of Ginsberg and Nietzsche (and many others), making his body into a canvas of intertextual references, as I observe about Richey in my book. Furthermore, ideas about the entwinement of optimism and pessimism permeate the lyrics of IDLES as well, I think (‘How many optimists does it take to change a lightbulb?’). However, whereas IDLES try to present Joy as an Act of Resistance (or create what McKay in his analysis of Crass characterises as Senseless Acts of Beauty), I think the Manics, at least to some extent, have taken a more theoretical approach by making their lyrics more dense, complex and often less clear. For example, they might make us feel joy when listening to their records or attending their concerts, but many of their lyrics at the same time make us feel guilty for experiencing this joy in a world that these same lyrics reject. This is, again, what I have tried to emphasise by focusing on the way in which the band’s lyrics carve out a layer of meaning within Manics songs. Put differently: whereas their music might be focused on constituting a sense of catharsis (which is an aim that IDLES often emphasise in interviews as well, and which might be the other idea behind the phrase ‘Resistance is Futile’), their lyrics often problematise this idea and question the possibility of catharsis.

Of course, Public Enemy would be fascinating to embed in a labyrinth of intertextual references as well! Other obvious candidates would be Lou Reed, Joy Division, Nick Cave, Patti Smith, Frank Zappa, Sonic Youth, Crass or David Bowie. However, much has already been written about these musicians and bands, such as a wild book on Zappa and Adorno by Ben Watson, called The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play.

Regarding more contemporary bands: I listen a lot to Fontaines D.C. and Algiers at the moment, whose lyrics would make it possible to write a similar analysis, I think (check out Algiers’ Instagram, for example: By the way, I think Fontaines D.C., IDLES and Algiers are examples of bands with the ‘let’s conquer the world’ attitude that Nicky Wire, in many interviews, claimed is lacking in modern-day rock ’n’ roll.

But I love many different genres and bands, often music that uses aggression or inaccessible sounds to engage people or trigger them into thought. Think of Sunn O))), Russian Circles, Napalm Death, Bikini Kill, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Meshuggah, Black Flag or Bad Brains, but also black metal (I really like Ulver, both their early and their completely different later work, Leviathan, Darkthrone), death metal (I listen to a lot of Cattle Decapitation) or industrial acts like Throbbing Gristle or Nine Inch Nails. In this sense, I think I would have loved the musical style that Richey said he wanted to adopt for the album after The Holy Bible, turning away from the band’s focus on melody and making their music as dense and inaccessible as their lyrics. But the new jazz scene, with bands like Sons of Kemet and Kamasi Washington, is also very inspiring to me.

Who are your heroes / heroines, from any area of life?

All for different reasons, but mainly because of their art: David Bowie, Yilmaz Güney,
James Baldwin, Doris Salcedo, Werner Herzog, Jenny Saville, Joe Sacco, Jesmyn Ward, Albert Camus, Genesis P-Orridge, Jean-Luc Godard, Derek Jarman, Agnes Varda, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Miles Davis. And many more.

What do you hope the book will achieve?

I hope that it will make people think and reflect, and enrich their listening experiences. I hope it will spread awareness of the band and introduce more people to them. But I also hope that it challenges readers: maybe they don’t like my interpretation or approach at all and write their own book about the band or popular music. As mentioned, I myself like art and books that challenge me and that do not necessarily present me with worldviews, ideas or experiences that I agree with or would endorse, so maybe the book will do this.

Do we need a weatherman / woman to know which way the wind blows?

Only if that weatherman is Doris Day, Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa or Tom Barman.

How can people read your book? Why should they bother?

I think they can read it as an attempt by someone who has obsessively immersed himself in the Manics universe and has combined this immersion with theoretical and academic analyses and concerns. Hopefully, this adds another layer of meaning to the music they already love. But who am I to say how people should read it? Maybe they can use it to fix a wobbling table, although it’s a bit expensive for that… (the price is beyond my control, by the way).

What plans do you have for your next work?

Since this book mainly focuses on lyrics and on theoretical interpretations of a rather intellectualist nature, I am now veering into the other direction. One of these is formed by the notion of ‘resonance’ as developed by the German sociologist Hartmut Rosa. He points at the affective and emotional aspects of art (he refers a lot to metal, punk and prog rock), but also nature and society, as presenting us with powerful experiences that we, in his view, long for and need in a society that is accelerating on different levels.

What's best, chips or cream buns?

Hmm.. what would Immanuel Kant say about this? Just kidding: chips of course.

And with that correct answer, it is time to thank Mathijs for his time and thoughtful answers and his unique contribution to the understanding and appreciation of MSP. Popular Music, Critique and Manic Street Preachers is out now and available here

Read our review of the book here


wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?