The British Music Experience in London’s 02 Bubble (the venue formerly known as the Millennium Dome) is a permanent exhibition dedicated to the history of popular music in Britain.
“Like Rock’n’Roll, there are no rules” we are told in ‘pre-show’ introductory video but you can’t take food and drink inside or take pictures so as Nick Cave might have said “That’s just bullshit, baby!”
The main exhibits are divided into seven ‘Edge Zones’ taking visitors on a sonic journey from skiffle to grime. The time-line begins and ends with two 17 year segments (1945-1962; 1993-2000).
Of course, structuring history like this is somewhat arbitrary but presumably the curators wanted to avoid neatly dividing the history into decades. Ending one edge zone in 1975, for example, gives the curators scope to focus the next room to what the guide booklet describes as “more outspoken styles in reaction to the intensity of prog rock and the frivolity of glam”
Punk quite properly dominates this 1975-85 zone but, slotted after Bowie and before Brit-Pop, no videos or artefacts can hope to capture what Simon Reynolds called the “apocalyptic rupture” in the nation’s cultural history.
Turning entertainment into education is a largely thankless task at the best of times although the BME organisers have done their best to create a lively interactive space. You can for example, navigate a map of the UK to pinpoint key events near your home town. A Gibson Interactive Studio also literally gives you the hands on experience of using guitars, drums and keyboards to make your own sounds (recordings can be stored on your ‘smart-ticket’). You can also use a vocal booth to record yourself singing or make a prick of yourself mimicking the steps of dance crazes through the ages.
One of the problems with an exhibition of this kind, however, is that archive photos and footage simply don’t have the impact they would have had in the pre-internet age. Nowadays, anyone can make their own sound and vision retrospective online without needing a any museum guide.
Displays of memorabilia which includes Dusty Springfield’s pink mini-skirt, the Ziggy Stardust outfit and Rat Scabies’ ripped drum kit are interesting but these static objects hardly bring history alive.
Visiting on a Tuesday morning, there were very few visitors – the finale show which is supposed to give you the sensory experience of watching band in a stadium setting felt a bit sad with just me and my daughter in the room!
Our music experience ended by the inevitable exit through the gift shop. For reasons best known to her, my daughter bought an Iron Maiden T-shirt and I splashed out on a matchbox-sized pack of gum for the slogan ‘I May Be Old, But I Got To See All The Cool Bands’.