Life

Lads, Gak and Union Jacks: The Oral History of 'Cool Britannia'

"The thing is, so much of it was about bullshit."
November 1, 2021, 9:00am
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In 1996, England was supposedly swinging just as it had done four decades before.

The Euros captivated the nation, a homespun movement of music known as Britpop dominated charts, filled stadiums and covered music mags (one Select cover draped in the Union Jack declared “Yanks Go Home”), the film industry was booming with everything from soft comedies like Four Wedding and a Funeral to heroin drama Trainspotting, the fashion world was alive with fresh talent like Alexander McQueen, culinary stars were being born and a new wave of artists known as the Young British Artists – including Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin – were taking the contemporary art world by storm. 

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Throw in an 18-year reign of Conservative Government about to come to an end, and on paper you have the workings of a new dawn in British culture, politics and life in general. 

“Cool Britannia” is the umbrella term used to describe this moment in time. However, while for some it represented a period of artistic growth, cultural awakening and a political reset, for others the period seemed vacuous, rowdy and defined by a vapid swagger fuelled by cocaine and derivative, in an environment where laddism thrived and diversity was non-existent.   

Twenty-five years on from the supposed peak of Cool Britannia, I spoke to musicians, journalists, politicians and people from the film and fashion world to get a sense of the era and its legacy. 

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Damien Hirst in 1996. Photo: Martin Beddall / Alamy Stock Photo

What Is Cool Britannia? 

Andy Bell (Musician – Ride, Hurricane #1, Oasis): A weird imperialist neediness.

Miki Berenyi (Musician – Lush, Piroshka): It’s a bit meaningless. It’s PR – something that really suited politicians. It was Vanity Fair that came up with it, so it was an outsider’s view. 

Emma Jackson (Musician – Kenickie): The Cool Britannia thing always felt very uncool. 

Wayne Hemingway (Designer, co-founder of fashion brand Red or Dead): If you were cool, you wouldn’t want to be associated with anything with the word cool in it, would you? 

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Daniel Rachel (Author – Don’t Look Back in Anger: The Rise and Fall of Cool Britannia): It's a divisive phrase. When I tried to get Jarvis Cocker’s involvement I was calling my book Cool Britannia. He said he wouldn’t do it if I called it that. 

Glenn Johansson (Musician – Echobelly): It was a time when it literally felt cool to be British, especially in relation to the creativity that seemed to be pouring out of the country at that time.

Chris Smith (Labour Culture Secretary 1997-2001): I didn’t like the term at all. In the first couple of years that I was Secretary of State we used to get to quite a bit of ribbing from the opposition about Cool Britannia. Every time I had to do questions I took a folder in with me with the various press releases that Virginia Bottomley [Previous Conservative Culture Secretary] had issued lauding the impact of Cool Britannia, just in case they started criticising. 

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Yanks Go Home / Britain versus America / Union Jacks 

Andy Bell: All that stuff was really embarrassing.

Miki Berenyi: People were moving the goalposts to suit their own success. That whole anti-American, Yanks go home thing – a lot of those bands weren’t really successful in America. It felt a bit sour grapes, like, “We don't want to be big in America because it's shit, we’re big in Britain.” Then suddenly they get a bit big in America and it's like, “We've conquered it.” Fuck off. 

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Luke Haines (Musician – The Auteurs, Author of Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in Its Downfall): With that Select cover [that included the cover line “Yanks go home”], none of the bands knew they were going to smear the Union Jack all over it. It was moronic. If you’re going to put a Union Jack on the cover of a magazine under the headline Yanks Go Home, then you are a fucking cretin. Maybe all that had a subliminal effect. All those teenagers who bought Select became middle aged in 2016 and voted for Brexit. Was Select magazine responsible for Brexit? Probably. 

Steve Sutherland (NME Editor 1992-2000): Musically, it was pretty dead at the time. People were scrambling around for stuff, and I think the papers were finding it difficult to find anything to write about. The first week I took over NME, they had planned – and this is how desperate they were – to put an EP from Heavenly Records on the cover that had bands [St Etienne, Flowered Up, The Rockingbirds] covering Right Said Fred. 

James Brown (Editor of Loaded 1994-1997): I made some anti-American comments on the Live Forever Britpop documentary, but it was me sort of reverting into my former NME self of being provocative. There was certainly a sense that, instead of writing about Tad, Mudhoney and Nirvana, they had Suede and Blur – but I don’t think there was an anti-Americanism.

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John Harris (Author of The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the demise of English rock): The reason that wave led by Nirvana dwindled was because Kurt Cobain killed himself. It just so happened that, in its own awful way, that left space for some of these British groups. 

Johnny Dean (Musician – Menswe@r): My generation grew up under the burgeoning influence of American culture in the 80s. The biggest bands were generally American, or sounded like they were. The biggest TV shows were American. Ditto the films. I think Britpop was about trying to celebrate and maintain all the things we felt were great about British culture. But it sort of descended into some kind of gross caricature instead. Of course it was a natural knee jerk reaction to grunge music, which had become dominant while British music was in the doldrums waiting for something to happen that British kids could identify with. The white ones anyway.

Sonya Madden (Musician - Echobelly): The Union Jack was our flag too. We were a diverse band, some of us children of immigrants, whose parents came here with a great deal of respect for the country, who considered themselves British and didn’t feel shame in connecting with their identity.  

Miki Berenyi: It didn’t really bother me. I thought it was good to reclaim the flag. I mean, isn’t that a terrible thing that your national flag is something you avoid because it’s been appropriated by a load of right wing twats? But there wasn’t much of a discussion about the difference between nationalism and patriotism. 

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Daniel Rachel: There was a feeling of positive patriotism by the mid-90s, which is very different from nationalism. 

Emma Jackson: Union Jacks being waved around just seemed a bit gross and didn't sit well with me at all. I think, for us, we had a really strong regional identity, which probably trumped any kind of national identity.

Steve Sutherland: It had been hijacked by the far-right for quite some time, so it was a worry, but ultimately people decided we don't want this to be something that a minority thinks it is, so people were proud of it. It was more a nod back to Carnaby Street, The Faces, The Who, people who were using that iconography to promote themselves. It did feel reclaimed. It wasn’t a nationalistic thing, as much as an artistic statement.

Chris Smith: There was a bit of irony involved with the flag, but also they were tapping into a sense that Britain was rediscovering itself as an interesting place to be creative. I think there was a bit of pride in the fact that all of this was happening. 

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Photo: Richard Smith / Alamy Stock Photo

90s Optimism and New Labour Getting In

Johnny Dean: My generation had grown up under a Conservative government headed by Margaret Thatcher. This was a time in which making money was the most important thing. If something didn’t make money, it was considered unimportant. This was detrimental to anything creative. Music had become very homogenised. It was the time that saw the birth of boy bands and conveyor belt pop such as that made by Stock, Aitken and Waterman. Thatcher’s policies promoted unbridled greed, which inevitably led to the Black Monday stock market crash in ‘87. Prospects for Generation Xers like me, working class and about to enter the job market, looked incredibly bleak. We looked for an escape and found it in warehouses, clubs and fields in Essex. We took drugs and danced all night. 

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The Summer of Love in ‘88 was our way of combating all the darkness. It was also the point where many Xers became politicised, began to look for ways to improve things. The Second Summer of Love is where the 90s began. One of the key things to emerge from it all was a feeling of positivity amongst the youth of Britain. We really believed we were going to change the world. I think in some ways we were successful. We forced Thatcher to resign in 1990. We elected a Labour government in ‘97, which, domestically at least, worked for us.

John Harris: The 80s took quite a long time to finally piss off, and by about 1995 or 1996 there was a feeling of, ‘Well, thank god that's all over.’ So I think that's what gave people their optimism, plus a lot of drinking and drugs. 

Luke Haines: The 80s were dreadful. They held the ridiculous signpost of “1984”, Thatcher, the dole and violence. London was incredibly bleak, everywhere felt like a no-go area. I moved to London – to Brixton – the weekend of the second Brixton riot of 1984. By 1990, Thatcher was almost gone and you could see the light. 

Emma Jackson: I turned 18 in 1996 and grew up in Sunderland, which was clobbered by Thatcherism. All my life had been spent under the Conservatives. In retrospect, we all know what happened with Tony Blair and Afghanistan and Iraq, which puts a huge shadow over that whole moment, but at the time it really did feel like something was changing. 

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Wayne Hemingway: There's never a seismic shift because you've gone from one decade to another. Raves in Blackburn in the early 90s were as strong as they ever were in Shoom in London a few years earlier, if not more vibrant. Things evolved as they moved around the country. 

Steve Sutherland: The morning Blair won the election I was at the NME office and the phone rang and it was George Michael. I'd never spoken to him in my life – he’d obviously been up all night and was E'd off his tree. You could hear him dancing around the room and he was just saying, “We got them out, at last we got them out.” The joy was unbelievable. People were so so excited. 

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Blur at the 1995 Brit Awards. Photo: Ilpo Musto / Alamy Stock Photo

The Underground Going Mainstream

David Aukin (Head of Film at Channel 4, 1990-1998): We were making British films that British audiences wanted to see. Which was unheard of, for the most part, in the more recent past. Even when Four Weddings opened in the UK, having first been released in the US, it was billed as “America’s latest hit comedy”. Distributors still lacked the confidence of selling a British film to a British audience. Danny Boyles’ two films, Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, were hugely influential, and they achieved that magical cultural shift of dividing generations. The real turning point, commercially, was Shallow Grave’s UK release, where it became the first British film for some years to recoup its costs from its theatrical release alone. The young people of this country loved it and forgot their prejudice against British films. There followed a succession of commercially successful independent British films that brought huge attention to the work being done here.

James Brown: In the late-80s, a lot of the best things that were going on weren't, massive but by the mid-90s they were. Whether you were watching Father Ted or Vic and Bob's Big Night Out. I remember reading an article in The Sun about Damien Hirst – we're talking about art in The Sun. It was weird. It felt great, and one of the reasons it felt great was it was inclusive; the best things that were going on in the country at the time were available for anyone to enjoy. 

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Wayne Hemingway: There was definitely a shift towards understanding that culture, art and design mattered. The new wave of British artists felt different, like a real movement. At the [YBAs’] Sensation exhibition you could sense it in the crowd, it felt genuinely different. 

Daniel Rachel: Sensation was absolutely incredible, and the fact that all this accessible contemporary art was in the hallowed grounds of the Royal Academy, that was unspeakable in the same way as Oasis playing on Led Zeppelin or Queen’s patch was. These are things that shouldn't be happening. 

Miki Berenyi: The mainstream is not somewhere I've ever felt comfortable. In the 80s you had city boys flashing the cash and going “wheeey, we're taking loads of coke and it’s fucking great”, and we loathed them. We thought they were wankers. Because you were on the outside going, “I don't want to be those people.” To me, a lot of Cool Britannia was like “great, we're them now” and I thought, ‘Why is that something to celebrate?’

Johnny Dean: I can say quite confidently that I have never seen so much money spent so cavalierly for so little. Total fucking madness. Most of the bands were kids who were into indie music, wearing anoraks with bowl haircuts, getting their picture taken by a mate in an underpass. Next thing they’re being driven around the world in limousines with half a gram of gak up their noses and pretending to eat in restaurants across from Helena Christensen. It isn’t going to make them better people.

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John Harris: Silly money used to get thrown at people, and you’d have the life of Riley on their bar tab. While thinking, ‘You do know that you're paying for this?’ Everyone was living the dream, but it was all on tick.

Steve Sutherland: When Oasis decided they wanted to be the biggest, that changed things. They wanted to be the biggest, not the best, which destroyed it. People go on about how brilliant Knebworth was. It wasn't brilliant, it was awful. They weren't that good, you couldn't really see, it was just about figures. They traded brilliance for numbers and it kind of wrecked the scene, because suddenly, if you didn't sell a million records, that meant you weren't as good anymore. 

John Harris: An inordinate amount of emphasis seemed to be placed on positions in the singles chart. Careers could be over in days. If you released something and it didn’t break the top 20, you were fucked. In seven days you could go from cock of the walk to taking the train home. This was absolutely awful, because any qualitative idea about whether the music was any good or not dwindled away, and then obviously lots of musicians were under pressure from their record companies and they started to chase the market.

Miki Berenyi: Some of the things that went into the mainstream were really good, but at the same time going into the mainstream can kind of rip the guts out of things. The point of a lot of music is to be challenging the establishment, not fucking hand in glove with it, and I think that got quite lost. There was a lot more money everywhere and suddenly Pulp was spending the equivalent of a fucking house on a video. The wealth was such a significant part of it, it was inescapable, and there was an arrogance that accompanied that. You would get some new signing and the label would throw a shitload of cash at them, and if it didn't work that was it, they were off. Before that, there was more a feeling of nurturing - it wasn't just throw shit at the wall and if it doesn't stick then fucking wipe it off and move on elsewhere.

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Peter Cunnah (Musician – D:Ream): No one in the music industry that I've met is interested in art at all. My producer used to have a special fader on the mixing board for the A&R man, which did fuck all. We told him it was for the lead vocal. So every time they came in and said turn the lead vocal up we used to step back and go, “Yeah, great, he’s called it.” That's the music industry. 

Luke Haines: Loads of bands I knew got really fucked over. London records were notorious for this. There was one particular A&R man whose nickname was “nosebag”. He was a really thick cunt. I physically kicked him out of our dressing room once. He would sign up anything that played at the Camden Falcon, give them an advance and then keep them on contract, wasting years of studio time with albums that never came out. These things can really fuck young people up. It's tantamount to abuse. 

Johnny Dean: It started out as quite an arty scene, but devolved the more popular it became. Like any party, it started out with people talking about books and films, and ended with shouty men balancing beer glasses on their heads, puking in the kitchen sink. Britpop, if it was anything, was a bunch of bands celebrating Britain’s cultural past up to that point. So it was littered with tropes and clichés from rock’s previous 30 years. Done in a very ironic way, of course. It wasn’t in any way original. But on the whole it was about white men controlling the narrative, from the record companies right down to the bands. 

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John Harris: There were two distinct phases of it. The first one was when it was much closer to the art school sensibility: Blur, Suede, Elastica, Pulp, The Auteurs, St Etienne. But once Oasis knocked at the door of the party and walked in - and as they did in those days, put their own record on the stereo - it became something different. 

Steve Sutherland: Liam was, and is, a force of nature. You never know what is going to happen when he walks into a room. The first time I encountered him in person was in the toilets at the Brit Awards, and he was stood arguing with himself in the mirror like it was a different person. It's hard to gauge whether he knew the person he was shouting at was somebody else other than himself.  

Another awards-related story is Shaun Ryder at the NME awards. He was due on stage and we just couldn't find him. Eventually he was found, but he'd been sleeping on a park bench in Manchester because he'd been kicked out of his house or something. So when he turned up, all behind his ears and down on his face he was covered in mud. We put him up in a hotel and I got a call at 3AM saying he’s lost his key and the hotel doesn't believe he’s staying there. I was on the Chris Evans breakfast show the next morning and Shaun called in because he’d lost his Godlike Genius award.  

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Photo: RichardBakerSpain / Alamy Stock Photo

Laddism 

Emma Jackson: It's hard to pick out the lad culture because it was just everywhere. We were coming from a situation where you couldn't walk across the dance floor in our local nightclub without men grabbing you, so it wasn't that the music industry felt like an alien place – we were used to the world being laddy. 

Sonya Madden: It was laddish, but it was also full of androgyny and strong women.  

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Andy Bell: I remember a few journalists from those magazines like Loaded that were a bit self-consciously laddish, kind of like Laurence Fox two pints in.

Steve Sutherland: When Loaded started it was a very exciting enterprise, because they captured a moment the way The Face had captured a moment earlier in publishing. But it became a soft porn magazine.

James Brown: The rewriting of Loaded has been reduced to being about girls, lads and lager, and it wasn't like that at all. That's what came after. It was a really funny magazine with articles about people who had actually done stuff. FHM, and Loaded after I'd gone, they just started putting girls on the cover of every issue. During my stint it was a rock and roll magazine. It was good for reading and then cutting up to use as wraps. 

Daniel Rachel: Loaded was not a rock and roll magazine. The attraction of Loaded to a vast swathe of men was that you could pull out women in states of undress and stick them on your wall, and they were promising sexual fantasies. I frequently saw that with bands on studio walls. The catchphrase of Loaded was “men who should know better”. That says everything about what they were trying to do and what they achieved. 

Miki Berenyi: If you were a girl and you dressed like a lad, you could be a bit cool and masculine, but if you carried on dressing like a girl that was reframed as you being really girly, and now you're the person who has to strip off and wear a bikini because that's your role. If you're not going to go in with the androgyny type, then you’re now bouncy tits and page three. 

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John Harris: There was a lot of pretence that came with it too, like people pretending to like football all of a sudden. It wasn't belligerent, horrible and chauvinistic, but it went that way, like the music did, in lesser hands. Then that resulted in some pretty horrible things, which thankfully no one would get away with now. 

Emma Jackson: We had weird, horrible, icky things happen, like NME said they would put us on the cover, but only if we were naked. We weren't doing that, so they wouldn’t put us on the cover. 

Al Mackenzie (Musician – D:Ream): I used to hang around with some of the guys from Loaded, and some of them were always trying their hardest to be lads. One time we'd been up for three days partying and they got some smack in. They hadn't done it themselves, they didn't know what to do, they were just trying to take it to another level, but it was just baffling and quite sad. People trying to outdo each other. 

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Photo: VICE

Drugs 

James Brown: During the acid house era, ecstasy popularised the idea that you could take an illegal substance and it’d be alright. It became commonplace. People would just take Es in the pub. There was a guy at Loaded who took Es when we went potholing. That's insane. 

Luke Haines: You'd hear about Loaded parties being massive coke orgies, but I suspect the reality was just a bunch of male journalists talking loudly and being arseholes. I would have sacked anyone in the Auteurs if they'd got into coke. I thought it was a coward’s drug. I was a massive weed head. 

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Wayne Hemingway: Myself and my wife have never taken drugs. Red or Dead was the main brand of the rave scene, and completely unbeknown to us, people who worked in our shops would sell pills behind the counter to people coming in to buy clothes. I’d have gone apoplectic if I’d known at the time, but it’s quite funny now. 

James Brown: The only smart thing I remember reading Damon Albarn say was that there was a blizzard of cocaine that had blown in. 

Emma Jackson: There was a lot of cocaine around, but we were more interested in free bars. I feel lucky that I came out of it just feeling a bit bruised, whereas I do know people who ended up with heroin addictions. You hear some awful stories of people who had a tiny bit of success and then end up with these awful drug addictions and selling their mum’s telly. 

Miki Berenyi: While I’m watching all these people rolling about in fucking mountains of coke, they’re out-machoing each other, so now some of them are taking heroin and suddenly it’s not looking so good, and there's no support and everyone's cheering them on. There's no community of people going, “Hang on, are you alright?” It was just: “Don't spoil the party, don't make any criticisms. Some bloke wants to fucking grope some girl in the queue? Oh come on, have a laugh.” That side of it I found fucking revolting.

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John Harris: You can have some good times on cocaine, but it’s a drug that doesn't facilitate any idea of when to stop, so that's a lot of quite bleak and emotionally empty mornings. Then a lot of quite high profile people got into heroin, and that sort of shut everything down. If you want to pinpoint one of the key reasons why everything went quiet, and the whole thing dwindled away, it wasn't just because all good things come to an end, it was also about the fact that a lot of talented people drew their curtains and took a drug which is pretty awful for doing anything. 

Johnny Dean: Drug use was rife. It was so omnipresent it was normal. At one point it felt like everyone was taking heroin. It was everywhere and infiltrated everything. It ruined people and it killed people. No one is going to keep their shit together with that going on. That was the end. When heroin became a fashion item, everything got fucked quick.

John Harris: That was also tied in to how steeped in references to the past everything was. It’s not like people in the past haven't been in thrall to history, but god, people in this period were. So everything people did was a bit like cosplay. I'm sure some people who got into heroin around this time were doing it because they'd seen Performance, or they had Keith Richards fantasies, or they read it in a book about The Doors. 

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Photo: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Noel Gallagher at No. 10 / The Demise of Cool Britannia 

Luke Haines: There was very little correlation between the politics and the culture. Blair just reached out to a few bands to try and make himself look like less of an arsehole.

James Brown: I actually thought Blair was doing a good thing, and I thought it made sense inviting people to Number 10. If you've got people who are super successful and flamboyant and popular in particular industries, and have an insight into how to make the country better, I don't see that's a bad thing to invite them along – but I guess it was cosmetic. 

Chris Smith: We felt that, just as he'd do a reception for the aerospace industry, he should do a reception for the creative industries, and particularly for the music industry. It just sort of happened that it became an iconic photograph of the era. I suppose there was a deliberate desire on the part of Tony and the people around him to show that he was in tune with the cultural scenes developing across the country, but we didn’t sit and have discussions about how that should be done and with who. 

Steve Sutherland: If you're talking about how the movement started with excitement and ended up in disappointment, then there you have it with Tony Blair. We fell for it like everybody else at the NME. It did look like it was the generation that would actually make a difference. Ultimately, that was a fantasy. Within a couple of years we put him on the cover with the title Ever Get The Feeling You’ve Been Cheated? because ultimately we had all been burned the way we should have known we'd be. 

Peter Cunnah: My manager was very persuasive in convincing me to let Labour use our song “Things Can Only Get Better”. It took a month for him to do so, because I didn't want to mix music and politics. He said, “You've got to do it, the label is going to re-release it anyway and you've got to be behind it, it's going to be a hit” – blah blah blah. I got caught up in the groundswell of it all. It just looked so positive. I was really behind them and I was thinking, ‘Christ, this guy Blair’s got something.’ I diverted my publishing for that period to Labour. Then we went to war in Iraq, and I could just watch the lies unfolding on TV, and I'm like: I smell a rat. I’ve been accused of having blood on my hands for letting them use that song. 

Daniel Rachel: Princess Diana dying is what changes the spirit of the nation. All the loud hedonism and air of celebration is guillotined on the 31st of August, 1997. From there on, there is no mood for everything that has gone before. Change happens in a real way across the country. The mourning was unbelievable, even people that had no time for the Royals were seemingly affected by this event. Everything culturally becomes tame, and we end up with clean celebrities and clean bands like Travis and David Gray, and brash, outspoken, loud, rude, working class baseness is suddenly put back in the box.

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Oasis at Knebworth. Photo: TCD/Prod.DB / Alamy Stock Photo

Reflections 

Daniel Rachel: It was very white, it was very male and it was very London-centric. I think it was largely exclusive and the domain of the rich and successful. Beyond that, I think many of us were still struggling on the dole. If you were a woman then you were completely excluded from most of Cool Britannia unless you can live up to the Loaded image of ladettes. This was not a time for thinking, caring people, and women were excluded mainly from it all - it was a boys’ club. If you were of colour then there were hardly any examples of people in music. At the end of the Cool Britannia period where, if everything was so rosy and wonderful and everybody was benefiting from it, why were the riots in the northern towns of Bradford, Leeds and Oldham? This was Asian people saying we've had enough, and we’ve been left out. So there was mass exclusion, but the sexy top line of it was: drugs, hedonism, everything’s wonderful, everything’s brilliant.

Emma Jackson: There was a bloatedness towards the end. There were so many parties with free drinks or parties on boats for bands getting signed that weren’t very good. The way it's remembered now is pretty much Blur versus Oasis, which is so boring. I do think there was a seed of something else. Bands like Pulp, Suede and the Manics really did feel like the weirdos were winning a bit. Of course, it turns out dad rock won, but there was something a bit more subversive in terms of class politics and gender that was going on in music at the time that kind of gets washed out of the story a bit. 

John Harris: It had lots of flaws. Most of it was monocultural and would inevitably burn itself out, and it seems very odd by modern standards that it didn’t have a wider palette of influences. I was professionally obliged to have an interest in certain groups because they seemed to be going places but in retrospect I should have spent more time listening to Tricky than I did Cast and Kula Shaker. I feel negative, broadly speaking, about it in that regard, but I think people are very broad brush about it sometimes and make out it was all a bloody disaster, tawdry, cheap, nasty and dreadful and no good records came out. You find me the first three singles by any guitar band that are as good as Suede’s – there aren’t many. Its strike rate quality-wise was not that different from baggy or punk rock. There were bloody awful opportunistic chancers around the corner, but that's just what always happens.

Luke Haines: At the time I thought most of it was garbage. Now I think some of it was quite groovy. Menswe@r were good and they made a disastrous second album – a country album – that was only released in Japan. I rate them highly for this. Elastica had chutzpah and I liked that. I had a lot of fun in the 90s, probably more fun than most of the people reading this will ever have in their lifetimes. 

Peter Cunnah: The early part of the 90s was magic, but the reality and the downside is when you go from being a big thing to being yesterday's man and the phone is not being answered. That is very hard and it did hurt a lot.

James Brown: I recall being at Knebworth, talking to Alan McGee, when Oasis were playing, and turning to him and saying: “We won.” Because in 1985, when he's bringing out the Jesus and Mary Chain, it felt like a war - it felt like the mainstream and Radio One was shit. So to get to that point where the best band in Britain are also the biggest, and they were still really good, it did feel like the battle had been won. 

Daniel Rachel: All the contradictions of the 90s are wrapped up in the Spice Girls. On one hand, they are magnificent in the way that they confidently put out who they were and yet they were very soon to be coerced and manipulated by the attraction of wealth and commercialism. But they are the crossover artists of the era. They appear on the front page of football magazines, on The Girlie Show, TFI Friday, which was the home of Cool Britannia revelry, and they recorded the 1998 official World Cup song with Ian McCulloch of Echo and the Bunnymen, Space and Ocean Colour Scene. 

Johnny Dean: The thing is, so much of it was about bullshit. If you had a decent line in bullshit, you had a good chance at hitting the bullseye in the 90s. I’m amazed that it happened sometimes, because it felt at times that there was really very little substance to it all. It felt like so much bombast. It was very much more about swagger than swinging. If you said you were the Beatles then you were the Beatles. If you did a moony at Michael Jackson you became godlike. If you put your bed in a gallery you were the best thing since the Italian Renaissance. Understanding this was the key to success in 90s Britain. Nothing was too ridiculous anymore.