Interview/preview: The decade that's still striking a chord

It was the decade that gave us Britpop, grunge and girl power, and now it's coming back. Chris Bond takes a look at the 90s revival.

IT only seems like yesterday that Britannia was cool and Britpop ruled the roost.

Back in the mid-90s a tide of euphoria and optimism was sweeping the country. Euro 96 saw Alan Shearer and co almost succeed in bringing football home and the following year New Labour came to power on the back of a landslide election victory.

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A young British scientist, Tim Berners-Lee, had invented the world wide web, the significance of which was only beginning to be realised. At the same time British art and fashion, symbolised by the likes of Damien Hirt, Tracey Emin and Alexander McQueen, were enjoying the kind of renaissance not seen since the swinging sixties.

This growing sense of cultural confidence even piqued the interest of our friends across the pond, with Newsweek magazine featuring the slogan "Cool Britannia" on its front cover. In 1997, Vanity Fair followed suit by publishing a special edition on Cool Britannia with Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit on the cover accompanied by the title "London Swings! Again!"

There was a palpable sense of a new dawn and that Britain was, or at least felt like, a different place. But it was music, above all else, that captured the zeitgeist with a new wave of homegrown bands including Blur, Oasis, Supergrass and Pulp providing the soundtrack to our lives.

Tony Blair famously invited Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher, along with a string of other celebrities, to a Downing Street drinks reception. History has since proved this was little more than a cynical photo opportunity, rather than a gathering of a new court of Camelot, but at the time it felt as though music and the people making it actually mattered. Certainly the idea of Margaret Thatcher doing something similar with The Smiths a decade earlier was unthinkable.

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By the mid-90s, the grunge scene epitomised by American bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden had been superceded, in this country at least, by Britpop. This British music revival drew parallels with the 60s and the so-called "battle of the bands" between Oasis and Blur was reminiscent of the rivalry between The Beatles and the Stones 30 years earlier. It even had the same North versus South divide which proved manna from heaven for the tabloid press.

Back in the day, Oasis were untouchable. Their 1994 debut Definitely Maybe was the fastest-selling British debut album ever until being surpassed in 2006 by the Arctic Monkeys. Time, however, is the true arbiter of greatness and while Blur lost the battle of the bands, Damon Albarn has since proved himself to be the true innovator as the Gallagher brothers travelled down a musical cul-de-sac culminating in Noel quitting the band he helped make famous, although for how long remains to be seen.

But a decade after the curtain closed on the 90s we're seeing a renewed interest in the music that shaped it. Just a cursory glance at your local gig guide and you could be forgiven for feeling a sense of deja vu, with Leftfield, Skunk Anansie and Cast all having recently played in Yorkshire after reforming this year.

And they aren't alone. Republica, Pavement and Soundgarden have all got back together during the past 12 months. Although arguably the most exciting news is that Pulp are re-forming for a series of live dates next summer. The Sheffield band, fronted by Jarvis Cocker, have announced a series of concerts, including London's Wireless and Spain's Primavera Sound, that will bring together the band's original line-up for the first time since 1996.

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It's not just rock bands that are getting in on the act either. Take That were the kings of pop music during the mid-90s before splitting up shortly after Robbie Williams left to embark on his solo career. But since reforming five years ago they have enjoyed a new lease of life and buried the hatchet with Williams, who is joining the group on tour next year.

The Spice Girls, too, got back together for a one-off tour of Europe and North America three years ago, billed as The Return of The Spice Girls, which proved a big money spinner.

But not all reunions have proved quite so successful. In 2007, The Verve announced they were reforming eight years after their acrimonious split. But following a series of acclaimed concerts, including performances at Glastonbury and the V Festival, it appears they are back on a hiatus amid rumours of a falling out between band members.

There are, of course, some reunions that will never happen. Kurt Cobain's premature death meant that Nirvana would always be the James Dean of rock. While at the same time other iconic 90s bands like Radiohead and the Manic Street Preachers have never gone away.

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But as well as a clamour for 90s music there is a growing trend for bands to perform albums live.

In February, Ocean Colour Scene are taking their Moseley Shoals tour to the Leeds 02 Academy, and the following month Primal Scream will be playing the same venue with their epic Screamadelica, 20 years after it was first released.

There are those who say this is proof that nostalgia has become little more than a marketable commodity cashing in on our rose-tinted view of the past. And they may have a point.

But at the same time, the songs we grow up with, and fall in love to, are markers in our lives that carry a powerful resonance.

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In a few years time we may well see the likes of the Kaiser Chiefs and The Libertines doing a noughties nostalgia tour. Until then, I suggest you get on the groovy train and enjoy the ride.

The five great 90s albums

It was the decade that gave us Britpop, grunge and girl power and now it's coming back. Chris Bond takes a look at the 90s revival.

Oasis – Definitely Maybe.At the time this was the fastest-selling debut album ever in the UK.

Nirvana – Nevermind. This remains one of the best rock albums of all time.

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Radiohead – OK Computer. A sonic masterpiece and an antidote to Britpop's euphoria.

Blur – Parklife. A joyous collection of pop anthems.

Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Strange, mesmerising and one of the most astonishing records ever made.