Brian Molko is an icon of alternative culture. Having been one of the most influential figures in rock for the past three decades, and by defying musical, aesthetic, and thematic standards, Molko and fellow Placebo constant Stefan Olsdal showed us exactly why there was a need for music that was more thoughtful and complex than the ubiquitous Britpop and nu-metal.
Right from the get-go Placebo had something to say, and for that reason, they’ve remained relevant all these years. Their latest record, Never Let Me Go, follows this trend brilliantly referencing environmental and surveillance themes.
Following in the footsteps of Lou Reed, David Bowie, and perhaps even performers such as Leigh Bowery, Molko’s perceptive work confirmed Placebo as an outfit that championed the discussion of sexuality, fluidity, and politics, and helped to steer pop culture down a better course.
Breaking through when Britpop was at the end of its commercial peak, Molko and Olsdal became the outfit for the outsiders, the square pegs in round holes, and ascended as the champions of all those who didn’t relate to the bucket hat-wearing, alpha male arrogance of the contemporary musical landscape.
Like Lou Reed and Bowie before him, Molko has never been afraid to get into the nitty-gritty. This is one of the key facets of his craft, he’s a realist, a cynic even, and this has imbued his music with a pulp that many can only dream of having. There’s a reason why we’re still talking about Molko today and why, in comparison, Britpop is something of a ridiculous caricature.
Molko’s lyrical style positions him as something of a Gonzo journalist embedded in the middle of society’s most critical debates. He’s a witness that provides lessons on how we can better ourselves by outlining our flaws, much like a Thomas Pynchon or Hunter S. Thompson. He’s also captivated fans by instilling a thrilling, edge to his music akin to the stomach churn you get after popping a pill. It’s a little naughty, but one hell of a ride.
One thing that really stands out about Brian Molko is the Generation X attitude he espouses. Artistically, he is closely aligned to riot grrrl groups such as Pussy Riot and prominent grunge acts like Nirvana, but out of all of these alternative heroes, there is one that he loves more than any: Sonic Youth. Molko credits Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley with changing his life, and how he viewed the guitar.
Speaking to the NME for the ‘Soundtrack Of My Life’ column back in 2017, Molko revealed that Sonic Youth’s 1990 track ‘Dirty Boots’ is the song that changed his life, one of the highlights of their influential album Goo. Molko explained: “Me and my buddy Nick were 16, he came over to mine, we smoked a joint, turned the lights out and put ‘Goo’ on. I’d been playing guitar for about three years, but my entire perception of what was possible for what could be done with electric guitar changed that day. It opened up an entire new universe of possibilities. Sonic Youth remain possibly my biggest influence to this day. They’re the greatest rock’n’roll band of all time.”