in which the naked chimp is unmasked, his machines debugged, and his bugbears debunked

Monday, January 28, 2008

DJ 2018: A Clockwork Vanilli?

Djing. What’s it all about then (say it aloud in your best Mockney)? What are DJs for? Why, indeed, do we need them? In the 1920s, the screen gradually replaced the stage as the major form of public entertainment… we have the technology, so why hasn’t a parallel revolution occurred in that other black box?

The other day, a friend asked me to DJ at her party, first and foremost because it stops drunken idiots (and their inevitable iPods) from bickering over the selection. Given the ridiculous requests I’ve received over the years while behind the decks in bars (Troy Cassar-Daley was a recent pearl) this is probably a good idea. Most people haven’t a clue what song to choose (watch those drunkards kill the floor at your average BBQ shindig trying to follow up to INXS’ ‘Need You Tonight’), but add a few drinks (or more) and even the most unmusical guest becomes assertively assured that theirs is the best and only selection (as they do the jog-wheel equivalent of a doughie), before saying ‘Wai wai wai wait… nah, put this on, put this on!’

So on the most basic level, the DJ prevents these kinds of scenes. Go to shitty eastern suburbs pubs and the singer-songwriter performs a parallel function with their slice of ‘American Pie’. If you thought that some ex-Camberwell Grammar footy player with big arms, a tight pink t-shirt and a trebly six string was bad, well, go down the road where they have open mic – or further down the hill (in all senses) to where they’re allowing stage karaoke. Suddenly, Macka’s rendition of ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’ is starting to sound pretty good… is that... your not cryin’ are ya, ya wuss?! (Incidentally, isn’t it funny that the song that gets real Aussie blokes all misty-eyed effectively describes giving someone a headlock?)

But anyway, I guess the idea (usually valid) is that you’d better have someone who appears to know what they’re doing, ‘cos otherwise you’re going to have, well, everyone else. But what about alll those other things DJs are supposed to have/do/be? Well, there are other 1990s interpretations, such as:

‘A DJ is someone who…

- takes people on a journey

- can mix records (and does)

- has access to soul (or something resembling it to people on drugs)

- brings the party’

But which of these ideas makes sense in ’08?

Well, the smoking ban has pretty much killed the first one… the constant flux and huff of people moving to and from the big-tobacco bankrolled (and smoking) balconies in most venues in our liveable city has pretty much meant that the set is in the toilet, while the party is out on the sidewalk and (with the drinks and DJ getting spiked and lonely inside).

What about mixing records then? Well, DJs don’t have to have to mess around with either ‘mixing’ or ‘records’ anymore, what with sync buttons and mp3s. Maybe it’s a folly to invest effort in anything that a machine can do better than a person. Autofocus is undeniably better than manual in cameraland, allowing you to get on with the business of framing and capturing that magical moment (and if it’s rubbish, now you can just delete it). Yes, analogue technology was wasteful, cumbersome and expensive, but it also gave DJs (and photographers) the ability to proclaim mastery of fiddly skills that eluded the average punter, while giving equipment-driven hobbies to thousands of dilettantes the world over.

Okay, so DJs no longer take you on a journey, they don’t have to mix, and they don’t play records… what is left to them that the iPod’s shuffle function couldn’t achieve with similar results?

Well, not much. In a lot of bars these days, the bar’s mp3 collection outspanks many a DJ’s hard-drive, and while shuffle won’t be guaranteed of coming up with the winner every time, it’s surprising how good some of the selections can be (often much better and usually more surprising than most DJs). Not only that, but if the next track is crap, you can tell the iPod to skip it without causing offence (something which 20C DJs [still made of meat] struggle with).

Hmm, so, what are we left with? A whole lot of not much (and everything), really, just ‘access to soul’ and the ability to bring the party. The veteran/innovator DJ can fulfil the former function just by showing up – it doesn’t matter if they’re wasted (either on booze or on the audience) and so can’t mix (Juan Atkins) because now they don’t have to. It’s just show up and put up…. But bringing the party? That’s something that no shuffle-button can do as well as a shimmying great ape with a laptop, or so it would seem. Yep, presence, personality and personal appearance are pretty much our only remaining edges over the machines. And this means that, in 2008, the DJ is a visual performer who uses their body as the centrepoint around which the whole party swings. Let Corey do it – seriously. Any gimmicky look will do – witness the financial fitness of all those female Russian DJs who play hard trance while taking their kit off. Nobody seems to mind.

In fact, DJs in 2008 have more and more in common with two kinds of people: IT nerds and drag queens. It’s getting all Warcraft and Mimeart around here. The former aspect is necessary in order to keep abreast (and stay interested) in the geeky, geeky technology that facilitates everything; the latter aspect is essential from the point of view that the DJ now has to inhabit the rendition they’re performing. They don’t have to sing (or mix) but they do have to move their lips (and hips) in time with the datastream in a way that drives the punters wild… and that’s no easy thing. But yeah, I reckon Corey could do it…

I had a nightmare the other night about the DJ of 2018 – I call him/her ‘Clockwork Vanilli’. (S)he’s the bastard offspring of Alex from A Clockwork Orange and Milli Vanilli, with sweet chilli lashings of Noiseworks, Ru Paul and Ziggy Stardust. (S)he sports tights, big sunnies, and a weird device (a cross between an iPod touch, a mobile phone and a dildo – and indeed, probably all these things and more) from which (s)he directs the action, waving the silly thing like a baton and so whipping the crowd into a frenzy (resulting in much wailing, and gnashing of teets). It was frightening, almost frightening enough to drive me squealing and bawling back to the pub for another slice of Don MacLean and Cunters and Hollectors… almost. Or maybe Clockwork Vanilli could do a ‘Throw Your American Pie Around Me’ remix… egad.

Friday, January 18, 2008

“I’ll say sorry, but I’m not taking of my glasses.”

A week ago, nobody cared about whether Corey’s family name was Delaney or Worthington. Hell, a week ago, nobody cared about Narre Warren, the place that raised Corey in obscurity until last weekend. In a month’s time, Narre normal will have re-asserted itself, and the vast majority will have forgotten about Corey, his five hundred or more rowdy friends, the police helicopter, the dog squad, and the run-ins with the media As you read this, people are already forgetting to care, or they will, as soon as the next self-generating media story arrives.

On some level, Corey must have known this, must have known that he had approximately five days to flash in the greasy pan of 21C stardom, and that’s why Corey Delaney/Worthington is one of the most media-savvy people in Australia, and deserving of at least some respect. It all happened at that moment when ACA femmebot Leila McKinnon asked him the following question.

“What would you say to anyone who wanted to party while your parents are out of town?”

If that had been you or I or most people, we probably would have said something pathetically conciliatory – a mumbled apology. Something lame. When most of us were teenagers, we all had our Ferris Bueller fantasties, our Parker Lewis fantasies – but very few of us had the balls and stupidity (balls is often a kind of stupidity) to actually make the tree of madness bear ripe fruit. We were lame. At my school, we spent six years regaling one another with the muck up day exploits of previous years: the vice-principal’s Mini, carried up four flights of stairs and put on the roof. A neighbouring school, placed on the market and sold to a Hong Kong real estate speculator. Five tons of sand placed on the pedestrian island in the middle of the main street outside, to facilitate an all day beach party. But when our turn came, we produced no more than a handful of chicken eggs, the odd water balloon.

What we lacked, what the overwhelming majority of us lack, is that instinct to reply in the way Corey did, to say what he said. What did he say? What would Corey say to anyone who wanted to party while their parents are out of town? “Get me to do it for you.” For that moment, if for nothing else, Corey deserves the respect of all teenagers, past present and future. And hey, it’s a better news story than that cricket one from last week. Am I the only one who couldn’t be bothered working out what happened in order to care?

But there was also something admirable about the way Corey understood the role of his outfit in general and the sunglasses in particular, the way he quietly but defiantly refused to take them off, until they became an obsession to his interviewers – with that Tilley knob from Fox even trying to manhandle them off him. Corey knew, he knew he had fucked up in grand style, and he knew that all teenagers have but one chance to transition this kind of idiocy into an art. Corey had the space of five days and the airtime for perhaps two well-placed replies in media interviews. And he acquitted himself like a seasoned pro. Say what you will about his taste in parkas and parties, his poor parents, but Corey could teach us a thing or two about what it means to grab the spotlight by the balls (while mixing metaphors), not to mention showing the media the fluorescent reflection of its own ghoulish opportunism. Corey, I half-heartedly salute you.

And just in case you had any doubts, here, for the last time, is a list of what Corey can do for you and your party….

$200: For two hundred bucks I’ll get a bag of chips, some cruisers and maybe a strippa. It’ll be awesome. Everyone says so.

$500: For five hundred bucks I’ll get a six bags of chips, a group of sixteen year old girls who are really easy (my mate reckons he’s banged like five of them) heaps of cruisers and UDL’s coz they’re awesome and a TV Rock album because they make the party GO OFF.

$1000: For $1000 I’ll get all of the above, plus fireworks so that the police will be called and you might make the news.

$20,000: For $20,000 I’ll make you internationally famous by getting 500 idiots to attack police cars. Of course, you will have to pay $20,000 to clean up the mess but shit happens and it’s not my fault.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Jun Isaka: Thinking inside the Box

When I first met Jun seven years ago, he was just another one of the hundreds of struggling minimal DJs living in Tokyo, working a casual job seventy hours a week just to pay for his vinyl habit. But now, things are different. Now, Jun is a master.

The transformation began a little over four years ago at the karaoke complex where Jun was working, cleaning the rooms and bringing jugs of beer in to drunken groups of young people hour after hour. One night, as he was delivering a drink up to a box on the fourth floor, a customer asked him if he would help him by singing the backing harmonies on Extreme’s ‘More than Words’, a notoriously difficult number. Apparently, Jun’s singing was so impressive that the customer, who happened to be a well-connected ex-gangster, instantly dubbed him ‘The Master’, then demanded his mobile number, pressing him into service for the most difficult songs. ”I could hardly refuse,” Jun explained, “it might have been dangerous. So I just went with it. I agree that it’s a strange way to find your career.”

After three months, Jun was able to quit his official position at the karaoke complex, as his client list, as well as the range of services on offer, dramatically increased. “I suppose you could say that I quickly became a ‘box artist’,” he offers, trying to explain what has become his full-time, professional role, and a strange one, even by Tokyo standards. “These days, I am on call twenty-four hours a day, like a doctor. I provide a full range of services. Of course back-up singing, but also track selection, booth-minding – and also private services."

Jun seems cagey when I press him about what he means by ‘private services’. “It’s mostly just counseling. You know, girls who have broken up with their boyfriend, they rent my services in the box. I just talk to them, we sing a few songs… sometimes it gets a bit heavier, it’s true, but I am called the Master, so… If I fail to provide a satisfying experience for my clients, then my reputation would be called into doubt. I have to be prepared for anything.”

In the past year, Jun’s ‘box artist’ services have become so popular that he has taken on three junior staff, and is now even considering creating a full-time office – in a specially designed karaoke booth, naturally. “The original concept was always based on the idea of me delivering my services to people personally, like pizza or call girls” he explains. “But the success has proven that there is a demand for people who can provide entertainment in this way. In the same way as many successful DJs open their own club, I want to open my own box… To me, it’s no different to DJing – actually, it’s much better. I would never go back to playing minimal and struggling like that. As a box artist, everybody listens very carefully to each of my songs. My selections are always respected. If people ask for a request, then I can fill it, of course. Some fans even bring their own recorders and make bootlegs. I get much more attention this way. To me this is the future of DJing in Tokyo.”

Monday, January 07, 2008

New Year, New Regime (January Jihad)

Any new years’ resolutions? For formerly buff ex-extremist misadventurer David Hicks, it’s a fairly safe bet to assume that ‘Renounce Jihad (ASAP)’ is fairly high on the list, especially in light of the fact that the poor bastard is going to be under surveillance (ASIO) for the next umpteen years. I wonder what John Howard’s might be? ‘Learn to say sorry’? Fat chance.

Come to think of it, now that they’ve both got considerably more freedom (well, free time at least) than they’ve had in recent years, maybe they should rendezvous, mend some fences, play bridge. Johnny can explain what it’s like to be in the stressful position of being PM for over eleven years; David can explain what it’s like to be in a stress position being beaten for eleven hours. But I digress – that’s all in the past. John Howard, David Hicks?! How very ‘07, Kevin. Now here we are in ‘08, and oh how I ate. Oh yes, it’s the January Jah Wobble, and oh my jah, it wobbles.

When I misplaced my exercise regime in late November, and I had this crazy notion that if I just kept on eating that somehow I wouldn’t put on weight, and that the endless stream of booze, snags and turkey would just pass through me, without leaving a remnant of their sweet succulence as a reminder of their rich flavours and ample portions. Well, I was wrong about that, too. Not as wrong as David was when he saw the bombs falling in early ‘02 and thought, ‘you know what, I’ll stay in Afghanistan, that’s the safe option.’ And certainly not as wrong as Howard was when he chose his parasilk tracksuits of a morning in preparation for his daily stroll.

Okay, at this point, you’re probably thinking how disgusting it is that I’m comparing bald men in parasilks and putting on weight (thee symbol of a peaceful life lived in the rolly-polly lap of luxury) to five years of indefinite detention and torture by one person allowed by another who had the power to call the whole thing off at any minute. And you’d be right. This isn’t Maggie Alderson, motherfucker. If you’re reading this and you relate to the bit about the flab and the turkey but not about Hicks-y, check your head. So you put on a few kilos, so what? Go outside into the ample sunshine and start walking – at least you can (without being tailed by men in white vans). Fight that daily battle, get out of bed and stride forth like little Johnny with your chins up high – this will also make you look proud. As you pound that pavement, you might even want to close your eyes and imagine the sound of Alexander Downer’s voice saying, emphatically, ‘He’s just got so much energy, Kerry.’ Feel the power. And keep on walking, like you're on a big, fat mission from God.

‘Cos this is the thing – fitness, weight control, it’s just another kind of jihad. And like all ‘wars without end', once you start waging it, it’s very hard to renounce. Your ‘hardcore’ friends will say you’ve gone soft, for one thing. Maybe Howard saw ‘Beazley 08’(and 8 and 8 and 8), was terrified, and resolved to make himself a regime. Get some control, get some purpose. Stride forth. ‘Cos Jihads, more than anything else, are about (re)gaining some control over your existence, giving yourself a purpose, a mission. Renounce the jihad, and sag back into mediocrity. Loosen the belt, lose the never-ending battle of the bulge. Remember how strapping Hicks-y looked in the singlet with his arms crossed, or with his shaved head and the bazooka? Say what you will about training to be a terrorist, but at least it gives you chiselled abs, wiggleable pecks and prominent cheek bones. Your old regime may have been brutal, but life without any regime at all is depressing and chaotic enough to make you crave a new one that’s even more punishing than the one before – just ask the citizens of Iraq, five years in.

So here’s to resolutions, roadmaps and vain hopes; here’s to a new year and a new regime, with no cellulite and no quagmire. Let’s hope it’s better than the old one. And when it fails in December? Well, that’s where January jihad comes in.

The Author

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PC is an animal of the antipodes believed to be related to a gibbon.