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

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I want it that way (guilty pleasures)

When people talk about the musicians that influenced them, they’re mostly talking utter nonsense. It’s not to say that they’re lying – those musicians probably did influence them. But in most cases the names we cite pale in comparison to those others we keep hidden away, the guilty pleasures we all disavow and hide.

By the late 80s plenty of kids at my school had been hooked onto ‘rap music’, mostly through cassettes of NWA, Public Enemy, Run DMC and Tone Loc, borrowed off older siblings. In my case, it was the last of these artists that had the most profound impact, and I still rate Loc’d After Dark as one of the finest hip-hop albums ever made. I mean it: if you’re ever at a flea market and you see an old copy on sale, buy it on sight. It’ll be the only three dollars you’ll spend this year that might change your life.

Tone Loc was fine and good, and has aged well. He certainly didn’t have anything like the street cred of NWA or PE, but it was okay to admit you liked him, for sure. Thing was though, I first heard Loc on the television, when Funky Cold Medina was in the top ten. And – as it was in those days – Loc would appear alongside all kinds of other artists, some unpardonably, unmentionably bad. Being a kid, I listened to them all, with an openness that’s almost impossible for me now. My favourite thing to do was to dub Top 40 Australia off the radio. I’d like to tell you how I always made edits from these tapes, but the fact was that most of the time I would just listen to the whole countdown – 40 to 1 ad nauseum.

But a hush fell on my childhood mixtape adventures with the advent of high school, a time when the music you listened to became the intimate marker of who you were, what you stood for, and what that was worth. Metallica might still have been considered cool (to the metal kids), but what about NPG-era Prince, Betty Boo, Vanilla Ice, Roxette, Ace of Base, Enigma, and Partners in Kryme (remember ‘Turtle Power’)? A blanket of shamed silence fell on all for the next six years. But I was humming the tunes under my breath the whole time.

It’s when you do karaoke that you see how most people have lived with their very own repressed top forty: given enough booze full-grown adults – who normally want to avow their sophisticated taste in obscure genres – will be clamouring for the mic when George Michael’s ‘Faith’ comes on. But it doesn’t mean that all repression has ceased, no siree. Recently, I uploaded a friend’s copy of David Bowie’s Lodgers onto my mp3 player. The first few tracks played as normal. Then there came an unexpected piano intro, followed by high mid-90s production values… and the opening lyrics, spoken in a saccharine male voice: ‘You are/my fire/the one/desire....’ I double-checked the screen on my mp3 player, which read: David Bowie, Lodger, ‘Red Sails’. But it was none of these things. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, the Backstreet Boys I Want It That Way.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

You thought Ministry of Style sucked? Meet the Drainpipe Vampires

(NB: apologies for the relative blog silence of late. Been very busy. A whole backlog of posts will follow over the next month, so stay tuned and check back regularly...)

Walking down Brunswick St after an early morning errand, I was struck with fresh force by how much the streetscape has changed in the past fifteen years. But one thing remains stubbornly unbudged: Ministry of Style.

‘Who the fuck is a raver these days?’ I wondered to myself.

Just as it’s possible that ‘Magic Happens’, I’m willing to concede that there are still ravers around, even that there’s still the odd rave happening – but are there still enough people to justify the existence of a shop that proclaims that the past ten years never happened?

I got home and switched on the TV to catch the last few minutes of Rage. Oh my God, it’s Guru Josh! The sax, the synth, the strobe lights – but more than anything else, people dancing their arses off. ‘Ah,’ I thought, ‘the early 90s: a time when people thought they could change the world just by dancing…’

Moments later, JTV started and I switched off and logged in to my email before ‘the Doctor’ had a chance to insult my intelligence. My sister had sent me some youtube clip with footage of southern American Gospel congregations going absolutely crazy ape-bonkers to Jesus, which in turn had been wedded to a soundtrack of maniacal drum’n’bass. Back in the 90s, you didn’t have to do a cut’n’paste job to achieve the same effect. You just let the track play. I’d been to raves where people dressed head-to-toe like unrepentant fraggles would dance for hours on end to music they didn’t recognise, pausing only to reapply Blistex, water and ecstasy. There was a time where whole rooms full of people used to abandon themselves to dancing – precisely the same people who shopped at Ministry of Sound for their wardrobe.

My next email was from 3000, that wannabe digest that lands, drainpipes-first, in my inbox every fortnight, full of all the latest ‘cool/fool’ info and desirable objects I’m not sure I could ever be coolsie enough to want. But this, of course, is part of being cool: you must never, under any circumstances, appear to want, do, or be anything with all your heart. That’s why there’s so much suffering involved in trying to be cool – you have to try incredibly hard, but you have to do so without being seen to try at all. This also means you can never abandon yourself to anything, least of all a dancefloor full of strangers in swishy fur pants and a track you’ve never heard of, without a chorus or a record deal on Domino. No, you must keep your cool distance at all costs. Make sure that your glossy surface is ironised flat, and that your edge stays pressed.

The 90s were optimistic for all the wrong reasons: they were dreadfully na├»ve, and the clothes were appalling. But there was also enthusiasm. In the slow move from Wednesdays at Filter, Thursdays at Teriyaki, and Fridays at Centriphugal to a week of Thursdays spent preening and aching at niche bar/gallery openings, Melbourne also forgot how to dance. Ravers were shallow, but coolsies are two-dimensional: they have to be, to get into their pants. And once they’re in them, they can barely move. Drainpipes are vampire trousers, and they’ve drained the hot blood of enthusiasm out of the city’s night. It’s almost enough to send you back to Ministry of Style.

The Author

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