The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'aggressive normality'
Music journalist Jon Savage, who has recently compiled a compilation of music from the gay underground of the 1960s and 70s, claims that today's popular music and pop culture is a lot less tolerant of difference and nontraditional sexual roles than it was in the bad old days:
A few years after Sylvester's triumph, explicitly gay music - Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Bronski Beat, the muscle-bound thud of high-energy dance music - was accepted into the British charts in a way that Joe Meek or the shadowy figures behind the Brothers Butch and Camp Records could never have anticipated. Twenty years on, Radio 1's breakfast show presenter is using the word "gay" as an insult.
"Lad culture has been a disaster for pop music," says Savage. "That definition of a heterosexual man - beer and football, Nick Hornby - is so restrictive. It's important that pop musicians play around with gender and sexual divergence. The fact that it's gone back to Oasis from the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger being very camp, is just pathetic, it's a complete failure. People are scared of nonconformity in music, so this album is a less-than-fragrant reminder of a time when pop music was less sanitised than it is now.Perhaps he has a point and the role of the rock star as a pansexual shaman of kink seems to have largely been displaced by that of a laddish alpha-male, with rock'n'roll's rebellious energy being focussed not so much at overthrowing repressive social strictures as enforcing them and gay-bashing those who transgress. (Witness the reactionary "rebellion" of "alternative" bands like Limp Bizkit, which has more politically in common with right-wing talk radio than any sort of progressive movement.) Where it exists, it is either used as a retro cliché (think Of Montreal's glam sleaze) or in a sanitised, cartoonish form (i.e., Mormon boy band The Killers' faux-transgressivism).
Then again, one could argue that rock'n'roll was always a regressive force; Susan Sontag, for example, equated it with "aggressive normality", and in his blog, Momus (of "Tender Pervert" fame) has asserted that rock music is inherently fascist. Could the 1970s glam nexus of rock music and gender-bending be more like oil and water, less a natural symbiosis than a chance collision brought on by external pressures (in that case, opposition to the strictures of "straight" society). With mainstream conformity eroded, in favour of a marketing-driven arms race of sexualisation, the brute berzerker force of rock has no external targets to be directed against, so it lashed out against the usual targets, and the rebels become bullies?
Aleks And The Ramps' first full-length, Pisces Vs. Aquarius, does have its share of eccentric moments. "No Se Si Es Amor" is a cover of Roxette's 1990 chart hit "It Must Have Been Love", sung in Spanish and backed by primitive electronic blips and beeps and Aleks' banjo. Other song titles include "Aminals" and "Diary Of A Lizard Man". But there are also threads of a much darker lyrical obsession woven throughout. Often, they appear as dialogues, either between two people or a conflicted memory, which travel along the entanglements of violence and sexual politics in neatly rhyming couplets.
In the story told by one track, "Brain", two cripples hobble aboard a bus and share a flashback to a car accident. The lyrics are written as two individual memories which spool together into a kind of disjointed conversation. "If you were in pain, I couldn't tell," laments Aleks in deadpan character. "I was dealing with a punctured lung." The voice which replies is so playful and effortlessly gorgeous that it's difficult not to become entranced by the contrast. "Your gasping reminded me of the first time we made love," sings Janita, member of The Ramps and Aleks's real-life lover.I have Pisces Vs. Aquarius, and can vouch for it being as good as the article suggests. With a mordant wit and a deadpan voice, Aleks touches on themes such as prison escapes ("123456 (pardon us)"), the state of being a corpse ("Rigor Mortis"), and paranoid schizophrenia ("They're Recording Everything We Say"), whilst jumping between genres, combining banjos, electronic beats and crunchy metal riffs, and yet somehow manages to remain highly listenable. And the Roxette cover is genius.
According to the article, though, not all is well in the Melbourne live music scene, with commercial pressures pushing out the sort of experimental leftfield music in favour of a more commercially viable aggressive normality:
Since then, the band has recorded an album, performed a live-to-air on Melbourne radio station PBS and accrued a reasonable amount of interest. But when Aleks tried to book a venue for the launch of "They're Recording Everything We Say", the first single from Pisces Vs. Aquarius, he found it a difficult task. Many of the smaller inner-city venues he had frequented had closed -- including Good Morning Captain, where the first incarnation of the band had played its first and only gig -- and those that were left were either too small to fit five animated musicians, or wanted to play hard-ball on the door figures.
No doubt it is difficult for larger, well-maintained rooms like the East Brunswick to risk booking young or experimental bands in a headline slot, while venues in their shadow - bleeding door numbers - have become more fastidious about ensuring each night's profitability. The result can be a closed door for bands that are untested or outside the current status quo. Whether due to fatigue or necessity, the problem is reflected in the habits of venues' music directors.
Aleks: "A lot of bookers don't actually watch the bands. It's really weird that the type of people who are put in these positions are the type of people that don't bother watching music. I think they just sit in their office in this weird little bubble browsing MySpace, judging who are the best and biggest bands based on how many friends they've got."