The old adage, “there’s nothing new in rock ‘n’ roll” must be one of the most over-used clichés in the world, being used to excuse, to denigrate, to explain and to dismiss in equal measure. So what do I think of Janelle Monae’s new song and video?
Well, though the vocal is very good, the song is formulaic – but then, so much music is formulaic, many fans and listeners are scared when things don’t follow the rules or change unexpectedly, and in any case, it’s not entirely predictable and has good onward-rushing energy. The video is an update of Sinead O’Connor’s Prince cover, ‘Nothing Compares to You’ – and several thousand fixed-camera, solo face videos made since – and yet, it has its own thing, mostly because young Janelle has an exceptional face. She’s obviously a good actress, to boot.
For contrast, compare Janelle’s video with Christopher Ecclestone’s wonderful performance in the video for ‘Proof’ by I Am Kloot.
Art rises up with reference to all other art, not in isolation. Leaving aside style considerations, they are cut from the same cloth, both good in their different ways, one dealing with sorrow, the other joy.
In a comment thread, I read that Janelle can’t really have been sincere, since she was wearing waterproof makeup in preparation for shedding crocodile tears. Do people have no concept of performance? This obsession with sincerety misses the point of art, which pretends in order to enlighten.
In response, I wrote the following couplet:
People are complaining that she’s insincere
Don’t they know authentic is so last year?
One day I’ll put those lines inside a song of my own, and make a solo face fixed shot video to add to the glorious pile.
Let it not be said that music plays a side role in the great battle for hearts and minds. As the 9/11 anniversary coincides with a particularly shrill and vicious campaign by the American right, I bring you Burka Blue.
The music sounds great, very art school frauenband, an almost industrial rock pop anti-protest. I’m not sure it says anything complex, but I find the sight of the swaying blue burkas, the lethargic, non-committed vocals, the dischordant rock instruments and simple synth does it for me.
How do you make a trio sound like a big band, and rock a club? Berliners Dirty Honkers played at the Old Street club I went to last Saturday, and did just that. In midday tropical heat at midnight, they bust up the joint with artful screeches and an entertaining set which veered like an insane drunk driver between modern club and old time jazz swing.
Fronted by a sweaty and frankly confrontational Gad Hinkis, wearing a tie over his naked torso, a towel draped around his neck, MC-ing, singing and operating a laptop with aplomb, alongside the beautiful and freshly laundered Canadian Andrea Roberts, playing alto sax, singing, and unexpectedly joining the audience to strut her stuff, and Florent Mannant playing tenor sax, clarinet, adding his voice for harmonies, as well as flogging CDs, it was a hugely enjoyable, boiling hot performance. I bought their self-produced CD for a tenner and it’s as vital as anything in the genre.
Chris the promoter at the end of the night gave a joyous assertion that there’s a new electro swing club opening every week in Europe at the moment. Lots of good people were enjoying themselves hugely. I’ll certainly be returning.
Thus, I can reveal that Electro Swing is in fact more than music made by the bastard children of Mr Scruff. It takes the genre he spawned with the seminal Get A Move On – 20th century swing samples with 21st century beats – to new levels. Whether those levels are lower or higher I leave for posterity to judge. The chic retro sexiness of electro swing is an easy sell; without the musical mania of techno, and just a hint of rave creeping into the bleeps and beats to keep it exciting, the nostalgia plays it safe to the crowds.
I used to run a DJ agency ten years ago, and since those crazed times, I’ve not really bothered to follow all the nuances and subgenres and sub-subgenres of dance music.. there are so bleedin’ many variations, and so tiny are the changes, except once every ten years or so, that the entire dance music edifice is too complex to follow unless you’re clubbing twice a week, every week in several countries, in a selection of outrageous costumes and blood-curdling company.
Still, I’ve just been told there’s a decent electro swing night on, so knowing absolutely nothing about it, I searched and found this charming dance ditty. I particularly like what happens around 2 minutes in… I’ll experience the phenomenon before I decide whether to give this genre its own category.
UPDATE – looks like electro swing might also be termed “music which sounds a bit like Mr Scruff” – it remains to be seen what the subgenre takes from this master of reinvention – will it be simply the mixing of 1930s-40s-50s swing band with contemporary dance beats, or the breathtaking cheek of El Maestro’s time-honoured collages? Report to follow.