Thursday, August 24, 2006

Strip-show Continuum

Of late I've been interested in the idea of musical continuums. It started with this ILM Haircut House thread: haircut house being a classification of music based not so much on songs' aesthetic / sonic qualities as on the venues and scenes with which they might be associated. In the case of haircut house, the sort of venue would be The Prince, and the scene would be populated with people who look like this:

People protested in the ILM thread that there was no connection at all between the sorts of songs that were being nominated - Inaya Day, Rogue Traders, Tiga, "Four to the Floor", "Drop the Pressure", etc. And of course they were right. These songs form a category, a system of meaning, as much a bunch of random of people standing at a bus stop would. Nonetheless, they are there in series, and despite the fact that the label 'haircut house' is a chain of significance that does not originate strictly in observance of songs' common aesthetic features, it is useful and meaningful as a term of classification.

Likewise, one could well define a 21st birthday/uni ball continuum, which would consist of "Put Ya Hands Up", "Love Shack", Wham's "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go", "The Grease Megamix", "Footloose", "Dirrty" ... and so on. The recognition when these are played is that they are 'classic' songs: they are indicators that you and your fellow party-goers share a great deal of common cultural history, watched the same early morning video shows, had the same songs on the stereo in the common room at school, etc. They draw their meaning not only from the fact that they are predictably, relentlessly played at balls and 21sts, but also from an assumption that they bear, for the crowd, an exemplary danceability that is inextricable from the nostalgic memories that they evoke. All the same: aesthetically, "Groove Is In The Heart" and "Put Ya Hands Up" are a million miles apart. But they squarely fit within this continuum.

Sometimes, one is presented with a criteria for a new continuum that makes fundamental sense, retrospectively puts together so many connections that work so well, even though you had never tried to link these songs to the one trend. 'Yacht Rock' is a good example of this. Everyone has felt it: laughing as you realise that this new category works so perfectly, describes something you always knew existed, but just didn't have a name for.

At other times, however, new continuums manifest themselves which just will not square themselves with your pre-existing notions of the proper order of the world. And for me, tonight was such a night.

Yesterday evening, my sister and some of her classmates went to see a strip-show at Spearmint Rhino, as part of research for a play they're doing later in the semester. Apparently, by and large, most of the dances/dancers were quite boring - though some were terrifyingly athletic. She described the crowd as either 'corporate' or 'after-work'.

But apart from her description of the dancers, the dancing and the patrons of this 'gentlemen's club', what truly surprised me about the night was her description of the playlist.

Some made perfect sense - The Pussycat Dolls' "Buttons", for instance: burlesque-y stripper popstars singing about loosening their clothing - all seems to be well. Ginuwine's "Pony" was also untroubling: slinky, sexual, suggestive of writhing - check, makes sense.

Others were unexpected, but reconcilable nonetheless. Goldfrapp's "Ride a White Horse", for instance: while I am a little surprised that it could find resonance with people who actually do drugs and pursue the hedonistic life that the song proclaims, much like with Little Britain jokes, I concede that I suppose it could be enjoyed without the four layers of irony and reflexivity that makes my consumption and appreciation of the cultural artifact infinitely superior to that of those who would, like the bogans I work with, take things literally, at face value.

Some selections, however, made no sense, and will trouble me as I try to sleep.

Specifically: one dancer performed a strip act, accompanied by Rage Against The Machine's "Renegades of Funk".




Personally, I was flabbergasted. The song name-checks "Chief Sitting Bull, Tom Paine / Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcom X". It bears the refrain "Destroy our nations". It is performed by a band that is inescapably linked, in my mind, with Seattle and the anti-globalisation movement. They shit on about exploitation all the time. And yet, there it was: just loud, guitar-based rock for the boys that shouts cool phrases about funk and stuff. Hip.

All of which goes to demonstrate: there is nothing inherently political about aesthetic entities. There are no subversive essences. There are only continuums and meanings that come from the current situations of songs, from constellations that will shift and re-shift no end.


This will be the last post from me for a few days - I'm off to Sydney for the weekend to give a paper at this on Lukacs' History and Class Consciousness, possibly subtitled "Reification, people!" I'm in the program and everything - I must exist. It should be an interesting few days.


Blogger Amy said...

Yes, I was similarly bemused by the use of Peaches' "Fuck the Pain Away" in the strip club scene of "Lost in Translation". It seemed a bit too reflexive on the uses of sex in general to be titillating to the punters.

In regards to Little Britain, it has been totally assimilated. Apart from Big Brother, on Neighbours the other night when Paul Robinson’s credit card was refused Max was heard to utter “Sorry mate. Computer says noooooo.”

12:35 pm  
Blogger Mel said...

I like the idea that even in their fantasy world, Neighbours characters are still pop culture consumers - arguably it would be weirder and creepier if they weren't.

This was an excellent post, not only because it has introduced me to Yacht Rock. Do you know I am obsessed with what I call Awesome Power Rock at the moment. I judge its awesome power by whether I get a certain almost physical pressure in my head from the excitement I feel when listening to it.

10:23 am  
Blogger Catherine said...

Thanks Mel. Would you consider Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" to be a good example of Awesome Power Rock?

6:43 pm  

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