You are almost exclusively known for ‘fun’ or ‘novelty’ songs. Are you annoyed that you painted yourself into a corner? How do you think your fans would react if you released something serious or heartfelt?
DAMIAN COWELL: OK Matt, you used a couple of interesting phrases there. Whereas ‘fun’ is a neutral term, ‘novelty’ is a pejorative term which implies something worthless, ephemeral, loud and showy yet by its nature soon to be obsolescent. Something by ‘Crazy Frog’, for instance, might be considered a novelty song. A song that is definitively of a moment, ever more to be referred to as a curio, in a ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ way.
Does this apply to TISM? I’d say if you disliked the idea of TISM, or you weren’t aware there was much else going on other than masks and swearing, you’d call their music ‘novelty’. And believe me, many have. Another phrase you’ve used, “painted yourself into a corner” is an emotive phrase which implies that the protagonist does not wish to be there, or is not in an ideal place.
If you were to use the phrase “Are you annoyed that you have maintained a consistent focus” it implies a completely different bias, yet is essentially the same question. No-one would ask Nick Cave if he was annoyed at painting himself into a corner because he was exclusively known for serious lyrical themes. It would seem nonsensical. That’s because popular opinion regards something which is ‘fun’ (we’ll leave out ‘novelty’, if we can just puff up my self-importance for a moment) as a less worthy artistic endeavour than something ‘serious’. I understand this, but I don’t agree with it. I like ‘fun’ music, but I often yearn for there to be a twist, or something you can get your teeth into, amongst the fun.
That’s what I try to do. I don’t always succeed, but it’s what I attempt. It’s extremely difficult to do, and if you can pull it off, it’s twice the artistic achievement of something that is one dimensionally – there’s my pejorative term – serious. Contrary to your suggestion, I have included such one-dimensionally serious and/or heartfelt songs on almost every one of the albums I’ve done since TISM. On ROOT!’s Surface Paradise there’s Home, which is a song about loss, among other things. On the DC3’s May Contain Traces Of Nut there’s Something Good which is not in the slightest bit ironic or mocking.
On the same album Being is bleakness personified, and Market Forces is like an episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. On the Vs. Art album I did for MONA in 2011, the majority of themes explored are serious in nature, including despair, love, self-hatred and nostalgic longing. How would my fans react? Well, I haven’t seen any particular controversy or complaints. I’ve had a few compliments, which is very encouraging, but you won’t find much evidence of it on my current Disco Machine album, and that’s deliberate, because I believe my listeners deserve better than me being lazy and one-dimensional. Am I suggesting that some purveyors of ‘serious’ music might be lazy and one-dimensional? Geez, that’s an extreme claim – I wouldn’t do that, would I…?
21.10.16 Can music outlive the summer of Spotify?A 'has-been' hits replay
The unintentionally hilarious Gold FM promo reassures me as Bryan Adams, that fitter 'n' turner of factory-forged fist-pumpers, belts out Summer of 69, snare drum cracking behind him like the mighty guns of the HMAS Jockcheese.
"Only the hits you love."
Next up (I know this, because they've been telling me for the last 10 ad breaks) is that 1985 juggernaut, Dream Academy's Life in a Northern Town. I had assumed people in a Northern town spoke like this: "Ee by gum! There's trouble at Mill!" It seems I was wrong. In fact, they chant in a kind of Klingon Ladysmith Black Mambazo: "Waya ma ma ma oomeedoomee dieyeah!" I guess Dream Academy stumbled upon the idea and thought: "This sounds like a Qantas ad! We're going to be rich!" So they sticky-taped on the rest of the song like a lean-to dunny on the Guggenheim.
"Only the hits you love" – as long as none of them were written in the last 20 years. And it works, if you believe survey results – VN Holden Commodore carloads of people tuning in because they want to relive the year 1984 – when Bryan Adams sang about the year 1969. Don't be fooled by Bryan: the man's a true post-modernist. He undoubtedly gets up in the morning and says to himself: "Today I'm going to write the future sound of nostalgia."
And what songwriter wouldn't? There's a whole market devoted to anything that isn't new: radio stations, rebooted movies, days "on the green", comeback tours ... fair enough too. We has-beens need retirement income: roll over your super, Beethoven. But I fear for today's young songwriters. Because in 20 years' time, I don't reckon people yearning to be reminded of their lost youth will reach for something as limited as music.
Me and my Luddite mates, we're alien compared to today's generation. Back when "social network" meant the primary school working bee, there was only one way a sullen teenager like me could escape the drudgery of homework, or fumigating your bedroom – music. No visual stimulation. No virtual worlds. Just sound coming out of a speaker. As a result, I developed the career-(and relationship)-endangering skill of 4D imagination. When I listened to music I slipped through a portal into a world where it was OK to be me – in fact, almost cool to be me.
Luckily enough, some of the music I've made over the years has had the same effect on other people. I know this, because strange blokes in the supermarket thank me for changing their life. Changing their life! Can you believe it? For a generation where music was often the only refuge of the teenager, it's not that surprising. Nor is the lucre of the nostalgia market. And Gold FM.
"Only the hits you love."
I love Gold not just for the laughs – the songs sound new to me. That's because, in 1985 when commercial radio was going "waya mama", I was snootying around town with a pineapple haircut listening to Triple R, which prided itself on never playing anything as gauche as "hits". Triple R, like (some of) the music it played, was a ticket to enlightenment. I once asked music writer Michael Dwyer why everybody treated David Bowie as if he was Mahatma Gandhi, and that was his explanation: through Bowie, Dwyer discovered Brian Eno, Andy Warhol, the Stooges, soul music, George Orwell, and more.
Now? Well, the kids just Google it. Who needs music to be the portal? In fact, music is only one of many stimulants competing for the modern attention span. When superstar DJ Calvin Harris performs his songs to 100,000 at Wembley – by pressing "play" on his iPhone and pointing every now and then – I wonder what's in it for the kids. Why not save your money and just listen to the same songs on your OWN iPhone?
But I'm missing the point. The reason for sardine-ing into that vast crowd is the selfie, which says: "I was there. With 100,000 people at the Calvin Harris gig." For the average non-fanatic, music is the hip background sound to accompany the experience. The selfie will be what they're nostalgic about in 20 years' time. Not the world inside a Calvin Harris track. Maybe that's why a lot of modern music – brilliantly constructed with skill and taste by producers like SBTRKT, (or dckhd or whoever else is flvr f th mnth) – sounds like muzak when played at low volume: tasteful, cool, slightly melancholic and more at home in the lobby of a hotel.
Music no longer defines your lifestyle – it's the other way around. There aren't even any music shows on TV any more. Unless there's some "game" involved. There's no 'M' in MTV. And who am I kidding: even at Gold FM, "only the hits you love" – all seven of them, endlessly repeated – are just the ballast around the banter of "Everywoman, Funnyman and Jock", the completely interchangeable on-air team (if you don't believe me, check out the different, yet identical billboard ads on the M1).
Music just can't keep up. And now we have Spotify et al, where you can listen to any song ever recorded, but not actually OWN any of them. Not enjoying the track you're listening to? No problem – flick through until you find one you do. There might be a new David Bowie coming through who, if you invest time in them, will challenge you and take you on a revelatory journey. But who's got time for that when you can flick around until you find something you like hearing NOW?
"Only the hits you love."
OK, sorry, this is all getting a bit depressing. I'm off to write my next hit: "The summer of 99". (Well, I hope it's a hit. The washing machine's playing up again.)
Damian Cowell was formerly the voice of TISM. His Disco Machine will be touring their new album this summer.
“I used to love backstage at the Big Day Out. It was like a year 9 locker bay - everyone trying to act all grown up and sexy. Bonhomie hanging in the air like sickly clouds of Lynx anti-perspirant, masking the armpit stench of competitive envy. Trying to explain TISM to Courtney Love after she'd had a few too many Earl Greys was a personal highlight. Being in an anonymous band had its advantages.
One year the after party was in the hotel room of Perry Farrell - remember him? All the heavyweights were there, Nick Cave, Prodigy, all the school production lead roles. I knocked, and Blixa Bargeld's German girlfriend appeared: I said: "Hi, I'm Wayne Carey, the famous Australian footballer". She just shut the door on me. I was actually relieved, I mean, can you imagine it? They would have all been sitting around playing bongos.”"
Inspired by the news that Mariah, engorged with James Packers’ largesse, has made a Domino’s Double-Calzone of a Christmas movie, I’ve decided to stage a Christmas extravaganza of my own. I know that my jumping on the Christmas bandwagon may disappoint you, and I say: precisely - but more of that later.
Like the Herald Sun reader who said:
“Rising petrol prices don’t affect me. I only buy $10 a time”
- if you follow one of those religions that are routinely ignored by mainstream media (until we need someone to blame), you may wonder what all the fuss is about during this time of year. But Christmas isn’t really about Christ. It’s about that way bigger religion, shopping. Santa was invented by Coca Cola, a revelation courageously exposed by those establishment-baiters Nickleback in their recent single “I object to the objectification of women”.
For me however, Christmas is about something else. Like any day in the calendar when we are told to be happy, Christmas is the season of disappointment. Just ask the kid cracking the shits on Christmas morn because he didn’t get a Ferrari pedal car. I first became aware of the disappointment of Christmas as a teenager. Christmas was the time when Christine Kennedy – the hot chick who lived up the road from me whose house I used to jog past in forlorn hope of recognition – would go away on holidays. Jogging in the 33 degree heat suddenly lost its frisson.
And Christmas is the season of disappointment for so many of us:
It’s a time when we reflect on our (lack of) achievements in the past year
It’s a time when we slave all day to prepare the house for guests, only to find that our sister/brother-in-law (delete where applicable) hasn’t stopped being a dickhead in the last 12 months.
It’s a time when mothers can express their disappointment at how their 4 adult children have turned out, by buying them all identical ceramic wombats (this actually happened)
It’s a time when your favourite footy player can disappoint you by being sprung on social media taking crystal meth with the club mascot in a bikie house
It’s a time when Angus and Julia Stone don’t say: “we sound like Fleetwood Mac on ketamine”.
(OK, I’m the only one disappointed by that.)
Er, hopefully you get the picture.
But Christmas doesn’t have to be all about disappointment. Damian Cowell’s Disco Machine will present for you ‘Disco Christmas’. Just so you’re not disappointed, let’s set your expectations straight up front: a ropey old bloke will jerk around like a stroke-victim while trying to hide his modest abilities behind a suspiciously young-looking band performing cheesy disco songs with highly inappropriate lyrics.
How does that sound? Oh yes, and comic royalty Tony Martin will be joining us for 5 songs, plus special guest will be Pinky Beecroft, the brains behind Machine Gun Fellatio. (Those two last bits are actually good.)
So now you can’t be disappointed. That’s why I’m doing a Christmas show. Oh, and my work Christmas function is on that night, and I needed an excuse to get out of it.
See you there? You’ll be disappointed if you’re not.
The other morning on TV I heard Richard Wilkins announce that Miley was about to ‘drop’ a new album. Like the moment when you see your tattoo worn by an Australian cricketer, it confirmed that the jig is surely up for this silly word, presumably once coined to ‘web-beatnik’-up the word ‘release’.
Now, if you think going back to using the phrase ‘release a new album’ is too Grandpa-ish, I have a suggestion:
Why not ‘toss off’?
It certainly sums up my art, and given that these days music becomes worthless the moment you release it, I think it carries the right amount of gravitas: ‘Kanye West is about to toss off his new album ‘I love self-effacement’ – it’s got a nice ring to it.
So, memo to Triple J announcers: better drop ‘drop’ before it’s too late. Especially if the rumour is true that Chet Faker’s new album is called ‘His Guts’. - DC
1.9.15 27 REASONS WHY I HATE BUZZFEED
By Damian Cowell
1. It is part of the Illuminati’s dystopian quest to teach the populace to only consume information in bite-sized trinkets of inanity, making them ever more susceptible to gimcrack niche marketing and goldfish attention-span gadgetry, thus denuding them of the ability to maintain sustained thought or stay engaged long enough to spot the deception.
2. I’ve lost interest.
19.8.2015 R.I.P. ARFUR DALEY
The other day marked the sad passing of actor George Cole, famous for playing disreputable dealer Arthur Daley in the 80s series "Minder". That, and before it "The Sweeney", were staples of my family viewing, and featured Dennis Waterman, the man with the dodgiest haircut of any TV sex symbol I can remember. But he still pulled the birds, innit?
To commemorate George’s passing, I stopped by at ‘Arfur Daleys’ two dollar shop to buy a suitably useless trinket, and I could only marvel at the strategy of naming the store after someone you’d least want to do business with. Perhaps Byron Bay’s Holistic Massage Centre could change its name to “Rolf’s”. Or Ray’s Camping could become “Hitler Annexes”. Just a thought.
11.8.15 AND SO IT BEGINS . . .
And so it begins: the 2015/16 season of the most pointless sporting competition in the world: the English Premier League. Where only 4 teams can win, because they have the most money. Where the other 75% run around in endlessly Beckettsian circles fussing about whether they'll finish 12th, or 14th, or perhaps - revelation! - 11th.
Like a foot race where the weaker runners are the ones who get handicapped. Like a duel where the aristocrat has the pistol, and the peasant a t-shirt from Target. And then at the end of the season, these teams, these footballing catamites to the bloated Jabba The Huts sitting atop the Premiership, bend over meekly, like a Masterchef contestant bullied nightly yet parroting "Yes Marco. No Marco" and hand over their best player to Hitler United or Stalin City because said player 'wants to play Champions League football".
I have been waiting year after year for some exotic Ebola-like virus to lay waste football players - but only ones who play in the Champions League - so the next time some badly tattooed, Dennis Rodman-haired footballer turns his back on the fans who have supported him all year and tosses his former club away like one of his 18,000 air-headed girlfriends because he 'wants to play Champions League football' might think again.
Mark Bosnich's hair is always entertaining though.
9.08.15 DAMIAN COWELL'S TOP TEN AUSSIE ROCK ARTISTS OF ALL TIME
You may have seen Cameron Adam's epic industry survey of the best Aussie Rock Artists of All Time published recently. He asked me to submit my nominated ten and why. Strangely, mine didn't make the cut. Thought I'd share them here .
"If you never saw these bands, you weren't at the right gigs" - DC
FORCE ONE – The Victoria Police rock band. Who doesn’t own one of their classic albums? My fave is probably ‘Revolver’, but I also loved ‘Det. Sgt. Peppers’, ‘A Hard Day’s Nightstick’ and ‘Boggo Road’.
ATHOL GAIA – These guys were the kings of the illegal rave scene until their lead singer had a terrible acid event and turned into Andrew Bolt.
KIDS NEW ON BLOCK – little-known Aussie combo who pre-dated the whole boy band movement. Split up when they discovered their name spelt ‘KNOB’.
SLEEPER CREEPER LOVER – Folk rock supergroup inspired by the work of Bill Cosby.
CROWDED HORSE – I started this great band in the 80s with Nick Seymour. Then one day he stopped turning up to rehearsals, and six weeks later…
BOOM CRASH VASECTOMY – I just liked this band because they had such a stupid name. Well, except for the word ‘vasectomy’.
THE VELVET UNDERPANTS – Not really a band. Just something I saw on Nick Cave’s rider.
THE FEELIES – Not the US cult band, but a cracking power trio from Sydney featuring a young Rolf Harris.
TURDS OF BLOKEYO – John Williamson’s first band.
CHET FAKER – it’s not just his songs and great piano playing. It’s his searing parody of hipsters that makes him a comic genius.
AND THE WINNERS ARE:
21.5.15 WHY I'M NOT JUDGING EUROVISION
by Damian Cowell
No, really. In April I was asked by the Commissioning Editor of TV Content at SBS if I would like to join the Australian National Jury to adjudicate this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
That’s right. Me and Richard Wilkins and some industry big wigs getting together to cast 50% of Australia’s votes.
I said no.
I was very respectful, and thanked them for the opportunity, and didn’t want them to think I just rejected it out of hand. But, no.
When I told my friends what I’d done, they all went: “Of course… you’re… right… to.. say… no” while their eyes said I was the complaining neighbour who’d just shut down their party. What the fuck was I thinking? What a great opportunity to create mayhem! You idiot Damian! It was the same kind of uncomprehending look I got when TISM didn’t reform, triumphantly take the stage as Australia’s entrant and really show the world what Eurovision should be like.
Why didn’t we? Why didn’t I?
Because when you’re gliding along the French Riviera on your 150-footer being fed grapes by supermodels, then there’s this ringing sound and your eyes crawl open, what you see is a darkened bedroom and the prospect of another day at the office. This is known as ‘reality’ and you spell it with a small ‘r’.
Let’s just suspend the ol’ disbelief for a moment and say TISM did reform and say ‘yes’ to the 17,000-odd Australians who signed a petition for us to do Eurovision. We would have looked pretty stupid, because Guy Sebastian is, and was always going to be Australia’s entrant. Whether 17,000 people voted or not. And anyway, what did ‘voting’ ever have to do with anything? I mean, I can understand you may be susceptible to the fantastical election myth that voting for blue blancmange instead of red blancmange will help to make our country better. But voting for something to do with Eurovision?? Eurovision is like FIFA with less cocaine.
But, OK, let’s hop back on the yacht, and say TISM did go to Eurovision. What then?
Well, here’s what would happen, and it’s exactly the same thing that would have happened if I had been on the adjudicating panel:
The ‘yacht’ version says I’m the heroic, subversive virus, the force of entropy, the sardonic genius who finally turns Eurovision from a cavalcade of bombastically self-reverent Tina Arenas into something genuinely edgy and funny. Anarchyyyyyyyyy!!!!!
The ‘morning alarm clock’ version says I’m the dickhead in your group work at school who registers his protest by flicking spit balls instead of helping with the assignment. Eventually, you dob him in to the teacher and the assignment gets done exactly how the teacher asked.
When you only have one vote, the blancmange still wins. And you just look like a loser.
So that’s why I’m not in Sydney at the moment, getting up at 5am and hanging out with the guy who features in this lyric of mine:
“There’s suicide bombs and pogroms, ethnic cleansing, Richard Wilkins…”
Plus I’m busy this weekend. The Saints are on telly. And there’s a slim chance we’ll only lose by 6-8 goals.
The other morning I was eating my breakfast and Billy Idol came on the Today programme. He was being beamed in from LA to talk to Karl Stefanovic about his new book. Now, I know you probably think Billy Idol was a buffoon, a popinjay, a Butlins Holiday Camp version of punk rock, but just hold your horses a minute: Billy Idol was an inspiration to TISM.
That's right. Billy actually wrote a few quite decent pop songs, and in particular we were fond of his frequent use of the word 'because' (pronounced by Billy as "a-becowwwz!") as if it were a stand-alone phrase. A one-word, zen-like self-evident truth. Because. You'll find it there before each of the choruses in Rebel Yell:
"A-becowwwz! In the midnight hour, she cried more, more, more!" and etc.
But it pops up elsewhere. The Billy Idol mission statement: "Because."
So inspired were we by this, in fact, that in those first few TISM gigs where no-one had heard of us, we used to march onstage from the back of the venue in single file, banging a drum and chanting: "We are This Is Serious Mum. Because."
So I glanced up from my toast at Billy, who was a weird colour and had a slightly Virgil Tracey look about him, talking about the dark side of his hedonistic existence (which he explored to telling effect on some of the lesser-celebrated, more melancholic album tracks back in the day - but let's not get all Pitchforkian) and then it happened: Karl Stefanovic goes: "C'mon Billy! Give us a sneer! Sing something for us!!!"
Aw jesus Billy. You're not going to, are you?
Oh yes. Before I could leap into the telly and stop him, Billy did just that. Like a fucking trained dog. Karl says: "Give us a sneer, Billy!" So Billy lifts his upper lip. Karl says: "Sing something Billy!" So Billy sings, unaccompanied, the Rebel Yell bit (without the "Because"). Just like that.
So this is what it comes to.
We all know fame is a roller coaster. But who could know that after you reach the top and inch your way over that curved pinnacle of track, waiting perched for a terrible faltering moment while momentum gathers, you stare down that almost bottomless plummet and there, at the nadir, like the pool of water at the end of Splash Mountain - is a buffet dinner of Karl Stefanovic's shit.
But it's not just Karl. How many interviews must Billy have done, world-wide, to promote that book? How many times in that day alone did Billy relive that moment, from Riga to Reykjavik, from Sao Paulo to Saskatchewan, on TV, on radio, to identical teams of breakfast presenters all called Boffo, Wayno and Shazza, all being paid trillions to spew out ‘everyman’ish inanities because they ‘research well with the optimum disposable income market segment’, all of them regarding Billy as today’s completely interchangeable installment of the singing cat/cute panda/man who proposes to girlfriend at baseball match, all of them so violently safe and unchallenging that the listener can almost see their intelligence slipping away. How many times did they say: "Give us a sneer, Billy!"
When the last commitment was finally ticked off in that 4 page itinerary of a day, Billy must have slumped back in his chair and stared down at the shit smears all over the freshly-pressed bondage jumpsuit of his dignity and wondered what would have become of him if he'd only finished that Literature degree instead of joining the 'Bromley Contingent' and the Faustian pact that would eventually lead him to chowing down on a Stefanovic shit-sub.
I fancy at that moment, Billy would have sneered – well, at least tried to sneer, if his upper lip wasn’t so palsied with repetitive strain injury that it remained fixed, botox-like in its place.
You see, Billy would have realised, like Oedipus riding the express train to Mumfucker Town, that we are but bit players in Fate’s grand, evil tableau. Billy’s inexorable descent into the all-you-can-eat shit-sandwich was pre-destined, codified, from the moment he jelled up his hair and bounded into our living rooms. He had talent. He could write a song. There were layers to him. But no matter how hard you try - this is what it all comes down to: "Give us a sneer, Billy!"
I felt defeated. My toast grew cold and unpalatable. I wanted to grab him by the upturned collar, and say "Why'd you do it Billy? Why'd you do it?"
But if I had, Billy would have looked up at me, a tiny, distant flicker of the once rebel in his rheumy eyes, and with resigned shrug and averted gaze, answered me thus:
On July 12, 1979, at Comiskey Park in Chicago, WLUP-FM shock-jock and anti-disco campaigner Steve Dahl blew up a crate of disco records during the interval of a baseball match in front of 50,000 rioting beered-up fans, in one of US sports’ most infamous game-day spectacles and the epicentre of what was then known as the ‘disco sucks’ movement.
Around the same time, at the Noble Park Youth Club in Melbourne Victoria, a teenage rock group struck a similar blow against the evil of disco by winning a stand-off against the ‘Disco Duck’ mobile DJ over who would get to set up their equipment on the stage.
What a bunch of cocks.
I was the drummer of that teenage rock group at the Noble Park Youth Club. With the nerveless bravado of Wyatt Earp, we survived our own high noon gunfight over the pecking order. And the reward? We got to stumble our way through two hours of tuneless, screeching, rudimentary cover versions to an audience of five disaffected kids pashing each other on the benches up the back.
Later as I sat in my Springvale kitchen bingeing on Weet-bix and musing on how it was a long way to the top, how could I have known that one day I would hit the top ten, win ARIAs and tour the world – but only through embracing my inner Disco Duck?
Back then, ‘disco’ was a polarising totem, a line of demarcation, a pejorative tossed off with the dismissive laziness of a Murdoch journo sneering ‘leftist’. History has added the grim flavour of racism and homophobia to the dullard rantings of Dahl and his ‘disco sucks’ movement. But in late 70s Springvale, I had no idea that disco had any connection with NY’s gay underground. I just thought it was a bunch of grown-ups with neat hair and parent-type clothes dancing on ‘Soul Train’ – that’s why I couldn’t relate to it.
In the 70s, disco meant the full gamut of popular dance music. It embraced everything from the shitey fluff of ‘Yessir I Can Boogie’ by Spain’s Bacarra to the sleek, steely rush of Chic’s ‘Good Times’. It had subtle variants, like Georgio Moroder’s sequencer-driven proto-techno or the old school big band horns of KC and the Sunshine Band. The ‘pop’ element separated disco from ‘funk’ which - so ‘serious’ music fans will tell you – was more earthy and worthy. But then, ‘serious’ music fans are hung up about things being earthy and worthy.
What a bunch of cocks.
I like to think that in the best moments of disco – in the euphoric propulsion of Trammps’ ‘Disco Inferno’ or in Chic’s glorious fusion of escapism and melancholy on the ‘Risque’ album – disco aspired to greatness. But sadly, disco became a ‘movement’, and the lavatorial connotations that word implies are no coincidence. A movement becomes a movement when it inspires the uninspired – record company hacks the world over soon started suggesting disco make-overs for their struggling artistes. Suddenly down at heel soul singers are doin’ it – Joe Tex was a bona fide RnB legend before ‘I Ain’t Gonna Bump No More With No Big Fat Woman’. Diana Ross did it (at least she had Nile Rodgers writing her material). Bazza Manilow did it. And the coup de grâce? Rod Stewart’s ‘D’ya Think I’m Sexy’. Steve Dahl wanted to kill disco. He didn’t need to destroy disco records. He didn’t need his own Hitler Youth to go around picketing kids discos. All he needed was Rod Stewart.
When my Mum used to tell me off for pulling Chad Morgan faces, she’d say “the wind will change and you’ll be stuck like that”. In fact, she was foreshadowing the demise of disco. Those who hadn’t swapped seats when the music stopped were out. The word ‘disco’ went from threat to joke overnight. But the music - without the label, without the trimmings, without the fashion - quietly lived on. Bernard Edwards’ iconic bassline in ‘Good Times’ became a hip-hop staple. When The Clash released ‘The Magnificent Seven’ they took all of us fashion-desperate wannabe post-punks along with them, ‘cos we all thought it’s underground New Yawk rap, innit? That song was flat-out disco. And when the ultimate po-faced overcoat wearers themselves, New Order, released Blue Monday, I went and bought myself a drum machine.
Decades on, you wonder what all the fuss was about. I’d love to pop back to the 70s in my TARDIS and say to the ‘musos’ of the time: “You think disco is going to threaten your livelihood? Disco is the LEAST of your concerns.” These days, disco is, of course, simply another garnish on the massive menu of dance-related music, another genre alleyway you can explore with its attendant mores and styles. There’s even a ‘Nu’-disco.
To me, disco is a much broader concept. Disco is dance music without the snootiness. When you say the word ‘disco’, people tend to relax. Disco is the LEAST threatening music of all. Most people think of Saturday Night Fever, mobile dance floors and mirror balls, and that’s OK with me – at least it’s not ‘Intelligent Dance Music’. When I think of disco, I think of Boney M, the group created by German entrepreneur Frank Farian.
I love Boney M for the pigeon-toed dance moves and the side-parted ‘fro of (non-singing) lead singer Bobby Farrell – who was the prototype for Dr. Alban, a similarly untalented bloke who liked to cavort around with his kit off while hot chicks did the actual singing. Boney M are great fun to look at, but hilarity notwithstanding, their sound actually rocks. They are usually tarred with the Eurodisco brush, described by The Independent as a “mind-bending Common Market melding of foreign accents, bad diction, bizarre arrangements and lightweight production, usually top-heavy with strings”. That’d be a ‘serious’ music fan talking there. They don’t bother with ‘disco’. They might even secretly think it sucks.
And that’s really why I like disco. Because ‘serious’ music fans are a bunch of cocks.
18.4.2011 MY SHITNESS TERRIFIES ME BUT IT COULD BE WORSE
18.4.2011 - MY SHITNESS TERRIFIES ME BUT IT COULD BE WORSE
I’m fucken useless. I’m a bit of curlicue filigree on the swinging front gate of a disused steel mill. I’m the deeply intricate workings of a giant pre-digital TV slumped at 180 degrees in a five-storey pile at the local tip. I’m Sartre’s Collected Works, on Brendan Fevola’s bookshelf. If you wind up on a desert island, post-apocalypse, you’d better hope I’m not your only companion. I’ve spent a lifetime polishing my otiose caboose while the train’s well and truly left the station. People make communities, build cities, cure illness, raise tomorrow’s leaders, machete a path through the jungle of modern living and, meanwhile, I spend all my time on a rhyme for ‘lugubrious’. I blame music. It had a paralysing effect on me from the moment my parents bought the All My Loving EP for my fifth birthday. Since then, it’s all I know. Don’t ask me about China’s Gang of Four, but I can tell you all about the rock group. I’m no good with a drill, but I can name the Blur song that features one. As life’s great widescreen drama unfolds, I’m there with my eyes closed, listening to the soundtrack. But don’t worry. I’m not that bad. There’s a happy ending. A lifetime spent on music has only made me a talent of mediocre proportion – in fact, by the seat of me strides, I’ve only just managed to claw enough ability to MAKE music. And thank Christ for that. Because if I was REALLY good, if had real music taste, brains, coolness, perspicacity, I’d be fucked: I’d be writing for Pitchfork.
Can you imagine what it’d be like to write for Pitchfork? Wandering around all day with a Marvin the Robot-sized brain? Fucken torture, that’s what it’d be. Your mutant powers would turn every musical encounter into a thesis, a journey through a hellish, endlessly cross-referential, self-inverting, Proustian nightmare. Like Superman down at the boobies bar, you’d be unable to see the simple artistry of opposite rotating pasties for all the sternum and organ. For most of us, music is subjective. Each individual’s distinct configuration of musical tastebuds, emotional backpack, history, chronology, prejudices, create the conditions to find intrinsic worth in just about anything… well, OK, there is the Nickelback argument but, natural disasters aside, the theory works in most cases. I can understand and support my friend and bass player Douglas Lee Robertson’s right to harbor a secret enjoyment of some of the recorded works of ELO, even though I find Jeff Lynne’s entire catalogue, his unmistakable megaproduced aural trademark like a dog cocking its leg on every project he is involved in, his temerity to make two posthumous Beatles songs sound like Jeff Lynne songs, his silly phased falsetto interjections, his stupid sunglasses/perm/beard look, all make me want to yell obscenities at passers-by. But I understand this is my problem, not Jeff Lynne’s music.
But imagine being so good that you transcend subjective opinion. So good you can denounce even the music that smart people like. Imagine being the princess who can feel the pea in the smoothest mattress. Imagine seeing music like a corn flakes packet with a picture of a corn flakes packet on it, with its picture of a corn flakes packet’s picture of a corn flakes packet-brandishing corn flakes packet – yeah, that’s yer poor Pitchfork writer, deafened by internal dialogue, stumbling around as if Edvard Munch painted their head. No wonder they take it out on so many fuckers.
And here’s a few.
"At this point, it's no secret that Fountains of Wayne are not the worlds best lyricists. I could fill this review with forced, awkward and downright embarrassing lines from Traffic and Weather but few people are looking to this band for lyrical wit and insight."
Shit! I actually like Fountains Of Wayne for their lyrics! Now I feel like a dickhead. But there’s more. What about this, from a review of a Sasha album that I quite enjoyed and still enjoy, years later:
"Far as I can tell, you ripped off some of Pete Namlook's ambient noodling, tea leafed a few stale breaks and spent three months on hold with the ProTools help desk."
Jesus, who’s fucken Pete Namlook?? I’d better not say that at some cool party, I’ll be turfed out with the other poor bastards who don’t know what ‘blog house’ means. And what if you’ve never heard of ‘ProTools’? (Another Pitchfork review name checked Ableton, also a high-end music software system, possibly even more obscure to non-musicians/producers. I once walked into a wanky music store and asked Mr cool DJ-fucker behind the counter for ‘Alberton’, which is not in fact a music software system, but the oval where Port Adelaide trains. You should have seen his face.)
And here’s a new Pitchforkian technique – the retrospective put-down. This guy reckons Weezer’s fifth album actually made their previous albums worse:
"I still get hate mail for saying Make Believe was so bad that it retroactively ruined The Blue Album and Pinkerton, and I still believe it. Beverly Hills was the sound of a band that had learned to do as little as possible to write a hit."
Note also the calling card of the Pitchfork writer: the assumption that a performer’s every move is calculated. And why wouldn’t the poor bastard assume that? After all, that’s what’s been up his arse the whole time: the fact that he’s totally forgotten what it’s like to be dumb about music.
Yep, I’m a lucky feller, I am. Every morning when I struggle out of bed, wipe my eyes, and confront mediocrity, I’ll breathe a sigh of relief. Cos my music might get me run outta town, but I ain’t never gonna be the one wielding the Pitchfork.
(Oh, by the way, I wrote this because I mention Pitchfork in the DC3’s new single ‘I Was The Guy In TISM’ – you can buy it on iTunes. You know that bit about the performer’s every move is calculated? They were right.
18.04.2011 WARNING: DAMIAN COWELL WILL REPEAT ON YOU
18.04.2011 - WARNING: DAMIAN COWELL WILL REPEAT ON YOU
How can people like reggae? Isn’t it all the same? When is it reggae and when is it Nyabhingi? When are you Glitching and not Dubsteppin’? How to tell yer Illbient from yer Psybient? It’s the detail, innit? It’s the joy of diminution. You gotta go right in, zoom down to the weenyness, and like a culture under a microscope, you start noticing the little things. I might jackboot around claiming to be a wild eyed poet rock genius, but really, I go to work. On the train. Every day. Same train. Same spot. Wind whistles up from the Dandys and there I am. Set your watch by me. Just there – equidistant between two poles in the platform fence. Means I get in first. Get to sit on the same seat. Nobody I know. Fantastic. I don’t want to talk, I want to feel my fingers thaw, listen to something good, watch, observe the tiny details, see the same faces, imagine their lives, go with them briefly, an angel on their shoulder, keep them from harm. Or wonder how you could get around in shoes like that. The ones that have that lip-curl square-pointy jutting thing, curving up like the slippers on that guy in the bugs bunny cartoon who goes: duh.. open succotash…?
My train passes through the same scenery. Love that repetition. What did Mark E. Smith say? Repetition repetition repetition repetition. That’s form and content in one, that is. The history of rock in four words. Then I’m coughed out with the crowds, onto the chilly platform. You can spot me. I’m the guy who walks in the opposite direction to everyone else. Three blocks later I see the same guy every morning, pulling on a cigarette, presumably outside his building, where he’s been, obviously for enough time to have a smoke, while I wind my way towards him. Yet we were sitting on the same carriage. It’s like I went back in time. He goes the short way and has a cigarette. I go the long way and go back in time. I’m in love. I love the subway tunnel. The same shit busker, whose whining folkie deconstruction of songs that weren’t any good in the first place blanchmanges with what’s playing in my ears and makes him sound hilariously discordant.
I love the subterranean walk like I am doing it for the first time. I love it as I emerge into steam and smog and drops of dirty rain from the awnings of Degraves Street. And then it’s Centre Way, and I’m in love like I’m some Hogwarts ingenue in Diagon Alley. I’m 10 and off to a trip to the city with my sister, the first time without my parents, the rain is starting to infect my shoes and I’m about to buy A Nod Is As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse by The Faces and remember the day forever and remember it every time I walk through Centre Way, and Port Phillip Arcade, and past the stairs down which Missing Link records once beckoned me into a whole new world, a world you couldn’t get at Fosdikes Records in Springvale Road.
Fuck this shit is self indulgent. I’m going to stop now.
18.04.11 ALL WHITE AUSTRALIANS SHOULD BE PUT IN DETENTION CAMPS
When the siren sings and the players collapse in victory and defeat, gallantly shake hands, share elation, finally drop their guard and wear their weariness for all to see, it’s one of the most compellingly team-oriented moments in the sport, a truly widescreen sight, a chance for our focus to peel back from the tense minutiae of action to take in the significance of the result. Instead, what happens? In this great team moment, we focus on one single individual, microphone under chin, so they can say exactly the same thing they always say, exactly the same thing every other player or coach always says, an oil-on-water voice breaking the spell like a glimpsed wedding ring in a chance encounter, reminding us that he was probably a dumb jock at school with a big head.
But that’s OK, because that’s what the public wants. We want to know what he’s thinking. We want to know what you’re thinking, too. You. And you too. And everybody. At all times. We don’t want you to internalize a single fucking thing. TELL US WHAT YOU’RE FEELING RIGHT NOW. If you’re not feeling anything, that doesn’t compute. That’s dead air. That’s not what the public wants. Make shit up. Over emote. Melodramatise. It’s good television. It’s what the public wants. If only we could get rid of those distracting bits of cooking, dancing, singing, then TV shows could just be filled with contestants telling us what they’re feeling right now. Wouldn’t it be great? Come on! Why stop there? Why can’t we mic up people as they’re dying? How’s it feel? What are you feeling right now? If only we didn’t have to actually DO anything in our lives, then we’ve have more time to tell everybody what we’re feeling right now. It’s already out there. Why stop there? Why not create these dialogograms that hover in front of us as we walk the city streets, telling everyone who walks past what we’re feeling right now? Wouldn’t it be great! Think of the product placement marketing potential! It’s not like we haven’t got the technology. It’s out there already! The orgy of information! Get synergised, you fucken luddite, you’re missing out! There’s lines and lines of people already there in the freezing cold with their sleeping bags camping outside the Apple store for tomorrow’s release of the latest app, the app to end all apps, the app that brings the noise, the app that connects everyone, the app that proves how far we’ve come, the app that lets everyone tell everyone what they’re feeling right now. What’s it called? iVuvuzela.
And you know what I fucken hate? People with opinions. At your barbeque: you know what’s wrong with your football team? No, I fucken don’t. Why don’t you tell me? At your workplace: you know what’s wrong with the government? No, I’d never considered it. Do enlighten. In the taxi: you know who I’d vote for in Masturchef? No, but I suspect I’m going to discover it. Opinions. You can get them live, on TV, on the radio, on your phone, in every newspaper, gradually taking the space of “old school” crap like serious reportage, and everywhere online. Opinions by nobodies who haven’t really done anything but have opinions, opinions by people whose only qualification for sharing their opinion is the fact that they have an opinion. What does Forcebook ask you to put in your profile? What is the very single raison d’etre of Twatter? TELL US WHAT YOU’RE FEELING RIGHT NOW. And as for blogs, don’t get me started. Blogs. Opening up the super info highway to endless streams of unwarranted opinion, words and words and more words, precious seconds you’ll never get back, blogs to suck away your life like a girl smoking a cigarette sucking away the suppleness of her skin, blogs and blogs and more blogs, blah blah de fucking blah. Anyone who writes a blog should be put in a detention camp. Anyone who writes a blog should be treated as a war criminal. Anyone who writes a blog –
- hang on… that’s me, isn’t it?
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