R.I.P. Steve Strange of Visage

3 03 2015

Steve Stranve IXFor those of you who don’t know, the ‘Fade to Grey’ song that all of you know was by Visage. Bonus points to those of you who can match Steve Strange with the image in the banner above.

Steve Strange was the lead singer of Visage. He was like Boy George in an alternate synthpop post-punk universe (wait, early ’80s London?) plus cocaine. He was part of the New Romantic scene, a movement which spanned from the late ’70s to the early ’80s and encapsulated an art form in various media which included androgynous dress and makeup, new electronic sounds in music, and an obsession with Vivienne Westwood’s casual ‘pirate’ look, which we can see if we simply YouTube Dead Or Alive singing ‘Misty Circles’ live.

It was that era that introduced elegantly-executed androgyny to the masses. Though short-lived (at least in the underground), it influenced the course of the ’80s by challenging people’s thoughts about gender roles, and what men and women should be. Was Annie Lennox a man, or a woman? I mean, do we seriously think this is weird nowadays? She had short hair and wore a fucking suit. Can’t a woman do that?? That’s exactly the point behind artists like the New Romantics. You, the viewer, are appalled by the fact that a short-haired ginger woman can wear a suit while dancing around in a field of cows, but you stare on in bovine wonder.

Everything weird and upturned is good.

I am sharing these videos (above and below) because:

A) Steve Strange, the tortured but talented lead singer of Visage, recently died of heart failure in hospital in Egypt (I will never accept this–it can’t be),

B) ‘She’s Electric’ is perhaps one of the greatest synthpop/dance anthems ever composed (how sublimely pulsing and ethereal?),

C) I am a big, fat, slutty whore for New Romantic music​, and

D) I just bought the CD single for ‘She’s Electric’ online! SO can’t wait to hear all the mixes. I’m especially excited about the extended mix. (Usually I like the original mix better than any of the shitty club mixes, so an extended mix of the original is like a diamond in my vagina.)

R.I.P. Steve Strange. Who cares about all your coke benders at the Blitz Club? You were a genius songwriter and performer. And you left us with what might be Visage’s best album. You left us with fashions which confuse people, makeup which makes a straight man blanch, artistic ideas which make the queerest heart quiver, and a renewed purpose behind showy spectacles like RuPaul’s Drag Race. If anybody went out in style, it was vous.





Erasure’s Violet Flame

18 09 2014

Erasure - Violet Flame (Photo Shoot)K, synthpop whores! It’s Erasure time again. For a lot of people, the release of a new album by a veteran band means, ‘Oh, fuck! All three remaining members of the Beatles are getting back together again to record…a re-recording of a 1994 compilation of…their number-one hits from, um, the 1960s, which is the only decade they made music!’ So, basically, nothing new.

Erasure are not like that. They consistently release a new album once every two to three years, often with delicious re-releases interspersed with new, original material, and re-inventing their style of synthpop with the latest producers. Most bands that originated in the ’80s can’t boast that, even if some rapper is using a synthesiser riff from their main hit in their latest song.

Erasure’s new album is a masterwork of electronic dance pop. And I say this as a hardcore fan who has criticised the band in the past for producing work which could be judged as marginal because it relied too much on trends in acoustic folk rock (which I deplore). This is entirely different:

My least-favourite album (Loveboat) was highly synthesised, well-written, well-thought-out, and expertly executed. So I am speaking in relative terms.

The band’s two previous albums, Light At The End Of The World and Tomorrow’s World (minus the Christmas album released last year) were very good and had very coherent, well-written dance anthems, but if we are talking about coherent, well-written dance anthems, The Violet Flame blows them out of the water. It is absolutely majestic in its scope. The lead singer, Andy Bell, boasts an incredibly fluid and nimble voice, synthesiser wizard Vince Clarke creates the most beautifully subtle, lush synthesiser arrangements, Andy Bell Erasureand producer Richard X polishes it off with his own HI-NRG take. The result is the perfect melodic dance-pop album.

Let’s talk about songs. ‘Under The Waves’ immediately stands out as an infectious bubblegum tune. It is the catchiest song I have heard in years. ‘Oh-oooh-oh-oooh-oh’, goes the chorus, on and on, against a thick, up-and-down italo-disco bassline. Also notable is the tune ‘Sacred’, which celebrates the extent to which love will realise itself. The most infectious and important of these transcendent dance songs, though, is the sinister and roiling ‘Paradise’. It is all about throwing away everything anybody thought about you and following your passion. It is about being true to yourself. And it’s a dance anthem! To me, this is perfection.

The Violet Flame is perhaps the best dance album I have ever heard. I hate most club mixes—they sound boring and monotonous to me. This album offers dance music that satisfies several important criteria: lyricism, melody, danceability, content. It is lyrical, melodic, danceable, and offers remotely intelligible insight into modern-day relationships and social issues. Erasure have outdone themselves with this album.

 

 

 

 





30 Years of Italo-Disco

28 08 2014

Michelle Pfeiffer Grease II Cool RiderIsn’t it funny how musical styles come and go? I remember 1950s rock ‘n’ roll being popular when I was growing up in the early ’80s, mainly because of Grease and Grease II. Michelle Pfeiffer straddling a ladder was one of my most cherished memories (and her electrocuting Christopher Walken to death in Batman Returns was perhaps my favourite scene in cinematic history). Everything ’50s was cool then, from the turned-up cuffs to the white socks. One of the first songs I learned to sing was ‘Rock Around The Clock’, but that was in 1982, long after the original song had been played on the radio, let alone penned. I was flooded with images of Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Boy George. The same era had a peculiar dance beat which nobody had ever heard before—a 4-4 dance beat–with synthesiser arrangements.

In the early ’80s a new sound flooded the dance clubs of Europe and trickled down to America (as usual—new sounds happen in Europe first). It was a style of dance music with a rich, heavy, persistent bassline and simple yet elegant melody. It originated in Italy, with musicians like Giorgio Moroder, who produced music not only for Donna Summer, but also for films like Midnight Express and iconic ’80s fantasy films like The Never Ending Story. It clearly derived from 1970s disco, but reinvented itself with modern synthesisers. It became known as Italo-disco.

Probably my favourite italo-disco tune is ‘Hypnotic Tango’, by My Mine:

Isn’t it absolutely gorgeous?

One of my other favourite italo-disco tunes is ‘Orient Express’, by Wish Key:

Isn’t that the most seductive dance tune you’ve ever heard?

Glass Candy basically aced the whole italo-disco revival with the following tune:

How beautiful is that? Ida No, the singer of Glass Candy, is totally awesome.

New italo-disco style music is being created by Sally Shapiro:

Absolutely sublime.

Italo-disco is a gorgeous dance style. You just have to love dance, melody, and rhythm.





9 Reasons Why Anti-Ally Attitudes Make No Sense

30 01 2014

Macklemore GrammysI am tired of members of the LGBT community griping about how people who support them shouldn’t support them. It makes no sense. It is embarrassing to much of the LGBT community, and it makes them look like spoiled ingrates.

Macklemore recently performed at the 56th Grammy Awards alongside Mary Lambert (an open lesbian), Queen Latifah, and Madonna. He performed a song you would think all the gays would be grateful for: ‘Same Love’. Well, apparently that wasn’t good enough.

Some gays were up-in-arms over his performance. I can’t even begin to enumerate the asinine reasons why.

Let’s start with this superb piece by Arielle Scarcella:

Um, how can you refute any of these points? Please tell me how.

These are the types of arguments I encountered subsequent to Macklemore’s performance:

1) Straights cannot understand what it’s like to be gay.

Exactly! That is why Macklemore’s statement is so important. He doesn’t know. And yet he is still supportive, because he knows it’s Macklemore Grammys IIwrong. He shows empathy. Isn’t it a good thing when a non-member shows empathy for a member of a group? Or are you just divisive?

2) I didn’t ask for help.

He didn’t give it because you asked. He gave it out of magnanimity because young people needed it. Nobody is forcing your hand to accept his help. You can take it or leave it. Are you really going to take him to task for such a noble gesture? What is really annoying is that you suggest he’s forcing you to appreciate him. That is just disingenuous.

3) Privilege isn’t a shield.

He isn’t creating privilege as a shield! He is challenging his own privilege, and those of other straight men, by rapping about it! Do you really think he’s leveraging his fame to defend himself against criticism? Of what? Defending you? Now you’re just starting to sound like a paranoid conspiracy theorist.

4) He’s white56th GRAMMY Awards - Show

And? I understand some black people might not identify with his music, but surely we cannot ignore the black people who do identify with it, or invalidate the content of his argument on the basis of his race alone.

5) He’s a man

So, what? He is trying to dismantle gender roles based on sexual orientation. Isn’t that one of the most gender-subversive things a man (or anybody) can do? He is unusual among men for that reason, and that does deserve appreciation.

6) He’s exploitative.

How? He has leveraged his fame to advocate for gay rights. How is that exploitative? It can only be beneficial to the gay rights movement. He could donate to a gay charity, but that wouldn’t have the same visible impact. The mainstreaming of gay rights does require some commercialisation. It really  isn’t a big deal.

7) You have to look at the context.

What context? These are Macklemore’s lyrics. What else are you looking for? A swastika? We are being challenged on so many sides, and occasionally a beam of supportive light shines in through a grand lunette window. It is a ray of hope, and it is from a privileged person. That is our context. How can it hurt, then, to accept the help of an ally??

Madonna8) He can’t speak for us queer people.

He can’t? What would you rather he do? Stand on the sidelines and let Pat Robertson take over? Or outright oppose you like Pat Robertson? That is just ridiculous. No, you don’t have to know exactly what it’s like to be queer in order to support queer rights, and, yes, the majority can speak for the minority–out of basic human empathy, compassion, and solid ethical reasoning.

9) I’m just going to couch the terms of my argument in newfangled rhetoric.

This is perhaps the most intellectually disingenuous and disrespectful attitude I have encountered. I don’t know if it is rooted in some queer radical movement or what, but it has no business in honest dialectic. Underprivileged. What does that mean? That you can get away with saying anything you want, regardless of the illogic of your argument, just because you happen to belong to a so-called ‘underprivileged’ group? Because it doesn’t. You still need to abide by the laws of reason and open, honest debate. The fact that you may be less privileged than a member of another group does not automatically make your argument valid. It is just as likely that you are leveraging your own status as ‘underprivileged’ to bitch about people who are actually trying to help you. Which makes no sense.Macklemore Grammys IV

It is perfectly possible for underprivileged people to begin to assume the position of the privileged by taking their current position for granted (French Revolution).

The point is this: yes, LGBT people are underprivileged. However, being underprivileged does not protect you from being a total, complete asshole. The fact is we do need allies, and we start to look like real shitheads when we refuse to acknowledge our allies’ hard work to redress the crimes of the past. As Arielle Scarcella says in her video above, allies are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. Personally, I am shit-holy grateful as an effeminate gay man. I will be damned if I don’t show my allies the gratitude they deserve. If you don’t like that, so be it—but keep in mind, we are not so privileged as you may think.

Oh, and during the Grammy Awards ceremony, Queen Latifah herself performed a mass wedding ceremony for both gay and straight couples, so what the fuck are you motherfuckers complaining about? Hm?





OMD (Late to the Game, as Usual)

10 10 2013

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The DarkYes, I already know that Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) are the seminal synthpop band of the late ’70s and early ’80s. The question is: how the fuck did I miss the fact that they reformed in 2005 and released albums in 2010 and 2013? I attribute it to marketing. Marketing, commerce, pop culture trends, avarice, blah blah blah.

Happily, OMD entertained my tardiness by travelling back in time to the very distant past–2010–to release their first album in something like fifteen years–History of Modern. And it is amazing. And then they released another album a couple years later in 2013–English Electric, which is equally amazing.

Hold my breasts, Jesus. Is this for real?

Yes. It is, and OMD’s new material gives veteran synthpop duo Erasure a run for their money–and I am a hardcore Erasure fan.

Consider the extended version of ‘History of Modern (Part I)’:

But it doesn’t end there. OMD’s synthpop genius carries on to their song ‘Sister Marie Says’:

Perhaps their most poignantly beautiful song since their reunion is ‘Stay With Me’, from their 2013 album English Electronic:

Actually, come to think of it, I think ‘Helen of Troy’, from the same album, might be even more stunning:

This last track reminds me of a lot of material being produced by newer bands like College, FM Attack, and Parallels. Just look up those last three bands to see what I mean.

Honestly, I am impressed by OMD. They have made an amazing comeback. They didn’t try to kowtow to current electronic dance trends–otherwise they would have ended up sounding like Lady Gaga–rather, they wrote intelligent material which incorporates modern technology to create delicious, melodic pop anthems. That is what I love about synthpop bands. They evolve.





Erasure Announce Release of New Christmas Album, “Snow Globe”

13 09 2013

Erasure - Snow Globe“Erasure are releasing a Christmas album in November! It’s called–oh, fuck. You’re Muslim.”

That is exactly how I introduced the new Erasure album to my Muslim friend, who told me he loves Christmas music.

Erasure are releasing their first-ever full-length Christmas album on 11 November, and it consists of both classic Christmas songs and original material. This is perfect. I love Christmas albums that combine classics with original works.

The first single off the album, according to the Erasure Information Service, is a rendition of Gaudete, a Latin Christmas carol believed to have been composed some time during the sixteenth century, but which probably existed as a hymn in the late Medieval period. It sounds deliciously haunting, right? It is a bold idea for a single, too.

Veteran folk band Steeleye Span have already released a stunningly beautiful version of this old carol, and quite frankly I believe it belongs in everyone’s Christmas playlist.

Isn’t it hauntingly gorgeous? I hope Erasure improve upon it. With Vince’s slick, synthesised production and Andy’s peregrine-like vocals, I doubt they will fail to please. Vince and Andy have a strangely, chillingly cool understanding of pop music which I adore.

I know it is barely the beginning of Autumn, but I love the Autumn and Winter seasons. Fleeces, pumpkins, trees decorated in candy and glass baubles, and new tunes to listen to. So this new album by Erasure is absolutely perfect.





Jinkx Monsoon Kills Detox on “Drag Race” Lip Sync

21 04 2013

Jinkx Monsoon RuPaul's Drag Race Lip Synch IIII would have posted about this earlier, but I only just found the perfect clip of it on Youtube. If you’ve been following the latest season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, you’ll have noticed it was the first time kooky underdog-turned-fierce-multi-talented-competitor Jinkx Monsoon had to lip sync for her life. And boy did she put Detox Icunt in her place–albeit in her sweetly flamboyant, non-aggressive manner, which I must say is perhaps her most refreshing and endearing trait.

In Episode 11 of the show, the queens had to perform a ‘sugar ball’ as well as create a candy-inspired look in three categories: ‘super-duper sweet sixteen teenage party girl’, ‘sugar mama executive realness’, and ‘candy couture: edible eleganza’. Alaska killed the cougar construction supervisor look. Amen! For the last category, Detox donned this odd black-and-green toxic licorice contraption, Roxxxy Andrews created this very precisely made long stringy licorice look, Jinkx wore this weird candy-cane-deer-on-crack look, and Alaska Thunderfuck cobbled together a gorgeous bodice-corset thing with thick, gorgeous plumes of cotton candy bursting out of the top and bottom of the piece, and lollipops stuck to the bodice and cotton candy plumes. It was the best-conceived outfit, and Alaska deserved to win that week’s challenge for it.

The look is one thing–the full repertoire of talents is another. RuPaul had Jinkx and Detox lip sync to a tune unfamiliar to most of us–Malambo No. 1an operatic mambo piece performed by Peruvian chanteuse Yma Sumac and composed by Moisés Vivanco. From the start Jinkx nailed the rhythm with her thump-a-thump hip thrusts and bomp-a-bomp fist twists. By the end of this most unusual of lip sync challenges,  RuPaul had proclaimed Jinkx the winner and sent Detox packing. Jinkx was able to prove her talent as a lip sync artist, singer, dancer, and actor, and she was able to meld all of these things into one stellar performance. But perhaps most important, she was able to express her appreciation of vintage drag and burlesque culture.

I didn’t want Detox to go. I thought she deserved to be in the top three along with Jinkx and Alaska, but Detox and Roxxxy were really busy being jealous of Jinkx, while Alaska seemed really kind towards Jinkx and circumspect about her former RoLaskaTox teammates’ jealousy. She even began to identify with Jinkx as a common comedy queen. How often does that occur? Well, I thought Roxxxy should go because she seemed professional yet uncreative. But Ru decides. If you really want my opinion, the triumvirate of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5, in order of the contestants who deserve to win, are Jinkx Monsoon, Alaska Thunderfuck, and Detox. We will see shortly who takes the crown.