This combination of words will never not be beautiful and will always give me a deep sense of joy and hope. Also, Billy Ray Cyrus. Can’t nobody tell me nothin’.
Very tardy here. Mid-afternoon on day 1 of DICE Conference / Festival back on the last day of October. Coming out of Taborkirche into the cold sun and a jet leaving a straight line of contrail across the blue.
I read Hattie Collins and Olivia Rose’ This Is Grime late-last year, a few months after Grime4Corbyn and the UK elections had happened. Any book about Grime has to come up against that one, and everything I said about their book and Grime still stands. I’m not in the mood lately for writing long book ‘reviews’ or whatever, so two things, how and why, I keep returning to for This is Grime and Dan Hancox’ Inner City Pressure: The Story of Grime. The why is to understand one part of late-20th and early-21st century colonialism and racism, how New Labour and the Tories, gentrification, racial profiling, defunding education and social services, continue an unbroken agenda of white supremacism targeting immigrants and generations of children of immigrants like unfinished business. The music comes from being young and black and poor and treated like shit in your own country for the long haul. The how is to read these books as companions, flipping between reading and listening, starting Inner City Pressure with the Conflict DVD, Roll Deep on pirate radio Deja FM in 2003. It’s on YouTube, 36 minutes of madness. Pay attention to the names and the crews and the places, all of it’s on YouTube somewhere. Listen to the words and the noise, especially the earliest stuff. Maybe it won’t do anything for you; for me, it’s like coming up for air.
Georg, with whom I worked on co-writing The Station, asked me if I’d like to do another piece of co-writing with him, this time an opera libretto. I said yes (duh!). Last Friday, we had a three-way chat with Henry Vega, the composer, about Alan Turing, neural networks, science fiction, queer stuff, and all, for a sharp hour (Georg’s good like that with his one-hour meetings).
Today I spent a couple of hours (after some dipping of toes last night) in installing TensorFlow-Char-RNN, a “a character level language model using multilayer Recurrent Neural Network,” as made wildly lovable by Janelle Shane of Letting neural networks be weird. That involved installing TensorFlow. I went for the direct MacOS approach (after toying with either a Vagrant VM or Docker container) of the Virtualenv flavour. Plus Python 3. And pip. Dependencies. We have them.
A bit of faffing around, and out is spat a ‘Shakespeare’:
t ‘vkdwsa avf
neu irot rS
, mvuaeea giCsouo aed renat rs
;iiweszteseooiiWhe thrr l st !htt :hsre
I mean, I was expecting a single, long ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa’, so this was progress.
More faffing, fans to 6000rpm, CPU to 500%, and some short while later, ‘Shakespeare’!
Before we proceed any further,
Or each doth now foul branch with thy preser’d up
Young to devise me him;
But in my jewities rebeeve me to this,
Your soul than daggers and breeding
some abrother Arms
What will be pronound with a husband; he’s beauty much or a slaughter,
But I’ll wring my false find than how ill.
“Paintings on my WhatsApp and my iPhone too”
— “Paintings? Like, art?”
“something something hashtag merky …”
“Merky? What’s Merky?”
“Like he’s got lots of money so he’s driving a Mercedes, like a Merc?”
“Like Wu Tang C.R.E.A.M. or Young Thug Check?”
“Yeah, nah, I dunno, he’s wearing Adidas shower flipflops. Is that especially merky?”
“I dunno even what I’m listening to. What are we listening to here, Frances?”
“Grime. We are listening to Grime. We are edjukating areselfs.”
“Merky. Merking, murdering, like killing it, smashing it. Like deadly.”
“Yeah. Innernet says so. Also he’s not looking at paintings of ‘The brown skinned girls and the white ones too’, it’s peng ting.”
“What’s that, then?”
“errr … yeah, maybe like poontang? … wait! Innernet says UK slang of Jamaican Patois origin, someone who’s attractive. And ‘ting’ is ‘thing’, so, ‘pretty things’.”
“O. That makes more sense.”
“This Stormzy. This one I like. What else you got?”
“There’s this one called JME? He sings about murking too.”
“I dunno if it’s singing, love.”
“If you don’t know what Grime is, then you must be 86”
“JME, he clocked me listening. And he’s skanking on rollerskates. What’s this one with Giggs? — Did he just work Harry Potter, HSBC bank, and a Uni degree in?”
“… Digestives, cinnamon tea …”
“I think I’m having that reaction like when I first heard Black Metal!”
“Good, eh? Blame Grime 4 Corbyn.”
“O! So that’s why you’re reading This is Grime, ’cos Corbyn was reading it when JME met him.”
“All of that, yeah.”
“Is it good, then?”
“It’s mad, innit. It’s got photos by Olivia Rose and Hattie Collins did the words.”
“Two women, then? Like when Kemistry & Storm ran the drum & bass scene in the late ’90s?”
“Yeah! I’m just gonna listen to their DJ Kicks set, bangs like all fuck.”
“Reminds me a lot of grime, too, and early-’90s dub, but on 45 instead of 33.”
“So you listened yet to all the grime lot, then?”
“Nah, not yet. Bits and pieces, Tried a couple of the early classics, like Lethal Bizzie, Wiley, Dizzee Rascal …”
“So good! Makes me laugh it’s so good.”
“Lord of the Mics! in Jammer’s basement.”
“Fire in the Booth! NoLay, Lady Lykez, A Dot, Ms Banks, Shystie.”
“You’re repping a lot of women there.”
“Yeah, that’s the problem, like JME said, Too Many Man. Sian Anderson, Julie Adenuga.”
“But the book, what about the book?”
“It’s like this. It’s black and white photos and all these people talking one after the other for 320 pages from before the start when grime didn’t even have a name right up to now, when Stormzy is charting in the UK at No. 1, and grime almost changed a national election in 2017. It’s political, it’s art, it’s so London, it’s so … like, this is the future. Like, the mayor of London is a feminist, Muslim son of working class Pakistani immigrants who grew up in council housing, and grime is a bunch of kids who grew up in Bow E3 in the late ’90s and early ‘00s in council housing. It’s about immigration and colonialism and racism and making art when you’re at the bottom, and then suddenly, you’re not. It’s about history, just as the internet changed how we remember things. It’s London. It’s beautiful. I love it so hard.”
From November last year, when I met Valquire, and Valerie and Sebastian from Noblisse Oblige and choreographed for their music video. I’ve had this for a while and seeing I’m doing an afternoon of non-work in front of screen, thought it was about time I put it here.
- Noblesse Oblige – Mata Hari
- A music video by Valquire Veljkovic
- Prop design: Isabel Simões
- Grip assistant: Jean Pidré
- Clothes: Tata Christiane
- Assistant Tata Christiane: Linnéa Broo Andersen
- Dance choreography: Frances d’Ath
- Dancers: Kaddish, Kana Tanaka, Nils Freyer, Elle Erdman, Irene Gonzáles, Elsa Loy
- Special appearance: Udo Wiegand
- Special thanks: Brina Stinehelfer, Nikolaus Schneider
- A valconsprojects production
Music and lyrics written by Valerie Renay, Sebastian Lee Philipp
Mata Hari appears on the Noblesse Oblige Album Affair of the Heart
A conversation before the show: girl-a, “wanna sit in the front row?”, girl-b, “nah I don’t wanna be that close when someone’s starkers …”. A sign on the door coming into the theatre (paraphrased) “This show contains violence, partial nudity, loud noises”. Notes from Troy Mundy: “‘Housewives on Fire’ is set in the late 50s and through to the early 60s … does our art and media truly represent our daily lives?”.
I was in the midst of confusion with the ACArts graduating dancers’ performance until just before the kitchen scene when I realised this wasn’t a work about 1950s morality in a country that has so far to go before overcoming its indelible prudery, but a homage to the great works of Baltimore from John Waters, Polyester, Pink Flamingos, Hairspray, other suburban dystopias like David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and the high modern irruption of The Other in Twin Peaks. My confusion between programme notes and performance cleared up, it became a dual question of what kind of homage was being made and why his programme notes were so misleading. Wilfully duplicitous, slyly skirting around the real agenda or something else?
To the dancing and a soundtrack of golden oldies we can all sing along to – if we come from the right culture, and skirts and jackets and shirts and shoes right out of Cry Baby, a fifties vintage explosion I was considering a timely backstage visit to purloin. Chris Hewitt had an evil, scary fixed grin all the way through that made me think he would made a perfect serial killer, all the while snatches of conversation drifted from the ensemble throwing themselves through all the dance steps of the era stitched into Troy’s endless arms and legs, spinning, cutting the air, swirling in and out of groups, fast and intertwined.
At some point the steps became a bit blurred and all looked the same. This settled in a difficult arrangement with the subliminal chatter that never quite achieved an out-of-place dreaminess I thought it was striving for, also not aided by the murky lighting in this scene. Throughout I felt a tension between a desire to commit absolutely to the b-grade movie aesthetic and a contrary pull towards a certain aesthetic of contemporary dance, both somewhat incompatible.
Thinking of Divine eating dogshit at the end of Pink Flamingos made me want to see the dancers pushed further, they are obviously capable and willing to go there and more smut and discomfort while unraveling the historical revisionism of the 50s would have been great. As it was, I kept thinkng, so ok all the clichés have been consciously accounted for but what does it say?
Into the kitchen for a Hugh Hefner swingers dinner party and once more Chris is the lecherous, slimy and revolting heel. After the all-out dance-mania of the first act, this second act is decidedly darker, swirling into a death spiral abyss of adultery, overdoses, villainy. recrimination and despair, accompanied by a Vegas crooner ripe with nihilism and blandishments and even blowing away your husband with a Magnum counts for shit in the history of the universe.
This scene in its entirety from the happy couple at breakfast until the explosion of viscera and dead ghosts, relying wholly on the fine abilities of the dancers in embodying caricatures of golden age polyester lifestyle let itself down in the editing. In engaging with a genre, particularly b-grade and cult, it’s not so much the narrative arc where the rapt attention lies as in the ability to manipulate the form. It’s not for his cardboard sets and morphine-addled performances that Ed Wood’s oeuvre is the pinnacle of trash, it’s the spectacle of sheer unending catastrophe, and for Housewives, it was always a little too clean.
Rachel Fenwick as the four-eyed wallflower, social misfit and sneezing puking misery crumpling in on herself in despair, the valium-bearing drug fairy in blue, the mink stole socialite insensate in her own detritus, Chris again utterly beautiful in the porno-maids’ chorus line, a slow landslide of mess accumulating while on the bed a tryst becomes four-way action with tits and (sadly not naked) cocks and pussies, bizarrely sliding between the Red Room in Blue Velvet and the bed scene in Centrestage.
I like porn, but I couldn’t work out what genre Troy was working in, or if he was saying anything about sex and gender in the world we live, especially in Australia that has such a fixated obsession with being repulsed by dirt and sex and bodies. It’s easy to ostensibly engage in such social critique at a safe distance of half a century but I think in turn this merely reifies the dire stereotypes that plague Australia and the remnants of Queen Victoria’s empire. Vegas guy’s backup chorus girls were hot eye candy though.
I had this feeling especially in this scene of a hesitation from Troy to wholly commit to the mess and sex and bacchanalia of the soirée, not helped also by a soundtrack that completely didn’t work. The first scene’s 50s compilation was entirely appropriate, and the black third, cycles of voices in hysteria also was unsettlingly effective, like low-grade torture and babies screaming, but here I though silence would have been better, or Shostakovich’s apocalyptic Leningrad opus, or anything other than the easy sub-Aphex Twin noodling that has passed for acceptable contemporary dance music for way too long. I feel like I say the same thing every performance I see and it’s the greatest frustration for me, the banality of sound in dance.
Death. Blood. We go to the foyer. Interval.
The technical decision to have an interval to prepare the stage for the black final act broke the momentum and I would liked to have seen a more considered approach to this, one that didn’t require us to depart for a length of time about equal to what remained to be performed.
Electric chair. Bonnie Williams like some sadistic lesbian prison guard from Jesu Franco’s Sadomania shook her ass and pumped her night stick and would put all the girls at Crazy Horse out of a job. Tara Robertson then reminded me of the mesmerising and powerful Carlie Angel whom I saw Sunday at a showing of Mia Mason’s, and then … Rachel again. Clad in black in the guttering far corner, entombed in the heavy unlit drapery void while unavoidable directly in our line of sight four dancers in a death mania, yet Rachel with small arthritic twists of hands and fingers stole the moment.
Then more guns, Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army, a quick rush for the finale and loss of innocence that would have been John F Kennedy’s assassination or Charles Manson’s Helter Skelter had it been included and then a watch and wait for us to depart.
All the dancers were beautiful to watch. I need also to mention Emma Stokes in the lead, who has an elusive strength and emotion in both her dancing and acting, and is the centre around which the work revolves. For me it’s a special thing to see these dancers, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a tertiary dance performance in Melbourne, and the first for me here. It’s as much about gaining some familiarity with the scene here and how everybody moves as it is about seeing a performance and I was really impressed with how determined and self-assured they all are both as individuals and as an ensemble.
Walking to a bookshop, walking to East St Kilda, walking through Alma Park, listening to my iPod and I was thinking how much excellent music I’ve picked up from all over the place, and then my favourite band of the year (besides my other favourites … nah really, I think this is the one) came on and I had to listen to the entire album. My Little Airport from Hong Kong on Harbour Records would be huger than colossal if they were from say, Greenland, or Canada, and sang in English instead of Cantonese. But they don’t. She sings about Phoebe who won’t be her girlfriend, and Josephine’s shop in Mongkok that really isn’t worth it, or 王菲，關於你的臉 – Wang Fei, about your face, and more songs about other famous Hong Kong people and places you go on the MTR. Anyway, download some songs from their website.