Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Farewell Masked Men

 Daft Punk made a brief cameo in the Aftershocks coda to S+A, as pioneers of the becoming-animation of pop in the 21st Century (alongside Gorillaz):

“Clint Eastwood” by Gorillaz – Damon Albarn and pals hiding behind cartoon alter-egos - and the anime style videos for Daft Punk’s  “One More Time” and “Aerodynamic” refloat the Archies idea of the imaginary pop group. It’s a sideways recognition of the increasingly fantastical turn taken by pop video, with stars approaching the status of figments spun into existence by teams of technicians: make-up artists, hair stylists, lighting crews, video and audio postproduction. Singing itself has become hyper-real: vocal deficits compensated for, or strengths drastically boosted, by the chopping up and re-stitching of lines or even single words from different takes, with the composited performance further tinted and perfected using pitch-correction technology.  The audio signature of 21st Century pop is set to become the superhuman glisten glazed across the radioscape by AutoTune and Melodyne. As similarly intensive processes of editing and computer-generated imagery weave their way into video, the borderline between a human star and an animated creation gets decidedly blurry.

You could call it digital glam, or digi-glam for short. It’s the logical extension of pop video’s nonrealistic and nonsequential traits.  (A significant threshold was crossed in the late Eighties with the multiple costume changes and senselessly shifting backdrops in promos like Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and Madonna’s  “Express Yourself” and  “Vogue.”). Just like sound in the ProTools  era, moving images have become a moldable goo of binary code to be recombined in Frankenstein fashion. As the 21st Century unfurls, scenes in film and TV lose integrity as real-world spaces, with material composited to improve the compositional balance – why not drop a church in the background?  Postproduction technicians known as graders or colorists tweak the visual palette dramatically, contrasting hues to make figures “pop” out of their surroundings.  Film it flat and fix it in the mix – that’s the ethos now.  The kind of Photoshop trickery long used in fashion photography becomes routine in video, with “motion retouching” applying a perfect sheen to singers with blemished complexions (often by “sampling” skin-tissue pixels from elsewhere),  removing lipstick from teeth, or shaving down the nose of a very famous pop star who appears later in this epilogue.

Daft Punk sing about “Digital Love” in 2001. But by decade’s end, they’ve fallen out of it and are analogue-curmudgeons decrying the very techniques they’d exalted and excelled at.   On 2013’s Random Access Memories, they implore “Give Life Back To Music.”  Trop tard, mes amis: pop has entered the uncanny valley of no return.

My tribute to "Digital Love" at NPR Music.

Daft Punk also appeared in this recent piece I did for Tidal on masks, masquerade, disguise and greasepaint-thick make-up in pop history: 

"Daft Punk started wearing their trademark robot helmets to both preserve their privacy and extend their sci-fi glam aesthetic. Thomas Bangalter once told me that the futuristic kitsch of the headgear was a way of “playing with anonymity and showmanship at the same time.” The artwork for Daft Punk’s debut album, Homework, features a Kiss poster, but the duo’s biggest influence is Brian De Palma’s 1974 rock musical Phantom of the Paradise, whose protagonist is a vengeful musician who hides his deformed features behind a silver mask. “Phantom embodied everything we liked when we were 13 — rock, glam, horror, movies,” Bangalter said. “It’s the film we’ve watched the most number of times, and it’s about a guy with a leather wardrobe and a mask.” Daft Punk also see their helmets as akin to the superhero’s cape: “We love the idea of the person who has the powers, but no one knows who he is.” 

Phantom of the Paradise - essentially a glam rock movie - also makes a cameo in S+A

"Movies about rock, rock-about-rock – there was a lot of it about in the first half of the Seventies. Brian De Palma’s 1974’s Phantom of the Paradise could be seen as a “glam movie,” what with its Jobriath-like star Beef and the Alice Cooper parody The Undeads. Combining rock satire and campy horror movie, Phantom of the Paradise is the tale of a Spector-like Svengali called Swan and his diabolical schemes. De Palma also lampoons the nostalgia craze along the way:  Swan declares that “the future of rock’n’roll is its past” and one of his bands is the Sha Na Na-like revival troupe The Juicy Fruits."   


Thursday, February 4, 2021

SOPHIE sadness


Shock and Awe was finished in January 2016 - a few weeks after the death of David Bowie - but if it had been completed a few years later, I would definitely have included SOPHIE in the long end section called Aftershocks: A Partial Inventory of Glam Echoes and Reflections. 

Because "Faceshopping" in particular is a digi-glam tour de force. 


Here's what I said about the video-single in the infamous C-tronica piece: 

"The 2018 song and video works simultaneously as a critique and a celebration of the idea of self-as-brand, drawing inspiration equally from 21st century social media and from the tradition of flamboyant display in ballroom and drag. A digital simulacrum of Sophie’s face—already a stylized mask of makeup—is shattered and reconstituted using computer-animation effects.

Here's some further thoughts aired on Dissensus and elaborated a bit: 

... What intrigued me about SOPHIE is this collision of extreme exteriority but then still a lingering belief in the idea of interiority. 

In interviews,  SOPHIE sometimes used the words "authentic" and "authenticity" as positive terms 

Some say that the album title Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides is intended to be read phonetically - "I love every person's insides"

An idea continued on the album's other single "It's Okay To Cry", which contains the line "I think your inside is your best side

Again playing on the contradiction between exteriority and interiority: the photographable pose ("your best side") versus deep hidden truth ("your inside").

Between selfie and self. 

Tears as a tear in the 2D image presented to the world. The abject inside leaking out.

The Superflat SuperSelf.   Surface as Shield. An inscrutable mask.

So there's a tension that is unresolved between the allure of digi-glamour (creating doctored images  - selfies or videoworks - and disseminating them for unknown eyes) and a lingering longing to be real, to be unprotected and honestly vulnerable,  nakedly pathetic even.  Because the truth is also weakness and damage. 

That is further enacted in the songs not just thematically but in the sound itself - a combo of super-glistening surface sheen and hyper-contoured sounds versus messy splurges of sound and tearing, shredding percussion....

The immaculate  versus maculate (the latter sound-palette evocative of stress, abjection, fragility, torsion).

A sonic dramatization of a fraught mental space caught between the opposed demands of exteriority versus interiority ..   expressive also of an unresolved tension between the idea of the self as performative and constructed versus the idea of identity as innate and fated. 

"Dramatization" is the word  - with the kind of music made by SOPHIE and others, there's a feeling that the music is staged. You don't  immerse yourself in the sound, lose yourself in it; you almost look at it. It enthralls you, but you remain external to it, at a distance: watching it as a sonic spectacle. A ceremony. 

That's why the phrase "tour de force" feels right. It's hard for me to imagine someone listening to "Faceshopping" in a habitual sort of way. It's too imposing. More like a show, an event to experience  rather than something that can accompany  everyday activity.  

A flagellant pageant of ritual rhythm. 

The opening salvo of lyric, as delivered by Cecile Believe - 

My face is the front of shop

My face is the real shop front

My shop is the face I front

I'm real when I shop my face

- also makes me think of a book I read for S+A:  Erving Goffman’s 1959 study of social life as theatre The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, in which he formulated concepts like “impression management” and the “personal front.”  

The song is a deeply ambivalent commentary on the culture of art-I-fice and self-selling

Today's digi-glamorous Instaglam  spaces - a honeycomb hall of mirrors infinity infested by influencers (people paid to be seen - seen with products) - is like a decentralized and democratic version of the royal court.  A placeless place to be, a poser's paradise.  A festival of facades. (No wonder that the courtly world loved nothing more than a masquerade).


RIP SOPHIE  - a tragic loss of a person with a lot of creative life ahead and a lot of life-life ahead 

I was curious and keen to hear-see what unearth would come next... 


Thought for an essay: contrasting Poly Styrene and SOPHIE,  1970s rad-feminism and 2010s xenofeminism, "when I put on my make-up / the pretty little mask's not me" versus "Scalpel, lipstick, gel /action, camera, lights"


"Identity is the crisis can't you see..."


  ... or at least, if not endorsing / encouraging, then at least accepting the existence and inevitability of theatricality as a social mech...