EMP Pop Conference 2009 — Saturday presentations

Dan Booth and Disco Inferno

Okay, day two! Etc etc. This photo is from the end of the day — Dan Booth talking about Disco Inferno, one of my all time favorite bands, etc.

Josh Kun, “If I Embarrass You, Tell Your Friends: Bawdy Jewish Broads of the 1960s and the Space of the Risque” — starts with a tribute to Eve Sedgwick, Josh’s teacher as an undergrad. Pearl Williams! Little known about the night in Florida in 1961 where her American Jewish audience heard her blue routine as she appeared in all her finery. Clip is played — sass! Brass! Miss Pearlie! “She is a mother, honey!” 47 at the time, her first recorded effort, after honing her chops doing things like opening for Louis Prima. Cheating husbands, frustrated wives, battling her audience, Yiddish as a punchline and use of Jewish tunes in her act, “a big Jewish girl with a big Jewish mouth” with her predecessors and contemporaries, but Pearl wasn’t ‘aDORable!’ Williams had done Borscht Belt but it was too quaint. Belle Barth as most immediate forebear as Lenny Bruce agreed, noting older Jewish female influences. Barth as corrupter of morals! A clip is played, oh my — “Great group, the Four Skins!” Her own Borscht Belt cycle and the “dreck circuit” (mostly piano bars in hotels), initially a singer, a clip of a routine played. Great stuff! She can belt it out. Nightclubs were their performances, a place where Jewish women could claim a space for their observations and reactions, “unable to confine themselves to their proper place.” African American culture and clubs provided the model less so than Jewish culture, Josh notes connections via music, performances and routines. “A combined Jewishness and blackness” that limited their national profile in the fifties while the Jewish pop culture in the sixties limited it further. “Other than white, too Jewish, too black.” Barth bought her own club, a space of control and manipulating the audience, “messing with the men who paid to see her.” Women as going against all the stereotypes of hags and whores, being bags who loved whore jokes, “power in embarrassment.” A question of affect, expectations — not just talking about sex but rethinking it. Barth clip played, talk of mother(fucker) figures on album covers, not Fanny Brice but Mrs. Strakosh, though her character was actually wrong in Funny Girl — the risqué and grotesque was a way forward!

Karen Tongson, “Behind the Orange Curtain: Amusement and Queer Fantasy at ‘The K’ and ‘The 9.'” — Memorial Day 1984 and a teen club opens at Knott’s Berry Farm in OC, Reaganville. Conservative hotbed and suburban amusement, 1964’s “Evening with Barry (Goldwater)” party at Knott’s detailed. Knott’s as a ‘clean’ park so how did they invite in dance crews in 1984 and embrace the other? Snapshot of a larger project — how did these spots become queer locales for youth? Gwen Stefani talks about her debut solo album as being like the soundtrack to dancing at Studio K, a place and time (thus the eighties referents throughout the album). So what was it like? DJ from club: “Mohawks, makeup, danced weird, DJs were mixed and badass!” Photos from 25th anniversary party shown. Studio K as expressive venues — no official archives of Studio K though, few traces remain beyond memory, ‘remote intimacies’ — photos from veterans at the time shown. Gary Salisbury, exec who created the club, meets Karen at the Pirates Dinner Adventure! Oh OC. Shares archive paperwork, ‘take advantage of the breakdancing craze’! Studio K details provided, big success in its heyday. Salisbury mentioned his daughter going to LA clubs so why not a club in OC in a ‘safe/secure’ place? But a edgier reputation occurs due to the Asian and Pacific Islander communities settling in Buena Park, not what the execs expected. Videopolis at Disney seen as weak in comparison on several levels. Queer scene documentation at K is anecdotal, regulation through music, “Erasure breaks up gang fights, makes you want to hug!” Multiple worlds intersect — minitruck crews, KROQ’s bunch, others featured, “an aura of experimentation” but with the pop hits too. Anecdotes of queer awakenings in Studio K, “setting into motion the idea of the possibilities.” Amusement park as host of “affectional communities.” Not a bar, but a family themed environment, manufactured for profit, expands the boundaries of gay and lesbian history. New Order’s “Temptation” takes us out!

David Thomas, “Out of the Closet Shock! David Thomas Reveals That He Is Keane” — entered in progress and he’s in fine form! This is one of those ‘hard to capture’ presentations, apparently a meta story about an Albert having to present at a conference on music, with reference to Albert’s favorite pop musician, David Thomas! Oh wait maybe the name is Alfred. Too many great phrases and the question to the moderator, “Am I spitting all over you?” The Raincoats are talked about and celebrated but who can follow them? A dead end! Preservation of art, a politically motivated film festival in London, the moving and shambolic concert that followed, “I was deeply disturbed by the whole evening!” Gina says that the journalists only ever want to talk about sex, but he says “you’re being forced to kowtow to these commissars!” or something like that! “You are being corrupted by morons! SHOOT THEM!” Man this is beautiful. Talks about psychologists in Brighton who says he confused them, they called him someone with Asperger’s, now no longer confused! “Language of music should be one of secrets! Nothing transitory should intrude!” The PJ Harvey review story kills. The Raincoats can only get praise by being politically women, unknown “because they are women” — no! Because they make weird music, that’s why! Van Gogh painted weird stuff but the Raincoats are “stuck with an asterisk like Barry Bonds!” “Skip the thing about Dylan!” “Tell the punchline first!” Trashing punk as a “reactionary confection!” Obama ends identity politics? Keanism — “market a new invention? Pop music is your baby!” Would Keane emerge in mass culture? “A lost opportunity on a truly tragic scale?”

Copyright Criminals — rough cut of Kembrew McLeod‘s film on copyright and sampling shown — because it is a rough cut I will not comment on it in detail but it’s a nice overview of sampling history via hiphop and where we are now. Still rough as noted but there’s some good stuff there! Kembrew makes some thank yous and he sits down with Matmos to talk stuff over. Drew notes other films like Sonic Outlaws but that said film focuses more on the self consciously avant garde where this is different in its focus on hip hop and popular culture. Kembrew notes that most of those other films (including his others!) were focusing on white people where hiphop pushed the collage aesthetic into popular culture. Drew noted the difference between singer/songwriter/real vs sampling/parasitic/familiarity/nostalgia. Is mashup a cover for stealth oldies? But this film brings out things more interesting/militant work thus PE. Why no narrator? Kembrew notes this has been going as a film project since 2004 and didn’t want a voice of God narrator, let the artists speak for themselves. Drew: “How are you the writer, then?” (Kembrew wrote up and gave out the questions.) Various figures fell out of the film over time. Martin notes this honesty approvingly as well as letting the editing give the voices speak, but Drew says “Hey it’s about manipulation anyway! And can you finish this project?” Kembrew admits no final version truly can be done but they are working on cuts for broadcast etc. — “not a film for trainspotting insiders! For a general audience.” Notes possibilities with remixes of source material etc and other crazy projects on space sets! Martin notes a lot of original work in the film — Kembrew: “A thousand copyrighted snippets!” Working with a fair use lawyer to find the right balance for broadcast, especially involving “transformative use” as “enacting the subject of the film.” Drew: “Anything not cleared covered with a black blob.” Kembrew: “We’ve thought about it!” Drew: “Gilbert O’Sullivan won’t let you use those ugly photos of his!” Kembrew talks about his book Freedom of Expression about the subject but that in another medium it’s not so easy to talk about. Drew notes the problem with estates like Eliot and Joyce (and is happy Shakespeare’s estate died out given his research!) Kembrew notes Matmos doesn’t sample music much, less found samples more created ones. Drew noted their early tribute to Kurt Schwitters, himself a collage artist, chopping up the “Ursonata” for self release. Matador later said “Can we release it?” then checked and said “Oops the Schwitters estate are litigious now” — irony! And Drew has a bit of Schwitters art tattooed on his leg, he is living copyright infringement! So they replaced it for rereleases — alas! Audience questions! JD Considine notes the Girl Talk reference and asked “Has he been sued?” and the answer is “No! And they don’t know why!” Question: “Anyone trying to amend copyright law?” Kembrew: “Yeah, the RIAA…” Dan Booth: “About the deep history of copyright — only alluded to in the film, about copyright as artistic protection?” Kembrew: “Not enough time.” Brian Mackro: “Music industry collapse! Making it easier?” Martin: “Maybe there’s nobody who can sue anymore…ha fucking ha!” Further questions…final one from Mark Gunderson: “Liked Clyde Stubblefield’s conclusion, any other final wishes?” Kembrew: “More artists figure they should talk to each other/credit each other.” Drew liked the various reactions and we’re done! Off to lunch!

Amelia Abreu & Nathaniel Friedman, “You can’t put your arms around a memory: Object fetish and the digital realm of fandom” — if pop fans allowed themselves to be defined by the body, then there’s the question of desire, but we can’t look at them in straightforward terms due to media mediation. Stuff like Beatlemania is not rational, reaction is a crap shoot, like love! Benjamin LOLcats! Reproduction as dilution, but also the possibility of aura and being reproduced, though we cannot access the ‘real’ body so clutching a record is like holding on to surrogate flesh. Fetishizing the scarcity of the pop object, and now it is scarcer and scarcer (desktop wallpaper instead of poster on wall). Where is it all going? Back on the self — for instance, YouTube response videos. Lens to view through: Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” Recognize our object environments — files, data, “a frank record of our desire” but a nonlinear circuitous way. Bodies are more than physical, “trace bodies” as borrowed term. Social dancing thrives on imitation, signifier heavy choreography via music videos, result somewhere between original creation and corporate production. Original video gets commented on, is designed as intertextual video. (Bob Fosse references, watching/imitating choreography.) Fosse as touchpoint, choreography for the camera. Response videos as social and economic practice, technology over personal action, “culture of commentary,” not neat and linear. Turning the performer back on ourselves, “so and so is just like me!” –something ordinary in a synthetic figure. Various moments in response videos noted, “becoming the performer” but not hiding who they are. Lengthy comment quoted, self-empowerment, superstar implication, Beyonce’s own struggles between superstar and ordinary person. Few of her imitators actually look like her but what after all does she really look like? SNL parody moment noted and Beyonce’s mock misunderstanding. The Lawrence Lessig free culture stuff comes up but it’s a neoliberal flattening of disparity rather than what we see in response videos (most teenage-made music actually sucks…). Like drag — there ARE bad drag acts! Thus so many of the response videos — bad drag, not as good as we would like it to be. Largely imagined public space with participatory reward. Will the filling of free time go this route?

Carol Vernallis, “Audiovisual Change: ‘Yes We Can,’ Music Video and Viral Media in the Obama Campaign” — little bit of a loose start but basically talking about a latest/last revival in music videos due to African American artists in the time of the Obama campaign. A touch programmatic but the points are sound — as noted, viral media, video on and beyond MTV, direct participation of artists. Hmm — I might sit out transcribing here, this feels more like a useful recapitulation of particular points (the impact of video on psyche and body, aligning of physical and video body, etc.) Nice full details in the handout on various elements on the “Yes We Can” video as well as a study of “Green Light” by John Legend and Andre 3000 and the DNC will.i.am Legend collaboration. Beyonce’s “If I Was a Boy” clip shown and analyzed too.

Kurt B. Reighley, “Papaya: Strange Fruit” — opens with an apology, no YouTube clips! But it’s about a viral video. Mentions a Polish singer Ursula Dudziak who avoids lyrics in favor of a capella avant garde performances and collaborations. In checking Wikipedia Kurt finds her seventies song “Papaya” had a Philippines revival via TV show appearances, and apparently it was a huge trannie hit in Manila in the seventies under Marcos! The hell? DJ MOD was the TV show employee who suggested it, it appeared on the game show and a hit! And Kurt teaches all of us the dance! (You all should have been here.) Then Diane Sawyer did it and it was shark-jumped. National pride became a big part, various amazing examples discussed, plus Dudziak’s own favorites. A triumph of optimism over adversity say the craze’s creators! “It tickles people!” Its success a sign that the Philippines are ready for a major cultural impact on a more positive level. But the drag queens! Well the song did chart a bit in 1975 here and there worldwide and apparently female impersonators were acknowledged in Philippine society, down to massive beauty pageants! And Dudziak? Well Monzano the TV host got the success and rerecorded the song for a big hit — even a political career. There’s a terrible remake on iTunes but the original is out of print! “It was a joke, part of her warmup routine, an anomaly.” She got an uptick in bookings but that’s about it, not a household name (that’s Kurt’s job!) Great stuff.

Licia Fiol-Matta, “The Diva Ends/The Diva’s Ends: Lucecita Benitez and the Late Colonial Politics of Voice in Puerto Rico” — the finest voice in the history of PR music, a wonderfully trained and expressive vocalist. Focus is from 1969 to 1974 after her initial ‘teen’ star fame (she was in her early twenties) on radio and TV. Use of the melodramatic voice — whispering, sobbing, talking, overacting etc. “Genesis” was the turning point, a song about complete dissolution; her designer Martin did a dress design based on the Little Prince that was famous. But her PR audiences saw dress and haircut as masculine and that led to new reactions both positive and negative! The songwriter said “Too over the top!” and blamed and slammed effeminate homosexuals, thus tying in with the dress controversy. Lucecita gravitated to male role models and peers — a gesture, conceptualized by the singer? Iconic moments shown, very Shirley Bassey! Auteur image shaped by beta male songwriter. 1970 brings in an Afro and shocks PR again! Black identity clearly translated over (think Angela Davis), images more iconic and posed and artistic. Covers “part of a complete artifact, the album.” An intersection of identities and PR “anxiety.” Move into a Spanish period (recorded in Spain etc) — song “Soy de una raza pura” is played, bold and very much a mixed PR pride song, many ethnicities but “pura” — a harmonious blending but with troubling undertones given Latin American history. Her own past musical history provides hints and context. Delivery “crisp and efficient” — loudly with a desire to be heard (not always the best decision!). She developed a curiously neutral relationship with her art even as she moved into her “political period.” Eliminated facial excesses, went for dashiki designs, a gender-atypical look…and moved into a recording silence for six years, as she often performed at rallies on the left, leading to blacklisting and shut-outs. Shaped into a political icon even as she refused the social. “Camino abandonado” played. Later efforts and work discussed (returned to the studio and scored hits) Lucecita now focusing on nostalgia locked into her seventies social mode. Is the lack of concept the concept? A diva but an end to the traditional diva, an endlessly shifting signifier. PR seventies history discussed, unstable and violent, and speech wrapped up!

Karen Shimakawa, “Enka’s BlackShip” — Karen apologizes for being neither a music or Japan scholar but likes weirdness! In we go. Enka is short for “oratorical song,” a folk form of storytelling now codified in post-WWII times and seen as ‘timeless’ and rooted even though it borrows from Chinese and Korean forms. Clip played — VERY stylized. “It always looks the same!” You’ve probably heard it if you were in a certain spot/of a certain age. Equivalent of country and western? National ethos, nostalgia, excess. But sales now in decline — until last year! What happened? Clip played! Singer is an African American man with a Okinawan grandfather, Jero (Jerome White Jr), a smash hit sensation singing the form while in full hip hop gear. Label says: “The first black enka singer!” Given it is seen as a nativistic music, it is a notable moment. African American presence in Japanese pop culture has long been around but why and how? An imaginary Americanness, social alterity, conceptions of race in general. Citing research on Japanese hip hop producers, notes that the research says that said figures are very serious students of the problematic elements. It’s not minstrelsy or hip hop, it’s quite complex. Ships stuff and “enough of the metaphor!” Japan’s population decline noted, big national issue. There’s a rise in international marriage, up to 6% now, so things are changing. Nostalgia for the “home village” aka furusato is strong in society, but now free from actual geography — “a kind of atmosphere.” Jero’s appeal is representing new sources of furusato via the diaspora. Quote about the “rhythmic elements” in an interview and youth appeal noted, along with press support. (Past examples of diaspora preserving ‘Japanness’ noted.) Reprocessing the past to resituate in the present. Jero as intergenerational ambassador but is that a good thing? Old fashioned sensibilites might only be willfully blind to certain things in the present — his grandmother is celebrated by what about his actual biracial mother? She was bullied in Japan when she was young, doesn’t like to talk about it…a lacunae and a reminder of history.

Drew Daniel, “Why Be Something You’re Not?: The Afterlives of Queer Minstrelsy” — Drew tells a hilarious Glenn Danzig bit and we’re off! Earlier presentation focused on the Meatmen’s “Toolin’ for Anus,” the 7″ inch version with the skit about queer bashing. What happens when straight punks play gay, always mocking? It’s not astonishing when queercore exists — it doesn’t queer punk but punks queers. If punk is about fucking with people, what are the limits? It’s not about fingerpointing now, so now defensive apologetics about Drew’s own collaboration with minstrelsy. Mentions a 2003 show in SF he saw by a laptop dude in seventies shorts onstage, yelping about gay fucking, a style not played out as it was now. Song “Dry Hump” quoted, “hilarious and ridiculous.” Drew admits to being “intrigued” by this guy, formerly of early xbxrx now the Hawnay Troof. Plans made to come over to record — and he comes over with his girlfriend, formerly of Bratmobile! Drew felt…dry humped! Recording done, fun had, but Drew felt caught out there by the revelation of HT’s bisexuality. Why should any of this matter? Exposing the belief in singer and songwriter being one, back from the grave. It’s supposed to be punk to be real and true, thus hardcore ethics and bands with names like Integrity. But drag tells us play a fun! Can-do constructionism. Why was Drew bothered? Homonormative conservatism at heart. Fluidity should exist, cultural divisions not so simple, but aspects of minstrelsy are there, in gender and race. Yet his fundamentalist Southern upbringing and reaction might excuse it…but doesn’t. “Performs black, enacts white,” as Daphne Brooks would say. Why did Drew want to verify? He fears he uncovers homonormative naive realism — true statements exists because there’s an ontological material bedrock, false if no link exists. (I am way oversimplifying!) Performativity works only if the role player is real. (Halloween permits the drag act because it is sanctioned, the mismatch works because of straight stability.) The bisexuals? Homonormativity makes it a problem. Queer minstrelsy might work as deliberate illegible, unreliable and therefore queerer than queer. The band Always on Chapter Music is queer queer minstrelsy, pushing and destroying identities in the moment of stalemate. This and the Hawnay Troof makes you feel embarrassed at another’s vulnerability — but since it might not be real, it might be your own. Punk not just a safe space — “leave home!” “Ever have the feeling that you’ve been cheated?”

Georgia Christgau, “Dance with Me” — shows some of her high school students in a dance club clip on YouTube, Indian and Arabic-descended students admiring each others cultures and speaking of their roots, a very 21st century American story. Other stories told, nice anecdotes about the people in the dance club. It’s an illustrative mosaic of current teens of many backgrounds, Italian, Filipino, more besides, with Georgia’s own thoughts and memories and thoughts about Queens, fears of prejudice and racially loaded statements from the kids. Anecdotes and anecdotes and telling phrases and sweet breakthoughs. Was it a coincedence this club started after Obama’s election? Likely not! Merengue discussed, its transformative effects, the role of Dominicans in the school and the community, the pressures on immigrant kids, at-risk kids.

Dan Booth, “‘The Last Dance’: A Taxonomy” — songwriters use the cliché literally and metaphorically, here studied as finality, opportunity and crisis. Finality and the five stages of grief — denial (Sinatra and Mekons), anger (Halifax), bargaining (Brian McKnight, Gino Vanelli), depression (The Cure), acceptance (The Band, LaBelle). Opportunity — Drifters, George Clinton, Craig David, Donna Summer. Crisis — Graham Parker, Queen and Bowie, Disco Inferno. The final track gets a full play and analysis and it is well deserved, glad to be a part of it! The embrace of hope at the end of the bleak crisis on the lyrics is key. Saturday’s done, see folks tomorrow!

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