Category Archives: ’90s music
It’s morning somewhere.
On the ’90s nostalgia train this week: trip hop & Ally McBeal, sundresses & biker boots. Sneaker Pimps’ 6 Underground launched me in to a Bond-esque orbit. It was really just the 405. Driving, driving, driving. Sunroof, Slurpee, Sunset. Imperial Highway, I-10, PCH, Santa Monica Bou-le-vard. K.C.R.W. The bubble of film school, where you could navel gaze, roller blade & delay, delay. I worked for a woman who Fed-Exed her Armani suit from Cannes to LA. Because she had vacation plans in Italy, after. I drove the box up through the Hollywood Hills & left it with her caretaker. Her pool was kidney-shaped.
AIDS was reality’s shadow. A friend of my cousin; he’d come to WeHo from Florida. He played me Mariah Carey for the first time. Vision of Love. And paid me well to sand & spackle the walls of a condo he bought, about a year before. The down payment came from money he’d embezzled from work. He never got caught. He just passed away.
Vision of Love is still my favorite Mariah song.
And 6 Underground is the business.
This week, in a beautiful generational symmetry, EO and I went to Madonna’s Rebel Heart concert here in Hong Kong. My one and only Madonna show prior to this was a floor seat at Austin’s Frank Erwin Center on the Like a Virgin tour, May 1985, a few weeks before I graduated from high school. This spring, EO will attend her first formal dance and ‘graduate’ Y11 before beginning her school’s two-year IB program. Over thirty years between our rites of passage and yet here was Madonna – in fearsome form and wicked wit, middle-aged, twice-divorced, sex-obsessed, foul-mouthed – here was fucking Madonna.
The fourth best-selling musical act of all time. Superseded only by The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson.
The most successful solo artist in the history of the American singles charts. Let that sink right in while I say her name one more time.
Screw the haters. To hell with the ageist TMZ brigade. Go home if her show starts too late for you. I don’t care how old she is or who shares her bed or even what kind of person she is behind the scenes. All that matters is what she brings to the stage, and in that arena Madonna reigns. Unrivaled. Matchless. Supreme.
She transported her full show to Hong Kong – not always the case with touring artists in Asia – and played for over two hours, joined by her band, back-up singers and about 20 dancers. The concert was a button-pushing visual feast of multimedia images, lights, poles, ramps, stairs, hydraulics and dance. Lots of dance. Throughout the show, Madonna moved seamlessly from one cultural theme to another: Samurais to start; Catholicism (of course) to heat things up; Matadors, Greasers and Flappers to express love and more sex, sex, sex; and then “Holiday” fun to finish. I expected the button-pushing and restless cultural curiosity; Madonna has always championed the unusual and the underground, the more provocative the better. She’s a human synthesizer, and I say that as a compliment. What surprised me, however, was the lightness and vulnerability she showed. She chatted, joked, queried and proclaimed to the audience: don’t ask questions, there is no answer. She wore the mantle of Queen both proudly and irreverently.
But if I could distill her performance, nay her entire artistic existence, down to one point, I would say very simply that Madonna is about the body. All shaking ass, thrusting bosom, beating heart. Her hand on a thigh and a head in her crotch. As a dancer first and foremost, she understands the visual power of motion, of open legs and intertwined limbs. Or as her concert showcased, the stunning impact of one shirtless, muscular man moving on an empty stage with only a billowing scarf for company.
Her raison d’être, if I dare to speculate, has always been about celebrating the amazing, ecstatic things we can do with our bodies, alone and in company. She made that statement with her very first single, “Everybody”, which was released in 1982. Every / Body / Come on / Dance and Sing. And she continued that manifesto by shining a light on how others try to stop us from said ecstasy, whether it’s an overbearing patriarchy, Catholic constraints on sexuality or our very own hang-ups. Every / Body / Get Up And / Do Your Thing. Madonna’s body electric is both personal and political, and she makes her stand not only with music and lyrics but movement as well. As if Martha Graham were a pop star…
After the show, EO and I speculated as to what Madonna would do between her two shows in Hong Kong. (If you see her hiking The Peak, tell her I said Hi!) I figured after 2+ hours on stage, in heels, she probably needed some serious physio, or at least a massage. The thought made me a little sad. Madonna’s getting older, her knees must be killing her.
I know a lot of people reckon she’s well past her prime, that the best she can do these days is hitch her wagon to Nicki Minaj or Drake. But I disagree. Though I hadn’t seen her in concert for decades, her Rebel Heart show was indisputable proof that her creative vigor and taste for provocation is alive and well. She still owns the stage, whether she’s alone and singing “La Vie En Rose” or leading her dancers down the catwalk in a fantastic rendition of “Deeper and Deeper”, everyone strutting and vogueing. Even EO said she didn’t think Madonna was trying to be a teenager. The Queen was dancing, singing, doing her thing, and we were lucky to be a part of it.
How many musical icons not only survive but prosper as they head gently in to that good night? How many still have something to say? The list is short. Prince, Jagger, McCartney, Aretha, Bruce? Maybe. Bowie we just lost, Streisand barely sings anymore, Diana Ross has been MIA for years. Sinatra got it right, but then who else? Who changed pop music forever? Who’s left?
*All Hong Kong concert photos courtesy of a lovely and talented friend who had way better seats than I did! 😉
It’s been a few days but I’m still buzzed from my Clockenflap experience. Kil Sun Moon, Rachael Yamagata, The Skatalites, Clean Bandit, Earth, Wind & Fire Experience, Swervedriver, cold beer, good food, best friends, EO and YO having a blast. And I haven’t even mentioned Sunday night! Oh Lord.
But before I get to that thrilling climax, let me tell you about a group of très intéressant folks I met at the festival. I spotted them as soon as I arrived on Saturday. Dressed all in black, they stood looking out at the harbor away from the crowds before wandering over to the Yamagata show. There they sat on the ground, passing around bottles of Smirnoff and playfully photo-bombing the family snap occurring in front of them. They seemed to inhabit their own little galaxy of urban style, as if they had landed in Hong Kong from another, cooler (and colder) clime: the West Village, Rue Bichat, Shoreditch, a Fellini sound stage?
Maybe I don’t get out much (truth: I don’t), but this foursome exuded a confidence and panache I don’t see very often in HK. Yet they didn’t strike me as posers. Who were they?
So I asked.
Ashley, Anthony, Carmen and their shy friend all grew up in Hong Kong and range in age from mid-20s to early 30s. The chatty ones were best friends Anthony and Ashley who met at Clockenflap two years. Anthony runs his own clothing store specializing in Korean and European fashion while Ashley is a graphic designer interested in branding and typography. The duo said their coordinated look was not actually inspired by Paris but it was designed for impact. As Anthony explained, “Maybe it’s too hot and no one will wear a long coat today so you think we will look more outstanding.”
When I asked what’s been the reaction so far to their collective chic, Anthony laughed and said people wonder, “Do you feel hot today?”
Style knows no pain (or heatstroke).
In a town where business dress rules, you’ve got to admire the modish quartet – celebrating, enjoying and perpetuating the long relationship between music and fashion. And by the way, Yamagata was also dressed in all black so they were in good company.
I saw a lot of great bands over the weekend, and judging by their comments, they had a fun time here too. Many acts were Hong Kong newbies, and they seemed a bit surprised and overwhelmed by the dramatic setting as well as the enthusiastic crowds. The festival was incredibly well-organized, and the staff super friendly. I mean, if the beer sellers are still smiling at 9pm on Sunday night then you know some positive vibes are permeating the Clockenflap grounds. My only complaint was that I couldn’t be in two places at once!
But as the sun set on Sunday evening, there was only one place I wanted to be: as close to the front as possible at the Harbourflap stage. That’s where Nile Rodgers and his talented, airtight band were tearing through dozens (and I do mean dozens) of songs that he wrote, co-wrote, produced, played on and/or infused with his magic disco touch. A collection of hits and acts that span four decades: CHIC, Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Madonna, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Daft Punk. Rodgers spoke of surviving cancer and realizing every day is a gift, and he was generous in praising his bandmates. When he introduced the last song, ‘Good Times’, he said the tune always inspired a disco party on stage. And then he brought out Unsung Heroes, a Hong Kong domestic worker choir, to dance, sing and take selfies with him and his band. It was a party, absolutely.
I had a half hour to grab a beer and a box of Vietnamese noodles before the last act of the weekend, New Order, took the stage. My day had started at 5:30 in the morning, and my knees were aching from a.m. hiking on DB and p.m. dancing to CHIC. But I didn’t want to go home early because hey! how many times will I get to see New Order? My hardcore-fan friends made their way to the front, but I moved over to the left with another friend, strategically close to the exit, and on a set of stairs where I could rest my weary legs. The location afforded us a view of the stage, the crowd and the entire HK Island skyline across the harbor. The pano function on my phone camera just couldn’t do justice to the surreal and wondrous night.
When New Order gifted us with an encore of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and ‘Blue Monday’, we ascended to another plane of existence – somewhere between the suburban innocence of the ‘80s and the vibrant metropolis that is Hong Kong, 2015.
I haven’t witnessed this much ecstatic mopey-head dancing since prom night.
Thanks Clockenflap and see you again next year!
Randy from Baton Rouge
Randy from Baton Rouge who was a great dancer not so great kisser took me to the Propaganda concert Fall semester which I thought was a date but asked me after to reimburse him for the ticket not that I would have minded if the evening had been prefaced by this request and if the band had blown my mind instead I resisted paying for weeks and was relieved we weren’t running in to each other on campus until I heard he’d taken medical leave before finals due to emotional issues which my roommate said was despair at being outed by a Classics major who’d broken his heart and he ended up transferring anyway so that I never did pay him back and we truly stopped running in to each other, Randy from Baton Rouge I’m sorry.
Consider seriously if I really wanted to get back together or did I say yes because he had sixth-row seats to David Lee Roth’s first solo tour and I was curious to see if Diamond Dave was going to be better or worse than the Sammy Hagar-led Van Halen which I’d seen less than two weeks prior with my best friends not that either of those bands were my absolute favorites not even top ten but it was almost summer and I missed having a boyfriend and I thought maybe just maybe those old feelings would return but in the end what I realized was obvious, nothing could ever be as good as Van Halen circa 1984.
That Velvet Jacket
You try going to a Bryan Ferry concert where the theater is Art Deco and the cocktails are strong and Bryan’s singing in a maroon velvet jacket and not feel something for your date who happens to be the consensus best-looking guy in the graduate film program what with his dark ponytail and the way he wears a tool belt and gloves when he’s gaffing though you know you shouldn’t even call him your date because he has a girlfriend and you’re practically engaged and you’re just going together because you both love Roxy Music and no one else can afford tickets or wants to skip that night’s seminar on Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, did I mention how strong the drinks were?
A little flash (absolutely) fiction on a Friday night.
© Jennifer S. Deayton
It’s the little things, you know? Like finding real (not UHT) cream in the grocery store, on sale. Or the smile on EO’s face after she touches the wall and sees her time in the 100fly. Or the fact that YO will still hold my hand.
This week I’m adding to that list the fricking awesome song “Giant Peach” by North London band, Wolf Alice.
Long live guitar rock is the first thing I want to say about this tune. “Giant Peach” begins with an extended, driving intro before lead singer, Ellie Roswell, spins images of the push/pull connection to her hometown. She says: What the hell keeps me here / In a dark old town another door through / It don’t seem so clear / And changin’ feels like fear. The song plays like equal parts meat and potatoes rock and psychedelic jam – all guitars and drums – all the while building to Roswell’s climactic lyrics and a squalling heavy metal meltdown. In the video’s finale, there’s even a nod to the band’s Spinal Tap brethren as the smoke machine spews out of control and the costumes scream ‘Stonehenge’!
Recent reviews have compared Wolf Alice to ’90s bands like Hole and Garbage, which is just a simple way to say: this is a rock band with three guys and a female lead singer. Lazy! With their ear for melody and shred-tastic (yes, had to say that) guitars, I hear more similarities with Veruca Salt and another lupine band: Wolfmother.
Wolf Alice have released some EPs and their debut full-length, My Love Is Cool, is expected in June. Check them out when you can and have a good week!
The other day I saw a double-decker-bus-sized ad celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Baby G watch and I thought: the ’90s are truly back. Pop culture has been flirting with a ’90s revival since last year, celebrating all things flannel and scrunchie, grunge and hip-hop. So in the middle of renewed interest in Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, TLC, En Vogue (yes!) and Smashmouth (no!), let’s not forget what other kind of music that decade brought us – trip hop. Or as I like to call it: music for American grown-ups who still want to think they’re cool because they listen to British stuff.
Trip hop was alternative without being too loud, fashion-forward and fresh yet welcoming to, ahem, mature listeners. You could take drugs to it late at night or you could play it while hosting a civilized Sunday brunch. Along with the slightly funkier acid jazz, trip hop was the go-to sound for urbanites who wanted a little edge but still needed to get to work in the morning. Part of the mellow underground for people such as myself who liked discovering new electronica music but didn’t have the stamina or the stomach for monotonous 10-hour raves.
One of my favorite trip hop bands is Zero 7, which is two guys – Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker – who started as sound engineers. Like a lot of trip hop producer-collectives, they use guest singers when they need vocals, so you get a variety of voices on their albums, both male (Jose Gonzalez) and female (Sophie Barker and Sia Furler). Zero 7 formed in the late ’90s but really made their mark in the early ’00s with albums like Simple Things and The Garden. They’re still making super smooth music and have just released a new EP – Simple Science. Here’s a playlist of some of my favorites from them.
In the 90s, I spent three years in Los Angeles while attending grad school, and I was lucky enough to hear about local, non-profit radio station, KCRW, while I lived there. One of their nighttime shows, Metropolis, was like Valhalla for trip hop fans. Massive Attack, Portishead, Sneaker Pimps, Tricky, Cibo Matto – they were all regulars on host Jason Bentley’s turntable. I used to listen to KCRW late at night while driving the streets of LA after evening classes. Metropolis and trip hop felt like the soundtrack to my mid-20s as I ‘made my way’ in the city. When I was still frivolous but full of adult ambition. Only a couple of years away from marriage and kids but young enough to indulge in the self-absorbed creation of future me.
Now I catch KCRW online, where I can listen to Jason Bentley’s morning show on demand. My life has changed dramatically since the ’90s, but KCRW’s music is still the same, still amazing.
Have a good week!