Thursday, 16 August 2007

Make music, not war

Image from Focus

A few weeks ago Sir Elton caused controversy, declaring that the web is destroying music and should be closed down. “The internet” he said, “has stopped people from going out and being with each other, creating stuff.”

But has it? People may sit at home on their own creating music, as Elton sees it, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude collaboration. In fact, arguably the very nature of the internet lends itself to collaboration. As William Gibson pointed out, “remix is the very nature of the digital.” And with remix comes both collaboration and new ideas. Indeed with the arrival of powerful PCs in the 1990s came the arrival of the music mash-up, “an unofficial remix created by "underground remixers" who edit two or more recordings (often of wildly different songs) together.” (From There are some fantastic mash-ups out there. If Sir Elton is calling for collaboration, isn’t the mash-up a type of collaborative creation?

What is so brilliant about this type of virtual collaboration is that they are more often than not made between ‘wildly different’ songs and artists - the kind of collaborations that would never be made in the real world. I mean imagine contract negotiations that would have to be made between Kylie and The Prodigy before you’d have got
Slow My Bitch Up. But back to Sir Elton’s rant for a sec:

We’re talking about things that are going to change the world and change the way people listen to music and that’s not going to happen with people blogging on the internet… Let’s get out in the streets and march and protest instead of sitting at home and blogging.”

Of course someone who has being doing just that of late is
Peter Tatchell. He has been up in arms, out on those streets, marching, protesting and shouting against the homophobia found in the lyrics of some reggae artists. His efforts have finally resulted in Buju Banton agreeing to ditch homophobic lyrics - but only through fear of slumping record sales. It seems a rather hollow victory, won by money rather than any real change in the world. And yet away from all that there’s Eminem (who let’s face it probably doesn’t own a copy of Brokeback Mountain) sampling Elton on Ghetto Gospel, a homage to Tupac Shakur. The world of sampling and remix is a world built to bring polarised elements together. Eminem’s haunting use of Elton’s voice on the Ghetto Gospel track surely speaks more volumes in the effort to get homosexuality accepted in some communities than simply by holding people over a financial barrel.

It’s not exactly rocket science. Getting people together is the first step in breaking down barriers and prejudices. And the beauty of the music mash-up is that the more diverse and polarised the collaborations are, the better they tend to work. It is a medium set up to bring the polarised together. Now for that reason alone, surely Elton should rethink his comments.

Friday, 10 August 2007

The Gay Jean; Levis and gay remixing

Image from Rotten Tomatoes

According to Adage, Levis’ have made two versions of their latest ad; one straight, one gay. It’s an interesting approach. And it begs the question, are we going to see more brands remixing adverts for the gay population? After all, it is when you think about it no different to the kind of localisation of campaigns that brands already do; re-shooting (or photo-shopping) different versions of the same adverts to fit different markets. Nokia did a similar thing a while back, offering two versions of the same advert – bizarrely one for the straight population in Germany and one for the gay population in other markets.

Significantly, this kind of ‘gay remixing’ or (gay ‘B-side’ if you will) is something that consumers are already doing; both with adverts but more frequently with movie trailers. Back in 2005 the phenomenon known as ‘Trailer Trashing’ took the internet by storm. Classic film trailers were cut-up and new and different stories created simply by editing the order and context of the clips. What was interesting about the phenomenon however, was the sheer numbers of gay parodies that were created. ‘Gay Trashing’ became an almost sub-genre of the trailer trashing trend. Indeed last year Virginia Heffernan reported in the
New York Times on the vast number of Brokeback Mountain mash-ups that appeared in the wake of the movie’s release. “Online parodies of the gay-cowboy movie” she declared were “proliferating faster than the curatorial video sites…can keep up with them.” Suddenly a host of old films were being re-crafted through a gay lens. Original dialogue was being re-contextualised and repurposed in order to hint at gay subtexts. We ended up with trailers for fictional films such as Point Breakback and The Empire Breaks Back. There are hundreds of examples floating around the web. Heffernan points out that although some may be crass and clumsy, others however are surprisingly slick and “as commentary on the forms and ceremonies of proto-gay relationships, they’re surprisingly sharp, and worth taking seriously.” And it didn’t just stop with Brokeback mash-ups. Since the trailer trashing phenomenon began the number of stories being remixed into tales of homosexual desire has rocketed. Some of the best include Top Gun Recut and the beautifully named, The Fast and the Curious.

So why the fascination with gay remixing? Well, stories are how we define ourselves, our history and culture. Ursula LeGuinhow once said “there have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.” Stories are an integral part of our cultural identities. And yet tales of homosexuality are few and far between – it is only in the last few decades that gay texts have actually been allowed to enter the mainstream literature. (Oscar Wilde was on trial not so many years ago) Which begs the question just how many gay stories have been lost and suppressed over the years? How many have been locked away or silenced? Some critics for example argue that Terrance Rattigan’s play The Deep Blue Sea was originally written as a tale of gay desire, later lost under a veneer of heterosexuality for reasons of acceptability. Whether this is true or not, there is certainly a huge unwritten and unspoken history to gay culture, a myriad of lost stories that will forever remain unpublished.

What the remix nature of the web perhaps demonstrates is a cultural need to reclaim the lost stories of the past, to find voices in the silences and re-assess the tales of our past. Indeed many of the most high-profile gay stories are set in past eras; Sarah Walter’s Tipping the Velvet in Victorian London, Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion in Napoleonic Venice, and E Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain in 1960’s Wyoming. Levis’ are arguably well poised to take advantage of the fascination we have with gay remixing – what could be easier for example than some sort of ‘Twisted Originals’ site where old iconic Levis ads are remixed into gay versions; Brad Pitt eyed up by a guy at a pool table, or a girl watching an Amazonian bodied woman rising out of the river as she clutches what she thinks are her jeans.

Now that would give Diesel a real run for their pink money.