This video is designed to puzzle stodgy old people—I include myself in that group. This video has everything that appeals to youth in it, and nothing that makes sense to old people. We have finally attained maximum youthiosity.
This video is mildly NSFW unless you work in an anime production shop.
If this video is any indication, vogueing is one part breakdancing and one part being a spaz.
The world sorely needs more dancing competitions that involve cosplay.
The only word that adequately describes this video is “COMMITMENT.”
George Balanchine mollifying a temperamental ballet dancer
If there’s one thing New York City lacks nowadays, it’s ballets by major composers with elephants in them….
Cast your mind back more than seventy years ago. It’s Thursday, April 9, 1942. The country is at war. You’re in New York, and you have a free evening at your disposal. What to do?
Here are a few suggestions. If you’d like to see a movie, there’s a brand new comedy called My Favorite Blonde starring that wonderful young comedian Bob Hope. But perhaps you’re in the mood for live performance. Let’s see…. At the Imperial Theatre on West 45th Street you can catch the new Cole Porter musical Let’s Face It! starring Danny Kaye and Eve Arden, or over at the Majestic Theatre a block down on 44th, there’s always George Gershwin’s masterpiece Porgy and Bess.
Or wait—what am I thinking!? There’s no way you’re not going to want to attend the world premiere of the elephant polka choreographed by George Balanchine and composed by Igor Stravinsky, right? That happens tonight at Madison Square Garden on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th, let’s get a move on before it sells out! (Yes, that’s where MSG was located between 1925 and 1968.)
This actually happened. The “father of American ballet” and arguably the most innovative composer of the pre-WW2 period really did partner up to write a performance for fifty elephants (with fifty ballerinas on top of them) for the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus. The resultant work was called “Circus Polka: For a Young Elephant.” The elephants, all fifty of them, wore pink tutus.
Not too surprisingly, the crowd loved it.
Balanchine and Stravinsky in 1957, possibly discussing a tarantella arranged for panda bears.
[H]e was telephoned from New York by Balanchine, who had been approached by Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey’s Circus to choreograph a polka for the circus elephants, and wanted Stravinsky to compose the music. Stravinsky told him that he could not write even a short piece before March. . . . All the same he certainly tinkered with the idea long before that. He noticed that by an odd coincidence there were polka rhythms everywhere in the Danses concertantes, and at about Christmastime he started sketching ideas for the elephant piece while still working on the ending of the Danses. Then, as soon as that work was finished, he rapidly composed the Circus Polka as a piano solo and completed the draft score by the 5th of February. The point about this, for him, slightly unusual way of working was that Ringling would need a score for a circus band, and for the first time in his life Stravinsky did not feel equal to the task. So he approached the best-known Hollywood arranger of the day, Robert Russell Bennett, and Bennett recommended a young composer called David Raskin—a pupil of Schoenberg, as it turned out, and already an experienced filmwriter—who duly orchestrated the polka for the bizarre combination of wind and percussion instruments (including Hammond organ) that Ringling had assembled for their circus performances.
As a piece of barefaced opportunism, the Circus Polka was hard to beat. A few years later Stravinsky gratefully accepted a Canadian interviewer’s suggestion that the piece was a musical equivalent of the circus paintings of Toulouse-Lautrec, but at the time he was mainly concerned to write it as quickly as possible for the biggest fee Balanchine could get him. Later still, he reconstructed the original phone conversation in terms of an imaginary aesthetic discrimination. “I wonder if you’d like to do a little ballet with me, a polka perhaps,” Balanchine is supposed to have said. “For whom?” “For some elephants.” “How old?” “Very young.” (After a pause) “All right. If they are very young elephants, I will do it.” As for the music, the piece galumphs amusingly enough through vestiges of rhythmic ideas from the Danses concertantes reimagined for pachyderms, with an unexpected nod at one point toward Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, and ending with a heavily underlined and quotation-marked parody of the same Schubert march that he had merely hinted at in the Janssen score.
In fact the ballet—which Stravinsky never saw—was danced, when the circus opened at New York’s Madison Square Garden on the 9th of April, by fifty elephants in pink tutus, all apparently of mature age, like the fifty girls who sat atop them. At their head, lovely Vera Zorina rode in on Old Modoc, the chief and oldest elephant.
As carefully as if La Zorina were spun glass—which she is!—
the giant deposited her in the center of the forest of elephants,
and when she had completed her exquisite pirouetting upon
the sawdust picked her up and carried her away. But not
before she had handed [Modoc] a huge bunch of American
Beauties, which he promptly coiled up in his trunk like
a commuter filing his copy of The New York Sun under
his arm to read after dinner.
Fortunately there was no stampede except at the box office, and though the Ringlings never revived the piece after the first season, the publicity it attracted served them well until, after less than two months, the band was paid off because of a pay dispute, and the circus continued with gramophone recordings, which of course precluded the Stravinsky ballet.
Here’s some of the music:
And here’s a brief documentary clip about the elephant ballet, which is still pretty diverting even though it’s entirely in Russian:
I’ve tried my damnedest the past few weeks not to post anything twerk-related on DM. That is… until I watched this. I hope this will be the only (and hopefully last) twerking session ever on Dangerous Minds.
According to the young woman in the video:
I tried making a sexy twerk video for my boyfriend and things got a little too hot :)
John Cage, the musician, musical theorist, artist, composer, philosopher, avid mycologist, writer and one of the leading lights of the 20th century avant garde was born on September 5, 1912. Cage’s iconoclastic approach to music—and everything else he did—is neatly summed up in this short comment:
After I had been studying with him for two years, [Austrian composer Arnold] Schoenberg said, “In order to write music, you must have a feeling for harmony.” I explained to him that I had no feeling for harmony. He then said that I would always encounter an obstacle, that it would be as though I came to a wall through which I could not pass. I said, “In that case I will devote my life to beating my head against that wall.”
Superb! I hate to admit it, but I’d rather read John Cage than actually listen to his music. Like most people, the only song of his that I can sing in the shower is “4′33″ although I have a shelf full of his books, books about him and anthologies of his interviews.
I do have a slightly funny John Cage anecdote: Sometime in the mid-1980s, Cage, along with Winona Ryder and several other cultural notables, was photographed for an ad campaign for The GAP. These black and white ads were in magazines and on bus shelters in major cities. New York was just plastered with them at the time (Sadly I can’t find Cage’s ad on Google Images).
Part of the pay, apparently, was a rather large GAP gift certificate and on a day that I happened to be in a GAP store on Seventh Ave and 23rd Street—and had literally just passed his ad on the way into the store—John Cage decided that he was going to spend his. I heard him explaining this to the employees—that he had $1000 to spend—and could they please assist him spending it? They at least seemed to recognize Cage from his GAP ad, if not his actual achievements and the staff was happy to help out the cool old guy in the ad.
Cage didn’t stay long because he seemed to know exactly what he wanted. I recall that he walked out with a winter corduroy coat, a big stack of black “pocket tee” shirts, some denim shirts and some blue jeans. His style of shopping was extremely utilitarian. He left nothing to chance…
Below, the fascinating ‘American Masters’ documentary on John Cage, ‘I Have Nothing to Say and I Am Saying It’:
Below, a seldom-seen cable access program with Cage with his friend, writer Richard Kostelanetz. The pair discuss James Joyce and more:
Ladies and gentlemen, all the way from disco-licious Italy, let me introduce you to the wonderful Hard Ton!
This Italian house music performer comes across like the bastard offspring of Divine and Sylvester (and with more than a little Leigh Bowery to satisfy your outlandish-costume-and-make-up needs.) Hard Ton makes a righteous, soulful noise that harks back to the original pioneers of sleazy, seedy Chicago house like Mr Fingers and Robert Owens. In a sea of anonymous dance-music acts that seem happy to bask in the hazy glow of their battered MacBooks, Hard Ton stands out not just for making authentically retro-sounding house, but for making a huge visual statement that reminds us that house was once the realm of the weirdos and the outcasts.
Hard Ton is actually a duo composed of Mauro Wawashi, a formidable producer and DJ in his own right, and vocalist/front person Max, here taking a break from his day job in various metal tribute acts to channel his inner disco diva, including wrapping himself up in the kind of glad rags that would make a hooker blush. Being quite the big guy, this in itself is a bit of a statement, and a beautiful act of plus-size body positivity. Not surprisingly, Hard Ton are fast gaining a hardcore following among the gay bear community.
To my shame, I have known Hard Ton for quite a while now (we even shared a label, Dissident, a few years back) but have failed to feature them on Dangerous Minds before. Let’s remedy that right away! With a new EP to promote and a current tour of the States for Pride season, I sent the formidable Max some questions to wrap his tongue, and brain, around.
The Niallist: Who and what is Hard Ton?
Hard Ton: A multi-sensorial experience: you can dance to me, you can watch me, you can touch me. Sometimes you can also bite me.
The Niallist: What inspires you musically?
Hard Ton: Acid house, disco music, pop. But I suppose I got inspired from everything I ear, it could be a techno track in an underground club, a metal song in a concert, or the shit played on the radio. Outside of music I find inspiration in pop culture, club culture, photography, fashion and art. Well, some fashion and some art. And definitely all the queens who stood up against the police at Stonewall back in 1969!
The Niallist: What can someone expect form a Hard Ton show?
Hard Ton: A ton of meat screaming like a real diva.
The Niallist: What is the strangest reaction you have had live?
Hard Ton: A guy kissed me in front of his girlfriend while I was singing, and I’m not talking about that kind of kiss that your mama would give you…
The Niallist: What is in the near future for Hard Ton?
Hard Ton: Our new E.P. has just been released [via Killekill Records - check it out here], and we are very proud of it. We’ve also just finished a remix for S’Express, and produced some tracks for Paul Parker. And of course we are working on new tracks. As for an album… is there really anyone who still buys CDs? Well, I do!
Here’s a first: even though Neneh Cherry and Ari Up both sang in The Slits as teenagers, they have never been immortalised on wax together. Until now.
Thanks to the Swedish act House Of Wallenberg—whose work with the late Harlem ballroom queen Octavia St Laurent we covered here—these two legends can finally be found on the one song, a catchy little dance-pop ditty taken from the appropriately titled album Legends.
Sadly, Ari Up passed away a few years ago, but Neneh Cherry is still touring, and, in fact, has special appearances lined up for this year’s Manchester International Festival. I’m glad somebody finally made a record featuring these two!
Below, House Of Wallenberg featuring Neneh Cherry and Ari Up, “Real Woman”:
It’s Pride season, so what better way to celebrate all things gay than with this cross-generational meeting of two queer icons?
If you don’t know who Alison Moyet is already, well, there’s not much I can do to help you (except to point you at this video, which may refresh your memory, and to assure you that this incredible vocalist has been a gay hero for 30 years now.) If you were paying attention to my Nu-Disco primer a few weeks back, you’ll be aware of Horse Meat Disco, the London-based club that has been instrumental in making disco music, and gay clubbing in general, cool again.
Severino Panzetta, aka DJ Seve, is one of the integral members of this four-man dj/production unit, and with his remix of Moyet’s new track Changeling, brings together two different generations of queer heroes to deliver a slick, bouncing club mix that you don’t have to be a homo to enjoy.
This being a DM exclusive, I sent Seve some brief questions to fill our readers in on how this meeting of minds happened:
DM: How did this remix come about?
Seve: It was through her PR agency and the very talented DJ Andy Blake. I was thrilled to be asked! Alison has a super-legendary voice. Of course, I was already a fan of her music, particularly Yaz/Yazoo, but also her work as a solo singer. I still remember when I was living in Italy and I discovered her cover of “That Old Devil Called Love” for the first time. I love the fact that she can do jazz standards too. This remix was definitely a great experience, and she seems to like it…
DM:What’s coming up for Seve and/or Horse Meat Disco?
Seve: Well, there is definitely another HMD compilation in the pipeline. We’re really excited about that because the club is still doing so good, and we’re still having so much fun playing at The Eagle and all over the world. My solo remixes and projects are doing well too, with a track from me on Classic Recording coming up soon, and more remixes, including another legendary voice, Claudia Brucken (Propaganda.) Travelling is great, and I am so lucky to have so many friends all over the world. I have no real bad experiences on my travels, as far as I can remember anyway.
So on to part two, In which we look at more recent nu-disco acts, mostly spanning the last decade or so, and mostly centered around the disco hub known as New York City, with some excursions to London, New Jersey and Oslo.
Thanks for all the feedback on the last post guys, it’s appreciated, and apologies in advance for not being able to fit everything in. If you think there’s something I have missed out on, or if there’s or an act or a dj you think people should know about, leave a comment. Anyway, let’s get to it:
Horse Meat Disco
Disco music does not exist on some abstract plain, of course, it is primarily music for the dance floor, designed to make you move your ass first, feel second, think lastly (if at all). So I couldn’t do a run down of the roots of “nu-disco” without mentioning an actual club that plays both disco and nu-disco music, where you can actually see and hear disco being consumed as it was intended to be, in the here-and-now and not the way-back-when. That club is Horse Meat Disco, a weekly Sunday afternoon/evening/night party hosted in the Eagle, a seedy bar in the heart of South London’s gay Vauxhall district. Through this ongoing weekly residency and a very fine series of compilation albums on Strut, Horse Meat has done more than any other club to rehabilitate disco, and they’ve done it not by stripping it of its “embarrassing” connotations, the kind that quickly turn off the overly-serious house head, but by going all out. For too long “nu-disco” was missing the spark that made disco itself so enticing in the first place: a sense of mischief, sexiness and most importantly FUN. Horse Meat Disco has helped reclaim disco from the boring head nodders and returned it to its primarily audience: gays, women, people of color. If you think disco music is a dead scene, frozen in amber and cocaine, then think again, you haven’t lived till you’ve experienced it with a heaving dancefloor of sweaty homosexuals, its rightful home. Horse Meat Disco is by far the best party in London, and the four man resident dj-team manage to share a lot of that love when they play in other clubs all over the world, or remix/produce their own tracks.
Horse Meat Disco interview for Groove Fest:
Norway: Lindstrom, Prins Thomas, Todd Terje
You’d think it would come as a bit of a surprise that the country responsible for the best nu-disco outside of New York or London would be snowy old Norway, but then house-heads in the late 90s were well aware of the disco talent in that small, northern country, thanks to releases by Those Norwegians, Bjorn Torske, Rune Lindbaek and Telle Records. Royksopp brought the “Norse house” sound to the global stage, but it was a producer by the name of Lindstrom who turned disco upside down, round and round, with the release of “I Feel Space.” A real dancefloor smash whose rising melody lines can still slay to this day, “I Feel Space” feels more genuinely Moroder-esque than anything on Random Access Memories, and is a brilliant demonstration of how to capture that era and feeling without resorting to expensive studios packed full of original 70s gear. Lindstrom’s studio partner Prins Thomas has also been busy carving out a niche for himself as one of the best house djs in the world (he is, if you ever have the chance to see him spin, take it!) and has been releasing some excellent Norwegian nu-disco on his own Full Pupp label. And that’s not to mention their protege Todd Terje, a master of the re-edit who has branched out into his own original productions over the last few years, culminating in the critically lauded Inspector Norse release from last year, and this years brilliant single with Lindstrom, “Lanzarote”:
Lindstrom & Todd Terje “Lanzarote”
After the jump DFA, Glass Candy, Escort, Chromatics, Arthur’s Landing, Hecules & Love Affair and more…
And also this video, which inspired me to write this whole primer in the first place, in the hope of bringing more attention to acts I like and tracks I love, like this one. THIS is how you revive disco, robots please take note: