This 2013 BBC documentary about living legend Nile Rodgers could not be more appropriately named, seeing as he has just given Daft Punk the biggest hit of their careers. Thankfully, this program includes none of the recent “Get Lucky” hyperbole (I mean, I like that song and all, but enough is enough already!) Judging by the concert footage it was filmed last summer.
You may know most of Rodger’s incredible story already (and if you haven’t read his autobiography Le Freak, you are really missing out on one of the best music biogrpahies of recent years) but there’s enough anecdata to make it a very worthwhile watch.
My own personal fave story is the one concerning Rodgers’ initial work on “Let’s Dance” with David Bowie. Worried that he may have been taking Bowie in too much of a “dance” direction, Nile asks him if perhaps the track is too funky, to which Bowie responds: “Is there such a thing, Nile?”
Try getting that quote, in Bowie-voice, out of your head the next time you see either of these two legends.
Calling all funkateers and cosmonauts! Wrap your peepers round this!
The history of Parilament-Funkadelic is sorely under-written. From their beginnings in 50s New Jersey, to their formative years in revolutionary 60s Detroit, from their glorious heyday in the 70s to their implosion in clouds of debt and cocaine in the early 80s, the P-Funk story is one of the most epic in all of popular music.
One Nation Under A Groove may not be perfect, but it’s a start. I guess there’s just too many people and stories surrounding the band(s) to fit into one hour-long program, it would really need to be a mini-series, but ONUAG is a great introduction, essential viewing for anyone with an interest in the more out-there elements of popular culture.
George Clinton is heavily featured, of course, as are all the original members of The Parliaments (his barbershop doo-wop group that would go on to form the vocal nucleus of the Parliafunkadelicment thang) but there’s not enough Bootsy for my liking, and synth wizard Bernie Worrell, so fundamental to the establishment of this musical empire, is notably absent.
It goes without saying that I frikin LOVE this band. Or bands, whatever. P-Funk not only made some of the outright funkiest records of all time, but they also created an aesthetic world their fans could get completely emerged in. P-Funk to me is TRUE psychedelia, made all the more powerful by reflecting the outsider-ness of the black experience in America at the time. Surely just the very nature of the Parliament-Funkadelic—mixed race, gender, age, sexuality, etc, all united by the dance and the physical act of perspiring—is he essence of the liberal dream come to life? Historical documents about P-Funk are important not just ‘cos they were so awesome, but also for the generations born after the 1970s that discover P-Funk through the filter of G-Funk. Gangsta rap strip-mined P-Funk for the grooves but casually tossed aside the outsider elements that made the band(s) so vital, replacing them instead with a kind of coked-up, uber-macho, gang-colors conformity. It’s probably a post for another day, but I think Dr Dre/Death Row/et al robbed the funk of its freak flag.
Anyway, if you want to know more about the history of Parilament-Funkadelic (and who doesn’t?!) let me point you in the direction of the book For The Record, George Clinton And P-Funk: In Their Own Words, which is the P-Funk story told by the band and crew members themselves, with refreshingly little editorial input. I recommend it very highly, but for now, and for the newcomers, dig this:
Latrice Royale onstage at The Castro Theatre, photo by Robby Sweeny.
NOTES FROM THE NIALLIST
If you have not seen Paris Is Burning, you’re just not doing it right. I’m talking Life, honey.
I’ve written about Paris Is Burning before, and referenced it in my recent ballroom piece for Boing Boing, but the truth is that the impact of this film on gay culture, and by extension culture at large, cannot be overestimated. That a film about underground drag culture and voguing resonated so strongly amongst gays should not be a surprise, but what is surprising is how far its influence has spread in “straight” circles. Its language and imagery are now common parlance, and it won a recent PBS “best documentary” poll by an overwhelming landslide.
Which is why I was so delighted to see Paris Is Burning get recent a Midnight Mass screening in San Francisco, hosted by the queens Peaches Christ and Latrice Royale. Barring stars of the film itself (most of whom have sadly passed) I could not think of a better pair to present it. Peaches Christ is a legendary San Francisco performer and the regular Midnight Mass movie hostess, and is so obsessed with films, ickiness and camp that her boy alter ego, Joshua Grannell, recently directed the future-cult-classic All About Evil, starring Natasha Lyonne, Mink Stole and Elvira. Latrice Royale, meanwhile, was a competitor on last year’s season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and through a combination of straight-talking and motherly warmth, went on to win the show’s “Miss Congeniality” prize, and has become one of the most popular contestants that Drag Race has ever seen.
I couldn’t waste this opportunity to ask two legends of drag about this legendary drag film, so I sent them both a set of questions to answer.
Peaches Christ and Latrice Royale
THE NIALLIST: When did you first discover Paris Is Burning?
LATRICE ROYALE: I believe it was 1995.. I know a little late, but again I was very new to the lifestyle at this time in my life.
PEACHES CHRIST: I was a junior in high school and the movie was such a huge indie hit in the urban markets that Miramax did a wide release, which meant it played at the local Maryland mall where I grew up. I remember going to see it with my closeted lesbian friend and my hands were literally shaking when I went to purchase a ticket—I was a closeted queen and was terrified someone would see me buying a ticket to the movie—that my secret would be revealed. I watched it wide-eyed and in awe and while there is clearly a tragic element to the film, especially ending with Venus’ murder, I found it to be inspiring, creative, loving, and it really showed me that there was a way people like “us” could find a family, create a world for ourselves, and that the world could be imaginative, unique, and FABULOUS. I went to see it three more times in the theatre and each time I did, my hands shook a little less when I bought a ticket.
TN: What kind of an impact has it had on your career, and how has it influenced you personally?
LR: Well from my own personal experience in life, I totally could relate to these young kids. As I was one of them. I was too scared to come out after being outed by my brother. But I did learn that you could rebuild your family with people to your liking.
PC: I kind of feel like there are two drag worlds- the one pre-Paris Is Burning and the one post-Paris Is Burning, because after the movie came out and was widely distributed, queers sought it out, understood it, embraced and appropriated its culture on all levels of queer culture. It’s effect on our language, style, dance, etc. can not be underestimated. Whether people know it or not, it changed queer culture and then of course popular culture because it’s my belief that most of the best parts of popular culture start with the queers.
TN: How do you feel time has treated the film?
LR: Knowing what I know now, and seeing how bullying is such the trend.. We need to have a world wide revival of this movie. So many are unaware of a crucial part of our history.
PC: I watch it today and am again- blown away by how much of everything we do and saw comes from this seminal film. It’s timeless.
TN: What would you say to younger queens who haven’t seen the film?
LR: Well as I stated earlier we need a revival!! Our youth should be aware of just how far we’ve come, while realizing we still have so much further to go. But with knowledge comes power, and hopefully our youth will learn that they too, have a voice.
PC: It’s a must see of course. Completely required viewing. I’m actually teaching a class in 2014 at the SF Art Institute that’s essentially “Drag In Cinema” and I’m building the course around this film.
Peaches Christ as Dorian Corey, photo by Nicole Fraser-Herron
TN: Who is your favourite character in Paris Is Burning?
LR: Pepper LaBeija LEGENDARY MUTHA!!
PC: I can’t choose one- seriously. I’m obsessed with Dorian Corey, Willi Ninja, Pepper LaBeija, Venus Xtravaganza, and Octavia St. Laurent. I love them all.
TN: Peaches, could you tell us about the process of getting Paris Is Burning to the big screen again?
PC: I’ve wanted to do a Peaches show around Paris Is Burning for years and years but really needed to do it the right way and create a show that felt authentic- so it took some time but I was able to seek out members of the West Coast ball scene who came on board to create the show with us. I reached out to Latrice because I really feel like she embodies the true spirit of the film—inspiring a new generation of queens to perform with style and grace, understanding their history while also serving it to audiences—making them eat it. I have been in touch with Jennie Livingston, the film’s director, and she’s been so supportive and WONDERFUL and we’ve been talking about how this Paris Is Burning zeitgeist will hopefully lead to more projects, more longevity, more celebration, and that this community’s legacy will live on forever.
TN: And finally, Latrice, how was the Paris Is Burning Midnight Mass screening?
LR: I must say the whole experience working with Peaches Christ was one thatI will never forget!!! So brilliant, and such an honor to be apart of more history in the making.
TN: History indeed!
To end, here’s another bit of history, the original 1991 TV trailer for Paris Is Burning, complete with that guy doing the voice-over:
For more info, and to view the picture gallery of images form the screening, visit PeachesChrist.com.
Don’t you love it when those murky, endless swamps of internet spam throw up something that you really enjoy? I’m sure it’s all a co-incidence, as it’s unlikely that Google knows from the number of times I have typed the numbers “808” that I’m a bit obsessed with that machine, is it?
All Hail The Beat is a three minute film by author and journalist Nelson George that’s a great introduction to (and summary of) the history of the Roland TR-808 drum machine. It’s also a neat little follow up to the Bang The Box mix I posted earlier today, which features lots and lots (and lots and lots) of banging’ 808s.
Roland’s Tr-808 Rhythm Composer was first produced in 1980, and has gone on to become one of the most influential machines in modern music. Its sonorous booms and claps are heard everywhere from Afrika Bambaataa and Egyptian Lover to Beck, Lil Wayne, Aphex Twin, Missy Elliot, Talking Heads, Marvin Gaye, Rihanna and far beyond. It’s all over hip-hop, electro, R&B, house and techno, and is the basis of underground dance genres like crunk, booty bass and New Orleans bounce. Kanye West named an album after it and even Madonna can be heard warbling about the wildness of its drum sounds on her latest single (whose production, funnilly enough, featured no actual 808s.)
Nelson George, whose face you’ll recognise from many other music documentaries, here speaks to veterans like Arthur Baker and Juan Atkins about the machine. He sums All Hail The Beat, and the 808, up thusly:
The Roland TR-808 drum machine inspires musicians around the world, even though the device hasn’t been made since 1984 — and most of its avid users have never actually seen one.
Oh how I long to get a real one of these some day…
The best band that emerged out of the fertile soil of the UK punk movement in the 1970’s, is, for my money, The Damned. Sure, I love the Pistols, but they imploded as quickly as they emerged. The Clash were good but got bloated by the end. (Plus, I am forever bitter about having “Car Jamming” forced on me at a formative age. Really, guys?) But The Damned have never let us down. From their debut, Damned Damned Damned to the psychedelic rock infused masterpiece of their 2008 album, So, Who’s Paranoid, they have never sold out, gotten stodgy or taken the easy way out. With each album, you can hear a band that started off strong only get progressively better and more bold. Simply put, The Damned is one of the greatest bands ever and the time has finally come for their story and music to be embraced in documentary film mode.
Wes Orshoski, who was one-half of the directing team behind 2010’s excellent documentary, Lemmy, which coincidentally (or not) featured Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible from The Damned, has started work on the as-of-now untitled film project. As a longtime fan, this is extremely exciting and if it’s at least as good as Lemmy, then this is truly going to be a long overdue treat.
For more information, you can read about this on The Damned’s Official Site.
If there’s any one artist who represents everything that was revolutionary about disco music, it was Sylvester. It doesn’t matter how many Bee Gees, Ethel Mermans, Rod Stewarts, Boney Ms et al you can throw at the genre as a reason to hate it, the fact is that if it wasn’t for disco there is no way that a linebacker-sized, black, openly gay, outrageous, gender-bending performer like him could have reached the top of the world’s charts.
Sylvester broke every taboo going. In fact he didn’t just break them: he tore them up, threw them on the floor and stamped on them with uproarious glee, all while dragging you out to dance with his irresistable energy. He didn’t have to shout about any of his social or political inclinations because he was already living them, out in the open, for everyone to see.
Sylvester didn’t make “political music” because he didn’t have to: Sylvester’s very existence was inherently political.
That to me is the rub when it comes down to “disco” versus “punk”, and all that bullshit snobbery and scorn rock fans heaped on disco. Contrast Sylvester with any one of the gangs of middle class, straight, angry-at-whatever white boys that were supposedly turning the world upside down in the name of “punk” and it becomes clear who was really pushing social boundaries.
The fact that the music was instantaneous and accessible only deepens the subversive effect. It’s unfortunate that “disco” has become an easy way to dismiss that which genuinely does not fit the rock cannon’s hardened mould, be it for reasons of race, gender or sexuality, but the music itself never died away. It reverberates still with an incredible, universal power. Sylvester was a supremely talented vocalist and performer, and I just couldn’t take seriously any music aficionado who claimed not to be moved by “(You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real” (not to mention “I Who Have Nothing,” “I Need You,” “Do You Wanna Funk,” “I Need Somebody To Love Tonight,” etc, etc.)
And besides, if I had a choice between a bunch of white punk boys or black drag queens, I know who I’d rather party with.
Unsung is a series produced by TV One profiling some of the more over-looked, yet supremely talented, names in black music from the 70s and 80s. There’s much to enjoy here if soul, funk and R&B are your thing. Other artists covered include Teddy Pendergrass, Zapp, Rose Royce, the Spinners and many more.
But for now let’s just enjoy the uplifting, touching and ultimately tragic story of the real queen of disco music:
As an introduction to a brief but important music movement, or even just a simple nostalgia piece for people who were around at the time, Kerri Koch’s 2006 documentary Don’t Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrrl makes for interesting and compelling viewing.
For a brief while in the early 90s it seemed Riot Grrrl was everywhere. It was a breath of fresh air in the male-dominated grunge landscape, though some of those grunge bands did their best to promote it and more pro-feminist ideals (the ghost of Kurt looms into view in a flowing, floral-print dress). But Riot Grrrl was met mostly with derision in the mainstream media, what with its core values of fanzines and localised press, not to mention of course feminism, self-expression and the forcing through of female self-determination in a male-oriented world.
Looking back now It’s hard to believe how much of an uproar some female musicians simply being angry could cause, but then as has been mentioned numerous times no-one wants to see women being angry (supposedly). Pretty soon Riot Grrrl was reduced to a simple concept of being merely “angry girls”, and made easy to dismiss. UK Riot Grrrl contingent Huggy Bear famously got ejected from the studios of tacky yoof program The Word (on which they had just performed) for heckling the presenters about their Barbie doll-imitating porn star guests. This got the band into the national media, but also sealed their fate as mere rabble-rousers while ignoring their efforts to create alternative spaces and dialogs. But still, Riot Grrrl was oppositional, it was dramatic, and it was fucking exciting.
Just as quickly as it bubbled up however, Riot Grrrl seemed to fizzle out. I guess my perception of this was skewed hugely by the mainstream UK music press, which was my only port of access to alternative music and culture in those pre-internet days. It was a mutual love/hate thing (more hate/hate I guess) with the performers and the scene itself withdrawing from the mainstream attention and the negative associations it brought. In a very interesting read called Riot Grrrl - the collected interviews on Collpase Board, Everett True (the editor of Melody Maker at the time, and the person chiefly responsible for breaking the scene in the UK music media) explains his own role and that of the press:
Riot Grrrl was basically about female empowerment – females doing stuff on their own terms, separate from men, making up their own rules and systems and cultures. Sure, men were welcome, but they had to understand that for once they weren’t going to be automatically given first place. (One of the reasons my own role in the gestation of Riot Grrrl as a popular cultural movement became so confused was that after a certain period of time I began to listen to those around me – female musicians, activists, artists, human beings – who felt that having such a high-profile male associated with a fledgling female movement was absolutely counter-productive. This is almost the first time I’ve spoken to anyone since then.)
Don’t Need You - The Herstory of Riot Grrrl is important because it lets the creators of the movement speak for themselves. The editing may be rough in places, and the story may jump around in chronology a wee bit, but you get to hear first hand from the original Riot Grrrls themselves what informed their third-wave feminist views and what inspired them to start their own scene. Featured interviewees include Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, Alison Wolfe of Bratmobile, Corin Tucker of Heavens To Betsy / Sleatter-Kinney and Fugazi’s Ian McKaye:
That’s part one - part two and part three are after the jump…
Noise may not be to everyone’s taste (in fact by definition noise is classed as “unwanted” sounds) but to the hardcore few it’s a way of life. This documentary follows some of those artists and shows them performing live, often on homemade or radically modified kit, and talking about the philosophy and influences behind their work. You won’t have heard of many of these performers but that’s the point - they are not in it for fame or money, they are simply following their muse in as unhindered a way as possible.
Most of the artists featured in People Who Do Noise are based in Portland, Oregon, and here’s a bit more info via the site filmbaby:
The film takes a very personal approach, capturing the musicians working alone with no interference from a live audience. What often took place in crowded basements or dark smoky venues was stripped bare for the cameras, providing an unprecedented glimpse of the many different instruments and methods used.
Covering a wide range of artists and styles, the film features everything from the absurdist free-improvisations of genre-pioneers Smegma, to the harsh-noise assaults of Oscillating Innards and everything in between. Many of the artists in the film, such as Yellow Swans and Daniel Menche, have performed and sold records all over the world. In spite of such successes, noise music remains one of the least understood and most inaccessible of genres.
OK, so most of this is pushing at the very boundaries of what we call “music”, but that’s pretty much the point. Casual observers (and listeners) may not make it very far into this doc because of, well, the noise, but it’s worth resisting the urge to skip forward as you may miss some very interesting interview footage. While some of these performers come across as pretentious, regardless of what you think of the sounds they create you can’t help but admire their freedom and lack of constraints:
Some more vintage electronic French pop to round out the week on Dangerous Minds. Some folk may not know the name Pierre Henry, but they definitely know his music - well they would know his music, were it not for the fact that what they are hearing isn’t actually him. I’m talking of course about the Futurama theme tune, and how it is a blatant rip-off of Henry’s classic ‘Psyche Rock’ from 1967 (more specifically, the Fatboy Slim remix).
Now, don’t get me wrong I love Futurame, but it’s to Matt Groening’s eternal shame that he did not just stump up whatever cash was required to purchase the original track. What we now have in its place every week is a lame facsimile, that some people even confuse with the original track. Oh well. That’s entertainment!
Regardless, The Art of Sound is an excellent French (subtitled) documentary directed by Eric Darmon and Franck Mallet from 2006 that follows Pierre Henry as he collects unique sounds for his compositions, sets up an even more unique live concert in his house, and generally looks back over a career in music that spans over fifty years. It’s intimate and revealing, and its central figure comes across as quite the character.
No, scrub that - Pierre Henry is the shit. He went from being a pioneer of musique concrete with Pierre Schaeffer in the 1950s to creating psychedelic sound-and-light shows in 1960s Paris that could match anything dreamt up by Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead. He composed music for abstract ballets that still sounds genuinely psychedelic and like nothing else today. He may come across as crabby and extremely eccentric in this film, but I still hope I end up as cool as this guy if I get to be his age. I mean, you have to be pretty awesome to attract a steady fanbase to abstract electronic recital shows in your own bloody house, right?
More psyche-pop magic, this time with Henry & Colombier’s “Teen Tonic” (1967) set to footage of the 1960s German TV fashion Show Paris Aktuel by YouTube uploader Cosmocorps2000:
French film director Jean Rollin died last month and this just released short clip of the Sexploitation legend catches him at home giving an improvised tour of his books and trophies. It was filmed by Merrill Aldighieri during the making of a documentary on Rollin.