This year’s C.T. programme is a story in itself: organised by Marc Weiser of Rechenzentrum, there was apparently much controversy when he revealed to his intellectro-elite peers that he would be including more performance-oriented artists – like Chicks on Speed, Miss Kittin and Jamie Lidell – on the bill.
Personally, I think it was a stroke of brilliance to mix up the idiot-savant ingenuity of the electro-clash crowd with the sometimes overly subtle erudition of the technocrats, (exception taken to those electroclash acts that dwell more on the idiot than the savant). Other than this observation, I don’t feel adequately qualified to comment on C.T. as a whole – partly because my press pass was mislaid by the organisers and mostly because my life has been too short thus far to sufficiently educate myself in the wonders of computer-generated music.
On this, the second night of Club Transmediale, the Maria Club filled up quickly to levels of capacity I never knew were possible, and the atmosphere flowing from the mainstage to the lounge room – where the Dutch tweaked, wailed, twiddled, grooved and droned the evening away – was one of an easy-going international carnival where I crossed paths with leaflet bearing conference goe-ers, wide-eyed 18-year-olds from Bonn and a Mancunian can-can dancer – who had no idea there was any kind of conference going on, she was simply thrilled to be able to finally see one of her favourite bands live…
Chicks on Speed. Chicks on Speed. Chicks on Speed.
I was also more excited to see C.o.S. than any other act, since, despite having crossed the Chicks’ paths many times informally about town and sat in on a “lecture” by them (a disorganised event more along the lines of: “know-it-all art school boy gets a slapping on the wrist by know-it-all art school girls who don’t give a shit”) at Goldsmith’s in London, I’d still never seen the Chicks in concert. However, while enjoying great company in front of an analogue woodfire with the can-can dancer and the Bonn bonbons, I must confess I gave C.o.S. labelmates/signees DAT Politics a miss. Oops, next time – though I did catch the end of Kevin Blechdom’s show, which I must say was a revelation.
The only other time I’d seen Blechdom was the disastrous “Private Triad” concert I witnessed last July in Maria, which even co-star Namosh admitted to me was “like a highschool variety show” (I’ve also caught Namosh in concert since then and been more favourably impressed- and had my facts corrected). Not only was the sound a billion times better, but Kevin was in top form. This time her stadium-size gestures were more hilarious, relaxed and affectionate than desperately ironic, and the sound brought out details of her compositions that I didn’t manage to catch on her CD.
Her duet with Jamie Lidell at the end – a cover of a which bloody one-time radio hit?? – no one else seems to remember either… – with both dressed in suburban striped pyjamas – was mindblowing, as I, for the first time, got the massive joke both of them have constructed, aimed at mainstream music exploitation and exhibitionism. It’s too bad the Super Bowl scandal happened weeks later – maybe we would’ve even gotten a boob-spook reenactment. Lidell would make a brilliant repentant Timberlake.
The energy was high and the audience were warmed up to go into a frenzy. But the Chicks did not deliver. First there was a long tech/sound-check with Melissa making dispirited gestures at the technician, then she introduced her friend – who? She mumbled the name, although I read somewhere it was Ana, and she might have been from Bulgaria.
Ana. Dressed in a revolting white corset ensemble – Madonna meets Cyndi Lauper – and a cute bob that changed colours so many times in the accompanying video footage that I can’t remember which colour was virtual and which actual. Ana was a grotesque that I can only justify by hoping that was the medium of her message. Although the quality of her accompanying samples was good (more than I can say for most electroclash), the covers: “Money”, for example, as well as her original pieces, accompanied by endless video arty reflection, a weak voice and exaggerated gesticulation portrayed a kind of obscene, dated self-absorption that was torture to watch.
Thank you, Chicks on Speed. Finally, the Chicks themselves came on stage and shed their fabulously designed gaudy capes. After a patter of enthusiasm all around – it was a long time to wait for the headlining act – they kicked off with Euro-Trash Girl, rendered faithfully to the recorded version. Too faithfully. Much to my surprise and dismay, the live sight of C.o.S. smearing themselves in neon paint and robo-dancing was not enhancing of the audio experience.
I like the Chicks personally. I like their kick-your-ass attitude and their D.I.Y. philosophies, but that doesn’t mean I have to like their show. The line “we like to use gaffer tape, but we don’t play guitars”, the first single from their latest album, holds the secret, I think, to what the Chicks would rather be doing with their lives: making art, not singing about it. Watching Alex, Melissa, and Kiki up on-stage going through their motions capably, but absolutely unbelievably, was painful. Jingle here, wiggle here, clap-clap there – everybody’s having fun and getting a lecture in economics and cultural politics. I know that’s supposed to be the purpose of CoS – it all started out as a satire, a critique of pre-fabricated pop bands and the accompanying puppetry and merchandising. However, despite succumbing to back-firing commercial success, the Chicks have never given up their initial premise that their performance should be a critique of performance itself. Not a bad starting point, as Blechdom and Lidell proved, just a pity it doesn’t seem to have gotten any further than this 2-dimensional alienation. Maybe four years ago the Chicks’ trash pastiche was more revolutionary and I might have responded as jaw-droppingly as I did to Kevin Blechdom, but now I’ve seen what happens when three mature women get trapped in their own conceptual practical joke for too long.
I’m happy to have a few C.o.S. records in my collection and it’s quite possible that the Chicks will continue to put out more classic, well-produced pop sound art amongst other simultaneously self-promoting and media-bashing “anti-products”. In the meantime, I suggest that the Chicks (and Ana) go back to their workshops and develop a new performance containing the elements of risk, spontaneity and intrigue that make a live show worth watching or one that reflects more brutally the numbing pop theatre they want to unmask.
Beam me up, Scottie. Over and out, Miss Rose.