Music

Remixes and Reminisence

Recently, I discovered that two of my Sequential Tart friends, Olwyn Supeene and Wolfen Moondaughter, have become ARMY! We also discovered that we each liked a different remix of the BTS single, “Butter”.

Olwyn wondered if our different selections were related to our different musical tastes, so she asked us.

Here’s what we said.

Arts, Music

BTS’s Butter: All the playas get movin’

In which I dust off this blog with a fun summer song

It’s been almost a year since I posted here. What happened? Well, there was this pandemic…. COVID-19 stopped in-person live events cold, and this blog was set up to highlight live performances and gallery shows as a way to get me out of the house. 

Local arts companies eventually found their way online, adapting pre-planned shows, including interactive ones, such as last May’s Tracks: Message Received. Soon, shows were entirely written, performed, and presented during the pandemic. Some productions went live to air; others were live to tape; some combined film, dance, and post-production decisions. I enjoyed many of these. Although they did not get me out of the  house, or even my living room, they did give me the feeling of being in attendance. The entire field of the performing arts pivoted and took viewers and participants like me along with them as they explored expanded definitions of “liveness”.

I first came across the concept of “liveness” in the book K-pop Live: Fans, Idols, and Multimedia Performance by UCLA theatre professor Suk-Young Kim. She wrote: “This book is mainly concerned with a more theoretical investigation of ‘liveness’ as a technological, ideological, and affective mode in which human subjects interact with other human and nonhuman subjects in the digital age.” The book was published in pandemic-free 2018, but I found it indispensable for understanding the new virtual environment in which performing art was presented during the pandemic of 2020 and 2021.

Joining ARMY

The reason I read the book was to understand the reason I never ran out of entertainment during the pandemic: BTS.

I had been aware of the group for a few years, but only started to to pay attention in early 2020 when images and songs from their just-released new album were being circulated by fans of the mega-popular Chinese series, The Untamed. I was already a few months late to that show, but made up for it over the Christmas/New Year season of 2019-20. Numerous fans wondered if The Untamed zombie character Wen Ning had inspired the look sported by BTS’s V in the music video for the single, “ON”. There was also a popular Untamed fanvid set to the album cut, “Moon”. With so many collisions in this fandom, something was clearly up.

I promised friends that I would check out BTS “when I had time.” Then the pandemic hit, and along with it, semi-lockdown orders. It seemed like a good time to look into BTS. What was the worse that could happen?

Cut to: today. I have an ARMY membership, several albums, streaming playlists, hours of Run BTS! logged, an ARMY bomb, a season’s greeting stationery set, and a cupsleeve from a local ARMY event to celebrate the December birthdays of Jin and V.

Coming late to a fandom can be daunting. In its eight years since debut, BTS has produced hundreds of songs (in three languages) and thousands of music videos, live performances, dance practices, and spontaneous live videos through which members spoke directly with fans.

So to become a BTS fan at this late stage of their eight-year career is to experience all their live events to catch up on BTS now is to experience all their work and events simultaneously. And because I’ve experienced this while being advised to stay-at-home, I did not go out to see their movie; I did not hang around to chat at the cupsleeve event; I did not organize a birthday party with a BTS soundtrack. Almost all of my interaction with their work is through my computer. They’re here, all live, all the time, of all times.

Which brings me to “Butter”

Video: BTS’s “Butter”, 2021

“Butter” is BTS’s second all-English single, following on their first U.S. radio hit, “Dynamite”. BTS has actually been very popular in the U.S. for years. In 2014, hundreds of fans lined up for their first U.S. showcase. In 2015, BTS landed an album on the main Billboard chart. In 2019, they charted three #1 album debuts, the first group to do so since the Beatles.

BTS should need no introduction now, but they do. The success of “Dynamite” and “Butter” seems to prove that they’ve been kept off mainstream radio in Canada and the U.S. because their songs are mostly in Korean. (They also have enough Japanese songs to issue this month’s BTS: The Best compilation of Japanese hits.) 

RM has said that “Butter” has no heavy message, but the song and the video are still meaningful. It’s a more in-depth introduction to the band, a statement of their purpose, and their history. To me, “Dynamite” is the musical equivalent of the band’s iconic group greeting to audiences and interviewers, which translates to: “Two, three, we are BTS!” In this analogy, “Butter” is the part when each member states his name. 

Before I get to my notes on “Butter”, I was influenced by interpretations posted by columnist Lainey Liu  and the tweeter GM Cantave. Liu noted that the colour of butter is yellow, a word that’s been used to shame Asians, but the biggest band on the planet has now reclaimed it. Cantave wrote about the three storylines in “Butter”: BTS flirts with the listener, comments on the music industry, and sends a love letter to ARMY. I am simplifying, so please check out the links. Liu and Cantave’s well articulated ideas were in the back of my mind as I made note of my responses to “Butter”.

Notes on “Butter”

Jung Kook in “Butter”, 2021

“Butter” opens with beats that reminded me and many others of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust’, and is followed by the lines, “Smooth like butter/Like a criminal undercover”, which was reminiscent of “Criminal” by Michael Jackson. These reverential references to Queen and Michael Jackson invite listeners to compare BTS to those superstars. As a child of the 70s, I have no trouble placing BTS in the same bracket as Queen and Michael Jackson. My first memory of Michael Jackson was from Jackson 5ive cartoons on Saturday morning. I never imaged that he would become a solo star as iconic as Elvis Presley. When I first heard Queen on Top 40 radio, I thought they were a curiosity, but they proved to have massive mainstream appeal. I did not know about BTS when they started. I imagine there are a lot of people who are surprised that this group that was atypical of hip hop or idol groups have become the biggest band on the planet. But I do know that by the time BTS, Michael Jackson, and Queen held multiple-night concerts at Wembley Stadium (to choose just one milestone of success), they all had deep, bestselling catalogues and a global presence.

V in “Butter”, 2021

V’s entire section here is both a tease and a taunt. He’s flirting with the listener and flexing at an industry that underestimated BTS. By saying “I owe it all to my mother”, V brags about his natural gifts as a singer and visual, and pushes back against negative preconceptions about both idol singers and Asians. K-pop scene performers are often stereotyped as being inauthentic and “made” by plastic surgery, auto-tune, and a “factory” system. It’s a form of techno-orientalism, the association of Asian people with robots or synthetic life-forms, and Asian culture with unindividuated cogs in an efficient machine. These are stereotypes that this sexy, dishevelled, born-of-woman V defies.

V in “Butter”, 2021

Who’s sweating? The industry? ARMY? Probably both, but for different values of “like that”. Btw, I’ve made a YouTube playlist of V’s lollipop trilogy.

Jin in “Butter”, 2021

Jin then sings the pre-chorus: “Oh when I look in the mirror / I’ll melt your heart into 2 / I got that superstar glow so”. This amused me because it reminds me of Jin’s “Worldwide Handsome” persona, which is basically a comedic bit in which he acts like an unrepentant narcissist. He gave an amazing in-character anger to Indian interviewer Sakshma Srivastav when she asked recently if his looks overshadowed his talent.

Jung Kook in “Butter”, 2021

After their mugshots, the chorus begins, and the boys are on stage in full colour (I think of this as a subtle allusion to the pandemic: they’re fine on their own, but they live in full colour when they’re on stage). In this section, Jung Kook plants a kiss on the back of his hand, where he has a tattoo of a purple heart, a significant symbol for BTS and ARMY. When he sings “high like the moon”, I think about how it’s canon in the BTS universe, the band is the moon and ARMY is the Earth. You can see it in Jin’s performance of “Moon” at the Map of the Soul: ON:E concert and in the poster for their Muster Sowoozoo concerts on June 13 and 14. In the Sowoozoo poster, the boys hold what appear to be balloons in the likeness of the planets in our solar system. The only planet missing is the Earth, which is their foundation. 

Jimin in “Butter”, 2021

When Jimin sings, “Let me show you ’cause talk is cheap”, it’s hard not to think of the high-octane, shows they’ve put on, even for three-minute appearances on U.S. award shows. But rather than a demonstrative gesture that indicates he’s showing something, he puts his finger to his lips in the international gesture for “be quiet”. He’s dancing and singing; it’s up to the audience to really look and listen.

V in “Butter”, 2021

V makes a reference to Usher’s hit, “U Got It Bad “, bringing the nostalgic vibes up to 2009. It’s a line that has entertained everyone, including Usher, who took on the BTS “Butter” challenge on Tik Tok. This scene is nostalgic for ARMY, too. The last time V was in an elevator, in the video for “Dope”, he was literally in short pants.

V in “Dope”, 2015

“Dope” was a 2015 single which was also an introductory anthem. It was a bigger hit globally than it was in Korea, and the band followed up its success with their first international tour. In “Dope”, V took the elevator down to join the others, who all seem to be gathering after their day jobs to commiserate/perform/excel together. Six years later, in “Butter”, V takes the elevator up to meet ARMY.

RM in “Butter”, 2021

During the dance break section, each member is shown alone in the elevator freestyling. It’s a great way for each member to show (because talk is cheap) an aspect of his personality through dance. Jimin’s moves are sleek and confident. RM powers through his section. V went for comedy. Jung Kook is dramatic. j-hope takes up the whole space and dances with every fibre of his body. SUGA sways with cool vibes. Jin’s larger-than-life World Wide Handsome personality has larger-than-life moves.

SUGA in “Butter”, 2021

SUGA raps, “No ice on my wrist”, and to prove it, shows his wrists, which are devoid of expensive watches, but festooned with friendship bracelets. He doesn’t need flashy accoutrements, not when he has “that right body and that right mind”. SUGA came from humble beginnings, and joined a company in its lean days. But sheer talent and determination drove their success.

BTS spells ARMY in “Butter”, 2021

Many bands have loyal fans, but who else can say they have an ARMY? Okay, KISS had one. It was the only fan club I remember being spoken about by name. However, it was not like ARMY (which stands for Adorable Representative MC for Youth). The relationship between BTS and ARMY is fascinating. I loved learning about it. First, I learned that it is common for Korean idol groups to name their fan clubs, and to have a high level of engagement with them through fan meetings and the like. However, because BTS came from a small company which was on the verge of bankruptcy in BTS’s early years, the band survived with the support of ARMY, who voted, streamed, and bought music and concert tickets to keep the band going. ARMYs could also relate to BTS, who regularly sang about the pressures felt by Korea’s “sampo generation”, which is mentioned in “Dope” (international millennial and Generation Z could also relate). ARMY is often mischaracterized as being screaming teens, and harshly judged for it, but BTS never fall for the “crazy fan” questions the Western media loves to ask them. ARMY feels that BTS understands them, and BTS feels that they would be alone it it weren’t for ARMY. So after BTS introduces themselves to the general public in “Butter”, they literally spell out the importance of ARMY as part of the band.

j-hope in “Butter”, 2021

To be honest, I had misgivings about the line, “We don’t stop.” I grew up with the stereotype of scary Asian invasions in comics, on TV, and in the news (specifically, the effects of geopolitical domino theory on Asia, which had a very real effect on BTS’s homeland, Korea). But j-hope sings this line with a welcoming smile, and leads a group of individuals we have now met through their dancing, rapping, singing, and style.

BTS does not stop. They have persevered through near-bankruptcy, industry disrespect, local media indifference, international media intransigence, racism, and a global pandemic. BTS is a remarkable group, and the members and ARMY seem to be remarkable people. I wish I had gotten to them sooner, but as SUGA once said, “Don’t feel regretful that you weren’t there since our debut, because every moment feels just like when we first debuted. The day when you first met us, is the day we debuted.”

BTS has expanded the concept of “liveness” in this respect, too.

Reviews

From Ziggy Stardust, Diamond Dog, and Thin White Duke, to Comic-Book Character

An excerpt from BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams. Art by Mike Allred, script by Steve Horton.

I participated in a roundtable review of the beautiful new David Bowie book by Mike Allred and Steve Horton:

“Using the last Ziggy Stardust concert as a framing device, BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams traces how Bowie built and rebuilt identities and created innovations that affected music, art, fashion, videos, and even financial products.”

One of the things I like about the book is how Horton and Allred credit those behind the scenes who helped shaped Bowie.

Read more at Sequential Tart.

Arts, Reviews

UltraViolet with Jane Berry

UltraViolet (Chenoa Anderson, Roger Admiral, Allison Balcetis, Amy Nicholson) with Jane Berry on stage at McDougall United Church on November 23, 2019. Photo by Suzette Chan.

UltraViolet with Guest Vocalist and Composer Jane Berry
November 23, 2019
McDougall United Church
Presented by New Music Edmonton

On November 23, 2019, New Music Edmonton invited me to their first concert of the season. The featured group was UltraViolet, a quartet featuring Chenoa Anderson on flute, Allison Balcetis on saxophone, Amy Nicholson on cello, and Roger Admiral on piano.

On this occasion, they were joined by Jane Berry, who provided vocals on all five pieces performed that night, including her own composition.

I’m going to walk through the program from beginning to end because it made for a perfect evening, starting with the venue. McDougall United Church was built in 1910 with oak interiors and maple floors. It has been used as a church continuously, but has been a concert venue from the start. Its grand opening on January 20, 1911 featured a 50-person choir, and a pipe organ was installed the following year. Opera, symphonies, and recitals have taken place there. (This description summarizes a report by Lawrence Herzog and Molly Staley as part of the Edmonton City as Museum Project). This is all to say that the space is storied and cozy, which complemented and contrasted with the adventurous new music on the program.

The evening opened with John Cage’s “Living Room Music” (1940). The musicians sat on comfy reading chairs and “played” everyday objects of their choosing. They made music with magazine, wooden stools, books on a bench, and a two-by-four, among other items. They took text fragments of “The World Is Round”, a children’s book by Gertrude Stein, and gave it a sound-poem reading. Cage probably didn’t call for vehicular traffic to be incorporated into the piece, but the noise of cars driving past the church became another quotidian source of sound in the performance.

The second piece was “Tanzer Lieder” by Quebec composer Ana Sokolovic. The composition is built around poems written by Francisco Tanzer in German, French, and English (to honour the languages of the members of Trio Phoenix, for which the piece was written) . The natural echo in the McDougall sanctuary added a “special effect” to Berry’s vocals, and her harmonizing with Amy Nicholson’s cello was divine.

Next, Berry sang and hummed her own composition, “The Break”. With lyrics about living with bipolar disorder, the song was gorgeous and haunting, particularly when she sang the words “catch me when I’m falling”, or the repeated phrase, “I’m trying, I’m trying, I’m trying”, or the poignant line, “If I told you a flower grew in the darkness, would you believe it?” “The Break” resonated both musically and emotionally.

After the intermission, the ensemble performed “The Woman and the Lyre”, a five-movement piece based on poetry fragments by Sappho. The composer, Alyssa Aska, used translations by Canadian poet Bliss Carmen (1861 to 1929). This was the only piece of the night with an electroacoustic element, as Berry’s vocals were processed live from the mic. It also had a performative aspect. At one point, Roger Admiral got up and plucked piano wire as if they were strings on a lyre. The piece also called upon Berry to pace across the stage nervously, perhaps reflecting the anxiety of the poet. I thought the action was also a metaphor for the tightrope the musicians were walking in presenting a fully realized contemporary piece of work based on fragments for which we do not have a full context. Satisfyingly, the piece ended on a sure and sublime note.

Finally, UltraViolet performed five movements from Frederic Rzewski’s 1986 composition, “Chains”. If the Sappho piece had a historical flavour, “Chain” was unnervingly topical. Jane Berry sat on one of the comfy armchairs which made an appearance at the start of the program. This time, she was holding a copy of the National Post, and literally reading the news: Trump, the provincial budget, university funding, the Climate Strike march, oh boy! Berry begin to break down the words until they were music, while the Chenoa Anderson and Allison Balcetis coaxed their wind instruments to make sounds like early morning bird calls. The ensemble referred back to the John Cage piece by incorporating everyday objects once again to make music, this time there was a wrench, and a stapler, and a set of keys on a lanyard. Berry provided a physical performance as she did in the Alyssa Aska piece, but instead of pacing, she sat in the chair, building a structure with Jenga blocks, until she dramatically swiped it all off the table.

“Chains” was the perfect book-end to “Living Room Music”, with elements that brought “Tanzer Lieder”, “The Break”, and “The Woman and the Lyre: Sapphic Cycle” to mind. Kudos to UltraViolet for a well-considered, fun, and beautifully performed program.

NOTES:

UltraViolet was named in honour of the late Edmonton composer Violet Archer. The ensemble is especially interested in performing brand new work, and have pledged “to maintain gender parity in our programming and commissioning.” Check out video of performances of three new works on their website.

New Music Edmonton presents a number of shows during the year. They host a series called NME at The Aviary: New Music, New Voices (the next one is on January 16, 2020) and an annual spring music festival called Now Hear This, which will take place on March 19 to 22, 2020. Details about these shows are on the New Music Edmonton website.

Reviews

Not a word of a lie, I love Anna Meredith’s Fibs

A week after watching Paul Rudd’s Netflix show Living with Yourself, I kept coming back to one thing: the music.

The show was interesting enough. It’s about a bedraggled man who goes in for a wellness treatment and wakes up in a grave. He finds out that he’s been replaced by a cloned, better version of himself. Amplifying the character’s growing unease and horror, as well as the plot’s self-aware absurdity, was the soundtrack by Anna Meredith. I binged the show, partly to see what was going to happen next in the story, but increasingly to be delighted anew by the score. After the show was over, I went looking for more of the music.

As luck would have it, Meredith has a brand new album out, her second, called Fibs, and it’s thrilling. I just did not know what musical phrasing, instrumentation, or style would come up next, but when it did, it all fit together in its own bold way. Meredith’s musical foundations for this album are in classical music, pop, and electrionica, but flourishes reminiscent of carnival rides, video games, and big, brash marching bands keep the listener tumbling along through her audacious musical explorations.

Meredith is playing a couple of festivals in the Netherlands this weekend and has gigs lined up in the UK for February 2020. I hope she gets to play some Canadian dates soon.

Meanwhile, I have a bunch of back catalogue to binge before I circle back for another musical adventure ride with Fibs.

NME interviews Anna Meredith about Living with Yourself

Anna Meredith’s official website

Arts, Reviews

Sweaty Palms and Electrifying Sounds

Matthew Cardinal at the tin-roofed, flocked-wallpapered, chenille-drapped 9910 on October 11, 2019. Photo by Suzette Chan.

Last week, Edmonton musician Mustafa Rafiq announced that he would be putting his music curation activities as Sweaty Palms on hiatus while he takes some time off to travel and explore music scenes in Europe.

I met Mustafa this summer while preparing a two-part article on the sound art scene in Edmonton for Luma Quarterly (part one went live in August; my interview with Mustafa appears in November). I was impressed with his commitment to bringing local and international experimental acts to Edmonton stages. He’s presented hundreds of different kinds of shows in different venues, but as someone who doesn’t drive and has a day job, I appreciate his efforts to put on centrally located shows with early start- and end-times. I’ve been avoiding gigs because they just start too late for me, so I was happy to check out some of the venues I’ve been missing out on.

I managed to catch two of the last Sweaty Palms gigs of 2019. The first was on October 11, an electronica triple-bill at 9910. It was my first visit to this downstairs space under The Common. I liked the brothel-esque aesthetic! I sat in one of the banquettes along the wall, opting for comfort over better sightlines, but I am the type of person who closes their eyes once the music gets going.

First up was Matthew Cardinal, a member of nehiywak who also has a solo act. His set ebbed and flowed between being atmospheric and bringing in more of a dance beat. There were passages marked by notes that rang the top end of the hearing range, followed by booming sounds that we could feel through the floor: it was a head-to-toe experience of sound.

Next was Jonathan Kawchuk, who set up what looked like a ping-pong table. He stood on one end with his back to my side of the audience (my viewing angle actually let me see Kawchuk reflected in a mirror on the other side of the room); another musician (I didn’t get his name) was at the other end of the table. Instead of ping-pong paddles, they wielded iPads which seemed to control both the music and a bank of lights above the audience. The sound and light alternated between being soothing and being unsettling, which really brought to mind how little it can take to nudge a person (okay, me) out of their comfort zone.

The final act of the evening was Kara-Lis Coverdale. Coverdale’s set-up was minimal—just her, her sequencer, and a tight spotlight on her fingers—but the music she produced was maximal. Her set came in strong with complex, layered sounds. It evoked images of air travel for me. For the friend who accompanied me, Coverdale’s music specifically evoked Montreal, where my friend had recently vacationed, and where Coverdale is based. I’m sure everyone in the room had different thoughts. The point is, Coverdale’s epic set allowed listeners to dream or meditate on a huge scale.

Kelly Ruth at The Almanac on October 16, 2019. Photo by Suzette Chan.

Less than a week after the triple-bill at 9910, Sweaty Palms in conjunction with New Music Edmonton co-presented a special double bill at The Almanac on October 16. I’ve been to The Almanac for poetry readings. The front of the restaurant is a bistro; the back is a pub set-up where they hold events. This show was an experimental, noise gig featuring two “supergroups”. Opening the night was the duo of Allison Balcetis playing saxophone and Kelly Ruth operating a weaving loom equipped with contact mics running through a sequencer. I interviewed Kelly (also for Luma Quarterly) about her use of a weaving loom to make music, and this was my first time seeing her play. She used a weaving shuttle and her fingers to get sound out of the loom. Maybe because it was October, but the images their set inspired were of wandering through a mansion, exploring the biggest rooms and the smallest corners, and perhaps finding an egress to a batcave or to the outdoors in the end.

The visiting headliners at the Almanac gig were Montreal’s Sound of the Mountain with special guests from Japan, Tetuzi Akiyuma and Toshimaru Nakamura. This was a spectacular set with a reed instrumentalist and a guitarist on either side of two synth players. The synth and guitar evoked visions of machine-built cities, with the reed instruments evoking the breaths and voices of humans who design and live in them.

I feel really fortunate to have caught these shows, and only wish that I’d caught more Sweaty Palms productions over the past few years. I’m looking forward to whatever Mustafa will bring back from his travels.

Follow Mustafa Rafiq at https://www.instagram.com/familyinjera/

Reviews

Prairie Dance Circuit: Melanie Kloetzel and Gerry Morita

PrairieDanceCircuit-MoritaKloetzel-2018-09-21
First time I’ve seen earplugs given out at a dance performance. Photo by Suzette Chan.

On Friday night, the Brian Webb Dance Company opened its 40th season with a presentation that was both new and nostalgic, as befitting a venerable company with a long history of presenting new work.

BWDC participates in the Prairie Dance Circuit, which chooses new work to tour the Prairie provinces. This year, the featured choreographers are Melanie Kloetzel and Gerry Morita.

Melanie Kloetzel: It Began with Watching

The evening began with Melanie Kloetzel’s “It Began with Watching”, a fun and timely piece that she wrote, choreographed and directed. The lights go up on eight female dancers, all wearing suits tailored for men. I had the impression that they were businessmen, emphasis on “busy” and “men”. They began by performing slow movements, like participants in a tai chi class, or cogs in a highly regimented, well-oiled—albeit slow—machine. Eventually, one dancer stopped and left the stage while the others carried on. Then, another one stopped and left, followed by another and another, until all but one had left the stage. The lone person on stage turned her back on us and appeared to hang herself. The lights on stage went down, but the house lights went up, and the dancers who had left the stage reappeared in the audience area, shaking hands and congratulating people with the kind of platitudes you hear at the end of a meeting.

They eventually return to the stage for what I felt was the highlight of the piece. The dancers re-assembled as a chorus, chirping catchphrases such as: “At the end of the day”, “Let me be clear”, and “It is what it is”, until they were essentially performing a sound poem. Their chatter morphed into nonsense musical phrases and back again, all conducted by the person who had remained on stage. The “conductor”, incidentally, set off her pinstripe suit with a Trudeau-red necktie. It becomes clear that these are meant to be government people, not captains (and lackeys) of capitalism as I had assumed, but perhaps this blurred line was intentional. It seemed integral to a major point of the piece: that the slow and steady work of the democratic process has been volubly and fatuously  hijacked.

Gerry Morita: Second-Hand Dances for the Crude, Crude City

The work that called my attention to this show was Morita’s “Second-Hand Dances for the Crude, Crude City”. I had read that it had to do with Mr. Chi Pig, the former lead singer for legendary Edmonton punk rock band SNFU. I saw the band a couple of times back in the day, most memorably when they and two other punk bands opened for the Dead Kennedys at SportsWorld (no regular venues wanted to risk their soft seats for such a potentially destructive—and awesome—show, so they were booked into a concrete-floor roller rink).

I tried to avoid reading too much about the show beforehand, so I wondered if it would be simply a dance scored with SNFU music, or if it would be a jukebox musical like Twyla Thorpe’s Movin’ Out, in which a narrative was constructed from hit songs by Billy Joel. “Second-Hand Dances for the Crude, Crude City” turned out to be neither.

The set looked like a rehearsal hall that had been plucked out of an old warehouse, such as the Great West Saddlery Building (which has rented space to bands) and dropped onto the Timms Centre stage. The set even had a ping-pong table, with two people actually playing ping-pong throughout the piece. Behind them was a drum kit, mic stands and guitars. These were eventually used by a live band to play a couple of SNFU songs very loudly (which was why earplugs were handed out as we entered the theatre). Performers playing other tech types hung around. Morita and another dancer, Stacey Murchison if I’ve read my program correctly, stood at the sides of the stage doing some exaggerated punk-dancing. Eventually, they moved to centre stage and transitioned to more intentional dance moves. Not satisfied with mimicking punk aesthetic, they incorporated punk ideas in their duet. They appeared to be two bodies in motion vying to occupy the same space at the same time. This, to me, brought home an essential element of punk: sights, sounds, and ideas that seemed contradictory were constantly being thrown into conflict. Bands like the Sex Pistols mocked the establishment record industry by being signed to one; the Clash (literally, it’s in their name) made different genres of music work together; the sweet voices and harsh music of the Slits; the new/old, tailored/torn, hard/soft, small/large contrasts in how punks dressed before a punk look was codified.

Mr. Chi Pig, whose real name is Ken Chinn, was not on stage, but he did perform, via a recently recorded black-and-white video that was projected on the wall. I remembered him as a gravity-defying, spiked mohawk-coiffed punk, but in the video, Chinn was in a sedate studio setting. He had a long, white beard looked far older than his 56 years; heck, he looked like an elderly Confucius.  (I should say that Chinn was one of the few Chinese-Canadian punks on the scene, and thus an inspiration to me personally. This is probably a subject for another dance, or at least, another day.)

Chinn’s voice has aged, too. In the video that closed the show, he sang Johnny Cash’s arrangement of  the Nine Inch Nails song, “Hurt”. Cash was 70 years old when he released that song. Chinn sounded older. Obviously, “Hurt” was not a song that SNFU performed in the old days. It’s a song Chinn could only really sing now, having survived a self-destructive period of life. Clearly, “Second-Hand Dances for the Crude, Crude City” is just a dance set to SNFU music, nor is it a jukebox musical. It’s a different type of collaboration. Gerry Morita collaborated with not only the eight performers with whom she shared the stage, but also with Chinn, his music, and the audience’s memories or impressions of the Edmonton punk scene of the early 80s.

Time and Place

My thoughts were centered on time because of Brian Webb Dance Company’s 40th anniversary. However, equally important to both works is place. The red necktie and talk of parliament situates Calgarian Melanie Kloetzel’s “It Began with Watching” in Canada. Everything about Edmontonian Gerry Morita’s “Second-Hand Dances for the Crude, Crude City” is about Edmonton, including the title (“crude” for punk, “crude” for a young, working class city, “crude” for oil).

Local stories in dance are another way for creators and audiences to see and remember how place affects us, and how we affect place. Thanks to BWDC, Melanie Kloetzel, Gerry Morita, and all the performers and technicians for making, sharing, and inspiring more memories this weekend.

Links

BWDC video: Brian Webb interviewing Gerry Morita about creating independent work within a larger community.

BWDC: 40th Anniversary Season