Always been a fan of Tracey Thorn. Long before Missing took on a life of its own, there was much to love about Tracey, Ben and Everything But The Girl. So imagine my surprise when her column in the New Statesman began appearing translated into Italian on my Facebook feed.
EBTG's lyrics always had some poignancy to them, and Tracey's thoughtfulness translates over to her column. Tracey has some great observations to make about Pop culture which she does in between pieces on juggling life and motherhood.
Well worth the read. Loved this piece on how songs are like children- they eventually need to go off into the world where they find new meaning and resonance, and, this piece in which the realities of earning a living in today's music market is just not what it used to be.
Much controversy circulating regarding the $90K sale by a Beverly Hills gallery of a work by Richard Prince.
Many people have already formed an opinion on the matter.
If you haven't heard or are unclear I found Matt Rettenmund's take on the issue to be the clearest.
The legalities make the moral issue on copyright here a little less black and white.
Certainly, the response from Missy Suicide, whose work Prince has coopted, is genius. Personally I think the buyer won't be too perturbed by this avent: he know has a potentially significant cultural work in his ownership, and at just $90k, it's the year's most talked about art sale.
Perhaps this story wouldn't have caught the public's attention if we weren't talking about a five figure sum. That's a shame though, because the complexity of copyright today is more fifty shades of grey than black and white.
Nino Batista goes to the trouble of explaining how messy and unclear copyright is these days. A sign of a world that is becoming so adept at recycling that the laws we grew up with and that guided us are now obsolete? I don't know.
What I do know is that as I am vetting my novel, I'm finding that I have to change bits and pieces here and there because I've quoted the odd song lyric along the way., Having not gained permission to reproduce these copywritten words, it could be argued that I would be contravening laws for my own financial purposes rather than for fair use should I not remove them. Richard Prince is better protected some might say than others, but whatever else the outcome, carefully consider whether you really want to buy the $90 version of the image... In the coming weeks its ubiquity could become something like the latest addition to an Ikea catalogue...found in every second home.
Some fun Madonna inspired emojis coming to light over at Madonna Australia on Facebook. Rubber bracelets never go out of style kids!
Beyonce's dance memes breaking the internets pretty much everywhere at the moment.
Paloma Faith panned for her role in Sorrentino's new film.
Having seen it myself, I think the film itself was a little underwhelming. Amazing on a visual level of course: Sorrentino has an eye that is unmatched. But, as my friends and I have been discussing, he should leave the screenplays and dialogues to someone else. And I personally think he should try a film with a female lead. The ongoing love of looking at male protagonists who are reflecting on getting older is, for me at least, well, getting old.
Paloma's inclusion in the film seems like a logical part of the legacy of Sorrentino's upbringing in Naples. It's a place bristling with Southern Mediterranean culture and exaggeration, and a place where pop culture has a very strong presence.
I will say I loved the music video sequence in the film. It was a perfect and inspired coming together of Paloma and Sorrentino's aesthetics. And the line about pop stars in the film... I think fanboy doth protest too much!
Not sure why politicians still think their job is to represent their own personal beliefs in parliament rather than those of their constituents, but, let's see if there is a fair crack at marriage equality debate in Australia this time around. Go here:
I love Trent and his celeb infused but varied blog: it's the flipside of my other love dlisted and worth the visit today if only for a better look at this Kanye beauty.
As someone who works as a translator and who loves me some Japanese classics like Genji monogatori this great piece on Arthur Waley piqued my interest today:
This is Cretto di Burri, an amazing piece of land art created by Alberto Burri in Sicily from 1984-1989. But more on that later.
I'm thinking about the people of who find a way of being art warriors. People who do something to protect our heritage and make our environments something that we can continue to love and to appreciate. I kind of dig these guys. But if you don't understand Italian I'm going to simplify it all for you. They're the Legambiente, which translates to the Environmental League in Italian. Think of them as a greens group, who, in addition to addressing the toll of human activity on the Italian environment also take a comprehensive look at cultural heritage in Italy, with the view that the patrimony or cultural heritage is multi layered and exists in town and country..
They came to my attention after coining the term archeomafia. The concept was based on the black market for stolen artifacts and products looted from the innumerable archaeological sites in Italy, as well as misconduct in cultural institutions which placed objects at risk. Each year they tabled a report to determine the cost of illegal environmental and cultural activity to the environment, and to the state as a whole. Because some people only react to cold hard numbers these days.
From the 27 May thru June 2nd, they are spearheading a nationwide event called Voler Bene all'Italia which translates to something like Love (your) Italy. The event, with a major focus on Naples, one of Italy's most underrated and challenged cities, will feature almost 200 events in various parts of the country designed to get citizens to better appreciate their heritage with the end goal of encouraging citizens to be more mindful of their environment(s) and to do their bit in protecting them.
In Naples, a city whose current state belies the fact that it was once one of the richest and most important cities in all of Europe, participants in the event will be encouraged to reexamine their environment. Naples was, even further back, the mother city: Neapolis, and any visit there will peel thousands of years of continuous settlement before your eyes. It will blow your mind if you can get over the fear of the criminal element that it is now associated with.
Italy's rich heritage means that many of its most notable sites are known the world over. Sites that belong not only to the Italians, but to the world in general. Problems with the economy and funding have meant that many of these sites have fallen into disrepair. In some cases, EU intervention has been widely documented and helped turn back the scope of degradation.
But part of the problem, in any country facing economic difficulty, is raising the awareness of how cultural heritage needs defending, even in the most difficult of fiscal times. This is a country where even some of its smallest towns play host to historical sites of incredible beauty and relevance, and whose tourist based economy would flounder should they no longer be in a condition to attract visitors.
So, if you're in Italy between the 27th of May and the 2nd of June, click on the link, get your Google translate button at the ready, and discover something off the beaten track. If you're near Trapani in Sicily, perhaps you might want to head out to Cretto di Burri, whose restoration is going to be announced as part of the week long festivities. You'll be doing your part, and it could do you some good to get away from the busloads of tourists whose greatest hits tours miss the essence of this country's spectacular and varied history.
Baited breath for Ireland's referendum on same sex marriage. Predictions suggesting it's going to be a yes. The symbolism of another traditional, religious country succeeding won't be lost on other countries dragging their feet should it happen.
Seventeen couples in Rome celebrate their own civil unions, as part of a push by administrations in certain Italian cities to push the national government into reform. The Renzi government's push for national civil unions in Italy gets bogged down in political warfare with more than 4,000 amendments to the policy requested from religious and conservative parties (here, in Italian).
Fascinating look at Norfolk Island and, of modern Australian values stripped bare. Here.
Brandis and co strike again.
In its infinite wisdom, the Australian government has decided to strip the long standing Australia Council of much of its funding...to the tune of $105 million over the next four years. This on top of its slashing and burning of arts funding to the tune of almost $50m last year.
The govt spin is it will widen opportunities for artists. The reality is it is already very difficult to secure funding. The decision to downsize the Oz council will kill programs that have yielded good results for emerging artists and force the govt to go through another trial and error process of setting up new wings, thereby also doubling the administrative costs of what is essentially the same pie.
I don't think anybody can say that the Australia Council system is perfect. But it's well established and has a great web and far reaching network that is often just as useful to artists as the funds it disperses. Artists and creatives are effectively small businesses. They're often like sole proprietors whose work has flow on effects. Stripping the funding in this way sounds like it's just attrition of lefties but the reality is it makes it difficult for people who work in these fields to find paying opportunities to work. If you strip Screen Australia of almost $40m funding in one year, that's a hell of a lot of professionals being forced to compete for diminishing roles.
But that seems to be the point behind such a decision.
Interesting that Brandis didn't see fit to announce these changes when he flew, at taxpayer's expense, to Venice for the Biennale the other week. Guess that would have been inconvenient.
See more detail about the cuts here.
So, Janet Jackson has announced that she's making a comeback.
I don't know if a new Janet Jackson project has the potential to do anything other than preach to the already converted. And even then her parishioners aren't what they once were. Her last few projects seemed to come and go without contributing all that much to her legacy, which I think is based on her amazing work from the late 80s/nineties.
But that said, I feel we've come to the point in pop where everything feels so cynical and lightweight, and even the possibility of a new Janet Jackson album seems almost groundbreaking. These days it seems that if we want something that is not middle of the road from the current bushel of talent show grads and stock standard label acts, then we have to fund it ourselves.
Innovation doesn't seem to be what it once was nor what we're much interested in these days. Don't get me wrong, that Style song was great, but I fear that we're not about celebrating music that moves things forward anymore. I think Taylor Swift and her album's success is a modern take on what someone like Shania Twain once represented. Wholesome, corporate entertainment than doesn't challenge you in any real way, and that you can find something to like or admire even if it's not your cup of tea. Not the kind of thing that will make you switch the channel in disgust.
The great thing about Janet was that at her peak, she was in the middle of a creative and chart rivalry with Madonna who was the flip side of the same coin. It's gonna be interesting to see if Janet's work is received any differently to that of Madonna's recent work, and if she finds a wider market for it in a way that Madonna hasn't been able to.
Madge and JJ were their label's most prized possessions but, rather than aim for pure commercial supremacy, their rivalry seemed to push one another into newer territories while experimenting with the scope of what pop music could be and do.
As much as the press seems to pit the current generation of it girls against each other, I don't feel that they are forced to acknowledge each other in any other way other than commercially or socially. Madge and JJ's rivalry was as much about targets as it was about overcoming their limitations as talents. I don't feel like the current crop of pop acts is forced to perform to the kind of exacting level that they were forced to.
Few pop artists are being rewarded these days for innovation. And let's face it, in recent years pop has been a ladies' game. With the exception perhaps of Beyonce's last album, few of the top solo female acts have really been pushed to do anything that JJ and Madge did in their prime.
Back then, everything rested on a strong album full of potential singles. These days, albums seem to be constantly repackaged and added to, meaning that six months' down the track they are unrecognisable and only ever a means to an end.
I'm not saying that there aren't any amazing pop acts around, but if you look at who's making great pop today, it's not built around the last wave of innovation that we saw at the end of the 'oughties. Back then, Robyn, Santigold, M.I.A, Kelis and Róisín Murphy seemed to be redefining what pop could mean at the time. Even Goldfrapp and Lady Gaga were adding something sophisticated to pop and leading people to emulate in the process.
The tragedy seems that we've regressed from that point and are now more interested in the middle of the road than what lies beyond. Is it just me or is it more formulaic than it has been for a long time? And if you're not following the formula, you've got zero chance in hell to get any exposure today.
Case in point: Róisín Murphy. She's back you know. Imagine the lack of surprise to see that her new album, Hairless Toys has arrived and nobody's paying any attention. She's not ever been one to break open to the masses, but she has consistently made amazing music back since her Moloko days and she's the kind of innovator whose ideas were further poppified (I think I just invented that word) and streamlined for the masses.
People were slow in catching onto Overpowered, her last studio album, but when it dropped some eight years ago it was chock full of amazing, pop friendly tracks. The single You Know Me Better, with its Cindy Sherman tribute video was one of my favourites at the time and criminally ignored by the masses, but if you had your ear to what was happening, you could see that Roisin in many ways was like a new Grace Jones. Smart, a great vocalist, and that one of a kind avant-guard artist who wasn't afraid to put it all out there. She remains a living gallery act who also happens to be amazing live.
From first listens of Hairless Toys, I think she's still unafraid to put it all out there, and yet it seems to be a fearlessness that doesn't translate over to the masses. A shame cos we definitely need to fight the fight for people like her. Watch the lead single from the new album and tell me that its not unlike anything you've heard before and ten times more sophisticated than anything else you're going to this year until the pop acts catch up to her next year.
I've always loved me a good button pusher, and I have to say, I'm still a fan of M.I.A, even though we've been really limited in what her label has wanted to have us hear from her of late.
It's really interesting to see how some acts manage (or don't manage) to cope with the inevitable withholding of affection that always happens at some point in their careers.
M.I.A's fourth studio album Matangi arrived long after it was originally planned and months after fans had hoped for it.
There'd been super bowl controversies, lots of run ins with the press and a general reluctance to continue to see M.I.A as the pioneering and experimental artist that she doesn't always get credit for being.
More than the goddess of words, Matangi was suddenly M.I.A on a back foot.
Let's not forget that M.I.A was once a critic's darling. Her first two albums, Arular (2005) and Kala (2007) received universal acclaim on their release. She vaulted onto the scene out of the emerging social media world, and was celebrated in part for the way in which her records blended world music and hip hop sounds in a way that created something fresh and new.
With her mix of Sri Lankan and London heritage, she was as important for the cultural significance her presence suggested as she was her ground breaking music.
Here was a polarizing figure who straddled the visual arts, fashion and music scenes in an authentic way that few others had before. In a way she seemed to continue the legacy of eighties acts, but razor fresh and modern. She was the antithesis to Lady Gaga, the industry's template for the same mix. And although they were pitted together and had their own war of words, the reality was that they had their own congregations to preach to.
But times have changed. Few artists from the late 'oughties still have the same cache they once did. Look at Gaga- she's the prime example of universal withholding and, bar for Kanye West, there are few other acts with a mainstream presence who are courting the ire of the establishment these days.
People fall out of favour. M.I.A isn't a straightforward proposition for anyone. She has a complicated back story, and her music drips with a mix of influences that are meaningless to the wider, western public. And in this new decade the game has changed again. Where we once coveted other influences, we're closing borders and closing our ears and whitewashing it under the name of 'cultural appropriation'.
You could never imagine something like Memoirs of A Geisha happening again (the film I mean, and thank God for that: file under film adaptation travesties). M.I.A has made mention on her social media in recent days of a video being blocked for fears of cultural appropriation. The full story and details, as often happens with M.I.A controversies, aren't yet known, and whether or not this is really a case of the PCs, it still begs the question.
What constitutes cultural appropriation these days? Aren't we supposed to be living in a ever more globalized world where our ideas are all but interconnected? How is it that so much of what we see and read these days is the product of literal translations or direct copying and we have no problem with that, yet we still seek to limit the cross pollination of ideas when it comes to the arts? I'm pretty sure that sampling a traditional beat, or filming a local dance is not akin to colonizing a country or continent and stripping it of its identity and riches. Rather, what often happens is it turns people onto "new" things and informs the zeitgeist, pushing it into new territory and widening the diaspora.
So where's the harm in interpolating other sounds, visuals and ideas with one's own? Doesn't M.I.A have enough of a track record to suggest that she more than adds her own two cents to the mix? Are we seriously trying to suggest that white people should only make white music and black black? How ridiculous. Are major label acts given a set of rules saying what environments can and can't be deemed inspiring?
When we tire of somebody we often try to diminish them. In part it happens because we move on from things and people at break neck speeds.
Watch or read any interview that M.I.A has granted since 2010 and you'll see that she's been smarting, because she's never been one to articulate her ideas in a conventional way, because we don't allow renegades much free reign these days and because after you've been demonised in the press, it's very hard not to be distrustful.
I'm gonna fight the fight for M.I.A, cos, even if you feel that her more recent work isn't on par with her earlier stuff, the reality is without her, we face an alternative where we no longer feel we need the grit to create the pearl. And without that, we just end up rewarding more and more acts like Taylor Swift and the various voice/idol franchise winners, who, all talents aside, do little to push popular culture forward when all is said and done.
And suddenly all is right with the world again. All that underlying discomfort with the state the world is in just floats away...
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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