It’s that time of year when I put my curator hat back on and try and give you the benefit of my experience (and very subjective opinion) to make sure you get the most out of your visit to the Venice Biennale.
The Venice Art Biennale is one of few fixed events in my calendar that I make sure I never miss.
Every time I go to Venice it takes my breath away. I don’t know whether that’s because of the extortionate prices they charge for practically anything, because the city’s just so fucking beautiful or because these days I only go there for the Biennale and I find myself lost in my thoughts when I’m there.
Factor in the bonus of some artporn and a few spritzes and the Art Biennale usually makes for a perfect weekend away for an art nerd like myself.
For me the anticipation often starts a few months’ earlier than the actual visit. If I haven’t already begun sleuthing of my own accord I usually start getting excited about it all when I receive a couple of texts to translate for promotional purposes or for the gallery wall panels.
This year’s May You Live In Interesting Times- the fifth consecutive Biennale I’ve attended- had all the same build up of Biennales past but the actual reality of the visit marked something of a change for me.
Usually after each visit I really struggle to whittle down the national pavilions to a concise best of the best. I have to go through my notes and reflect a lot in order to get my head around what I saw and what spoke the most to the curator and the artist in me. (You may or may not know that I was a curator and gallerist once upon a time).
I inevitably end up feeling like I’m short changing a few artists because so many had something exceptional to offer.
Worse still, I normally spend so much time being enthralled at a national level that the central, combined exhibitions feel like an obligation that I have to get through, carefully managing what little time I have left to search out the gems and filter out the distractions and all the noise.
This year was almost a complete reversal for me. I found myself struggling to enjoy many of the national presentations and instead more enthralled by what was on show in the collective exhibits which under Ralph Rugoff’s curation felt unified, cohesive and engaging where in the past they were often a rambling, time consuming mess.
I won’t go into Giardini and Arsenale just yet- they’ll get separate posts as per the tradition of this blog.
But I will say this: if you’re planning on heading to the Biennale this year you’ll do well to manage your level of expectation, especially if you’ve visited Biennales in the past.
This year there’s very little that’s playful or fun and humour is in very short supply. This year is a serious Biennale and worse still, very few artists who had a national showcase to play with managed to really hit the mark.
So you’ll have to be patient and pace yourself until the highlights present themselves (and sometimes re-present themselves) and make the long, expensive vaporetto ride seem worthwhile. And of course get a leg up with my tips and suggestions.
Last year a friend of mine had to sit me down and explain what ASMR was.
Knowing the kind of bubble I live in between work and writing, he was worried I was losing my touch.
I'm the first to admit I'm unable to keep up with what makes Millennials tick.
I didn't even know ASMR existed let alone that it was making noisy (and not so noisy) people rich. Mashable have an introductory video into the phenomenon in case you're not yet across it.
I ended the conversation with my friend incredulous and certain of only two things;
(i) my various career paths have all been poorly chosen
(ii) I need to keep up with the most savvy generation earth has seen.
To that effort, I was proud when I discovered yet another Gen Y staple: reactions.
Now there are a lot of Reactions on youtube (I guess they're made by Reactors...or are they just influencers? God help me.)
In case you don't know what they are, they're basically filmed reactions to videos or moments. It goes well beyond those viral hits of people's OTT reactions to scenes from Game of Thrones that had everyone feeling things a couple of years back. Reactions have become more sophisticated and exhaustive since their Viral beginnings.
Nowadays there's a growing number of (mostly) Millennials who film their commentaries on daily pop culture, but also those who trawl back through the 80s and 90s to "discover" and "react" to classic content.
They have channels and followers, and often Stans (=major fans) make suggestions of videos or albums they should watch/listen to and then react to.
There's a fair bit of disingenuity going on in a lot of reaction videos; people pretending to watch something for the first time or reacting in a way that suggests they're doing it for the comments (or the likes or the follows).
But just like anything else on the web, for every uninformed, implausible video there's an equally honest and fascinating take on Gen X culture.
2019 is proving a huge year for looking back after all this year marks the 30th anniversary of some of the pop world's touchstones.
To my mind, Madonna's Like A Prayer was 1989's most important pop artifact.
It may've been snubbed by the Grammys, but the press today is unanimous; Like A Prayer is a masterpiece, a game changer and currently the focus of a lot of praise.
I could bang on about how for years Like A Prayer was my favourite Madonna album but we live in a Millennial world, and it's increasingly up to them to decide what from our past was significant and important.
To that end, I've rounded up some of the most insightful and entertaining reactions to Like A Prayer's main videos after the jump.
I hate to tip my hat to Taylor Swift, but she really was onto something.
1989 really was a watershed year for pop music.
As the months roll on this year, you'll find that your social media feeds will be brimming with 30 year anniversary posts.
Some key albums from 1989 have had a lasting impact worldwide; others proved transformative in their local markets.
There was something about 1989 that pushed a lot of eighties acts to lift their game; to do something to justify your attention into the next decade. So many eighties pop acts seemed to come of age that year.
In Australia, as in some other countries in the colonial world, we were still coming out of a bit of a rock music haze. We certainly had lapped up the work of the international superstars, but we were a bit late to the pop party locally.
For better or worse, genres other than rock really only started to gain traction in the mid eighties in Oz. You were more likely to find yourself down the pub watching a bunch of frizzy haired guys in acid wash making their air guitar dreams come true than you were to be having a little shuffle in the middle of a heaving dancefloor back then.
There were certainly some great Aussie pop acts that emerged in the eighties (mostly for a flash) in Australia, but for the most part we had to wait until the end of the decade for female artists to be given the space to break the rock (chick) mould.
Before then it was unheard of for a record company and the media to really get behind a local lady and really give their work the kind of attention usually reserved for the blokes.
If you have even an ounce of Australian in you, then you know that Kate Ceberano is a national treasure; a versatile singer who effottlessly jumped across jazz, pop and funk as she paved out an unorthodox career that now spans three decades.
In 1989, she released her first proper pop debut; Brave, and for a year she and her Ministry of Fun were everywhere. She achieved great commercial sucess with her solo debut.
But more importantly Kate really ushered in a new era for Australian music.
Sad that it has come to this, but gosh, they still have it, don't they?
Of course, some more Rosario would've been great, but who am I to complain with their brilliant chemistry and the writing that made Will and Grace so great for so long? It was like eight seasons crystallized into ten minutes with a lot of venting and great gags.
Meanwhile, did you watch the debate?
I did this morning, having gone to bed with that uneasy feeling about what the box of kittens would bring with it.
Watching it was like watching something on the Discovery channel. Where the big, bulky species was constantly being pushed back into its cage by the smaller but smarter opponent.
That said, is it just me, or do you increasingly get the feeling that Trump's boiling anger acts like some kind of catharsis for the wider population? Like he says everything people from anywhere have wanted to say to a politician - especially one like Hillary - but never get the chance to because they don't want to sound like a rambling lunatic, or because reason, intellect [and facts] stops them?
Watching him stab his words out is like listening to half a country getting everything off its chest in a group therapy session, amplified as it is through all that fake tan and that comb over.
The commentators and media have already decided it was a win to Hillary, but the response from, well, I don't know, a third of the world [hello China, Russia, Iran, Japan, North Korea and Saudi Arabia and congratulations on your special mentions] is going to be just as fun [and disturbing] to watch. If that debate doesn't justifiably make their blood boil in the process. Please America, make it end.
A heart felt congratulations to J. Lo.
Jenny from the block has been doing the rounds recently - car pool karaoke [loved the music video jazz hands], Vegas residencies [getting pretty good reviews], and appearing in every second Pit Bull video there is around, you know, working it J.Lo style [kind of like a cross between 90s Janet Jackson, late 90s Mariah Carey with a dash of Martika's street smarts thrown in for good measure].
There was a time when I used to see her that my brain would automatically say "don't be fooled by the rocks that I've got" and I would remember that she was Jenny from the block and always on the 6.
But every time I see her now I just want to yelp "on the floor!" or hum the Lambada chorus.
But she's back with a new song and video for Ain't Your Mama or something like that so we can remember that she's still the real girl "from the Bronx!". And now we can all go around yelling "I ain't your mama!"
And with the video, I have to congratulate her, cos she's achieved that AND gone through a music video rite of passage!
Yes! Pit Bull may have had her on the floor, but this time around she's on checkered tiles and bended knee. Yep, she's scrubbing away, and doing her bit to erase those awful, cliched 40s/50s views of women's roles. In that Mad Men kind of way. Until she gets to the 80s and gets all Working Girl on us, and then, well, she's pop back into modern times again too. Magical!
And with that important rite of passage behind her like a Bar Mitzvah, J. Lo has earned her place in the top tier of music video activism! She joins the ranks of the Queens. Queen B and the Queen of Pop [and about a million others]. And for that we should all be thankful.
NELLY Furtado popped back into the digital world with a simple post on Facebook the other day. She didn't have the preceding Radiohead drama of destroying everything to get our attention. I mean, deleting everything on Twitter and social networks is the new trashing a hotel room. Every rock star and their bitch is going to be doing it.
But Nelly F, one of my favourite Canadians, is too classy for that stuff. She simply said Hi.
And she had me at hello. Well, you know what I mean.
I love that girl. She's pop's underrated golden girl. But she's not happy with the current landscape for musos. So, on the eve of her new album (and lets hope it's not another Spirit Indestructible) she's channeled Prince, and backed Nikki Sixx and Blondie in calling for Youtube to cough up the moolah. More here.
The MET Gala happened again, and proved that it is the new MTV music video awards. It's the show where everything is put out on the line.
Beyonce was apparently the night's queen, Madge bared her butt cheeks Prince style and won equal acclaim and scorn. Solange and Katy Perry copped it in the memes (look for the Solange/bowl of crisps meme!) but the real winner of the night was @JohnDrops. Remarkable!
His garbage liner takes on the celebrity fashion clearly outdid the celebrities. I'm not on Instagram so I knicked this image from the Daily Mail, but go find the Brazilian and give him all your love.
BONO must be fuming!
In operation Vatican-Play-Nice, those Vatican hoes played host to the first ever rock musician to perform in the Sistine Chapel.
Remember how back in the 1990s everyone heaved a sigh of relief because The Edge sang Numb and it was just so refreshing to hear a U2 song without Bono's vocals for the most part? Well The Edge got the edge over Ireland and Africa's new Patron Saint. You see, it was The Edge who performed the numbers in the chapel, not Bono.
Pope Francis wasn't even there, but at the end of the day, you know that PF is going to take all the credit for the historic rock music moment, and that not even Bono will be able to say anything about it. More here.
M.I.A has been busy making epic music videos, finishing her new album and running amok as usual.
But there's a lot of lazy journalism going on right now, and the stories doing the rounds about M.I.A are purely being culled from her twitter feed. In them she's noted how she's about to deliver her new album to her label, how it's going to be her last, and how because she doesn't have a visa for the US she's not going to be able to be Stateside to promote it.
Let the girl in!
Back to the media angle. The same story has reappeared in basically the same format since Consequence of Sound first posted it, in all of its tweety gory. I guess that's useful if you're not on Twitter, or if you feel like getting all Radiohead about it.
But let's face it, you don't need a degree to be a journalist today. You just need to be able to cut and paste someone's stream of consciousness (or unconsciousness if you're Gwyneth Paltrow, and can I just say how much I hate that video I'm forced to watch of her promoting some luxury brand before I watch Judge Judy and the People's Court on youtube. I'm gonna end up in court if I watch it again because it just makes me want to get violent).
Anyhow, at least Consequence of Sound added the amazing Border video to their M.I.A article.
The Pet Shop Boys.
One of the greatest inventions of the 1980s.
Their imperial period was amazing- characterised as it was by so many classic songs.
They have of course been around forever. It's thirty years since they topped the UK chart with their debut West End Girls and although their influence and popularity has been a series of peaks and valleys over the years, in their own subtle way, they have turned out to be one of the era's greatest acts to have ever emerged.
Their new album - Super - is imminent and its lead single - The Pop Kids is already out and getting club play. But I read an article the other day on The Guardian about how millennials don't go clubbing anymore. So, well that makes things awkward doesn't it? I mean, if no one is going out clubbing anymore then how are people supposed to hear new club music?
The mind boggles.
The new PSB song is a throwback to the early nineties- musically and lyrically- which is not strange considering the grip The Pet Shop Boys had over EDM at the time. It was the Pet Shop Boys more than any other act that seemed to hover between outright club music and mainstream pop. They were like a bridge between the two, certainly in Europe at least.
Is The Pop Kids the PSB's greatest single? No. But it is a sign of what the current record market means for legacy acts like them. They now release their music on their own label and are clearly resigned to the fact that radio likely won't play them. That gives them the freedom then to pursue the kind of sound they want to and in this case its about the throwback.
Stuart Price is at the helm of Super and it's the second in what is being envisioned as a trilogy of albums by the group. Price as you know was everywhere at one point - the go to guy who even lent his wares to Gwen Stefani and who you should hold accountable for Confessions On A Dance Floor.
I remember going to a couple of Price's DJ'ing gigs - one in particular in Melbourne just on the eve of Confessions On A Dance Floor and he was a lot of fun. A DJ with a great ear and a super sense of humour.
But we're all about the PSB right now, not Price. So, thankfully, there's a pretty remarkable interview with Chris Lowe - you know the quiet, baggy jacket and sunglasses wearing member of the duo - over on Quietus which is a good read, especially as Lowe reflects on the current music scene as seen through experienced eyes.
And just for added fun, there's a fun page in which a series of notorious rumours about the duo are addressed. Good fun and an excuse to reflect on those whispers from the eighties and nineties. That's here.
Meanwhile, check out the lyric video for The Pop Kids below.
IF there is one place where being uninformed, reactionary and plain outright stupid exists it's on the Facebook pages of nationalist groups.
Every country has them and they often serve up unintentional comedy gold.
Italy's nationalist political group, the Lega Nord are a bunch of whack pots.
They're the group who are usually behind the "close the borders, out with foreigners" mantra and the same people who have given life to the "divide Italy into two countries: a prosperous one in the north, and a disgusting impoverished one in the south" idea. What they usually leave out of those chants is that if the country is divided they'll still want to take their holidays in the south during the summer as they do now.
There are memes everywhere about their leader whose name I won't even mention as he's the Voldermort of Italian politics and doesn't deserve any extra attention.
The image here in this post was posted onto a Lega Nord facebook page. I'm going to give you a rough translation:
"Do you see this man? His name is Aziz El''Sayad. He raped 4 women in Cologne and 2 in Italy. Now he's a people smuggler and the state gives him 40 euro a day. Are you satisfied? I'm not. Share this if you want him deported."
Unless you live under a rock you know what's going on with this picture.
All you need is to be within a 5km radius of a teenager to know that we're talking about an international pop star and not an alleged immigrant rapist. But even if you're not, how difficult is it to do a google search and get informed? All you have to do is type in impossibly cute guy or use your brain to think about things for a minute.
But then that's kind of the point isn't it? Outrage won't wait and when something is simply handed to you - like this erroneous information - your lightning fast reflexes tell you to share it or like it rather than think about it first.
The fact that there are comments on those pages inciting violence and revenge, of REAL OUTRAGE in connection with this criminal proves a point as does the fact that the hoax has been revealed and people are still outraged and taking their anger out on "Aziz".
What's so worrying is that seemingly normal people are also sharing it on their own pages without even a second thought outside of the context of the ultra right wing web pages.
I'm sure the masterminds behind the experiment are both celebrating and scratching their head as to the extent to which some parts of the Italian public have fallen for their prank.
Poor Zayn. And you thought being pretty was easy!
CAN I just say that I find it really interesting how the press (and in particular the music press) has jumped on the story about how AC/DC's front man, Brian Johnson, is likely to be replaced by Axl Rose for the remainder of their tour.
The members of AC/DC have a median age of 64. Despite the changes in their lineup, the band have remained a respected and surprisingly powerful force in music - especially on a commercial level.
What's interesting is that although their members are largely anonymous to non fans, the press treats them with respect. There's no overpowering commentary about how they should retire and bow out gracefully, or of how they are no longer relevant, nor is there the constant assault on their credibility and the contribution that they make at this age.
All the fuss about Axl Rose joining the crew for the remaining ten dates of their tour is celebratory, and yet, Rose and Guns N' Roses I would say have made no fresh contribution to the world of music in over twenty years.
It's respect based on legacy and a far cry from what pop artists, and in particular, female pop artists have to put up with. Look at the last calendar year for Janet Jackson and Madonna and find me even one article that doesn't relate to their age and to how they shouldn't retire and bow out gracefully etc.
So, bottom line is, and I'm gonna be really generous here. If you're a rocker, and in particular, a male rocker, there is still no glass ceiling. No pensioner's bingo game that the press want you to go and play. But if you're in the pop world, and a woman in particular, it's another story entirely.
Is it just me, or does it suck to be Kanye West these days?
There was a time when Kanye was the go to guy in music. He was just the bees' knees. Making the most amazing music, writing killer songs for everyone and just, well, being cool. Untouchable, a meteor.
Somewhere, perhaps around Welcome to Heartbreak (still my fave West album), the wheels started to fall off the machine. The platitudes arrived and he started believing all the press. And it was around then that his meteor started its descent. It's already crashed down with a few serious thuds in recent years and has led to Kanye becoming pop culture's enfant terrible (sorry Biebs, you're #2).
Let me just say that I think Kanye is incredibly talented. He's one of the few people on the scene capable of shaking things up. Also, no artist can ever really sustain an up and up: as a public, we're wired to bring people down (repeatedly), and the notion that we can watch as someone gets pulled down from a lofty height is like the equivalent of cultural S&M porn.
Kanye West is a polarising figure. Reading his interviews over the years, listening to his music and keeping an eye on his aesthetic has led me to believe that he has really developed as an artist over the years. His ambition alone has pushed him to the level that he sees himself as being on: that is, one of the only acts of his generation that is really a successor to the MJ/Prince/Madonna holy trinity. The amount of hype and debate he creates gives him an automatic pass into that stratosphere on those grounds alone.
But I get the feeling that a lot of the time the commotion Kanye causes is involuntary or unplanned. It's chaos created by negative reactions rather than the chaos that greatness and true originality can generate. Back in the eighties, those three kept us on our toes. They just kept pushing the boundaries. You may not have liked them, but their new take on things often still blew your mind. But Kanye seems to always be on the verge of blowing his gasket, whereas those three - obvious eccentricities and defects aside - seemed to have a steely will to keep at it without getting caught up in the hype they created.
I think a portion of the latest round of negativity attached to Kanye these days is in connection to TIDAL. It's music royalty's modern day curse. They should've named that company TSUNAMI because it has really created incredible upheaval and terrible consequences for a lot of the artists on the roster/board. In the space of a week they managed to f*ck up both of their presumably most important releases of 2016 - Rihanna's Anti (which they temporarily/briefly leaked after endless delays) and Kanye's The Life of Pablo (which, well, has just been another mess what with West pulling its release after it having gone live).
Do music lovers still want to hear Kanye's music? Well, yes, but they increasingly don't want to listen to him. And when it comes to the music, it's also on their terms, not his. The decision to exclusively put Pablo on TIDAL has pissed off a lot of people who resent having to pay and subscribe in order to hear it. But, that's not to say there isn't a hunger for it: reports suggest that in the space of a week the album has already been illegally downloaded 500,000 times.
What's more interesting to me is the backlash that Kanye, on a human level, seems to be provoking. It's at a height that we haven't seen in a long time. You can't turn on social media this week without seeing a million memes pointing out how much of a douche bag he is perceived to be. And that's a sentiment that has plagued him for years: brought on by his appalling, pratty behaviour at award shows, ridiculous beefs with people like Taylor Swift or Beck, the ongoing car crash that is the West/Kardashian/Amber Rose/Wiz Khalifa saga and the kind of emperor has no clothes fashion lines he just insists on offering to the world. Add in a never ending set of Twitter rants and you have the basis of what is comedy gold. Here you have one of the biggest stars in the world with one of the biggest platforms ever, and nobody that wants to listen to a word he wants to say (unless it's to pull up closer to get a better view of a car crash).
As a result of all that deafening cacophony, whatever music he is making is being sidelined by him and himself alone. Ignore the media martyrdom that he seems to think he's being put through. Critics as always, love his work, even if any punch he has been able to deliver musically in recent years - be it with Yeezus or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is completely overshadowed by Being Kanye West. And for that, he doesn't have anyone else to blame, because The Life of Pablo should've been a shoe in for an easy, well received reincarnation. But being Kanye West means that you're more interested in living in purgatory than becoming the Pop God you think you really are.
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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