The Big Issue : Edition 567
THEBIGISSUE.ORG.AU 27 JUL–9 AUG 2018 13 PHOTOSBYJAMESBRAUND THERE’S NO WIN in complaining about the mores of contemporary music. You’ve automatically hit the button marked “Get off my lawn”. An alarm goes off, and everyone presumes you think it’s all been downhill since Hotel California, now that was an album, and what about The Beatles? John was a genius! IT’S ALL JUST NOISE THESE DAYS. Time for a lie down, Grandma. But, look, come on. It can’t just be me. Who held the meeting where it was decided that “anonymous background funk” was to be compulsory? Every shop, every bar, every cafe; the same upbeat, rather loud, bland contemporary/retro fusion funk that just sits there throbbing like a low-level headache that won’t quite step up and claim your attention. When my local bar sounds the same as my optometrist, which is an actual thing, I think that’s a problem. “We’re vibey, but not in an overt way. Contemporary, but not recognisable. Cool, huh?” the music’s saying. “Don’t engage! I don’t want anything from you. I’m just filling the aching void of existential horror that would open up like a hellmouth if there were silence, or if you recognised a song and had to have an emotional response! Don’t worry, you’re safe in this cocoon of aural fuck nothing.” Music to swipe by, I call it. Yes, yes, I hate it. As a DJ, it’s dispiriting work. I prefer bringing dancing and fun. I know. WEIRD. I had one excruciating gig a decade ago, filling in at an “it” bar in the city, where I spent five hours trying unsuccessfully, like a poorly trained nurse stabbing a hypodermic randomly nowhere near a vein, to find a seam of music they wanted to listen to. But they didn’t want music to listen to, they wanted music to not listen to. HOW IS THAT A THING? The bar manager was kind, and sort of apologetic. “The staff are loving it,” he said, as I » Fiona Scott-Norman (@FScottNorman) is a writer, comedian and long-suffering DJ who is saving your ears one dancefloor at a time. FIONA The Sound of Muzak “Who held the meeting where it was decided that ‘anonymous background funk’ was to be compulsory?” dropped ‘Blue Monday’ by New Order, “but the kids just want upbeat ambient stuff. They’re trained to expect it.” “The kids” left in droves, and by the end of the shift, which thanks to time dilation was one of the worst months of my life, the manager reflexively said, “Thanks, I’ll be in touch”, and there was a second’s pause before we both burst into hysterical laughter. I play at a pub where this is the vibe they want, and I’m having a crack. My observation is it’s the homeopathy of music. Music itself is too strong for the clientele to deal with, but if you dilute music until there’s say, a single drop in a bucket of tap water so that there’s nothing in it to possibly react to, you’re hailed as some kind of genius. The pub is filled with people happily not listening as I play tracks no-one knows or cares about from 1970s funk or disco records – tracks that used to be known as “did not become a hit” or, let’s call a spade a spade, “unsuccessful”. There is zero skill to this, and Spotify would be fine, but what the clientele actually respond to is having a live DJ playing vinyl. So DJs end up “performing” being a DJ, while entering a state of boredom approaching Zen. One DJ mate of mine has quit because the work is so dull. Another sighs and gets on with it. Years ago, I shared a flat with John Safran and, while I think fondly of him, it’s tricky living with an iconoclast. He was a stirrer. When I first began DJing, he would taunt me that all I was doing was “hitting play”. He would then mime pressing a button, and say, “Oooh look, I’m a DJ.” As he intended, it drove me bananas. But 20 years on, what can I say? He’s been proven right. GET OFF MY LAWN.