Sunday, December 18, 2011

12 images from 6 presentations from PitchYrCulture Mix#2 11/11/11

The theme for Pitch Your Culture number two was: Into-It-All, which was supposed to concern itself with the adolescent or early adult years, when we consumers pick a band, or a style, to partially define an emerging identity.

In the Pop milieu this has always been part of the game, a niche almost subsidized by Rock and Roll, “the youth market”. Yet the parameters of the market do allow for some genuine decisions, and paradoxically, given our short history, an established tradition among those who have dispensed (or break) with tradition is to “find your own music”.

This was made clear in PitchYrCulture Mix#2, a program that included different generations from different parts of the world who all had this musical trait in common. Music (or: a song) in all cases created an opening, or a point of recognition, a mirror that was held at the correct angle. These moments are not easily forgotten.

The order of this program was simply alphabetical (based on the letter of the presenter’s first name) but made for a provocative flow, supporting the idea that the individual will search for that signal in a variety of ways that are sometimes random, sometimes deliberate, but always significant.


Arnault grew up in rural town in France. It was a provincial town and access to popular music was limited. That condition changed with the introduction of the cassette portable music player, the “boom box”. Now Arnault could more easily consume popular music. He got into to the market through generic hit compilation cassettes that were produced in France. And then things got “bad”, i.e. overly generic pop music produced in France and Europe! Then his friends introduced him to the American “indie” label, 4AD, but Arnault confesses that he got into the wrong 4AD! Not the trendy post-punk bands like Throwing Muses or The Pixies, but a band that is described on Wikipedia as “folk rock, dream pop, indie rock, sadcore”: The Red House Painters. What these bands did have in common is that they all were from the USA.  In the context of the Into-It-All PyC theme, Arnault described this as his “quiet revolution”.

Ellen Pau presents 

Ellen's choice of song matched Arnault in the way Hong Kong might be characterized as a provincial city, one where the economy takes precedence over culture. In other words. social values are skewed when it comes to presenting or formulating “alternative lifestyles” or ways of being. It has been well recognized that while pop means popular (“the big hit”), there are pop stars that present a wholesome enough façade to the “general public”, but for the discerning, are able to indicate something else, a inkling of subversion, below the polished surface - though sometimes it is right in your face! These pop stars, while being sucked into the horrors of the manufactured economy (the ways their record label decides to market that individual or group), are at least trying to stay true to some part of their freaky identity. This is what Ellen recognized and identified with in the person of Cher, certainly a mainstream star, but one with definite sympathies that encouraged Ellen’s own inclinations.

Georgio BIANCOROSSO presents
by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention

The Mothers of Invention, one of the most unlikely of pop phenomenon, albeit one with a deficit of “hits”.  In fact, Frank Zappa was working within the mainstream in a well-informed and decidedly avant-garde manner. Georgio found “Theme from Burnt Weenie Sandwich” on his own (not subject to and outside the pressures and confines of his peer group), and as with all the PitchYrCulture examples, he heard something in it that spoke of wider, more varied possibilities. Part of the frame of mind that has influenced Georgio is his abiding nostalgia for other times and eras (including, for him, the products of fashion, design, and music). This sensibility influenced his decision to buy the Zappa album (as it was released “before his time”). The song itself is quite simple (structurally speaking), and bears an interesting relation to the future “jam band” style, songs that endlessly riff on one or two chords. Georgio also referred to the now practically obsolete cassette tape format, as in the interest of maintaining an archive of personal musical fetishes, he would dutifully tape his vinyl records and listen to that in order to preserve the pristine quality of the 33 1/3 album. Georgio then displayed, for the audience’s delectation, the actual cassette recording of “Theme from Burnt Weenie Sandwich” that he continues to maintain.

Kacey Wong presents

Kacey picked the above title as an example of a style that continues to influence and affect him (including his haircut!). As might be expected of a boy growing up in Hong Kong, this style came to him through a variety of mediated (“Western”) influences - these included James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause”, Rockabilly (as a predecessor and parallel to early Rock and Roll), the Japanese rock n’ rollers styling in the streets of Harajuku, and further to John Travolta in “Grease”. All this amounting to the stereotyped “Greaser”, the “cool” guys in the leather jackets with their hair radically slicked back in an untouchable doo. Kacey saw the image (though he confessed that he had to mature before he fully understood “Rebel Without a Cause”) and wanted to be like that: “cool”.  In the most personal of touches, Kacey picked some key images from his personal scrapbook, which showed him as a kid with his neighborhood crew on their BMX bicycles on the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, beside his mother in full James Dean pose, and finally to his stint of schooling in Long Island, New York City, where he and his friends held a “Greaser’s Party”. 

Lynette CHIU presents

An exciting and unexpected thing happened with PitchYrCulture Mix#2: two people, unaware of each other’s decision, picked the same song! Demographically speaking this makes sense, given the theme and that Lynette Chiu and Vickie Chan are around the same age and are involved in, more or less, the same cultural pursuits (though they did not previously know each other). Yet there is an endless amount of potential music to exemplify the theme “Into-It-All”, which goes to show that the random and unplanned for can sometimes cast as big an influence on a creative outcome as the deliberate or well-structured concept. Lynette’s presentation put the song in the correct context of adolescence (when you get “into it”), when youths position each member of their favorite band according talent, looks, and desirability. In tandem with this examination, Lynette shared her evolution as a (kind-of-a) punk rocker (which at this point, as a genre, was in its second or third incarnation), focusing on the legendary Northern California club “The Gilman”, a club that she frequented in those days. These kinds of details, putting the personal into the popular (or the hopefully marginal, as in the case of “The Gilman”), are what PyC wants to evoke. These narrative memorials become, in effect, a reinterpretation of the song, and when Lynette shows us photographs of the venue and the donut shop that she frequented in her early youth, these also represent the kind of paraphernalia that music lovers seek out and archive in their obsessive collections.

VICKIE CHAN presents

And now for round two of The Descendents. Perhaps there can be a PyC where six people talk about the same song, because surely six individuals will have something different to say about any given song – that - the personal - is the filter, the effect that any PyC presentation is played through! Vickie (who is on the PyC planning committee) fully comprehended the possibilities (and examples) of the presentation medium – rapid firing through 34 slides in the allotted time (more or less!), starting with her early musical interests, to the crew she hung out with in Britain (driving around in cars, blasting the tunes), to the male name she mistakenly gave to her female cat (“Milo”, lead singer of The Descendants, changed to June Carter Cat), and finally ending up with the infamous show in Leeds, where Milo’s iconic eye glasses were stolen. And what better way to end this story with Vickie actually meeting her subject matter – Milo, lead singer of The Descendants – at another music festival, who remembered and commented on the show where his glasses were stolen.