39 – Prince Tribute

This was published by Pennyblackmusic.co.uk after Prince died in 2016. One of the hardest pieces I’ve written.

Photo by DJ Johnson on Unsplash

Only an idiot would volunteer to write about Prince. This thought dogged me after my Tempranillo-fuelled email late on 21 April 2016, begging for precisely that privilege. It was an impulse a part of me regrets because no words that rise from a primordial emotional stew of disenfranchised grief, disbelief, nostalgia, and adoration will come close to doing him justice. Paying tribute to Prince is like holding a candle to the sun.

There is much we don’t know about Prince, including how he died [at the time, we didn’t. Now we do and it’s sadder still]. The one thing everyone knows, from fellow musicians or far-removed fans, is that he was the best. Genius is a word rendered thin and flavourless by overuse; as are icon, legend, unique, and inimitable. That doesn’t make them any less true when applied to Prince.

My private theory, long-held, is that the only reason he didn’t supplant Jimi Hendrix in music mythology as the ultimate guitar god is that he was too sexy, too queer in the old fashioned sense for the (mostly) straight, white male rock journalists who oversee the beatification of six-string saints. The marvel is: Prince was so good he forced them to pronounce his brilliance despite the yellow laser-cut trouser suit he wore to perform ‘Gett Off’ at the 1991 MTV Music Awards, and his lavish lyrical praise of women who really, really like sex.

Pre-Prince, men had a monopoly on the pocket full of Trojans (some of them used). Then an androgynous imp who played every instrument, arranged every note, and took no shit from anyone came straight outta Minneapolis and turned the world upside down. He made people nervous. Most famously, Tipper Gore whose horror at Nikki masturbating with a magazine birthed the ‘Parental Warning: Explicit Content’ label.

From ‘Darling Nikki’ to ‘Raspberry Beret’ to ‘Cream’ to ‘Peach’ to ‘Head’ to ‘When You Were Mine’ Prince sang about women who dug sex and had fun doing it. He unapologetically refused to adopt the rock’n’roll paradigm where men are Subjects and women are Objects (in the De Beauvoirian sense).

Refusing assent was one of the many things Prince did better than anyone else. From Warner Brothers to the internet, there was no Goliath he wouldn’t sling a pebble at. He didn’t always win these battles, but he never lost. In the end, the record labels, the critics, and the world wide web kowtowed to his sublime talent and awesome willfulness.

This we must celebrate. There aren’t many artists like that. Even, or especially, the most successful musicians play the game. They get slick, learn to give the right answers, straighten their teeth, take up knitting, buy trout farms, get into right-wing politics, advertise butter. Prince, though, never played the game by anyone’s rules but his own.

Magnificently onery to the end, he holed up at Paisley Park, recording, performing, throwing dance parties, hosting movie nights for the assortment of musicians, protegees, sound engineers and technicians who he routinely sacrificed on the altar of musical perfectionism. “The thing about Prince,” one of them told me, “Is that he was better than everyone, at everything.”

I can’t think of one lick of evidence to the contrary. Can you?

Which is why only an idiot would volunteer to write about Prince, or sing a Prince song, or play a Prince riff. Maybe that’s the point though. To get through this thing called life we have to do our best when we’re not the best. We have to trudge while other soar. We have to accept that flowers wither; stars burn out; that perfection isn’t proof against death.

My gut feeling is Prince knew this better than anyone. And that it kept him from giving too much of a fuck. Nobody is ever going to sound as good or be as good as Prince. No one can recreate his magic. What we can do is let that show us how to live, take courage, let his music and spirit infuse us. Let’s be idiots for the things we love. Prince would approve.

27- Justice the band

This was written for… Mixmag? Ibiza Voice? DJ Mag? In any case, some dance magazine in 2008. It contains far too many adverbs and hyphens. Maybe someday I’ll learn to rein those in, maybe.

Photo by Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash

Justice @ Club 75, Pacha Ibiza

Justice has never stuck to clearly defined roles. The fashionably thin, intensely Gallic duo of Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay manage to both embody and defy stereotypes. They are intense in a well-educated, laconic, smoky Parisian sort of way (“we smoked 30,000 cigarettes making this record,” they said of debut album Cross). Yet their music pops with rainbow colours and kiddie-friendly choruses. Without ever courting the music press they snared the world’s attention by upstaging Kanye West at the MTV Music Awards. His onstage temper-tantrum ensured their notoriety to an audience that might never have noticed them otherwise. This, too, seemed to slide off their skinny, black-leather-bound shoulders. Justice simply marched on. From hipster hip hop parties in dingy Paris nightclubs to manic mainstage gigs at Sonar by night to international tours with audiences writhing in near-tearful devotion – they’ve done it all, and seen it all.

This makes their arrival at Pure Pacha highly incongruous. Pacha prides itself on sophistication and as much gentility as becomes a discotheque. It isn’t a natural destination for raving teenagers waving white crosses and homemade “Justice” banners. Tonight they are joined by Cassius, completing the French twist on the evening. On the corner, just past the main entrance a group of indeterminate youngsters is swigging down on bottled drinks. This is typical behaviour outside Amnesia, but here you almost expect one of the doormen to lumber down and have a word. No one does though. There is plenty of merriment in the warm air, and the kind of good natured jostling that happens in high-spirited queues. Judging by the snippets of conversation running Justice fan base travels well: Italian, Spanish, French and a fair portion of English voices ring out. Everyone is fidgeting to the hint of the kick drum oozing through the dense walls.

By the time we scramble inside there is a mini rush for the dancefloor. Any latent concerns about how Justice’s cheeky style and flamboyant showmanship would fit in the calm lines of Pacha vanishes in a moment. The booth – always a hive of activity – is a veritable swarm, with enough arms flailing through the dry ice to look as if it’s been taken over by an impatient octopus. Justice and Cassius are playing back to back, moving so fast it seems as if there surely must be more than three of them. On the dancefloor an enthusiastic moil keeps pace with the hyperactive display in the DJ box, swishing and pitching from side to side with giddy abandon. Girls in boutique dresses have bade farewell to propriety and are dancing manically. One, actually around her handbag (ironically, we hope).

Justice’s knowing melange of electro, pop and the odd stonking guitar riff is perfectly gender balanced: the boys are stomping away with equal concentration. Somehow, they engage the crowd without seeming to pay it much attention. Xavier, small and perky as a meerkat, bobs up from behind the decks to cheer the floor; Gaspard’s most demonstrative moment is a smile and half-wave when someone thrusts a mobile phone up at him, yet they are in perfect harmony with the crowd. The gurgling pop of ‘D.A.N.C.E.’ whips up a storm, and a tough, techno-tinged track gets just as much of a hearty response. Tonight, Justice – with a little help from their friend, Cassius – demonstrate perfectly why the are who they are: every expectation broken, every rule bent and everyone dancing towards dawn with a smile on their face.

Web: Justice.church