Discussion in The Wire office
turned the other day to Kid Creole, with the recent release of
Going Places: the August Darnell Years 1974-1983.
Aside from fronting one of the plain weirdest bands of the early
80s, the tropical gangsters Kid Creole And The Coconuts, I hadn't
realised, among his other projects, he'd produced perhaps my
favourite ever disco track, Machine's "There But For The Grace Of
God Go I", perhaps the most impassioned chronicle of inner city
bigotry and white-flight in the entire disco canon. Listening to
that track, a mix of gospel guts and pure synthetic pulse, what
strikes me is how camp is an essential part of the physical DNA of
the track – flamboyance and narcissism is practically built into
its outre melodies and assertive, strutting steps. While the primal
urge that runs through rock, funk and house - the drive, the motor
of so much music, from Black Sabbath to James Brown – has been
analysed to death, I wonder if the counter-current of camp, which
delights in lateral movements and show-stopping pauses, has been
analysed in dance music as much. It's easy to hazard a guess as to
why it might not have been – male music journalists would rather
talk about unbridled sexual energy than something as supposedly
effeminate as camp.
Mostly, though, the compilation makes me wonder what's become of camp in urban music today. RnB and rap videos these days look airbrushed, as if hidden behind a plastic wall, a distancing effect exacerbated by the constant use of slow motion and fast cross-cutting. The big names of urban music are synthetic products of the studio system as much as (arguably more) than Hollywood stars. The overall impression is a fear of people finding out what they're like. This look-but-don't-touch sexual politics is, for me, deeply un-sexy, and it's music's loss.