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jennifer's impenetrable cunt
02 april 2004
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What Happened When I Went To See An Indie Band Who Wear Fucked-Up Army Outfits And Have Acid-Frazzled Eyes In Their Heads and Keep Plastic Owls And Foliage Onstage And Recently Played A Gig In Prague
This is how we do. Used to do. When we cared about music. We’d anticipate the gig. We’d wander round beforehand with the band’s songs playing on our walkmans. We’d be sure to know the songs inside-out and back-to-front. That’s what I’m doing now. Walking round Prague while the singer’s quavery voice undulates in my ears. Tipping my head back and gazing with codeine ease at the Disneyland towers of the church. I’m remembering Steve’s face as he impersonated the singer; the gasps and yelps of his voice, the quivery tense close-to-nervous breakdownness of it; the way he got it exactly right.
I’m anticipating this gig more than I usually anticipate gigs, for I have been cast into a cultural wasteland called the Czech Republic. Stalking round this strange town - cobblestones pressing through the waferthinsoles of my Converse, the wind whipping my hair on the Charles Bridge as I press my hands against the lucky stars where the Confessor was thrown over, my mouth a permanent ‘o’ from the sheer ludicrous creamcake beauty of the place - I’m reminded of the way things used to be. I’m looking at my watch and I’m waiting and I’m praying and it’s raining on my smile as I look up at the castle.
Deprived of the nightclub people and casual acquaintances that litter London’s nightspots, shorn of PRs pressing guestlist tickets into hands (o poor me), I have been cast back into a place I once inhabited many years ago, a teenage place where music could save your mortal soul. In that place, the experience promised by a gig wasn't just some skanking creep stepping on your shoes and marring your toenail paint job; it wasn't just cut eyes from some black-bobbed bitch by the door. It represented so much more: A Way Out Of The Suburban Familial Home, A Place To Maybe Meet Your Kind: FREEDOM. I'm here alone in a foreign city, with out my coterie of mates and the self-protection of smugness that that brings, and I need this gig. I need a moment of belonging.
I’m all in a conundrum, because I wouldn’t like this band – wouldn’t know this band, wouldn’t have heard this band – if one of this band hadn’t got in touch with me cuz he liked my writing and was moving to London and all the rest. He insisted we hang out and play table football and he punched me on the leg as a present from one of his Brighton friends who hated me, and the next thing you know I’m going to see this band who I wouldn’t otherwise have been going to see, because you have to support your friends’ bands, it’s just the RULE, only in this case the friend’s band is semi-famous, but so what, you’re still expecting that they’re going to be shit, only then they’re not, and you like it, and THEN WHAT DO YOU DO. It’s ok to drown yourself in pop, sure: I’d fuck every last member of Busted and snip locks of their puppy-bleached hairs as reminders; I’d love to stick a fork in Beyonce’s meaty thighs; and who hasn't bopped hands in the air to the sound of Outkast or Girls Aloud? That's fine, the perfect outlet for the naughty little indiekid or trashy little hipster who wants to appear transgressive and generous and postmodern. But o, to turn one's eyes towards the twee indie guitar music. Therein lies shame, not brilliance. Frances saw the genuine love for the band in my eyes and insisted that I play her some, then retched at the familiar stadium rock chords. Sophie laughed in my face till her black bob shook. All I can do is shrug. It bites me like a bug, the guitars, and I download Modest Mouse and Pavement and a thousand grungy skanktunes, and don't tell anyone what I have done.
The gig is a blur. My hosts want to remain on the balcony but luckily they have brought a lovely ladyfriend with pre-Raphaelite hair with them, and my fellow redhead clasps me by the wrist and bounces through the crowd and then we are at the front. What happens? We dance. There are two little boys to my left who attempt to create a moshpit, but there is something in the music that precludes this: a certain restraint. A tall man in camouflage frugs with yet another redheaded chick: later perusal of the band's message board show me that these are devoted fans who have travelled over from the UK especially for the gig. I am not among their number. It is a coincidence that I am here when this band plays. Of course it is.
Familiarity breeds joy, not contempt, as the band run through the routine I have begun to recognise: almost no audience interaction, the singer gazing into the distance with cold and freaky acid-blasted eyes, a chaotic finish that leaves the audience drenched in dance-sweat. There's something of New Order in the drummer's rhythms: there's something here that lifts them away from simple indie plodders like Coldplay or Snow Patrol, there's something here that makes me want to take ecstasy to be among this noise, this mist, this heat, this dancing. True indie wouldn't make me want to take ecstasy: or am I simply making excuses? But I am in a foreign country and no one will ever know I am here, at the front, mouthing the words that I know and humming those that I don't. I feel the ends of the pre-Raphaelite's hair flicking against the back of my shoulders as she dances; and I dance too, jumping up and down, or arcing my hips like I learned at Raqs Sharqi classes.
At the climax of the gig my friend in the band runs around the audience banging a drum like a clockwork toy soldier and the whole audience cranes their heads to look as he is carried high above the crowd; later another band member hoists him onto his shoulders as he bangs the drum against the tin soldier's helmet on his head. It sounds retted but it's not, not really: it's a celebration, it's a swerve into mayhem. At least I think it is. Maybe they sit backstage and plot these moves: a sheet of graph paper held down to a table with torn masking-tape, a toy soldier doing a handstand: a playmobil man climbing a speaker stackmade of matchboxes, a teddy bear using his forehead to bash drums made from yoghurt pots. Whatever.
WHATEVER. Later I burn my lip on a flaming glass of absinth. Later I make out with my friendon the Charles Bridge. Later I find drunkeness and oblivion and a swathe of mysterious photographs on my digital camera. Later I find more fun than I've had in a long time. That's more than electroclash ever gave me.
I wonder whether it's going to be enough.


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