The party is flamboyant, but not aloof. Intentional angles abound with costumes as gallant as silk adorned velvet nightingales. It is the gala ball of New York in the late 1980’s/early 90’s, contextualized perfectly by the film Paris is Burning. It is this vibe which Malcom McLaren sauntered into our speakers with at the perfect moment with Deep in Vogue, just a blink in time (less than one year to be exact) before Madonna’s Vogue provided a veritable death blow to the dance/lifestyle which shares that name. Following the release and ubiquity of Madonna’s Vogue the form of dance, and the associated lifestyle went from a communal, rising, positivity of the Ball scene - and the cultures it housed - to a purchasable chew toy for the hungry masses.
Malcom McLaren - Deep In Vogue (Extended)
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So we cannot blame McClaren for his attempt to expose us, because by all accounts going to a Ball was nothing short of an ecstatic experience for the maligned minorities who built the Ballroom up from scratch. It united those in attendance by fully embracing the nature of their own identities and providing the sacred space of the dance floor/runway to project their fantasies and dreams. McClaren’s intention - clear to see in the video for Deep in Vogue - was to share and display, not to exploit.
The world has so much to learn from vogue - how to resolve conflicts, how to express love and hate with the dying art of free movement. It is at once selfless and narcissistic. Identity and culture decoupaged and formed into a party gel. A home for the misfits and the peacocks. McClaren tried his hardest to help build momentum for the growing movement.
Sadly, McLaren's party ended in April of last year with his passing, and we are left to the street in introspection. His career was long and fruitful, with Deep in Vogue representing one facet of a sparkling diamond of a career. In spite of his efforts, and his genuine support for those for whom the ballroom was a solace, his own passing succeeded the symbolic passing of the ballroom movement by a generation. However solemn these endings may seem, there is another who may serve as a guide to help us glow in the streetlights, and navigate the remains.
DJ Sprinkles' only full length release is the sumptuous, ecstatic, deep-house delight Midtown 120 Blues. The album has a breadth of scope that can summon quiet walks through a city street at night, and simultaneously transport you effortlessly to a high-society penthouse dance party. Ball'r (Madonna-Free Zone) places the listener on the formerly mentioned street, in a very specific context - the sweaty, post-ball bliss felt by many a-vogueing queen mixed with the accompanying period of solemn reflection over the ironic fate of the dance itself. This direct and purposeful context is sincere and tells a story with polite and seductively quiet vocals - both typical house vocal noise and the ambient sounds of background cheers and interview sounds from the ball-going crowd.
DJ Sprinkles aka Terre Thaemlitz - Ball'r (Madonna-Free Zone)
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The crowning jewel of this scrumpet of a song is the explanatory monologue at the end of the piece. It is startling at first to hear a radical voice speaking to us in the context of a largely instrumental album, in the broader context of a genre which, as Sprinkles points out, typically only features semi-evangelical words about the “true” meaning of house. However, the jolt subsides quickly, and Sprinkles’ voice glides us into a deeper understanding. It proves that the celebratory music which precedes and underlines his voice is not just a filler, or a decadent ruse, but a sacred artifice which ties it all together. Sprinkles’ voice keeps the listener caressed while being sensitive to the meaning and intentionality of the movement. Perhaps the best part of the monologue is its simplicity in telling the story of the fate of Vogue. It informs the layman house listener lacking inroads to the inner sanctum of house music without sounding preachy or dogmatic. Indeed, Midtown 120 Blues creates the metaphysical place of worship for house-heads. Ball'r and the rest of the album exemplify house music in its classic and honorary forms, and helps to break down the perception of House music as a meaningless or vapid art form focused strictly on physical pleasure without sacrificing the sensual essence McClaren reflexively brought into vogue.
As Sprinkles attempts to resuscitate the ball room through story-telling and exquisite beat making, he also reminds us of the memory of McClaren and the wake of Madonna’s Vogue.
DJ Sprinkles is one of a handful of identities of Terre Thaemlitz. For more, see an upcoming post examining Thaemlitz, Carl Craig and Jan Jelinek as pioneers of identities-as-aesthetic-vessels in electronic music.