December 1st, 2006


Pecha kucha is dead

You heard me. Dead. Do you really need it spelled out in blood and sperm by a designer with a small but well-connected captive audience, 20 slides, and 20 seconds of slick narrative for each? What do you want, circle jerks and seppuku? Go home, you sick rubbernecking thrillseeker. It's over.

What do you mean, "What's pecha kucha, then?" I am stunned. Have you been wearing earphones all year? Are you one of those Prim Jims who doesn't know what's going on until Time magazine calls Mr Jean Snow in to explain it?

That's right, Jean Snow. Cool as jingle bells. Fast as the white stuff. He knows what pecha kucha is even if you don't, Mr Jones. His blog has exactly 470 references to it. He's the man who broke it all down for Time and Metropolis, way back... must've been this summer. Went to his first pecha kucha night in October 2005. Of course, Pingmag were there from May 2005. No moss on those rolling stones.

Who's cooler than Snow and the Pings? Only Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, Tokyo-based architects, really. They're so cool that they actually invented pecha kucha, back in 2003. It was a way to fill their Roppongi club, SuperDeluxe. I used to go there before pecha kucha existed, and I can tell you, there was just tumbleweed in that basement back then. Tumbleweed, crickets and a couple of blokes with rucksacks drinking Australian organic beer.

Pecha kucha changed all that. Now, on the last Wednesday of each month, there's just wall-to-wall fitted designers, and some guy at the front impressing the hell out of everyone. It's better than karaoke, because you speak instead of singing, and instead of some stupid video of a girl wandering along a beach there are still pictures of products you can buy, or people in Mongolia showing you some really nice stickers on their cellphones.

The name comes from the Japanese phrase for the sound of people chattering. Pecha kucha, pecha kucha, pecha kucha -- say it a few times, say it with friends, and it really will sound like conversation (but passersby will think you're an Ayurvedic sect). It's based on Show and Tell, and the mukokuseki diasporans like to think of it as really Japanese, but actually nobody at Japanese schools does Show and Tell. It's just too individualistic, too Me-Me-Me.

In fact, true blue Japanese would probably think most pecha kucha sessions -- shameless self-promotion by people who make a revolutionary new type of rubberized paperclip or wear lederhosen as a statement about race -- were pure boasting. (Jiman jiman is the Japanese word for the sound of boasting, by the way.)

Pecha kucha spread like bird flu. Which means that not many people died of it, but it turned up everywhere. There are now pecha kucha nights in London, New York, Rotterdam, Berlin... wherever there are unemployed designers desperate for an audience, in fact. There's one in Hobart Tasmania. I kid you not. They even had one in Pyongyang, but Kim Jong Il refused to give up the mic when his Apple Keynote presentation ended. Eventually, after a synchronized dance routine featuring thousands of schoolgirls making the dictator's face appear in the air with swirling pink ribbons, everyone just went home.

Have I ever been to a pecha kucha night? Jesus god no. I have better things to do with my time. (Although I've just spent six hours trying to come up with a theme that would link the photos you see on this page. I couldn't think of one.) Anyway, didn't I mention that the whole thing was dead? But here's what my spy says. My spy is James Goggin, the designer who made my lovely Ocky sleeve. I've made him sound fashionably negative by cutting out all the positive things he said. He'll thank me for that eventually.

"The London nights seem a bit too insular, more on an industrial design and architecture slant than really representing an interesting cross-section of what's happening in London (where are the musicians, contemporary artists, writers, curators etc?). As such I felt a bit out of place there... Time restrictions are definitely enforced, purely because they have Apple Keynote running on a timer. You provide your slides a week beforehand, they get them all in order along with professional little jazzy type animations announcing the next speaker as interstitial 'stings' (this really does give the impression now that Pecha Kucha is becoming more a branded franchise than an informal get-together or 'happening').

"I completely got the timing all mixed up in spite of my practising. Partly because I attempted to condense my hour-long "Your Colour Process: Colour Systems in Everyday Life" pop culture colour theory lecture into the allotted 6 minutes... I belatedly realised that trying to relay the story of Apple's rainbow logo possibly being a homage to persecuted government scientist and godfather of modern computing Alan Turing who killed himself by taking a bite from an apple injected with strychnine into a single 20 second slide doesn't work.

"Two recent furniture design graduates showed up with porn images overlaid with their work, which was mildly funny for one slide, then attracted heckling for the rest... One architect was completely hammered by the time he came on stage, slurring and swearing through his set on stream-of-consious rant against clients."

I'll spare you the gory details of the sad, ugly, bloody death of pecha kucha. It's weepy, pants-round-the-ankles stuff. Just take my word for it: the whole thing was stone cold by August 32nd. But the New York Times will still make "Pecha Kucha" its Word of the Year. Just as soon as someone mails them twenty slides and a cassette tape about it.

This blog entry is also available as a Pecha kucha presentation (mono mp3 file, 1.4MB, 2 mins 58secs).