April 11th, 2008


Mega-Trad: a pirate loves pakuri

The more I diversify into writing, the less I feel the need to burden songs with the sorts of things I used to force them -- against their will and with severe structural stress -- to do; songs don't have to tell stories, be original, show the world how creative and clever I am, and so on. What I mostly want songs to do, now, is move me; get me, emotionally, from A to B. I want songs to be "emotional cars" in that sense. If they can move me, who cares whether they're totally fresh? Who cares whether they lifted some of their best gadgets and lines? Who cares whether they're a rip-off of the man next door's car? He needs to be moved too.

I still make songs for my own pleasure, but at this point they're mostly cover versions. Here, for instance, is a cover I did yesterday of Cliff Richard's "The Next Time". I spoke last year about my fascination with this song (the original is here -- unfortunately the lovely Acropolis clip from the film Summer Holiday has gone), and how it relates to the sentimental Asian drinking ballad style I developed on Ocky Milk, and particularly Nervous Heartbeat.

At this point I'm not quite sure if there even needs to be a new Momus album, but -- just in case -- I've given the possible project the code-name "Mega-Trad", because it might be a mega-traditional collection of ballads, possibly all cover versions. I'm interested in torch-style trad balladry because of my age (I get more sentimental as I get older) but also because of the way I've diversified, putting my more original and outlandish ideas elsewhere and leaving songs to get on with what they do best, which is moving people.

The Cliff Richard cover -- and I find Cliff much more interesting than Elvis Presley, of whom he's generally accused of being a tame British copy -- wasn't made for "Mega-Trad", but for a live show I'll perform at the end of April at MUDAM, the Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean in Luxembourg. The artist Candice Breitz has organized Call and Response, a four-day seminar in which artists like Cory Arcangel and Iain Forsythe and Jane Pollard will discuss sampling, piracy, remixing, appropriation and recycling, or pakuri, as it's known in Japan. On the evening of Monday 28th April I'll wrap up the program by singing a set of cover versions from a balcony. "The Next Time" will be one of them.

The artists talking and showing their work at MUDAM are more likely to talk about "sources" (as in "Daft Punk sample sources" and "Stereolab arrangement sources") than "steals". Candice is, like me, of the view that copyright has gone too far and become restrictive, and that originality is, in and of itself, vastly over-valued in art, or rather, is invested in the hows of the work, not the whats. Her own work looks at the re-contextualising creativity of fans of pop and Hollywood and her most famous piece is probably "King", a multi-channel video in which she put Michael Jackson fans into a professional studio, where they reinterpreted and relived his songs. Michael Jackson has followed suit: his website now features a video remixing tool which allows fans to play him in the Thriller video. Above you can see what happened when Hisae photographed my face and sent it in.