Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I Came for the Boobs: Sak Noel, NERVO Make Us Dance, Think

By Techno School, Vertigo Shtick contributor and dance/electronic correspondent 
"I came for the boobs; I stayed for the music"
I KNEW boyfriends were good for something other than sex and free dinners. Sometimes they find you music!

Boyfriend came back from an across-the-pond business trip with fabulous Euro singles in tow! The second he pulled Sak Noel's "Loca People" up on YouTube, I was sold. It's the "We No Speak Americano" of 2011! How have I not heard of this before?!?!

The repetitive—and I mean REPETITIVE—beat to "Loca People" marches on, a backdrop that could easily last for two minutes or two hours and sound like the same thing. Sak Noel's track embodies everything I think of that is "House Music." A steady beat carries the listener through at a relatively slow pace as far as dance music goes. Changes to the melody are minimal and closely mimic the harmonizing beat that is the true heart of the song. Strategically placed vocals and volume changes (oh, how I love the fade-to-mute-and-rise-again trick) keep you interested without overpowering the beat itself. It's very, very house. And it's very, very Spanish.

Although I never had the divine pleasure of going there myself, I have been assured by friends that Spain is THE party capital of the world. The club scene is everything in the big touristy cities of Madrid and Barcelona, and just like the vocalist in this song muses, when the Spanish party, they party all day, all night, all day, all night.... As an American in a city with a struggling nightlife, I wonder to myself, just like the woman singing, “what the f*%&?!?!” Every night, the young Spanish who make up the clubbing scene go out and dance to the most seamless house beats from sundown to sunrise. It's not uncommon for someone to dance through the evening and then go to a restaurant to get chocolate and churros to toast the sunrise before starting the next day's routine. They've got a siesta for a reason.

"Loca People" tells the story of a young woman visiting her friend from Barcelona and discovering this club scene for the first time. She keeps calling her friend Johnny (this song is very Euro in the way that it calls out bits of American language as a novelty) and exclaiming how f*%&ing loca the people are. And then the beat comes back in. Minimalist. Genius. "Barbra Streisand" but with more character and better composition.

Overall, I love love love this song. Out of context, it is a well-written, simplistic house track. Its official video is approaching 16 million views on YouTube at a galactic rate, so I know I'm not the only person who feels this way.

Viewing the music video, though, and taking into account the fact that the female vocalist in "Loca People" gets no prominent feature credit, I start to see the song in a new light. It is very typical house not only in its musical qualities, but also in how women are used as an artistic tool. Noel (who directed and stars in the video) employs two common themes in techno music:
1) A male DJ composing a song with a relatively/completely anonymous, female vocalist
2) Lots of scantily-clad, anonymous women in the music video.
In my opinion, if there is a prominent vocalist on a track who is not the DJ of the song, then he/she (usually she) should get credit for it. Many artists - deadmau5 and David Guetta immediately come to mind - always make sure this happens. Others - Magnetic Man, for instance - do not always follow this rule. A woman's voice is sometimes treated as any other musical instrument being played by the DJ. The vocalist herself gets no authorship in the art.

And Noel's music video? Ugh. I get that things can get crazy in dance clubs, but there are enough female fans of techno music that you'd think there would be less rampant objectification of them in videos. There was one - ONE - half-naked man in the "Loca People" video. A weak showing amongst the festival of women in bikinis parading through with their obligatory booty close-ups. I'm sorry, but if you've ever been to a rave, you know that the guys strip down as much as the gals do. Let's see some of THAT! (Editor's Note: For the record, the vocalist is a Dutch singer named Esthera Sarita; the female lead in the video is Desirée Brihuega. The video below is technically safe but probably unwise for work; the "censored" version is here.)

Boggle my mind as it does, the commodification of women's voices and bodies in techno songs is rampant. Which is why I think new house act NERVO is so cool.

I first learned of NERVO when they were introduced on this very blog. Among the female duet's notable successes is having written one of this humble blogger's favorite songs, one which I've mentioned here before, "When Love Takes Over" (David Guetta feat. Kelly Rowland), and it seems as if they've made the leap from behind-the-scenes to center-stage.

I'm not completely sold on the act quite yet, but I'm intrigued. Their breakout single, "We're All No One" featuring household-nameth Afrojack and LA-growneth Steve Aoki, reminds me of a stripped-down, muted MGMT track. Something feels like it's missing. It feels too safe. From a duo that penned such an epic ballad about submitting one's soul to the throes of head-over-heels romance, I expected more. I think they can do better. From perusing their Myspace, the songs that NERVO chooses to take ownership of rather than release for another artist sound like uninspired, generic house tracks (think college DJ superstar). But I'm staying tuned, because I see potential.

It seems appropriate in a time when there are so few prominent female DJs to highlight NERVO's two official videos for "We're All No One." The song itself is quite thoughtful all on its own, although like "Loca People" it has a very different connotation when considered within the context of its visual representation. Videos aside, the song could simply be a verbalization of the angsty struggles of an insecure generation.
You do your best/you take the fall
You reminisce/about almost nearly having it all
You see the stars/You try and catch one
Oh, you tried so hard/chasing nothing
Because we're all no one 'til someone thinks that we're someone
'Til then we are no one
Whether you're a student buried under loans from attending college for a reason you couldn't quite place a purpose behind or you're a hopeless romantic who doesn't feel like a proper, complete person on your own, a proclamation like this is something you can relate to. It's the combination of the song with the music video, as well as the fact that NERVO is a rare all-female techno act, that puts everything into a different perspective.

In the first of the two, a lyric video, an otherwise vacant black background is filled with paper doll-like photos of blondes and neon-lit lyrics that spiral and swipe through the space. It's clear that the angsty lyrics are based on an entertainer's fight for the spotlight, and particularly a female's; one who's being judged based on her photo more than anything else. And in a world dominated by white dudes, a couple of skinny, blonde chicks are going to have to bring their A-game to be heard, not seen. "We're All No One" is greater than the sum of its parts: put an unmemorable backbeat behind lyrics that spell out a pretty commonplace theme and play it all to a video that is little more than a kaleidoscope of lyrics and blondes, and you get a perfect response to the lack of respected women in the techno world. 

The song's other, more prominent music video is decidedly absent of any political connotations, which makes sense if you assume that the music industry isn't big on spreading propaganda that publicizes its sexist biases. Instead of flat, 2D blondes, you get the girls and a group of what I can only assume are NERVO's hipster model friends running around town and having oodles of fun attempting to buy alcohol with a fake ID, shoplifting, and jumping into a clueless neighbor's pool. (Side note, if I may: is it incredibly thoughtful or incredibly thoughtless that Asian-American Steve Aoki was cast as the convenience store cashier?) The love story between two of the kids in this video underscores lyrics like “And you got me looking at you” more than it does “Oh it gets insane/when you're slipping down that downward slope.” In the context of one video, NERVO makes a statement. In the other, NERVO tells a love story. Fascinating how much of what we see can affect what we hear.

Like I said, I'm not convinced yet that NERVO has lasting power. They're making the rounds though, having made an appearance at the inaugural Escape from Wonderland event this past Halloween after opening for Britney Spears over the summer. I'll be keeping tabs to see how they progress. If they came up with "When Love Takes Over," I have faith that there are more tricks up their sleeves. They'd best get to it, and get to it fast. We need more women taking over the techno scene. Techno School is currently based in Detroit.
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