Chemical Brothers - Elektrobank.
There’s been lots of interesting discussion on the Young Person’s Trendy Tumblr today about irony in 90s music videos, after a Pitchfork writer posted his own list of 50 favourites from the decade. Obviously any Pitchfork list is going to be indie-heavy and US-centric, so to a dance-pop loving Brit there are some glaring omissions (not least “Vogue”! Hi there new followers!) and certain styles of video aren’t going to make the cut. My favourites on the list are almost all directed by Spike Jonze: Daft Punk, Pharcyde, the Beastie Boys and this awesome gymnastics routine for the Chemical Brothers. However amongst other awesome stuff not on the list (*cough* *ahem*) Jonze has done some right stinkers too.
Mike makes some excellent points about how and why many 90s indie artists used pastiches - trying to avoid alienating their audiences who think they’re cooler than the next person by having the band tip a wink to the 4th wall. We’re not taking this seriously, so we haven’t sold out! However this only makes for a truly great video if the thing being satirised was any good in the first place. Spike Jonze seamlessly spliced Weezer into an episode of Happy Days - boring, unfunny toss that was STILL ON THE TELLY when “Buddy Holly” came out, endlessly repeated on Channel 4. Weezer weren’t exactly my favourite band in the first place and Jim Fixing It for them to hang around with a past-it Henry Winkler didn’t do them any favours. Bland band hang around on the set of a bland sitcom being loveable heartthrobs. Ugh. This is possibly unfair to fans of the Fonz, but my point is this: piss-takes in general get old incredibly quickly unless a) the original is awesome b) the piss-take itself is funny, or at least adds something to the original. “Buddy Holly” fails twice for me.
How does “Elektrobank” succeed? Is it even ironic in the first place? We may have seen ultra-competitive gymnasts a thousand times before, and even this specific narrative is a famous one. Kerri Strug and her broken foot scoring a 9.712 on the final dramatic vault to win Olympic gold for the US team in Atlanta is one of the best sporting stories since that ice skater broke the other girl’s kneecaps. Jonze ups the spectacle by chucking in some non-canonical ribbon twirling and doubles the drama by the arrival of our heroine’s parents at the crucial moment! The whole thing is poking fun at Strug, and over-dramatic competitiveness in general: this isn’t even an important setting, it’s just the local schools championships or something. But no-one is nodding or winking — Jonze doesn’t care whether the audience take it seriously or not. The video verges way off the irony map and into uncharted awesomeness territory.
Then again, gymnastics is never not awesome, especially when set to pumping breakbeats. This is why I loathe Jonze’s “Praise You” video - how could you make something like this when you’ve got “Elektrobank” under your belt? I remember watching “Praise You” for the first time and wondering when they were going to drop the ‘being rubbish’ act and surprise the shoppers (or at least the viewers) with some super backflips or turning into zombies or something. I waited and waited but there was absolutely nothing of merit there.