Provincializm by William Bowers: Spandex From Spain


Heaven knows, William Bowers is the new movement in town.

Provincializm: Spandex From Spain

By William Bowers

I’m giving that Monday columnist one last jab at my Pitchfork homesnakes before I’ll stoop to spoof more than his sagacious one-sentence-paragraph leads. What I mean to say is:

Dancepunk 2.0 is the new hair-metal 2.0.

Obviously, dancepunk and hair-metal’s first waves are/were already the derivative second waves of more “authentic” genres. Dancepunk 2.0 and hair-metal 2.0 are/were both especially negligible as “art,” even by the ruptured standards of the elastic waistband of that term’s XXL underwear. They are/were both useless as ways to understand more about the “actual” world outside most of our apartment buildings, which is, of course, their appeal. They concoct/concocted a context for vamping and tramping that sort of compensates youth for the repression required to properly perform schoolness, jobness, and retailness within their respective confines. They are/were the rowdy Young Adult equivalents of the soft rock pumped into the cubicles, lobbies, and Wendy’s of grown-ups. (One of my most awkward moments as a twenty-something involved waiting in the anteroom of an orthodontist, holding my jaw with just the amorphous, middle-aged receptionist glaring at me while Heart’s “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You” played passion’s petrified understudy through the ceiling’s speakers.)

Both dancepunk 2.0 and hair-metal 2.0 are fairly stupid descendants of brilliant ancestors unpreoccupied with corporate hijackings of their aesthetic legacies, though dancepunk retains street-cred for being the marketplace underdog (except in its most polished manifestations—punk is hardly mappable in the DNA of The Killers or The Bravery, or even of the exponentially more dignified Franz Ferdinand). But if grittier dancepunk bands such as Shitdisco had access to the airwaves the way that the hair-bands did in the late 80s and early 90s, and if I could relive ages 10-14 now, I would once again conscript my kid sister into speed-dialing 1-800-DIAL-MTV all afternoon to help boost the shamelessly Devo-cribbing video for “Reactor Party” into contention. When one of our hair-metal selections would land in the all-request countdown back in the day, we would recline imperiously, like we were Magnate McMoguls, big time players in a system that we didn’t know was playing us. We didn’t care back then that, in their videos, the hair-metal bands were always popping off of posters or assorted promotional materials into kids’ bedrooms like some triple-reverse Narnia that admitted to its own one-dimensionality, and we probably wouldn’t care now. Note how the wicked stepsisters’ 1986 outfits here hold up as scene-queen skeezer-couture.

So my new favorite group of the month is the unabashedly vapid and parasitic We Are Standard, from Bilbao, Spain. That they synthesize four decades of British music is weird, since the cultural assumption about inhabitants of the Basque region is that they resent outside influences—or maybe the Catalan professor who told me that didn’t have time to nuance her propaganda. Everything that We Are Standard does has been done before and better—seriously, nothing about their stateside debut 3000v-40000W is tomorrow-stained in the least—but that doesn’t stop the album from being awesomely fun. You get Deu Chacartegui’s slurred, obtuse vocals, which you might not realize are a Shaun Ryder homage/impression until the, um, post-proto-rave pianos of “The Happy Song,” which, down to its interval of turntable scratching, reaches back to a new Hacienda. You get the Pulp-cum-shoegaze of “Supermarket,” which nicks its vocal melody from the verses of “Common People,” and which, I hope, is about a consensual-assault role-playing fantasy, and not an actual rape in a grocery store. “I Love You” is pure Spiritualized in form and content, a spacey ballad about needing drugs to make one numb enough to cuddle, or commit. One bandmember even calls himself Londonboy.

But cropdust my Vespa, what is with the video for “Txusma Remix”? Why are the members of We Are Standard wearing uniforms and armbands, playing for a happy guard and his dog against a barricade, in a country that was under fascist rule until the mid-70s? When the women sporting high heels attack them and then join them, is it meant to evoke a dance-dance-revolution occurring in Robert Palmer’s subconscious? Still and all, the song’s rallying cry is a great, taboo mix of John Lennon and Johnny Rotten: “I don’t believe in Jesus and the fucking USA!” Rascality at its utmost! We’re not gonna take it!

The band is honest in its lyrics (and some of its other videos) about their mission: to make cathartic dance music, about buttcheeks, for working stiffs. They’re totally cool with instructing their listeners to boogie for five, nine, or fourteen minutes, as if the crowd had a cognitive disorder and needed constantly to be reminded. (Poor analog acts; no one picks on digital musicians for their elongated, unvaried messages.) I say: More opiate, please—it’s not like I’m getting any freer. Just as I never thought that the 80s’ lovably lame synth-n-sax product would resurface as a viable underground sound (see Chromeo), I hardly suspected that dancepunk would metastasize into a conduit for emptily rebellious sleaze reminiscent of hair-metal. The tight-pants phenomenon seemed like a coincidental parallel until hipsters started trading skinny ties for bandannas. Like you would with, say, Britny Fox, blast We Are Standard when getting leatherfaced; save smarter and more careful compositions for your sober commute.