I went to LCD Soundsystem’s first reunion show on Sunday, and there was a large, well-deployed disco ball there, so in celebration, I made these very New York, very ‘disco ball’ cupcakes. Or, more accurately, they have shiny silver wrappers, which is the closest I can get to ‘disco ball’ near me, though if anyone feels like spending $11 on a dozen silver glitter cupcake papers, you can send them to the Village Voice care of This Bitch Right Here.
The thing about the boutique artisanal cupcakes these LCD-inspired ones resemble is that they’re often referenced as the most common milemarker of the gangrenous gentrification creeping across New York. You would think this is what James Murphy was talking about when he sang “New York, you’re safer, and you’re wasting my time” on “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” his paean to pre-Giuliana nostalgia, but he’s on the record touting “the positive effects of gentrification on New York City” as far back as 2010 (possibly as a footnote or disclaimer to that very song, which was met at Webster Hall with the kind of ecstatic screaming usually reserved for snake-handling churches).
Most of the nostalgists at the show who were fans during the band’s first wave of triumphs are gentrifiers. Those of us, like me, who were seeing them for the first time… well, we’re mostly gentrifiers, too. As with any form of privilege, this doesn’t inherently make us terrible people, but it does behoove us to develop an understanding of what it’s like for the people who were in our neighborhoods before we moved in.
Those sweet, harmless little cupcake shops that creep into previously working-class areas along with newcomers can lead to what philosopher Tom Hyman calls cupcake fascism. This gets pretty dense; just keep in mind that the “infantilized subject” is the gentrifier and “rioters” are the people fighting against their own displacement, and also that Hyman is English and wrote this in 2014 about protests in London, so think about this in the context of Black Lives Matter in 2016 and it’ll make a lot of sense:
Cupcake fascism asserts itself violently through something the infantilized subject holds deeply as an ideal. This ideal is niceness. On the one hand, niceness is just what the infantilized subject thinks is lacking from the world she is hiding from. In the first instance, the problem these people had with the London rioters was that they were not being nice enough. If the rioters had just sat down with a cup of tea and talked their problems through with their oppressors, the infantilized subject thinks, then there would have been no need to resort to damaging private property. The sort of niceness I mean here is precisely that embodied in the figure of the cupcake: neat and predictable, undangerous and healthy, redolent of a perfect past that never was.
That is to say: cupcakes are little and twee and adorable. Direct action like protesting rioting, or even simply speaking out to assert your right to being treated like a human being is not little or twee or adorable, and it goddamn shouldn’t be. When your history and your personhood are being taken from you one California Muffins franchise at a time, no amount of sweetness or delicacy (or reunion shows) can adequately encompass everything you feel.
People who leave New York for a few years seem to get vertigo when they come back: everything has changed so fast, particularly the makeup of the neighborhoods. That corner store with the Boar’s Head and dollar beers is now a cupcake shop, which makes you nostalgic for your early days here, before you got priced out of the same neighborhoods you priced people out of. It’s fucking complicated. And LCD Soundsystem, both five years ago and now, is and has always been a band you’ll hear played in a cupcake shop: definitely part of the New York that you love, but also indicative of the ways in which you and me and everyone we know are bringing it down.
(Recipe ripped off that most New York of institutions, Magnolia Bakery)
For the cake:
1.25 c all-purpose flour
1.5 c self-rising flour*
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
2 c sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
For the frosting:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
8 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla
*“Self rising flour” can be purchased at most supermarkets but is totally DIY-able. A cup of self-rising flour is a cup of all-purpose flour with half a teaspoon of salt and 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder added. Voila!
Preheat your oven to 350. Line two 12-count cupcake tins with little paper-and-foil liners, or just grease them with butter or spray oil.
Sift or otherwise combine flours together in a bowl. In a liquid measuring cup, milk and vanilla. Set both aside.
In a big bowl, using a hand mixer, whip the butter until it’s smooth and soft. Add the two cups of sugar bit by bit and mix until smooth and fluffy. One by one, add the eggs, whipping really really well after each one (you’ll know because the color of the yolk will blend in seamlessly and won’t be streaky at all). Then mix your other ingredients in, alternating the flour mixture and the milk mixture.
Fill each baking cup about two-thirds of the way, and bake for 20-22 minutes (twenty-two minutes in my shitty oven was perfect).
Let the cupcakes cool COMPLETELY before you even think about frosting them. It’s going to take a lot longer than you think for this to happen. If you try and frost a cake before it’s cool, the frosting is going to melt and your cake is going to look like shit, so don’t do it. Maybe sit down and write a column in the meantime. Give them a couple hours. Seriously.
When your cupcakes are TOTALLY UNDOUBTEDLY COOL (are you sure? Be sure!), make your frosting: in a big-ass bowl, with your trusted hand-mixer, whip the sticks of softened butter with half the powdered sugar (be careful to add it in slowly or else you will end up covered in sugar, AKA me more than half the time I make buttercream frosting), then the milk and vanilla extract. Once that’s combined, add the rest of the sugar and whip until it’s beautiful and glossy.
I used a sort of DIY piping bag (a non-zipper baggie with the corner cut off) to frost these cupcakes because I’m a Virgo in addition to being a true freak, but you can smear the tops with a butter knife and they’ll still be amazing. And sort of sad, but mostly amazing. Just like a possibly-too-soon LCD Soundsystem reunion.