The Rise of the Anti-Celeb

Reality TV. Celebrity culture. Heat. Closer. The Only Way Is Pissing Essex.

Since the rise (and subsequent fall) of Big Brother, mainstream UK culture has been dominated by those that shout loudest, those least inhibited by their dignity and sense of reservation. In a world where X Factor et al provide a convenient route to the nation’s living rooms for those who are willing to make a spectacle of themselves, finding and exposing true talent from those unconcerned with the accompanying spotlight has become increasingly difficult. Indeed, the reality TV route is already old hat. Today a child in their bedroom can generate an army of online followers simply by spouting banalities into their iSight camera, which goes some way to explaining why we’re all so fascinated when a character emerges and chooses not to plaster their face across every available means of communication whenever possible.

We are now positively drawn to those who wish to avoid the limelight. Why don’t they want us to know what they look like? How come they’re not suckers for fame like the rest of us?

Daft Punk have played this game superbly. Despite being amongst the very biggest names in dance music, which itself is currently at an all-time popularity high, I’d be willing to bet Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter could comfortably walk down London’s Oxford Street without being recognised (provided they left their helmets at home). What’s so fiendishly excellent about the way they’ve gone about creating android alter-egos is that they could still go out on a world tour playing to sold out stadiums if they’d like to, but need never show their faces the whole time.

Jai Paul has been the most recent case of hype-by-mystery. Whilst press shots of Jai exist, and he’s not been shy about letting us know his name, the way he has kept in the shadows since blowing up with BTSTU and Jasmine has created a public fascination that has only intensified over recent weeks and months. Not even Jai’s label seem to know what he’s about to do at any given time, and I love the guy for it. Richard Russell, owner of XL Recordings, was recently quoted as saying,

“The way he’s going about things is, I think for many, baffling. But it’s how he’s going about things, and as such it can only be right because it’s his way of doing it. He’s going about things in the most Jai Paul way you could possibly go about things. And who knows where that may lead.”

The bizarre events surrounding his debut album ‘leak’ only serve to prove that nobody quite knows what Jai’s up to at any moment in time.

An even more extreme case is the positively introverted Burial. I make no bones about the fact that Burial is amongst my very favourite artists working today, his emotion-laden post-garage offerings striking a particular chord with my musical tastes. In the early days of his rise to prominence, nobody paid too much attention that he chose not to show his face. So it was a rare case of a producer not also being a DJ, who cares? I’d be hard pushed to pick Kode9 out of a line up after all.

However, when his second album, Untrue, was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Music Award in 2008, the spotlight intensified significantly, culminating in Gordon Smart’s tactless campaign to unmask him in The Sun. Rather than give them the pleasure of seeing their tawdry little campaign through to some kind of Bin Laden-esque reveal, the mystery man in question popped up on MySpace to put the issue to bed, in typically low-key fashion:

“For a while there’s been talk about who I am. I wanted to be unknown because I want it to be about tunes.

But the unknown thing has become an issue. My name’s Will Bevan, I’m from South London, I’m keeping my head down and finishing my next album.”

I hope that made you feel like a right bell end, Gordon. He explained his reasoning slightly more eloquently in this fantastic in-depth interview with The Wire a year or so earlier:

“I’m just a well low key person. I want to be unknown, because I’d rather be around my mates and family than other things, but there’s no need to focus on it. Most of the tunes I like, I never knew what the people who made them looked like anyway. It draws you in. You could believe in it more. I like it if it’s more secret, people can get into the tunes more. I just want to be in a symbol, a tune, the name of a tune. It’s not like it’s a new thing. It’s one of the old underground ways and it’s easier.

Everyone goes on about themselves, they reveal everything and give it away. It’s an obsession in London, people and the media are too blatant, trying to project this image, prove themselves and trying to be something. They should just hold back a bit, it’s sexier.”

And he’s right. My personal drum & bass and UK garage vinyl collection has no photos of the producers splashed all over the place. Just text credits on the label stickers and basic logo design on the sleeve 90% of the time. I didn’t know who was black or white, I didn’t know that Source Direct was two people, I didn’t know that DJ Rap was female… but it didn’t matter. It was about the music. It should always be about the music. Anything else is just a distraction.

Jai Paul’s album? Daft Punk’s single?

It’s been an interesting couple of days in the world of online music. It seems that nowadays you have to question the veracity of what you’re listening to before committing to believing it’s official.

Over the weekend a bandcamp page popped up claiming to belong to Jai Paul, the much-hyped XL-signed pop enigma, distributing what was purported to be his debut album for £7 a pop. The online music community lost its collective shit, and the thing spread like wildfire. The 16 track LP sounded unmistakably like a Jai Paul creation, but certain things didn’t add up. Why didn’t any of the tracks have names? Why were the levels and compression rates all over the place? How come XL allowed Jai to sell his debut album directly like this (presumably cutting them out of the equation)?

Today Jai put out this solitary tweet, the only tweet ever from his verified Twitter account:

Eh?

This rather impressive article from Crack in the Road explains just how baffling this whole situation is better than I could, so please go and read that. All I have to add to this is that I’ve heard from various well placed sources that the relationship between Jai and the powers that be at XL has been frayed for a while now. I imagine this was something of an attempt to reassert who was really in control in the relationship, before a quick retreat once he realised the legal implications. In any case it’s bloody fascinating and I’ll be watching developments closely (no sign of that ‘statement’ yet). Also, this is now out in the world, which is a good thing:

Elsewhere, an audio clip of a roughly 4 and a half minute long song popped up on Tumblr, claiming to be the full length version of the new Daft Punk single featuring Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams. Only that wasn’t really what that was either.

The pervading opinion now seems to be that this was in fact a creation of a (presumably deranged) fan, who stitched together various teaser clips into something that loosely resembled a song structure. This situation wasn’t helped by Fun Radio in France, who played this Frankentune (or another iteration of the same idea) and claimed that they were doing so as a worldwide exclusive. Idiots. You can hear the offending creation below.

Both of these cases have fascinated me as demonstrations of music’s ongoing struggle to get into bed with the online community, particularly when both projects exist against a backdrop of hype that is reaching frightening levels.