Moments In Song #5 – Reptarz2 ‘Phonetics’
As it turned out, a few people actually did show up at Flicker that night hoping to see Reptar perform. They left within seconds. The handful of people who stuck around got to see a performance they won’t soon forget. It was Reptar in one sense — the same titles, the same lyrics — but the music was completely improvised. It sounded a lot like Theoretical Girls or DNA, the more straight-ahead side of No Wave, which is another way of saying it was wonderful. As the frontman sang/recited the lyrics of Reptar songs over the din of the band, he blurred the line between parody/tribute/revolt/reclamation. Here’s Part One.
It was performance as criticism, but a more ecstatic, vital form of criticism than what we’re used to. This was the equivalent of a movie critic filming their own version of an upcoming summer blockbuster in a way that not only called the movie into question, but the entire medium of cinema. It was a brilliant destructionist gambit. Most bands take from the past to create something new in the present. Reptarz2 was taking from the present in order to create something new in the future. Intellectual or not, you couldn’t say it was bloodless. Not when the show ended with dark red stains all over the fretboards of their guitars and everyone in the band all gasping for breath.
And then at the end of the show, something unexpected happened (you can watch it at the 4:40 mark of Part Two), the group unfurled a banner declaiming FREE PUSSY RIOT.
Suddenly a performance about a local band became something more than just a reaction to the hype, something larger than just an (inspired, unprecedented) practical joke. The show became a statement of solidarity with a group of feminist punks in Russia, a group they knew about because of the internet — because of articles they had read originally written by people in the UK and Australia. It became a statement about music, about hype. It asked the audience to consider just what is the absolute value of buzz. During one song, the singer of Reptarz2 kept repeating a line from a Reptar song called ‘Phonetics’ as if he had latched onto something.
Institution? No, I’ve never fought the institution. I’m scared of all the bad things they might do.
As you read this, the members of Pussy Riot are in jail for protesting against their government. Reptarz2 derives so much power from its ambiguity that I hate to draw conclusions on their behalf, but I think it’s safe to say that they’re on the side of fighting the institutions.
Which is interesting in and of itself, but there’s something even more interesting at work, a sort of world-wide cross-pollination taking place that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. With Reptarz2 you have a group of artists in a town of 100,000 people reacting to a local band who stole their name from a character on a television show, a band that has been written about all over the world — before that band has even released their first album — in a manner that has led a lot of people in the local music scene to believe that said band is destined for stardom, that it is more or less a forgone conclusion. You then have Reptarz2 reacting against the hype by making up their own versions of that band’s songs and bastardizing their name (as one person wrote on Facebook, “Don’t they know there already is a Reptar? That’s going to create a lot of confusion” — to which Reptarz2 would probably respond yes, and then yes), while at the same time reading articles about and seeing videos of a music/performance art group in Russia that’s never even considered releasing a record. And lastly you have me, a resident in that town, writing an article for a website based out of Australia, an article that will be read all over the world (by a small number of people, let’s be clear).
I’m starting to question the contemporaneity of Fleet Foxes.
Some pretty deep thinkers out there think that the most stimulating, relevant 21st Century art is going to be an endless series of re-appropriations and re-contextualizations (literally putting the ‘re’ in retro), art that creates collages out of materials that already exist. This has been going on for a while in one form or another, but as culture and information continue to accelerate, it stands to reason that this process will become even more chaotic. It will happen even faster. Reptarz2 are an example of this. They are a product of their times; they could not have existed in the last century.
When you’re living in a small-town you have to make your own kind of fun. As the world becomes smaller, we’re going to see that whenever someone finds a new way to have fun, it’s going to spread like wildfire. Whether it’s Pussy Riot reminding people that music can be about much more than a lust for stardom. Or whether it’s Reptarz2 showing us that music can be criticism, that art can be combined with criticism in a way that makes each of the parts more powerful, more interesting, and ultimately more fun than the original.
And I just happen to live here. How much do you want to bet there’s something happening somewhere else right now? Or is going to be happening next week, something you and I may not know about until a couple of months from now, that’s going to leave us with our jaws on the floor and our heart in our throats?
The future of art will be more about imagination and daring than talent. No more pedestals, no more hero worship — the punk dream deferred. The tyranny of genius is dead. There will be no spectators, just participants gleefully and continually switching the seating arrangements.
The next move is yours. Let’s have some fun.
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