So as his IFTA-winning ‘Cutting Edge’ starts a new season on RTE1 this week, the My Cultural Life column has a rummage through the Corkman’s cultural baggage…
Music: Donna Summer, I Feel Love (Patrick Cowley Megamix)
There’s so much music I could choose from — but right now I find myself listening to a lot of the originators of electronic and dance music as we know it now.
Giorgio Moroder produced the original of this song and it was a complete game changer — this marriage of this woman at the peak of her powers, singing this sexually charged, primal keening, and then this amazing relentless bassline, and it kicked disco into a whole new space. Even now, over 40 years later it sounds like it could have been made yesterday — and its influence is still everywhere.
I first came across Patrick Cowley’s 16-minute megamix of the song through New Order, themselves probably one of the most important and influential bands of the last four decades. It was a big influence on them as they moved from the post-punk of Joy Division into being pioneers of electronic pop.
Cowley extended the song into an even more primal, hypnotic experience that sucks you in and then plays with you, building and receding all the time. Cowley died of Aids when he was 32, back when people barely knew what Aids was.
The story goes that the disco legend Sylvester, with whom Cowley had made songs like You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) busted Cowley out of hospital after doctors said there was nothing more they could do for him. Sylvester and other friends fed Cowley up and looked after him and he put on some weight, and so, while he was dying, he made Do You Wanna Funk? with Sylvester.
As he faced death with this barely understood disease, Cowley also made a darker album of his own, Mind Warp. Music is a great way to get a real feel for social history.
The Swedish Railway Orchestra seems to be a Dublin guy called Rob Smith and it’s abstract electronica, catchy in places, uplifting in places, cold but warm. At my age it’s nice to still discover new music that you like.
Right now I also love When I Get Home, Solange’s new album, if you’d even call it a conventional album. Beyonce’s cooler sister, Solange is changing the very notion of what a ‘song’ is. I’m also loving Zandoli, a new EP by a Belgian-Caribbean artist called Charlotte Adigery. Soulwax are involved and if there is any justice she should be huge.
Film: The Beach
It’s so hard to pick a favourite movie. Different ones means different things, and I like a lot of rubbishy ones. I’ll still watch Danny Boyle’s The Beach any time it’s on. It’s about a feeling it gives me, the music, and the young Leo, and the way it evokes that time in the culture. Trainspotting was a big one then as well and especially in terms of music. The first time we heard ‘our’ music being used in a film, and used brilliantly.
The Talented Mr Ripley is one I always go back to also, again as much for the mood, the light, sense of Italy it evokes and the aesthetics of it, and Jude Law at his luminous, beautiful best.
I’ll watch Rattle and Hum every so often too. I love the textures and the little set pieces, Bono shy with BB King, Larry crying at Elvis’s grave, saying how it’s a pity they buried him in his backyard. We used to bunk off college to go see it in the Mini Capitol in Cork in the afternoon.
I caught Revolutionary Road again recently, and while it’s not perfect it’s so evocative of that time — and you certainly see where Mad Men got all their ideas.
The last film to blow me away was probably Get Out. For some reason it came on Sky Movies before the Oscars or anything. I knew nothing about it, so it was wild. You rarely get surprised any more because we know so much about movies before we see them.
Writer: Richard Yates
Seeing Revolutionary Road reminded me how much I loved all those Richard Yates books. Richard Yates and James Salter don’t get the credit they deserve. They are up there with Updike and Roth, and on a good day they are better. I tend to like American writers.
Right now I think AM Homes is underestimated. Great fun and both dark and sentimental at times.
The most recent great book I read was this random short novel from a few years back by a Dutch guy called Tommy Wieringa. It’s called A Beautiful Young Wife. Well worth a few hours of your life.
Theatre: One Love
I stopped going to the theatre after a few bad experiences and then my wife dragged me back recently to see One Love, a play devised and performed by the Blue Diamond Theatre Company, all of whose members have Down syndrome.
What was so fantastic was that we weren’t asked to make any allowances for some perceived disability. This was art that stood on its own two feet, performed by actors with a great gift for creating a very emotional experience and also many of whom were killer natural comics. I suppose it was outsider art to an extent. But then, what is outsider art any more? Everyone is different in some way, and everyone brings their own difference to their art.
Blue Diamond is a fantastic drama school offering a two-year course aimed at making people into working actors — with Equity cards — if they are good enough.
It’s not condescending. It’s not ‘aren’t they great?’. As someone said to me on the night, they didn’t want people going “Aaaawwww”. That said, it was an emotional night, and a real eye-opener for me.
Design: Peter Saville
This is probably another way of getting into New Order, a band that is somewhat of an obsession for me. Any education in design I got was through music, from the art and design culture that surrounded people like The Velvet Underground, Bowie, etc.
Peter Saville was the designer who created the whole aesthetic around Factory Records and the whole Manchester scene. I think in a way Saville invented a whole form of modernism or postmodernism that came to dominate British popular culture.
Just take the evolution of his Joy Division and New Order album covers and his work for Factory in general, much of which has become iconic. I like it because it was always modern, and always seemed to have an echo of Manchester’s industrial past. And it also blended glacial beauty with a bit of soul and sly humour, which sums up New Order’s music too. Also it turned me on to the power that a good font can have.
That whole ethos that came out of industrial cities from Detroit to Chicago to Manchester to Sheffield, in terms of music and visuals was the big thing when we were growing up and it has stuck with me. I have come to love the countryside but something about the hard edges and cold minimalism of a cityscape relaxes me.
‘Brendan O’Connor’s Cutting Edge’ returns to RTE 1 this Wednesday at 9.35pm
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