Independent rock acts pride their pared-down live performances on the accurate, organic reproduction of sounds on an album. Mainstream bubble-gum giants go to the other extreme — spectacle over substance. The line between Vegas-style, Britney- and Kylie-level entertainment and what can be considered real musical art is growing finer by the minute.
Electronic, DJ and pop acts of all sizes are realizing that there’s more than one way to present their wares to an audience. No longer are crowds content to stare at a lone turntablist or a panel of iBook geeks pushing space bars; that kind of minimalist exposition is making ITT Tech look like a cooler place to be than an IDM show.
But thanks to NYC’s Fischerspooner, elements of camp performance art, rock sensibility and over-the-top pop opulence have met in one fiery, scandalous package — and the whole world’s noticing.
“I was sort of hatched out of this dissonant, acoustic music scene in Chicago,” admits Warren Fischer, Wizard of the group’s Oz. He and brassy front man Casey Spooner met while wetting their feet in the study of film, classical violin, avant-garde composition, painting and audiovisual production at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Later in New York, the duo collaborated on a film project, and the sound track lent itself well to dance music. “I didn’t know anything about Chicago house; I was a rock kid,” Fischer continues. “I wanted an opportunity to try making something different, something reactionary. It turned out to not be so easy. There are so many nuances that are hard to manage when you’re writing stuff like this,” he chuckles.
Fischerspooner’s newest “stuff” just saw its U.S. major-label debut on Capitol Records. The album, arrogantly and humorously titled #1, pulses sexily through trancey house, triumphant pop structures and dizzying beat wizardry with a flair few glitterati of the electro scene can match. The two-disc affair includes bonus remixes and videos; Capitol plans to release a full-length DVD this year with mini-films, a group documentary, splices of projection pieces from Fischerspooner’s live extravaganzas and commentary.
Having worked with Kylie Minogue, Karl Lagerfeld, New York gallery czar Jeffrey Deitch and practically every designer on the runway, it’s no surprise that most publications emphasize glitz and image over music when discussing Fischerspooner. As the group’s extravagant, decadent live performances have become more and more involved (shows feature troupes of professional dancers, chocolate sauce, video projection and an elaborately-costumed, lip-synching Spooner), more high-profile fashion moguls and pop icons have stuck their thumbs in the pie. “We’ve been working with a lot of local fashion designers, but we end up attracting the attention of big names. It’s all been a natural outgrowth of the fact that these individuals do extreme costume design. They’re all totally cool and sweet people. The thing is that the fashion world isn’t ultimately that mainstream; it’s a small community.”
It seems as though innovators from avant-anything have embraced Fischerspooner with open arms. After all, everyone loves a huge to-do. “We’re trying, first and foremost, to create entertainment,” Fischer reasons. “When I watch Casey, there’s a unique blend of self-consciousness, awareness and commitment that’s exciting. We’re not Weird Al or a Broadway revue; we walk this thin divide. It’s tough to know how to analyze it.”
He’s right — the duo’s sound and presence is so overwhelming that audience members often forget where they are and immerse themselves in the parading theater of it all. Fischerspooner’s ability to garner a response from people — to make people think and listen — is what will keep their dance jams from eventually falling into obscurity. They provide escapism through good times, yes, but there’s more meat on their bones.
Fischer agrees and disagrees. Or maybe, as I suspect, he’s just humble. “I don’t think it’s something that’s sustainable for decades; there’s very little innovation in what we do. Madonna and Janet Jackson do what we do. We’re putting on these kinds of spectacles, though, from an outsider’s point of view. We want to make something complicated and not disposable — something that can withstand many viewings or listens.”
He and his partner have succeeded in doing that and more. Selling out venues the world over, it seems that they’ve set the globe abuzz. They’ve performed in art collectors’ homes, in front of Boy George and at countless domestic and foreign music festivals to the delight of thousands of throbbing, squealing bodies. They’ve got what we want: a damn good fancy party-show on wheels. “We like to keep things surprising,” Fischer grins. “I’m hoping for moments of total perfection and total disaster.”
See Fischerspooner at St. Andrew’s Hall (431 E. Congress, Detroit) on Thursday, April 17. Call 313-961-MELT for more information.E-mail Joan Hiller at email@example.com