Dan Deacon - ULU, London - 5/6/09
23 Jun 2009
"i should think that most of them were having fun but - aside from the hardcore of people like me that are tragically old before their time in the worst kind of way, and the people who were living an ecstatic dream come true - i wonder how many people were responding to a kind of peer pressure to be fun, or to feel fun..."
The worst thing about fun is that it is seldom passive.
The idea of this review is that you indulge my extreme cynicism as much as you can bear, in a hope to gain an understanding of what not to become and how to avoid becoming it.
Can you really have fun? According to Dan Deacon the answer is - no: fun is something you do and we have. He never explicitly mentions it but it seems that passive voyeurism is something frowned upon in Dan Deacon - the Fun Führer's - theatre, a world of mandatory smiles and silent discomfort.
The show is amazing: if I remember correctly the core band is 5 keyboard players, 3 drummers, a vibraphone player, a guitarist, a bass player, a visuals man and Dan Deacon himself with some keys and table of pedals. Every song has some instruction on what he would like you the audience to do: calling commands in a way that is like a kind of modern day Céilí. For a long while I go along with the participation - counting, touching other people's heads, thinking happy thoughts, etc - but my patience is soon worn thin when the level of discomfort in the completely packed venue, is to me... not fun.
If Dan Deacon wants to create a completely unique social experience in which the involvement of the audience and the performer are as important as each other, resulting in a re-awakening of the audiences senses to the people around them, then that's an admirable goal. If he thinks that sometimes it's good to let go of your personal space boundaries and share something with the people around you - that this can be not only good for you but also fun -then Mr. Deacon is completely right. But if he thinks that constructing a detailed prescriptive way of getting people to step outside their comfort zone will result in a harmonious sense of community, then he has never done a team-building exercise for a rubbish job.
An element of liberty is vital and intrinsically unavoidable within a leisure activity; therefore the infringement of liberty that arises within a prescriptive activity is particularly apparent when applied to leisure: the acceptance of prescribed conventions within leisure activities is one of the most differentiating characteristics of various social groups. For example, people that go to Céilí will already know the dances and will tend to be a certain type of people (I'm not saying there's anything wrong with Céilí goers - why would you assume that?). I can see the beauty of a group of people all mingling, playing, dancing, laughing, drinking and groping with strangers, but for me the beauty of people going to an empty hall doing pretty much whatever they feel like- preferably without causing discomfort to anyone else - in front of some music is infinitely more beautiful and embodies the most positive liberal sense of the word democracy.
One counterargument is that you can have that at any other gig, that you shouldn't necessarily judge this show as if it were any other gig. I think this is a fair point and I'm really glad that something like Dan Deacon's show exists in the world: for the people who enjoy this sort of thing - mingling, playing, dancing, laughing, drinking, groping, sweating, hoping, imagining cats in circles - it must be wonderful. But first of all, it was advertised like - and adhered to the conventions of - any other gig: the audience had every reason to believe that they are going to be able to go along and enjoy some music at their discretion without having to imagine any good thoughts. The other thing that emphasizes the uniqueness in how a show like this should be treated is that there are probably people out there that would go if they had some inkling that this is the kind of experience they would have. There's no one to blame for this it's just a problem with organising something different in general.
Another bad thing about fun is that it attracts people - happy people. One thing I hate about people - especially the sort that have fun - is that I'm not really one of them. Something that interests me is to what extent other people felt the same as me and to what extent DANNY BOY-O is aware of that. It was after a nice day in a student oriented venue on a Friday night: the vast majority of people certainly seemed to be having fun. I should think that most of them were having fun but - aside from the hardcore of people like me that are tragically old before their time in the worst kind of way, and the people who were living an ecstatic dream come true - I wonder how many people were responding to a kind of peer pressure to be fun, or to feel fun.
This is possibly the most cynical point of the article, but why would you want to convince yourself that being crammed in tight with a bunch of people, not being able to move, whilst being told to dance is fun? I catch the tube to work every morning - It's not an enjoyable experience. At some point he eludes to the fact that not everyone might be as socially extravert as he by saying - from the comfort of the stage - that anyone who is going to be a chicken can go up to the balcony - which brings me to the question I'm sure you have been screaming to yourself all along: Why did you stay if you didn't enjoy it?
The answer to this I think demonstrates one of the largest problems - I really wanted to listen to the music. Getting that many musicians on the road with Dan Deacon's budget is a massive achievement; it seems a shame that the music was being treated as a kind of secondary element: I found it very difficult to pay attention to the music in that much discomfort and it didn't seem to be something that the people having fun were that bothered about. For a while I went up to the balcony and that was a bit better, but the sound was terrible and it just felt wrong: why was I - one of the few people trying to listen to the music - banished up here: is it so bad that I just want to listen? I went home feeling very confused - but ultimately, and importantly, really glad I had gone.