People Just Do Nothing New
I recently received a press release which invited me to see Super Hans perform a DJ set in London. Super Hans – as in, the fictional ‘big beats are the best’ waster-musician in Peep Show, played by Matt King. A not-real deejay, a persona created by scriptwriters, will be spinning such crowd-pleasers as Blur’s Girls Like Boys, and Bowie’s Let’s Dance, in a real life club. “Expect ‘choonz and jokes innit’,” the press release said, paraphrasing the Super Hans character.
The event reportedly sold out in two minutes. Hans/King has already performed this year, at Glastonbury, to indulgent reviews, and now many more dates are being added to his tour schedule. Then there’s Kurupt FM, the fictional characters behind Brentford’s premier pirate radio station in the BBC comedy People Just Do Nothing, who’ve become a hugely popular act by performing spoof sets in clubs and festivals, often posing for Instagram photos with genuine, high profile artists from the garage and grime communities. Their act began as a YouTube parody of a particular DJ culture, but now they’ve gone almost behind satire. What, exactly, is going on?
Comedic depictions of deejays are nothing new. The pompous DJ is a target ripe for satire, and you can trace it back to the 90s. Some may remember Smashie and Nicey, Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse’s affectionate send up of DJs like Tony Blackburn; most will know Alan Partridge; others might know Frankie Wilde from It’s All Gone Pete Tong. But this Super Hans gig, and PJDN’s, represent a weirder development: the transition from watching fictional DJs, in a fictionalised setting on screen, to watching parody DJs, in the real world, in the flesh.
People have watched DJs for other reasons than just music since the start – to be part of a counterculture, to be seen, to avoid disapproving bourgeois sensibilities, and so on – but now they want to be part of some post-ironic joke too. This fills me with dread. These parodies are funny, as far as they go, but their mere existence ‘in the real world’, as acts you can go and pay to see perform in a club, is another sign we struggle to enjoy things sincerely any more. To make matters worse, a lot of what we do apparently enjoy is pastiche, increasingly detached from reality.
Maybe what’s happening is that postmodernity – that jumble of cultural and economic forces we presently live under – has turned art into an ouroboros; a snake that eats its own tail, forever gorging on itself. As Mark Fisher has argued, this means very little new culture is being created – only new ways of exploiting the old. Maybe, in the absence of genuinely new things, this is why we’re increasingly choosing pastiche over reality: why observe reality, or even watch reality TV, when you can watch confected ‘scripted reality’ like TOWIE and Made in Chelsea? Why is WWE so much more entertaining than Greco-Roman wrestling? Why watch a real DJ when you can watch a simulation of one – with added jokes? Maybe French philosopher Jean Baudrillard was right, and we can’t – or don’t want to – distinguish between reality and simulations of reality any more. Welcome, then, to ‘hyperreality’: a confusing haze of words, signs and symbols, where a parody of a DJ resonates just as much – perhaps more – than the real thing.
We could go deeper down the rabbit hole and pursue ever more complicated sociological explanations of the parody DJs, but my main point is this: they’re not as good as the real thing. Presumably, the people going to PJDN and Super Hans gigs think it’s funny and like the music played. And the jokes can indeed be funny. But is watching a parody DJ as fun, vital and potentially life-changing as seeing one who’s spent years listening to, selecting and mixing records? I don’t think so. The halcyon days of Paradise Garage and 90s rave are still just about perceptible in the unguarded joy you see at some club nights, but they won’t be for much longer if we continue to shroud our tastes in knowing post-irony. For things to change, we need the shock of the new – a bonfire of the banalities – and some sincerity. If people disagree, and these parody DJs become increasingly popular, just remember that people can also be bigots and fools. After all, as Super Hans himself once said, “people? You can’t trust people. People voted for the Nazis; people like Coldplay.”