Father John Misty in Auckland, New Zealand

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Once known as the drummer for Indie darlings Fleet Foxes, Joshua Tillman has come into his own under the name Father John Misty.

He has gained a devoted following courtesy of two critically acclaimed albums- 2012’s Fear Fun and his sophomore effort I Love You Honeybear was released earlier this year. The latter is, in this reviewer’s opinion, one of the best albums of 2015 so it was with much excitement that I attended Father John Misty’s show at the St James on Thursday night.

Casually strolling across the stage in a beautifully cut suit and artfully unbuttoned shirt, Father John Misty grabbed the microphone and dropped to his knees before launching into the title track of I Love You Honeybear.

Dancing like Mick Jagger at a burlesque show, Father John Misty deftly captured the audience’s attention with enough charisma to rival any pastor throughout his hour and a half long set. Along with his band, he led them through an eclectic set list of crowd pleasers that showcased Misty’s musical diversity. His “sarcastic ballad about despair” Bored in the USA was played alongside Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings, which was delivered with an apocalyptically defiant swagger. Holy Shit was another standout, simply for having the most acerbically observant lyrics of what it is to exist in 2015.

But regardless of tempo, both the musicianship and the vaulted ceilings provided a glorious backdrop, and the musicianship demonstrates how beautifully crafted these songs are.

Father John Misty’s lyrics brim with satirical comment- the moniker could be seen as the mouth piece for the modern man. It was great to see that seep into his onstage banter as well. But look beyond the biting humour and there are deep truths to be found within his music. As human beings, we are fraught with dichotomies, and Father John Misty’s music recognises this with a sincerity that is unsettlingly freeing and took his live show to transcendental heights.

This article was first published in Rip It Up magazine, December 2nd 2015.

My picks for Laneway Music Festival 2016:

 

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For music aficionados, summer is especially exciting because it brings a glut of music festivals.  The long heady days lend themselves perfectly to dancing in the sun to your favourite band, discovering new ones, and drinking the odd warm beer in any scrap of shade you can find. Usually music is a purely subjective experience. But the magical thing about a decent festival is that for the duration of it, music becomes not only a celebration of self-expression, but also a celebration of a community. Feeling this collective joy makes the accidental sunburn and inevitable muscle aches the next day completely worthwhile.

An example of one such festival is Laneway Festival. Since its humble beginnings down a ramshackle laneway in Melbourne nine years ago, the teams dedication to offering audiences only the most seminal artists and freshest talent across a variety of genres has never faltered. These steadfast principles have seen the Laneway ethos be taken around Australia and the world, including Singapore, Detroit, and Auckland.  As per usual, 2016 sees Laneway mashing together a myriad of styles that are only otherwise bound by their creativity and talent. However the breadth of sound and bands has reached dizzying heights this year, giving me 33 reasons to go to Laneway.  With less than a week to go until the gates open, tickets are looking to sell out for the fourth year in a row. So for those of you who are dithering, for the sake of readability I will cull my 33 picks down to five reasons to click that “buy now” button.

Beach House (United States):
Dream-Pop darlings Beach House return to New Zealand off the back of two sensational albums released in 2015- Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars which were successors to 2012’s pop-scuzz triumph Bloom.

Over the last twelve years, the duo have produced six meticulous albums that each show subtle yet pertinent growth from its predecessor.  Depending on which one you are listening to, the duo incorporate drawn out droning, elegant distortion, and gorgeously breathy vocals that whisper transcendental promises into your ear. 2015’s offering showcases a shift in texture which leads to a more autumnal tone that suits the cohesively secretive sound of Beach House.  As a band whose music oscillates between being dimly luscious and grandly theatrical, their set promises delicate deviations from pop banalities.
Beach House plays the Cactus Cat stage 8.10pm-8.55pm

Grimes (Canada):
Since Claire Boucher adopted the above moniker in 2009, she has been constructing one of the most cleverly bizarre universes around her stage persona. It is a world that embraces the strange, where the multi-referential textures of her sound are translated into a kaleidoscopically surreal aesthetic that delights critics and fans alike with its constant movement and colour.

Grimes’s third album, 2012’s Visions first brought her to widespread attention, with Pitchfork Magazine hailing its lead single Oblivion as “the single of the decade.” It was an album built on breathy, self-conscious vocals intertwined with hazily dreamlike effects, and four years after its release Grimes has metamorphosed yet again with the release of 2015’s Art Angel.

Within its confines, Grimes has shed the quietly meditative songs of Visions and unleashed a cacophony of confidence and frenzied experimentation. Millenials will instantly recognise the glossy pop tropes of their teenage hood that inspires much of Art Angels. But in the hands of Grimes the kooky possibilities of this oft-dismissed genre becomes apparent. Radio-ready hooks, whip snap backbeats, and her sugary vocals are intertwined with Taiwanese rap music, EDM bangers and Bubblegum pop, giving the nostalgic touchstones of this album a psychedelically futuristic edge.  This reworking of pop standards into hyperbolic amalgamations has led some critics to suggest that she is trying to save the genre. But this writer suggests that Grimes is simply trying to get lost in her own rich soundscapes. Either way, her set will be one of the most ecstatically weird ones on the day. Bring your dancing shoes.
Grimes plays the  Mysterex  Stage 8.00pm-8.45pm.

Silicon (New Zealand):
On the international stage, New Zealand has a strong track record of producing kooky musical imports- from the quirkily suited Split Endz to the cooly cult following of The Chills and laconic pop-comedy of Flight of the Conchords.

Lately people have sat up and taken notice of the Nielson brothers, Ruban and Kody, two people I have a well-documented musical admiration for.  They first came to national attention with the rambunctious art-punk outfit The Mint Chicks, however the pair are now working on their individual projects- Ruban fronts Unknown Mortal Orchestra, while Kody is the mastermind behind Silicon.

Over the last few years antipodean musicians have been enamoured with a glitchy electro-disco soul sound- think Tame Impala and, well, UMO. Silicon unabashedly references this back to the future style with his debut offering Personal Computer, but some of the sonic and thematic standards of the genre are rerouted. This  gives the album a distinctly different feel.  The retro synths and angular samples are offset against Kody’s falsetto creating an icily soulful sound. This is fitting considering that Personal Computer was inspired by the increasing trend of digital-only socialisation. By simultaneously embracing and eschewing the digital age, Nielson has created an album that is filled with quietly danceable pensive music that will undoubtedly translate excellently irl.
Silicon plays the Thunderdome 7.40pm-8.25pm.

Thundercat (United States):
As a virtuosic bassist, Stephen Bruner has spent the last 10 years playing in an eclectic mixture of contemporary music’s biggest bands. He began working with punk trash legends Suicidal Tendencies before moving onto the Erykah Badu band. 2014 saw him working with Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder Imprint while he also worked closely with Kendrick Lamar on his seminal album To Pimp a Butterfly.

Thundercat is the name of Bruner’s solo project, which he has released three albums under- The Golden Age of the Apocalypse (2011), Apocalypse (2013) and 2015’s The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam. On his latest record, Bruner’s textured grooves give his avant-jazz sound a bombastically psychedelic edge-making it ideal for a hazy summer’s day. Thundercat wields the bass with an almost godlike prowess, which means he should be on your to watch list for Laneway 2016.
Thundercat plays the Cactus Cat stage 3.15 pm-4.00pm

 

Vince Staples (United States):
Hailed as “the most exciting man in rap” by Rolling Stone, Vince Staples  was bookmarked as being one to watch long before his breathtakingly focused debut album  Summertime ’06 dropped in 2015.

22-year old Staples first came to international attention for his part on Earl Sweatshirt’s debut album. He immediately impressed critics with the gritty realism of his flow set against corrodingly industrial beats. On the surface the rhymes found in Summertime 06 reflect on the hard-edged world of rap music where fragility fuels bravado and vice-versa, giving it an obvious street appeal. But at its heart it is an album that turns the loss of childhood innocence into something positive and will undoubtedly translate to a powerful live performance.
Vince Staples plays the Cactus Cat stage 5.35pm-6.00pm.

LANEWAY 2016, Silo Park, Auckland, New Zealand line up:

Battles – Baynk – Beach House – CHVRCHES – Courtney Barnett- DIIV – East India Youth – FIDLAR – Flume – GoldLink – Grimes – Groeni – HEALTH – Hermitude – High Dependency Unit – Hudson Mohawke – Leisure – Lontalius – METZ – Nadia Reid – Oscar Key Sung – Purity Ring – QT – REIN – Scuba Diva – Shamir – Silicon – SOPHIE – The All Seeing Hand – The Internet – Thundercat  – Vince Staples – Violent Soho

 

 

An interview with: Tim Heidecker (Tim & Eric)

It was oddly appropriate that my interview with Tim Heidecker began with several calls to the emergency services, courtesy of an incorrect phone number. Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are the cult comedy duo Tim and Eric who revel in absurdism. So the humour in calling an ambulance instead of California was not lost on Heidecker, who when I do reach him, is bouncing on a trampoline with his daughter. “Not even a joke” he laughs breathlessly.

The pair first met in 1994 at Temple University in the United States, where they were both studying film and realised that they shared a taste for the bizarre. Together they have created a bevy of cult TV series, including five seasons of the sketch comedy Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job for Adult Swim. Their madcap antics have attracted an impressive roll call of the who’s who of US Comedy. Ben Stiller, Will Farrell, Jonah Hill, Maria Bradford, Will Forte, Michael Cera and even our very own Flight of the Conchords have been part of the Tim and Eric world. They have also directed their own film, while Wareheim has directed music videos for the likes of MGMT and Major Lazer. This year, they have released their debut book ‘Tim and Eric’s Zone Theory’, and will be wrapping up 2015 with a tour of Australia and New Zealand, aptly titled “Tim and Eric- the ‘Stralia-Zealand Experience.’

For a writer, it is incredibly difficult to describe Tim and Eric’s style of comedy. Most reduce it to ‘Stoner Comedy’ which I believe misses the point of their humour. It is an observation that Heidecker appreciates. “There is a certain level of person who thinks that we must be stoned when we make this- nothing is further than the truth. Or you have to be high to like it. I don’t agree with that cross section of people- I mean it’s on late at night and some people like watching it stoned- that’s totally fine. But that’s not what we are aiming for in making it.”

Alternatively, writers can rely on overly intellectual superlatives to try and make sense of Tim and Eric’s work. Yes it is joyfully free associative and at the Dadaist end of the Surrealist humour spectrum. Yes they could be described as a late-night public access television nightmare perpetually stuck in the 90s- resplendent with poor editing, amateur animation, and excruciatingly awkward characters selling bastardised commodities that shouldn’t exist. Because in their world, everything hinges on horrifically comedic extremes. But regardless of how you describe it, for Heidecker, the aim of their comedy is quite simple: “we try to make everyone laugh and have a good time- “you’re not going to learn anything unfortunately.”What about that life is absurd?” I ask. “Yes you could learn that- that the world shouldn’t be taken so seriously.”

Both Heidecker and Wareheim play a multitude of characters within Tim and Eric. When I ask Heidecker who is his favourite character to play, he laughs. “I don’t want to sound like a dick, but I hate the favourite question. I have so many favourites. In a sense my favourite character to play- and this is going to sound really pretentious- is myself. Because the Tim character is basically myself and there are so many different versions. It’s fun to play different sides of myself. It’s a great outlet for more unfavourable sides of my personality. Everyone has [negative qualities] that sometimes come out when they are driving down the highway or lose their temper. I get to do that for a living.”

When discussing his impending tour, Heidecker muses “It’s hard to talk about [the show] because if you talk about it too much it gives away the jokes. I’ve gotten off the trampoline by the way, I thought that it might be easy talking on the trampoline but it’s not…So basically the show is me on a trampoline for an hour. You observe me, take notes” Heidecker deadpans. He pauses for my laughter to subside. “No no, it’s a mixture of sketches and live stuff. I’d say we’ve got about 70% of the show figured out. We toured it in the States, but we want to tailor it to you guys. We have characters from the show, some new characters. It’s our version of a Broadway play, with stupid costumes. It’s a night of idiocy and foolishness. We are trying to give people the feeling of if our TV shows came to life and beamed out of the TV and onto a stage it would be something like this. It’s meant to drive you insane. You’re supposed to be uncertain about what’s real, what’s planned and how sincere we are throughout it all.”

Fans of Tim and Eric will be able to figure it out for themselves in Auckland’s Skycity Theatre on December 18th.

This article was first published in Rip It Up magazine on September 18th 2015.

 

Girl Power!: The Spice Girls and Feminism.

 

Broadly speaking a feminist is a person that embraces the fact that all women regardless of sexual identity, religion, race, and socio- economic backgrounds have the unequivocal right to equality respect and human decency. It is an entirely rational idea that would be natural in an ideal world.  But because we don’t live in an ideal world, it is an idea that is not without its politics and its detractors. Thanks to the internet and social media, everyone has a soap box to stand on to voice their opinions, and for the last year or so feminism has been the hot button topic, a discussion which has been encouraged via celebrities.

Historically feminism and feminists have had an uneasy relationship with popular culture.  So it is perhaps paradoxical that a bevy of celebrities including- Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Jennifer Lawrence and Lena Dunham- have labelled themselves as feminists under the full glare of the media. Emma Watson took it a step further and delivered her speech ‘He for She’ at the U.N. While it was rousing and well-intended Watson wasn’t saying anything that feminists hadn’t been saying for the last forty years. But people sat up and took notice. That we need celebrity endorsements to make the world a fairer place has irked some of the more seasoned feminists. While the efforts of the likes of Beyoncé and Watson should be applauded it doesn’t mean that feminism begins and ends with them or any these high profile people.  Rather, they should be seen as a gateway to feminism rather than being the corporeal embodiment of the movement.

But this isn’t a recent phenomenon. For myself and millions of other twenty-somethings around the world, the Spice Girls were our gateway, thanks to their message of ‘Girl Power.’ It was a slogan appropriated from the Riot Grrrl punk movement and bands such as Bikini Kill in the early 90s. Grrrl Power as it was known in those circles was a rallying cry for third wave feminist principles- namely solidarity, empowerment and acceptance of diversity within feminist and feminine expression. So the Spice Girls were a world away from the gritty DIY culture where ‘Girl Power’ was first uttered.  They were manufactured courtesy of a newspaper ad, and made $800 million in endorsement deals alone. Their easy to digest pop music repackaged the basic principles of third wave feminism for their young audience, exposing us to gender politics for the first time.

Although they were a manufactured band, each Spice Girl had a personality and image that was of their own construction. Geri’s persona for example was the lovechild of David Bowie and Marilyn Monroe. The brushstrokes were broad to the point of being problematic and riffed off basic stereotypes. But by clumsily showcasing different expressions of femininity they were trying to highlight that there was no one way to be a woman.  That it was ok to present our notion of femininity and gender how we deemed fit, and still be accepted and successful within mainstream culture. Furthermore, the idea that a sensual appearance and equality of the sexes needn’t be mutually exclusive was not a new concept- Madonna had done it years earlier

 

For those who did not “slam it to the left” politically, the simplification of feminist principles coupled with some of the Spice Girls tight/plunging attire was Too Much.  But to exult Girl Power to the same level as capital- F feminism as the Spice Girls naysayers were doing is difficult. The concepts are completely different in terms of seriousness and commitment to political change. Girl Power was about having fun, being confident in yourself, and promoting female friendships. It repackaged empowerment into something that was familiar to us- consumerism and pop music. When the Spice Girls were encouraging me say what I wanted, what I really really wanted, the answer would have been a Principal’s Award so I could get a Polly Pocket.  Plus, I certainly didn’t have any lovers, so I was more than happy to get with my friends.  In short, we were kids who were responding to enthusiasm and positivity rather than taking the message as gospel. So rather than becoming the ethos of our sense of womanhood, ‘Girl Power’ simply made us aware that feminism existed without actually knowing what it was. While the Spice Girls gave me a sense of pride and empowerment in being  a girl, I didn’t become truly aware of feminism until several years later as I read the likes of Naomi Wolf and Simone de Beauvoir and from there I sought out more and continue to do so to this day.

Unlike pop songs and blockbuster films, feminism is not a glittery trend that is in one week and out the next. It involves unglamorous, unsexy work and discussions about issues and inequalities that continue to plague women across all walks of life. Ideally the ideas within feminism should not require trussing up to sell them. It is such a reasonable concept that it should sell itself. But the world doesn’t work like that. So celebrities’ involvement in feminist issues is necessary because it takes the message of gender equality to an audience that mightn’t hear it otherwise.  It is simplified, it is stripped back, but hopefully it encourages people to further explore the idea, for themselves  and for society.


 

 

The ‘Real Woman’ Myth

Like many women, I have had a tumultuous relationship with my body image and I often put myself at the mercy of others approval. I have dated a man who whipped an expensive-smelling tart from under my nose, only to place it in front of himself. His shirt buttons straining, he explained that he “didn’t want me to lose my beautiful cheekbones.” Another one in an industry that demanded thinness presented me with a squashed supermarket cake. His eyes gleaming with a long-repressed lust he whispered the unspeakable things he wanted me to do with the chocolate icing-once I gained a stone or two. For a time, I was disturbingly eager to contort myself so I fit the ideals of others, but it proved to be an ultimately fruitless, exhausting exercise. Hindsight is a glorious thing.
For context, I have never been waif thin or overweight by any medical definition. I go to the gym several times a week, for my mental well-being as much as my physical, and I feel better when I eat healthily. Some may think that by being decidedly normal in every way excuses me from the ‘size’ debate that rages across digital platforms daily, but that isn’t the case. For a time, I struggled to fit into a feminist blogosphere were womanhood was defined by extreme waistlines.

Even as someone who has accepted my body, my heart sinks every time I see a clickbait articles that scream the likes of ‘Bikini Bodies: who is wearing it right’ or ‘What men REALLY want in a woman.’ (I thought most would be happy with a partner who is compatible emotionally, intellectually, and morally, with some hot sex thrown in for good measure, but apparently it’s way less complicated than all that). The article is usually weighted to champion one end of the size debate, which leads to hundreds of impassioned comments. The most barbed of these are often penned by other women as they try and uphold their beauty standards of what ‘a real woman’ looks like.

Let’s consider that phrase for a moment, ‘a real woman.’ It’s odd to put those two words together in relation to something as transient and easily manipulated as aesthetics. Last time I checked, we were all ‘real women’ made from flesh and blood, each equipped with our own minds. If an Art History major has taught me anything, it’s that ‘beauty’ is an organic concept that flourishes and dies rapidly, so to reduce a woman’s ‘realness’ to her measurements not only defies logic, it detracts from far more important signifiers of what it is to ‘be a woman’.

Of late, the blogosphere has been trying to combat this notion of a prescribed ‘real woman’ by championing the body acceptance movement, a bandwagon that the media have been quick to jump on. Campaigns such as Doves quest for ‘Real Beauty’ are full of good intent, but are not without their own ostracising beauty standards. In the case of Dove, we are told that beauty is something that transcends dress size, ethnicity and age. Brilliant stuff. However these woman are susceptible to a media-friendly version of ‘realness.’ The larger women have generous breasts and bottoms, but relatively smaller waists, or barely another roll or muffin top in sight. Stretch marks or unsightly scars are a no-go, and any wrinkles are kept elegantly minimal. These beauty myths not only continue to pit women against each other, it also undermines the very definition of body acceptance. Instead, all it exposes is hypocrisy. Body acceptance should mean exactly that: acceptance of all bodies as beautiful. But from where I am standing, the semantics doesn’t match up with the practice.

It’s sad that in 2015 during the third wave of feminism (an epoch that champions the rights of the individual) that the female form remains such a hotly contested issue.  What is even more disturbing is the level of attention that the media gives this fundamentally insipid debate all in their quest for easy clicks and viral stardom. There are so much more pressing issues being faced by women around the world. Women are being stripped of their individualism, their basic human rights, and their bodily autonomy. Women are being abused, oppressed and held back economically, socially and sexually on a daily basis.  By being our own worst enemies and pitting ourselves against each other’s dress sizes in the name of feminism, we are defeating and distracting from its fundamental purpose. Freedom and equality is imperative, not only between the sexes, but between each other as well.

Amelia Richards writes that “women need to create our own beauty standards that allow for more room for individuality.” We need to put this ‘live and let live’ mentality into practice. Because ultimately beauty standards are so subjective, that no-one will ever definitively win. So you might as well accept yourself as the banging individual you are. Because fuck what everyone else thinks. You are the only person who lives in your own skin. But others must be allowed the same right.

“Just as the beauty myth did not really care what women looked like as long as women felt ugly, we must see that it does not matter in the least what women look like as long as we feel beautiful”– Naomi Wolfe.

Duck Island Ice Cream, Hamilton, New Zealand.

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It is a bold move to open up an ice cream parlour in the middle of winter. But that is precisely what the folks at Duck Island have gone and done- and it’s paid off in dividends. Garnering  over 1,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook and gaining the attention of the likes of Cuisine magazine in just a few short weeks, ice cream has never been so hot.

The parlour is the brainchild of the trio behind the multi award winning restaurant Chim Choo Ree. It has a long-standing reputation for using fresh, seasonal produce in innovative and creative ways, and this ethos remains steadfast in Duck Island.

The parlour is light and airy, with big bay windows allowing customers to observe the street scene outside, or alternatively, they can tuck themselves away on any one of their generous tables.  Aside from a few delicately vintage touches, the décor is kept to a minimum, with pride of place being given to the expansive chiller that holds the ice cream.  It holds every hue in the rainbow, with each fantastical flavour artfully announced in white ink across the glass. Reading the flavours is a mind-boggling moment. How does the combination of honey, rosemary and pinenut taste outside of a roast dinner? If I eat their toast and jam flavoured ice cream does that mean I’ve had breakfast?

After collecting a fistful of sample spoons, I settled on the salted caramel and popcorn ice-cream sundae. Beautifully presented in a cut-glass sundae bowl, the popcorn ice cream was decadently smothered in a thick velveteen salted caramel sauce and garnished with a handful of caramel corn. I am told that the popcorn ice-cream requires an overnight infusion, and taking my first bite, my palette is flooded with beautifully balanced flavours- proving that good things really do take time.  It tastes like I am at the movies, and the richly buttery flavour of the ice cream is perfectly complimented by the sweetness of the sauce, and they get the portion size just right.

Duck Island is also vegan and gluten- free friendly, crafting all of their ice cream out of all-natural, seasonal products. So there is always something for everyone and something new to try- which could be dangerous.

Exhibition Review: David Bowie Is:

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When I was 14, David Bowie had been playing on my Discman constantly for six months and it was beginning to show. Bright blue metallic eye make-up was smeared across my face while my cheekbones and lips were accentuated with silver body glitter. A blue paisley shirt with exaggerated sleeves and collar was tucked into high waisted sky blue flares, and a midnight blue velvet waistcoat completed the look. That Saturday morning I was on my way to see a blockbuster film at Hamilton’s Village 7, and had accessorised my ensemble with the musk of op shop bargains and a jaded glint in my eyes. I had grandiosely decided that the aughties were characterised by a cookie cutter uniformity that left no room for the expression of ‘self’ and all its contradictory facets. At that stage, David Bowie represented a respite from this way of thinking, of being with his ambiguous attitude, style, and music.

Of course as I grew up I realised that the slavish imitation of one’s idols is hardly more authentic than the drones, but my love of Bowie has remained. However, upon hearing that the David Bowie Is exhibition was showing at ACMI in Melbourne, I let out a schoolgirl scream.

David Bowie Is first showed at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 2013. Since then, the exhibition has toured around the world and been seen by over 1 million people and counting.   Affectionately known as the V & A, it is an institution that explores the process and the interaction between art and design, and David Bowie Is upholds this interest.  Over 300 items from David Bowie’s personal archives were winging their way to Melbourne, and this collection was going to be added to courtesy of the ACMI curators. My tickets were booked before I had finished listening to The Man Who Sold the World. A few months later and fresh off an early morning flight, I stood at the exhibition’s entrance feeling underdressed and over excited. My gold boots were gleaming in the low lighting as I positively skipped to the front desk and handed the visitor host my ticket.

Constructing a narrative for an ornately constructed artist such as Bowie was never going to be easy. Different aspects of him speak to different people on different levels, and while each of his personas are disjointedly unique, they are all ultimately David Bowie and so one character cannot be put above another.   The V & A have realised the sheer impossibility of pinning down the man formerly known as David Jones, and this is reflected in both the exhibition’s title and opening display. Emblazoned on the wall, Bowie declares that “All art is unstable. There is no authoritative voice, only multiple meanings.” Right from the word ‘go’ the institution is effectively washing its hands of definitively pinning down who David Bowie is. In a postmodern fashion we the viewers (or voyeurs) are left to make up our own minds.

Upon entry, I was handed a set of headphones which provided me with snippets of songs, interviews and observations (including Bowie’s own jaunty tones) as I moved around this deeply immersive, multisensory exhibition that felt halfway between a rummage through a very cool closet and a nightclub. It had a charmingly cluttered layout that showed us everything Bowie had ever been- from Brixton to the streets of Soho awash with drug-fuelled creativity, the walled streets of Berlin and everything in between. This haphazard approach suited the anything-but-straightforward subject, and encourages the viewer to flit from station to station and construct their own notion of who David Bowie is. Presenting the viewer with everything all at once is an overwhelming experience. Costumes, video screens, album covers, photographs, hand written lyrics all jostle for your attention, and for a few minutes I stood dumbstruck by the sheer vibrancy of it all.

Keeping true to the aforementioned themes of the V & A, the exhibition expertly highlights the eras, processes, influences and collaborations that helped shape the many faces of David Bowie. He was inspired by a myriad of cross-cultural references-including Dada German Expressionism, Mime, Kabuki Theatre, West End Musicals and Little Richard. Powerful collaborations with an eclectic range of figures- Brian Eno, William S Burroughs, Klaus Nomi and Kansai Yamamoto also proved to be enriching for Bowie. Like a truly postmodern artist, he redefined all of these ideas to create something that was new but no less powerful. Beyond Bowie, the exhibition also highlights the impact that art, culture, and music has on society as a whole. However, just as the man himself was carefully constructed, so too was this exhibition, and I couldn’t help but note that the David Bowie of the 1980s was largely glossed over save for a few photos and music videos. His acting efforts were also confined to one small room. It was the lithe-hipped, androgynous Ziggy Stardust era that attracted the biggest crowd and the era that David Bowie Is leaned on the most.

Being in the exhibition for around three hours meant that I observed the reactions of other viewers in this exhibition which was simultaneously personal yet communal. Lightning bolts were smudged by tears as punters got up close and personal to their favourite Bowie. Strangers would start singing together and squeeze each other’s hands with excitement. I must’ve had the wobbliest grin on my face seeing Bowie’s jumpsuit that he wore for his 1972 Top of the Pops appearance because a kind attendant offered me a tissue. Fandom in relation to Bowie is an odd thing.  Generally, fans tend to like the artist’s music, as well as who they (believe) the artist to truly be. Bowie is an anomaly. He was completely disinterested in singing songs about his own experiences and presenting an image of authenticity.  But by throwing himself wholeheartedly into each persona he was not only experimenting with aesthetics, form, and a myriad of other reference points, he was also experimenting with a constantly metamorphosing sense of self- arguably something that we all do. It was authenticity on another plane.

David Bowie Is is not without its flaws- some moments are skimmed over, some questions remain unanswered- for example, how exactly did the shy David Jones get the confidence to become one of the most iconic artists of the 20th century? And we are never permitted to see David Bowie the man behind the mask. But feeling so close yet so far away from David Bowie doesn’t detract from the mysteriously feel good charm of this exhibition. David Bowie is exploring possibilities rather than reality.

This article was first published by Rip It Magazine on September 28th 2015.