want to know a secret? well, it’s not really a secret because i told loren and cam george about it, as i leaned on the mojos bar in ruffled denim considering the question: “Is the Char Kway Pal phenomenon a little bit of fun, our friends who are musical gems turning their gem faces at a different angle so a new chink reflects some light, this chink being the rap chink? Or is this phenomenon a weird, wrong, inappropriate cultural appropriation, and a way for all the boys to let their deep-seated partial misogyny out through a crack in their otherwise good boy personas, finally getting to squirt metaphorical semen indiscriminently on all the women they pretend to respect?” this is not what i think they think, but this is the deep fear that gets dragged up from one’s subconscious, if one is brought up in this world with things the way they are – a different kind of fear of the other. but this is a problem, if we all are one, to fear the other – who’s problem though, and how is it to be solved?
as i was considering this, loren told me about the origin of the word “spook” – a racist term from the fifties, that all the boys had been flinging around the internet leading up to the show, although in the more nuanced form of “spooky”, and i thought – did they have any understanding of the origins of the word, and did it matter? is “spooky” completely different to “spook”? do they all know exactly what they’re saying? and who am i to care?
so, yeah, the secret is that i was thinking about these questions as i went to the show on saturday night, wondering if i should even go at all; whether it was bad business, or whether i was just going to have a great time watching friends being amazing…
here’s the thing: some of the people here are truly musical gems. they studied or they work hard at it, or they have crazy talents dropped from the sky, or some combination of all of these, which means they can move through genres at will, making it work in experimental or electronic or garage or jazz or rap or whatever way they please. james ireland, jack doepel, hamish rahn and steven bellair variously fit into this description, and they made a new band, crew, song cycle which reflects this, winning at a genre that’s not usually their own, and creating enough hype to slope across at least the circle of friends and friends of friends, and move people to download and listen enough to their tracks that at one of their first shows everyone already knows the words.
but i was wary. The Good Boys, a group in similar vein from half a decade back, with one overlapping member in stephen bellair, had won me over and i was happy to sing along to ‘Golf Rider’ (i love you/i wanna be inside ya, baby/golf rider), and ‘I Wanna See You on the Dancefloor’ (shakin that ass/shakin that ass etc.), and smile when Jefferson talked about jizzing in various ways on various people, but would this be the same? well, it turned out i ended up at the end of the night on stage with jo lettenmaier and katie campbell and all the other ladies sweating and dancing and watching everyone else down below in the crowd singing along and huffing amil nitrate and having their pupils grow wider and wider and them all chanting “she on my dick” in tune with hamish.
see, there was something in the night that made it alright, that at least for the moment assuaged my questions and made the feeling of the night for me move from furrowed-brow to non-ethically-icky. that made it feel good and FUUUUUN rather than treachery to be there. the biggest thing was the early presence and performance of W.A.S.T.E.D, a one-night-only rap combo of katie campbell (Catlips) and laura lowther (Kucka) with jake steele (Yarkhob) to back them up. katie and laura are masters of their arts and here they were messing with everyone and messing with all possible gender worries in a strong and ridiculous way – not that this was meant to be the purpose – but laura with a woollen gimpmask/balaclava on, katie taunting and working the crowd in a beanie, cap, sparkled fedora, making part-strong, part-ironic stances, laura at one stage pretending to go down on her. agh. can’t explain how funny/great/clarifying it was. the whole thing was looser, less effort, less genuinely trying to make it great than it might have been, but these two are so effortlessly great they’re incapable of putting their hands to something and it not turning out the opposite of shit.
so, there was that. there was also the fact that through their confidence, the Char Kwayers at least at times seemed almost embarrassed to sing some of what they’d written. (ed. i just asked stephen – he said he doesn’t feel weird about it, it’s just the form – o.k., now i know his feelings) and also, everyone was in it together. at some point stephen said “all the women to the front!” and i couldn’t tell if he was mocking the recent discussion about masculine trouble in crowds that was directed partly at an audience for his main band doctopus – was he pulling the piss? was he pulling the piss out of people getting upset at gender repression when there is none? was he pulling the piss out of people being dickishly macho? was he just being funny? who can say. maybe i’ll call him for a comment… but there was no trouble here. in fact, as loren said afterwards, there was a very strong female energy pumping through mojos that night… (don’t hate me for mentioning gender – or do, whatever.)
anyway. yes, i framed it all political, because that’s the way i saw it, but mainly the night was like this: in perth if something doesn’t exist, like Young Thug-vein rap music, and a night for everyone to love it, and a time to lounge on plastic sun chairs on stage when it’s covered with fake smoke and tiny artist women are dancing in lakers outfits and everyone is popping pills, and a miniature free-style battle can happen between the smoke and the basketball shorts, then someone will just make it happen. and it’ll be fun, and serious people will think about it seriously, and most people will just enjoy it… hmm. the end.
(image by Julian Frichot)
MINI INTERVIEW WITH STEPHEN BELLAIR about these very issues:
ok, so i just messaged steve on facebook. i wasn’t going to actually include our conversation, but i liked what he said so i’m putting it here in full with permission. mwah. (this is just us talking… not a real innerview, ok!)
a: steve can you answer one char kway question for me?
s: Lol mebe I can try. Pls ask away
a: ok… did you guys feel weird at all about singing very sexual or maybe offensive lyrics (as in, potentially gender offensive)? or is it just for fun/ not to be taken seriously etc etc. what’s just your true feelins
p.s. i loved your show a lot
s: I dun feel weird about it. It’s a form to me
Everything’s a joke, most things I talk about have really happened to me so it’s also real. I’m ok with it
a: ok, i just wanted to ask you.
haha everything has happened – that’s funny
s: I like to hear ladies doin raps bout the same stuff too. It’s rap music I dun find it offensive at all. Wot do u think about it?
a: hmmm i’m writing a review of the night. and actually, i was thinking about all of that side of things a lot
s: Lol hey there’s a great article on rebecca orchards wall bout the rap musik.
a: what i think is that… i know i take everything real serious – even buying a coffee for me is fraught with ethical questions -that’s a good and bad thing. second, i think that people who aren’t oppressed by certain things can’t understand what it’s like. like, i talk to (mr. x) about gender stuff a lot but he thinks it’s bollocks in a way, can’t empathise with me so thinks there’s nothing wrong… but i think he just can’t understand it. … like, same i couldn’t understand what it’s like to be aboriginal in australia.
haha yeah, i didn’t like that article!
i think everyone has different perspectives, and that’s fine
s: Werd u do wot u feel, no ruleZ
an hour later, steve messages me back…
s: Hey u made me think for a bit bout this
s: And I think that really this all is way more performance based then personal expression, even though the both are of course linked. I think that our exploration of the genre is similar to closer to acting than being musicians. Would you critique Eric Banner in Chopper personally for the character that he plays? I feel like there’s an element of meta in char kway palz that draws me too it. In saying that most of it is 100% real.
a: hmmm… yeah, that’s interesting. i felt that about w.a.s.t.e.d, and so it kind of made the whole night feel like that.
can i quote you? because you said that real nice…
s: if u think it’s ok then i dun mind. Can u just add in ‘no ruleZ’ at the end ahahaha
a: haha yep i will.
s: Thanks for making me think about it m9. have fun writing ur thing I look forward to reading it
a: i want to put a quote cos you used the word ‘performance’ and that’s a word i thought about on the night, but didn’t put in my article.
hey, p.s. i love you. pps get on my dick, bitch!
woh. yeah, i can’t say/write anything like that. even as a joke.