Russell Smith

On Nostalgia, Ironic Or Otherwise: Part 2

Since I discovered that there are videos for all the underground songs of my youth now on YouTube I’ve been staying up late watching them. I couldn’t believe you could find actual footage of the Human League performing “Being Boiled,” a song first recorded on a Sony two-track tape for a cost of two pounds fifty.

But I am not the only fan of John Foxx and Co. to have been disappointed with these old videos. And this is the great marvel and joy of YouTube — that disappointment can be answered: John Foxx fans have posted their own remixes of his 1980 hit (And of course you can also see John Foxx performing the song live in a variety of venues.) My favourite of the modern videos is one entirely in black and white: it nails the Kratfwerkian nostalgic element of early synthpop, situating the whole thing in a time of post-war optimism (and minus the little girls). This video is better than the original.

John Foxx, “Underpass” (Metamatic, 1980)

The dance remix is also a lot of fun: it updates the song with an electro bassline and a sample from Liberace. There it is: irony. An injection of just a little of it makes it so much more contemporary.

Mark Reeder, “Underpass Reeder Sinister Subway Mix” (2009)

Is this just a dangerous nostalgia? Am I just being like the boomers, constantly looking over their home movies from Woodstock? Possibly in giving in to this I am distancing myself from the present. But I like to think it’s also research, from a distance, on something I didn’t fully understand at the time.

Trust YouTube to provide visual commentary on exactly this question. Here are Miss Kittin and the Hacker, who in 2001 released a song called “1982.”

Miss Kittin and the Hacker, “1982” (2009)

And by the way, techno is still obsessed with “Stalker.” Watch these two.

Richie Hawtin, “The Tunnel,” (2005)

Richie Hawtin, “We (All) Search,” (2005)

– Russell Smith

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Russell Smith's novels include "Confidence," Girl Crazy," and “Muriella Pent” — named best fiction pick of its year by, and nominated for the Rogers Fiction Prize and the Impac Dublin Prize. He lives in Toronto. More Russell Smith here. Author photo by Jowita Bydlowska.