Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Hey Ms DJ

I've written about the possible risks of writers sharing their record collections before. Yesterday was the ultimate test of my theory though - two writers talking in public and spinning some of their favourite vinyl.

The event was part of a bi-monthly series at the achingly cool HAU2 venue. The writer, musician and radio DJ Thomas Meinecke invites a guest of his choice to raid their record collection and air it in public. This time it was the fantabulous Karen Duve (do click on this link - she really is that grumpily gorgeous in person), author of Taxi, Rain, This Is Not a Love Song... My concern was that finding out about the musical taste of an author I admire might put me off their work. And it did turn out to be a rather bizarre experience.

The two writers are both feminists and both from Hamburg. And they're both vinyl nerds, sharing a passion for picking up records at markets, thrift stores, jumble sales and the like. Meinecke is attempting to revive that (male) teenage tradition of talking for hours on end about records, something most people grow out of. Only he does it with an audience.

The technical set-up was perfect: two decks, a lonely and reviled CD player, and Meinecke's hand firmly on the mixer. They even had a camera set up to project the record covers onto a screen behind them. The audience demographic was about 75% male, the other side of 40 with a high proportion of glasses-wearers. The atmosphere was relaxed - lots of sotto voce commenting while the records were playing, with the occasional question thrown out to the audience. It was not unlike a very friendly and impromptu live version of Desert Island Discs.

The conversation ranged from the days of avant-garde punk in early-80s Hamburg to why there is no word for male fag hags, as Meinecke defines himself, to why dogs howl so tunefully. They occasionally touched on other gender politics issues, where Duve was clearly outshone in terms of well-thought-out ideas. And the music was equally eclectic: Chicago house, 80s Cher, Jeremias Gotthelf set to a dance beat, rather too much Diedrich Diederichsen attempting to sing before he became a cult cultural theorist, Mae West, gobbling turkeys (I had to leave the room at that point), Cash offspring, the mere promise of Rufus Thomas cruelly whisked away from us, bombards and all manner of other delights.

The whole thing was strangely intimate. Despite sitting in a room with 50-odd other people, I felt like I was watching a couple of teenagers in a bedroom, comparing records and trying to outdo each other for sheer strangeness. Their tastes didn't match. Duve likes a lot of things my mother listens to - including the most distressing moment of the evening, a droning Leonhard Cohen cover my mum used to sing along to in the car. And Meinecke just seems to have a hell of a lot of odd records.

But in the end, the atmosphere was forgiving. Because we were sitting on chairs rather than waiting to have our dancing reflexes triggered, it didn't matter at all that I hated Duve's record collection. I came away impressed by both writers as individuals - and I'll be going back again, that's for sure.

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