Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson Flashmobs

The inevitable Michael Jackson tribute flashmob drew a big crowd to London's Liverpool Street station this evening, the idea being to do a mass Moonwalk. The police prevented it happening in the train station itself (scene of several other silent raves in the past), so it relocated to the street outside. It doesn't look like there was much space for full on Moonwalking, but clearly there was lots of milling about, singing and dancing while the traffic ground to a halt. There was also Jackson-inspired flashmob dancing in the streets in downtown Toronto and by the Ferry building in San Francisco. Any way a good example of instant mobilisation, less than 24 hours after Jackson's death was announced.

The sense of slightly aimless but enjoyable chaos reminded me of my closest encounter with Michael Jackson, on his British tour in 1988. It was shortly after the 1987 release of the Bad album, the third of his great Quincy Jones-produced trilogy (after Off the Wall and Thriller). MJ and his sister Janet ruled the dancefloor (or at least the electronic dance pop end of it) at that time, the latter with the excellent 1986 Control album (produced by Jam and Lewis). I remember the week Bad was released and hearing it for the first time in a club in South London (Dance Chase at the Alexandra on Clapham Common), everyone was talking about it.

In August 1988 Michael Jackson was playing in Roundhay Park, Leeds, and as I was staying not too far away in Sheffield we decided to go and check it out. We didn't have tickets but figured we might be able to sneak in. At the Park it was apparent that thousands of others had had the same idea. As well as the ticket holders inside the gig, surrounded by a high fence, there was a big crowd in the park. Some were content with listening to the music and seeing the part of the screen next to the stage that was visible from outside but many others were determined to find a way in, using crowd barriers as ladders to climb over fences (only to be chased out again), and generally giving the runaround to the police, out in force in the park with dogs and horses.

It was all semi-riotous and put me in mind of 'Starlust - the Secret Fantasies of Fans' by Fred and Judy Vermorel (1985). Basically their thesis was that rather than simply being integrated into the capitalist spectacle, extreme fan behaviour created a kind of surplus energy of utopian romanticism that was potentially disruptive of everyday life.

Michael Jackson may have been a fucked up kid who grew up to fuck up other kids, let alone his crimes against good music (I refer to some of his awful schmaltzy ballads), but in the intersection of his best tracks, dancefloors, and the desires of dancers many interesting moments have arisen - and no doubt will continue to do so.

1 comment:

bob said...

While unable to feel any sorrow at MJ's passing, I did find while watching the "Thriller" video again and again on the various news programmes that the actual music (the bits where Michael wasn't singing) were awesome, and really ahead of their time, really fresh sounding. But I guess that was probably down to Quincy and not Michael?