(Published on ARTSCLASH)
There must come a time in a music fan’s childhood when they make a move from the shiny but vapid pop music of whatever genital-less pop creations are dominating the airwaves at that point (in my generations case the S-brigade – Spice Girls, Steps, S Club…) to ‘proper’ music, music with guitars that one day you’ll be able to dance, fuck or fight to. For most people, this was probably a gradual process, as they moved from Now! to NME. For me, though, I can pinpoint it to one moment, a flash of art-pop genius that was exciting in a way that nothing I so far owned on CD was. A moment on a (presumably) bleak Friday night in February 2004, just after my birthday and between the times of half-seven and eight. That moment was Franz Ferdinand doing ‘Take Me Out’ on Top of the Pops.
A note here: the above footage is from the second time they played the song on TOTP. The first time is not on YouTube, and so I’m relying entirely on my memory here to relate how important this performance was. Firstly, there’s the song itself, those berserk choppy guitars filling the whole with a sort of sexy violence, that “DADADADADAHHAHHHH” that melds the football terrace with the art school, that skipped beat at the end that comes back with a final “TAKE ME OUT”. This was rock music at its most exciting, as far removed from the clumsy clichés of the metal bands I had grown up with through my dad.
In fact, ‘Take Me Out’ could be said to be the perfect gateway from my early years of music. It had hooks, but cleverer than those repetitive earworms that made my favourite songs at the time (Alice Deejay’s ‘Better Off Alone’, Madonna’s ‘Music’). The band had a camp air, but more subtle and homoerotic (although of course I only knew this at the time as an unnamed feeling) than the Butlin’s-like camp that will make late 90s pop so badly regarded.
In a sentence, this performance did for me what Bowie’s legendary performance of ‘Starman’ had done for so many 30 years earlier – it showed me another world was possible, a world with guitars, sexy skinny boys (I had A MASSIVE crush on FF’s lead singer Alex Kapranos even at 11) and pop music that wasn’t afraid to be artistic, wasn’t afraid to reference Bauhaus design. From ‘Take Me Out’ I moved forward, into reading NME, Q, and listening to the genius of early nu-rave and that brief but triumphant guitar resurgence of 2005 – Arctic Monkeys, The Futureheads, Maximo Park etc. Not only that though, but it also sent me backwards, into punk, post-punk and a thousand amazing and terrifying sounds that have lasted ever since, and that I had no idea of from my battered tape of Now 42.
Not bad for three minutes of pop music on a shitty February night.