Comment: No Being Weird

Stephen Pietrzykowski of Tough Love has had enough of the scene's wierdo one-upmanship.

18.02.11

Words by: Charlie Jones

No Being Weird is a monthly club/band night (in the loosest sense of the word) that takes place at the Victory on Kingsland Rd, Dalston. Dummy have asked me to write this article because of its given name. It started as a joke made at the Pavement-curated ATP last May while we were lazily shooting fish. It seemed funny at the time. I’m not sure it is anymore.

As an adjective, ‘weird’ level pegs with ‘amazing’ as both the most over- and mis-used word in the English lexicon. I don’t really know what either word actually means now, other than that in everyday parlance it’s generally considered that Lady GaGa is both and that that’s a Good Thing. Weird has become a convenient epithet suitable for Twitter ‘insights’ and a product of the terminally unimaginative. It effectively serves as a synonym for many other things, some good, some bad, but very few actually unusual enough to be described as such. Marina and the Diamonds is weird in just the same way that the acoustic set from Bombay Bicycle Club in the Live Lounge was amazing. I think we’re going to need some new words, guys.

Weird – that is, to be Weird– has become a lifestyle choice. It’s a decision based on identity formation, akin to those who claim to be Irish because of the perceived romance imbued within the designation or metrosexual because it gets desperate straight men laid. And each of these things is affected without having to endure any of the associated baggage that comes with actually being them. Just like those other facets of identity, it’s usually the worst kind of person that makes claims to being Weird. The truly weird never wish to be thought of as that way, because they probably don’t know they are and see no reason to want to be – they’ve probably endured years of torment because of the perception of this very thing. Being cast as weird isn’t necessarily a pejorative thing. Constantly claiming that you are always is. And I’m not the only one to notice.

When I interviewed then-Nottingham-based no wavers Prize Pets for the Stool Pigeon last year, I asked them about the thinking behind their single “New Weirdos” having assumed that they were trying to mark themselves out as different in their hometown. I was right, but for the wrong reasons. The title of that single, along with the name of their club night, New Weird Nottingham, formed as a direct consequence of having witnessed how Top Shop had turned the (wait for it) Avant Folk American hippy aesthetic (Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom et al) into kooky headbands and mass produced rabbit feet necklaces fir for people who drank in Vodka Revolution. For Prize Pets, it wasn’t so much that the idiots were winning as it was the boring and soulless taking hold of something they didn’t really care about in order to bask in its reflected glory – kudos via osmosis.

For the most part, there’s not that much unexpected about all of this. It’s just the nature of our world: interesting things happen in the margins, become popular, get subsumed into the mainstream (lamestream), lose a bit of their allure and stop being what they started as. Remember what happened to punk? It’s basic subcultural theory. Very Year 1 Cultural Studies. The Weird are the new postcard punks.

But there’s also another level to Weird. In that same interview, Prize Pets also asked an extremely pithy question – what does it take to stand out in Dalston? It’s a good point, because a night out there can often be an absurd peacock competition and the place can feel like it’s dominated by a slightly overgrown elite. Now, I don’t care about what anyone does or does not wear. And most importantly, nor do most other people, as long as it’s perceived as sufficiently off kilter. You see, there’s no uniform anymore, no tribes or codes. The pervasive Weird aesthetic is characterized by a permitted dilettantism. Everything is up for grabs and nothing endures. The turn around of fashion is doubly quick because there are no attached values – the year before last it was lo-fi, last year chillwave (surely the most apathetic genre ever) and now it’s R&B. Politics are no longer written in style and as such, loyalties don’t last for long – which is the true irony of ironic tattoos. It’s this , I guess, that led to last year’s most deeply unfunny meme.

Being A Dickhead’s Cool – remember that? Many times I’ve tried not to. Not only was it a punchline that arrived 5 years too late and was created by the very people it intended to lampoon, it was also based on the tenuous premise that being fashionable – or caring about what’s fashionable and what’s not – is something to be ashamed of. The hipster criticism is a long held position, seemingly driven by a mean-spirited jealousy that bites at the very thing I suspect its main proponents wish they could be – young, carefree and a little bit obnoxious. There’s nothing wrong in itself with being young and a bit stupid, and it feels both a little myopic and mean spirited to claim there is.

But I understand the hatred that drove that ill-judged Dickhead video, even if its student humour was deeply ineffective at skewering the real rot at the core of London music and its associated peccadilloes. There’s one final aspect to Weird that’s far more annoying than fetishising My So Called Life, your ‘lo-fi’ band and pretending to be American because it’s time for grunge to be considered relevant again. Being Weird is also being given licence to be socially dysfunctional and rude because it’s cool to be aloof. It’s become increasingly common for ‘cool’ people to hide behind Weird values in order to justify behaving horrifically. Worse still, this is a position that originates from a rather strange cowardice: it’s OK to act differently as long as everyone else is. The weirdo playground of Dalston reeks of the politics of nepotism and self-preservation in a manner not dissimilar to an American highschool comedy. Evidence? Just see the closed off band politics that ostracize any outsiders. If only these people would realize that, yes, the world is a hateful and cold place and nobody cares about who bullied who at school and the reasons as to why you can’t hold a polite conversation. Ironically, for such elitists, they aren’t half wracked by self-doubt.

What does that all add up to other than an extension of my own neurosis? Well, No Being Weird was a probably ill-advised attempt to poke fun at some of the above, mainly via the contrary practice of supporting music that most of the record buying public would consider weird, in the very area that’s home to its main offenders. But No Being Weird is not about embracing the normal or boring, quite the opposite in fact. For us, it was more a collective sigh at East London’s frustrating clique. Following fashion doesn’t make you a dickhead, but obtaining some sort of self-importance and elitist mentality because of it does. East London is home to a great number of bands, but only a few of which that have actually been able to extend beyond the area. That might be due to a variety of reasons – some self-imposed, some not – but until Dalston snaps out of its back patting, secret handshakes, bad manners and weirdo one-upmanship, it might be a good while longer before that changes.