It all seems so clear now. Ninety years ago, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated -- tripping off the guns of August and the start of WWI. Doesn't that shit just make you want to dance? Well, it did to Glaswegian art students Alex, Paul, Robert and Nicholas. Rather, it made them want to make you dance. Sort of. Let's back up.
Singer Alex Kapranos was tooling around his hometown of Glasgow, Scotland, after stints in the Blisters (you've never heard of them) and the excellent Yummy Fur (you might have heard of them) with nothing much to do. A friend from Belle and Sebastian (you love them) handed Kapranos a bass with instructions to "do something good with it." He felt charitable, so he gave it away. He called up longtime chum Robert Hardy and taught him how to stroke its four strings.
Robert and Alex found themselves at a party one night when someone stole Alex's vodka. There was some shoving, and voices were raised. But instead of throwing a punch, Alex asked a question. "Do you play drums?" The offender said yes. His name was Nicolas McCarthy. They become fast friends.
Franz Ferdinand; The Futureheads open
Verizon Wireless Theater, 520 Texas
Wednesday, September 15; 713-230-1600
Over the next few weeks they grew close enough for Nicolas to admit that he played guitar, not drums. That was fine. Alex was sure his chap from Yummy Fur would take the job. His name was Paul Thomson, and he was in such dire financial straits that he'd had to sell a chunk of his ass to medical researchers. It's true. Just read any story ever written about Franz Ferdinand (the band).
The four boys started holding illegal parties at an illegal bar they called the Chateau located in an illegal abandoned warehouse. It was all very illegal. Alex even did some time. (I know what you're thinking and, no, it wasn't Scotland Yard.) They earned quite a reputation before even plugging in their instruments. They started practicing for their first gig at an all-female art show; from day one, they were on a mission to rock the ladies. They wanted to move some feet, shake some asses and get the party started.
Like a Scottish version of C&C Music Factory, they discussed their mission in band meetings before ever plucking their first note. Anyway, that brings us back to Franz Ferdinand (the archduke). Sort of.
The beginning of the Great War is not what most would think of as heady dance times, but that's how these things usually work. Turn off your bullshit detector and please bear with.
Ordinarily, straight white American males don't like to dance. They think it's gay. You might find a few here and there who profess to love shaking their shit, but that's because it's gotten them laid a few times. It's a Pavlovian something-or-other that's left them confused. Believe me.
No bushy, no dancey.
Euros, on the other hand, love to dance. Perhaps this is because they're born with a backpack full of house beats and enough good club drugs to not be so damn self-conscious. Whatever the case, they move their moneymaker and do so often.
It takes a lot for SWAMs to get on the dance floor. The aforementioned bushy is required, as are a few shots of 100-proof. Even then, there may be resistance. This hesitation lifts only when the pop artists who set our trends make dance "cool" (read: Everyone is doing it).
White dance movements in America have cropped up during the troubling times in our nation's history. Artists react to these dark times by creating bright music. The White Dance Renaissance occurred, of course, in the 1980s when people were frightened that AIDS was the new bubonic plague, the gap between richer and poorer grew wider, the murder rate edged higher and higher, and Black Monday kicked Wall Street square in the balls. During this time, bands were so poor they traded in their Strats for synths, fired their drummers and cooked up canned beats. They were united in dance against the common enemy: Ronald Reagan. Just as today they all hate the smirking Dubya and his perpetual war on terror.
Now, whatever your stance on Reagan and his decade, or on Bush and his first (last?) term, no one without an ax to grind would disagree that most artsy types thought the dudes were assholes. Whether they were right or wrong isn't the point -- they still painted the '80s pop-art reality. Carter's term of staggering inflation, kowtowing to Islamic terrorists and gas shortages gave birth to the disco era. Lyndon B. Johnson's elevation of our presence in Vietnam caused the hippies to gnaw on brown acid and do that horrible twirl they do. It's bipartisan. It isn't new. But it is true.
Here's where we look at the inverse. When trend-setting pop artists perceive times as being fair to middling (remember, they will never perceive them as great or even good -- these are artists we're talking about, tortured artists), they make harder, less danceable music. This explains a prosperous Clinton era that started with Nirvana and ended with a million Papa Roachers crying about how Daddy left. And when has anyone ever cut a rug at a Korn show?
But when that bullet struck Franz Ferdinand and touched off a war, it also got the flappers flapping and the jivers jiving. It was the dawn of the jazz age -- some people credit Prohibition and those bathtubs full of gin, but how does that explain the popularity of jazz in Weimar Germany, where the beer flowed unchecked? At any rate, today four young men have adopted the slain Austro-Hungarian leader's name and now taunt us with disco dance beats and sturdy songwriting.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
And were the times better stateside, if we had wooden Al in the White House and had 9/11 been foiled, they would likely be only a European phenomenon, like the Stone Roses and all that Madchester stuff that never crossed the pond with any force.
Their next radio single is "Michael," a song so wrought with homoerotic undertones they've become overtones. It's as though they were daring us to fight the current and teasing us with a life vest made of this song.
"Yeah," Franz Ferdinand taunts, "what if it is about sucking cock? Try. Not. To. Dance."
It's almost enough to make you hope for Four! More! Years!