So I was at the Beaver yesterday with a couple of friends. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Bondi, the Beaver is simultaneously the trashiest and most pretentious eatery in Bondi. It's run by Canadians and filled with surfer-hipster types who can afford to spend 15 bucks on a cocktail (apparently there is a double shot in there but I still find that pretty dear). This place feels like one of Vice Magazine's field offices. I could see a lot of 'Do's' and 'Don'ts' amongst the clientele, but it's not my job to comment on that. The place is full of 'ironic' statements, such as 'highest tab gets to choose the channel' (on the TV that is), or 'Tipping is not a city in China', or even that 'pork' was accepted as payment alongside Visa and Mastercard. There was also a concerted effort to serve the worst exports from Canada: from poutine (which consists in spreading goo they call cottage cheese on fries and pouring hefty amounts of ready-made gravy on that) to beer-batter deep fried dill pickles (the worst of all North American food into one dish). Either I am getting old, or I am not cool enough, or both, but this felt like they were trying a little too hard...Thank God the company was good (thanks Tiff and Adam!)
So this is a long-winded introduction to the topic of this post: Duran Duran and the forecasting of digital technologies. It must have also been ironic that the TV was running a Duran Duran marathon on MTV. I have not watched MTV since my brain-dead teens, so it was a real blast from the past to see these guys at it on the screen. Beside the fact that they were absolutely ridiculous and that the videos are hilarious to watch for all the weird dancing, hairstyles and strange scenarios (clearly scripted under the influence of something), some of the videos actually showcased what was meant to be a futuristic use of technology.
It's strange because Duran Duran were amongst the first band to actually shoot music videos professionally using 35mm. They had directors, make up artists and the rest of it to put together these extremely experimental and whacky videos. I wasn't really around for much of Duran Duran's prominence (I think there were at their height in the early 80s) but I remember 'Ordinary World' very distinctly (it's actually stuck in my head as I write this, damn).
So during the course of the meal which consisted in two small, but delicious, tacos, I was able to watch about 8 music videos by Duran Duran. I've selected two for you that I think are simultaneously amazing precursors to how we use technology today, but also ridiculous extrapolations of the way telephones and computers were being used at the time.
The first is the video for Rio, released in 1982. In this video, the band is out on a couple of yachts in Antigua or somewhere like that and use colourful fixed telephones to call each other from yacht to yacht. I think one of the guys is vaguely chasing a woman wearing nothing but body paint, while the saxophone player has been relegated to a mere raft drifting through the ocean. What is interesting here is that Duran Duran were using an idea of mobile communication, but didn't get what the technology might look like. They used just traditional phones that require a phone line to be plugged into them, but without the wire. I suppose they were just on the cusp of inventing the first mobile bricks at the time, but it is still hilarious. It's well worth having a look at Retrobrick, a site for collectors of vintage phones to discuss and exchange paraphernalia. The Rio video is embedded below.
The second video is 'Planet Earth'. Not sure whether this was a precursor to an environmentally conscious version of soft rock, but it does feature live data feeds in rudimentary code overlaid onto images of the band dancing on weird platforms. What this information adds to the plot of the video is not clear to me, but again, there was something of a hunch in this. Duran Duran had clearly sensed that these big things called computers were leading us into an increasingly digital age where information would come to us as if we, also, were programmed to read code. And also, let's not forget, Simon Le Bon is just hilarious when he dances.
I am no expert in music, and even less so in Duran Duran, but I do enjoy looking back at the way people thought technology would shape our world in the past. Although it is more entertaining to make fun of Duran Duran for their interpretation of the future, there are also some clear insights in there. If you're a Duran Duran fan, please add the conversation, I would love that.