|Before Dr. Frank-N-Furter sang, “Don’t dream it, be it,” and a British punk zine instructed, “This is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band,” there was the Queen of Technicolor. In Jack Smith’s 1962 essay “The Perfect Film Appositeness of Maria Montez,” he declared that what made her the greatest star ever to have graced the silver screen was her infectious belief in her own talent, beauty, glamour and divinity, a hysterical lust for the spotlight that outshone all else. The glorious DIY art-band career of Los Super Elegantes can be seen as a more self-conscious, sociological experiment in achieving fame: “How far can we get on chutzpah, pastiche, and partying alone?”|
Jon Davies on Los Super Elegantes
Before Dr. Frank-N-Furter sang, “Don’t dream it, be it,” and a British punk zine instructed, “This is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band,” there was the Queen of Technicolor. In Jack Smith’s 1962 essay “The Perfect Film Appositeness of Maria Montez,” he declared that what made her the greatest star ever to have graced the silver screen was her infectious belief in her own talent, beauty, glamour and divinity, a hysterical lust for the spotlight that outshone all else. The glorious DIY art-band career of Los Super Elegantes can be seen as a more self-conscious, sociological experiment in achieving fame: “How far can we get on chutzpah, pastiche, and partying alone?”
Seedy stalwarts of the LA scene, LSE germinated in 1995 in San Francisco after leads Milena Muzquiz and Martiniano Lopez-Crozet had collaborated for a few years in an inchoate performance group called Creative Community Seriously I Swear. LSE is a model of slapdash, make-it-up-as-you-go cultural production: replete with Eurotrashy costumes and theatrics, the band has played numerous parties, clubs, and galleries, with each show retrofit to the crowd—they perform polished professionalism one moment and embarrassing amateurism the next. Similarly, they change languages— or rather, accents—more often than most of us change underwear. Their music has always been highly capricious, from mariachi-punk to electro-pop and everything in between, with elements of Latin “shaky-shaky-boom-boom” (in Muzquiz’s words) and French chansons thrown into the mix (Nirvana’s Rape Me becomes Violé Moi, the song Je Suis Bien includes the lyrics, “je t’aime, je t’aime Michael Douglas!”). They seemingly avoid genres and styles bearing any vestiges of “authenticity”; this aesthetic fluidity got them prematurely axed by not one but two record labels. They have also recently enjoyed a huge success on MySpace, where they stand out from the millions of other desperate, attention-hungry bands by making the performance of this pathetic fervor the project itself (their desire to achieve proximity to “real” celebrities is a stated goal).
LSE has also performed several manifestly ridiculous, seemingly free-associative musical theatre productions, most notably Tunga’s House Bar: A Group of Kids Sitting Around Talking About the End of the World at the 2004 Whitney Biennial. These performances use overheard and recycled dialogue and a heightened sense of travesty and excess that is very much in line with the work happening in sixties New York by the likes of Charles Ludlam (just look at their titles if you don’t believe me: The Falling Leaves of St. Pierre, The Technical Vocabulary of an Interior Decorator). But the stereotypes surreally skewered are pure California—hippies, beatniks, cultists, gurus, and fashionistas—while the reigning aesthetic is from the “sexy television comedies form Latin America” that both Tijuana-born Muzquiz and Buenos Aires–born Lopez-Crozet shared (they even made a pilot for their own telenovela). The proceedings are deliciously queer, with the duo—whom Muzquiz once compared to “Latin versions of Barbie and Ken”—deliriously over-selling their gendered pop-rock tropes. Beyond their careers in music and theatrical performance, their London gallery Blow de la Barra exhibits photographs, posters, props, ephemera, and documentation from the shows, and t-shirts with marker drawings on them. There is also the never-ending work of being fabulous works of living art who can enliven an event, such as their Slow Dance Club at the 2004 Frieze Art Fair. What brings all of these practices together is a trash style sources from dozens of different global subcultures to create a ferocious pop mutt armed with fierce, razor-sharp cliché claws.
Two of their music videos are a case in point: Dieciseis (“Sixteen”) and Nothing Really Matters. Directed by Mexican art star provocateur Miguel Calderón, Sixteen tells the old, familiar story of a bourgeois girl and a garbage boy separated by her rotund, shotgun-cradling mother. The divided duo sings from yachts, fountains, swimming pools, and mansions, while in the “narrative,” the boy serenades the girl on her balcony from his garbage truck and eventually smuggles her out of her fortress-home in a trashcan. Nothing Really Matters sees the pair going Greek, dressing up in full togas amid the ancient ruins for some loaves-n-fishes drag. When not wandering around, they cheaply video-key themselves into picture postcards of the great touristy sites. In both videos, they run and dance around with great feeling and sincerity—and perhaps most importantly go through extensive costume changes. Both songs, it might be added, are über-catchy.
Seen out of the context of their entire oeuvre, questions about the videos nag: How do you ironize a format that evolved so many of the styles of visual and performative irony that are now commodified marketing strategies? Does LSE’s project become more or less effective when the live element is gone—along with all its attendant chaotic energies— and we are left with two music videos on a monitor (as opposed to on YouTube)? Are they viral in this set-up, spreading LSE’s “crumminess,” as Mike Kelley put it—or merely symptoms?