Behind the curtain
Róisín Murphy is set on doing a Wizard of Oz at the Milk festival, writes Jim Carroll
For straights and gays alike, more than talent, the music industry’s cornerstone is sex, and rising stars learn quickly to use their sexuality to garner attention. To get a good foothold on the gay ladder, it’s a good idea to hint at bisexual tendencies, even if you don’t have them. David Bowie began this tradition in the 1970s, Madonna latched on to it in the 1980s and, more recently, Lady Gaga played a deck of poker-faced bisexual cards to secure her pole position.
Bowie, of course, was playing with gender and sexual boundaries at a time when most people had never met a gay man or a lesbian, and gay people lived fairly underground lives. In the intervening years, things have changed enormously, leaving a gap in the market for pop stars to come out of the closet and hold on to a gay following for the rest of their lives.
Elton John led the way when he revealed his true colours in a 1980 Rolling Stone interview – since then, we’ve had Jimmy Somerville, Marc Almond, Boy George, Neil Tennant, kd lang, Will Young, Melissa Etheridge, Rufus Wainwright, Jake Shears and Beth Ditto – to name but a few. While other stars may come and go with increasing speed, you can be sure that the aforementioned acts will endure with gay fans across the globe. Milk’s inclusion of Right Said Fred and Samantha Fox plays on this universal truth, and fans will travel from far to kneel at the altar of their gay fame. They may be on the kitsch side, but this is added value for the gay audience. If you’re not homosexual and hinting at bisexuality is not your thing, recording a gay anthem will ensure your queer status. There are two essential elements for an enduring gay anthem: a good bass line and selfcelebration. Donna Summer did it with I Feel Love in 1977, Gloria Gaynor with I Will Survive in 1978 and, despite rumours that both women voiced objections to homosexuality on religious grounds, they continue to be top of the gay pops to this day. Abba did it with Dancing Queen, Diana Ross with I’m Coming Out, Sister Sledge with We Are Family. Bananarama did it in 1986 with Venus and, 24 years later, they’re among the headliners at Milk. They got it – yeah baby, they got it. More recently there’s been the emergence of a gay indie scene, populated by louche-haired boys and girls who casually drop alternative sexualities into the act. For most of them, indie-folk heroines Indigo Girls are touchstones, a fact Milk performers Heathers might testify to. A sister act whose song Remember When was used for a Discover Ireland TV ad campaign, their resemblance to lesbian Canadian twins Tegan and Sara has been on the tip of gay tongues in the past few months. Tegan and Sara themselves caused lesbian hysteria when they appeared in Dublin’s Tower Records to sign their latest album in June. Girls with tattoos, piercings and crooked fringes queued around the block before storming the shop.
Gay guys in the indie know are hanging on to every last word uttered by Bloc Party frontman Kele Okereke, who appeared on the cover of the alt-gay magazine du jour Butt last month to promote his solo album, casually chatting about his sexual exploits along the way. The Milk festival line-up might not have indie for the boys pinned down, but it’s trying to cover every other base for its niche audience – hence the endless chatter.
The indie kids want nothing to do with Alexandra Burke; the Seb Fontaine house music fans wouldn’t be seen dead shaking their booties to Right Said Fred. Cult favourites Róisín Murphy and Sophie EllisBextor may unify the troops with their status in the cool stakes, but it remains to be seen whether Milk’s eclecticism can cut enough mustard to break even. If it does, you can expect the likes of kd lang to share the stage with Marilyn Manson in years to come.
It’s a mixture of stuff. It starts with me playing other people’s tracks and, gradually, I bring the singing and my own tracks in, mixed in with stuff which feels right. I don’t how I’m going to do it, but I’m definitely going to expand this idea to make it more of an one-woman show. tours. Of course, the situation will arise when it will feel right to do another album, but I don’t think any of the tracks I’m doing at the moment would work stuck onto an album. I want to stay true to my word and just concentrate on tracks for dancefloors for now. Of course, once I’ve released 10 tracks, you can go off and download all 10 and make your own album.