Wednesday, 28 January 2009


So, according to Simon Reynolds, Vampire Weekend works because it’s the cultural expression of an Apollonian ‘liberal elite’ in the ascendant?

I’m all for ‘serenity, clarity, order’ and the rest of it, but surely something is lost in banishing Dionysus altogether.

Maybe a more apposite target of blame for the present political/economic/cultural malaise would be a pernicious, travestied form of the Dionysian urge, a culture-wide hegemonic assimilation and recuperation of all manner of radicalism and messiness into the staid and unwavering current of orthodoxy, to the point where all potential for subversion is lobotomized and we are left with a kind of bizarre hybrid of conservatism and excess. Order masquerading as freedom, retrograde corporatism as ironic kinky kookiness; an insidious Apollo in Dionysian garb, if you like.

OK, Obama isn’t a rock’n’roll leader in the Blairite manner, and his inauguration speech was notable for a very un-sexy emphasis on restraint and sacrifice, but does this really equate to a zeitgeist-minded avowal of hierarchy? Surely Obama embodies passion and populism as much as intellectualism and urbanity – isn’t that his great overriding strength as a unifier?

It strikes me that the reductive Dionysus/Apollo dichotomy applied to Obama and Vampire Weekend (and the apparent endorsement of ‘elitism’, however liberal) belongs to a Bushian, us-and-them climate, when what we are now (hopefully) being promised is a return to a Clintonian ‘there is no them, there is only us’ world.

For me, Vampire Weekend is such a great record because of its smoothness and its jaggedness, because of its incorporation and admission of chaos within the carefully-sculpted boundaries of its form, and its suggestion of a riotous dismantling of barriers – stylistic, geographical, formal, temporal. If it really were the clinical, precise, pre-meditated survey of pop history Reynolds argues for, it would be a lot less trenchant, and certainly a lot less fun (check the wonderfully wayward drumming on ‘A-Punk’ for an ebullient example of the countervailing tendency towards disorder).

Vampire Weekend are, like Barack Obama (and Animal Collective for that matter – another instance of ‘sculpted messiness’) the whole Hellenistic, disparate-yet-unified package: a timely re-appearance of a wise and mature Apollo combined with an equally important reaffirmation of the real Dionysus, who is free and democratic (and un-elitist) in the truest, subtlest, most heartfelt American sense.

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