Skip to main content

The Duvet Brothers

Centrespace, Visual Research Centre, Dundee Contemporary Arts, November 5th-19th 2010

Now the Hard Times revival is on, the slogan ‘The Rich Get Richer, The Poor Get Poorer’ is suddenly as relevant as rioting once more. As a new wave of disgruntled liberals becomes politicised as the Rave generation did before them, what better time for 1980s agit-video double-act The Duvet Brothers to reconvene for the first time in twenty-two years.

Over four years from 1984-88, Rik (now there’s an 80s name!) Lander and Peter Boyd Maclean pioneered Scratch video, cut-and-paste visual mash-ups that took existing footage from a multitude of sources to construct recoded narratives that were a world away from glossy MTV orthodoxy. The Duvets sound-and-vision collages were eye-poppingly busy and ear-poppingly brash even as they took a politically oppositionist stance. Perfect, then, to style the jump-cut visual identity of Channel Four’s 1980s Sunday lunchtime yoof magazine, ‘Network 7,’ a programme so exhaustingly all over the place it makes T4 look like kid’s stuff

Such provocations were captured best in their 1984 treatment of New Order’s groundbreaking 1983 indie/dance crossover, ‘Blue Monday’, which juxtaposed images of Margaret Thatcher and her cronies lording over the Conservative Party with picketing miners engaged in civil war with policemen. Post-industrial urban wastelands grew barren and nuclear disaster seemed imminent. A Godley and Crème production this wasn’t.

The ‘Blue Monday’ footage ended the second set of Lander and Maclean’s revisiting of their multi-screen based work that formed the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design supported Visual Research Centre’s response to Dundee Contemporary Arts’ split-screen show for their Discovery festival. ‘The Long Commute,’ by fellow Scratch video pioneer George Barber, and the science-fiction fun-palace of Jaygo Bloom’s ‘Arcade’ remain as iconoclastic as The Duvets even as they’ve moved into different spheres.

Utilising a wall of twenty-one screens and three video recorders, the first half of the show is a replay of one of the Duvets multi-screen scratch shows, which toured hip joints such as the Wag club, the Fridge in Brixton and Brighton’s Zap Club before moving on up to London’s Royal Festival Hall and beyond. These trade test transmissions mix and match a panoply of pop-art trash iconography and low-rent cult movies to dizzying effect in keeping with the club culture that spawned it. Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson are in there, as is ‘Shaft’ star Richard Roundtree.

This ‘set,’ which ran as an installation following the opening performance, was first performed on September 30th 1986 at London’s Soho-based Limelight club, the converted Welsh Presbyterian church that became the uber-trendy haunt for the era’s art-pop fashionista. Presented under the saucily nudge-nudge ‘Wet Dreams on 25 Screens’ banner, the piece’s original context exposes the first of its big contradictions. Here was radical chic in excelsis, making good out of the aspirational free-market ethic that had been opened up even as its creators purported to smash it up. Both men’s future TV careers would prove equally contrary. While Lander went on to direct post-pub shows such as ‘The Word’ and ‘Eurotrash’ as well as Turner Prize coverage and digital soaps, Maclean has worked on comedy sketch shows by way of documentaries for Jonathan Ross.

Yet the Duvet Brothers arrived at a crucial point in time artistically as much as politically. Pop culture was exploring its own parameters aided by hi-tech equipment that didn’t know what to do with itself. New technology had already allowed Factory Records to tour its ‘Video Circus’ concept around arts centres in 1982, while bands such as the Human League and Cabaret Voltaire had long explored the possibilities of multi-media.

With Lander and Maclean seated behind mixers, their passivity is concentratedly at odds with the hyper-activity onscreen. It’s a set-up straight off the backdrop of Tony Wilson’s seminal late-night TV magazine, ‘So It Goes’ by way of David Bowie’s TV-addicted alien in Nicolas Roeg’s similarly fractured 1976 film, ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth.’

A second set features material generated for the 1987 film of Brett Easton Ellis’ novel, ‘Less Than Zero’ as well as footage put together for the cyberpunk folly of Tony James’ Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Devoid of the overblown ridiculousness of the band’s image, the mash-up by any other name of Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, ambient dub and punk snarl on the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘Atari Baby’ now sounds like prophecy. Twenty-first century boys indeed.

‘Blue Monday’ itself may now look like history, but then was a living mass-media newspaper for the kids. What hits home is how shockingly recent such iniquities are, and, if the faces of Cameron, Clegg and Osborne were superimposed on, how frighteningly current it is. “One more tune!’ shouted some wag at the end of the first set, as we dance through dark times once more.

Map magazine issue 24, Winter 2010



Popular posts from this blog

Big Gold Dreams – A Story of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989

Disc 1
1. THE REZILLOS (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures (12/77)  2. THE EXILE Hooked On You (8/77)
3. DRIVE Jerkin’ (8/77)
4. VALVES Robot Love (9/77)
5. P.V.C. 2 Put You In The Picture (10/77)
6. JOHNNY & THE SELF ABUSERS Dead Vandals (11/77)
7. BEE BEE CEE You Gotta Know Girl (11/77)
8. SUBS Gimme Your Heart (2/78)
9. SKIDS Reasons (No Bad NB 1, 4/78)
10. FINGERPRINTZ Dancing With Myself (1/79) 
11. THE ZIPS Take Me Down (4/79)
12. ANOTHER PRETTY FACE All The Boys Love Carrie (5/79) 
13. VISITORS Electric Heat (5/79)
14. JOLT See Saw (6/79)
15. SIMPLE MINDS Chelsea Girl (6/79)
16. SHAKE Culture Shock (7/79)
17. HEADBOYS The Shape Of Things To Come (7/79)
18. FIRE EXIT Time Wall (8/79)
19. FREEZE Paranoia (9/79)
20. FAKES Sylvia Clarke (9/79)
21. TPI She’s Too Clever For Me (10/79)
22. FUN 4 Singing In The Showers (11/79)
23. FLOWERS Confessions (12/79)
24. TV21 Playing With Fire (4/80)
25. ALEX FERGUSSON Stay With Me Tonight (1980)

1. THE REZILLOS I Can’t Stand My Baby (Sensible FAB 18/77) If it wasn’t for T…

Clybourne Park

Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy Four Stars
It’s a case of whoops, there goes the neighbourhood twice over in Rapture Theatre’s revival of Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which opens in 1959 in the same Chicago suburb where Lorraine Hansberry’s drama, A Raisin in the Sun, which appeared that year, is set. Here, Robin Kingsland’s Russ and his wife Bev, played by Jackie Morrison, are preparing to move out of their now almost empty des-res following a family tragedy.
Unknown to them, the bargain basement price tag has enabled a black family to move in, with Jack Lord’s uptight Karl a self-appointed spokesperson for the entire ‘hood. Russ and Bev’s black maid Francine (Adelaide Obeng) and her husband Albert (Vinta Morgan), meanwhile, bear witness to a barrage of everyday racism. Fast forward half a century, and a white family are trying to buy the same house, albeit with a heap of proposed changes which the black couple representing the block’s now much more diverse community aren’t…

Losing Touch With My Mind - Psychedelia in Britain 1986-1990

1. THE STONE ROSES  - Don’t Stop 2. SPACEMEN 3  - Losing Touch With My Mind (Demo) 3. THE MODERN ART  - Mind Train 4. 14 ICED BEARS  - Mother Sleep 5. RED CHAIR FADEAWAY - Myra 6. BIFF BANG POW!  - Five Minutes In The Life Of Greenwood Goulding 7. THE STAIRS - I Remember A Day 8. THE PRISONERS - In From The Cold 9. THE TELESCOPES  - Everso 10. THE SEERS  - Psych Out 11. MAGIC MUSHROOM BAND - You Can Be My L-S-D 12. THE HONEY SMUGGLERS  - Smokey Ice-Cream 13. THE MOONFLOWERS - We Dig Your Earth 14. THE SUGAR BATTLE  - Colliding Minds 15. GOL GAPPAS  - Albert Parker 16. PAUL ROLAND - In The Opium Den 17. THE THANES - Days Go Slowly By 18. THEE HYPNOTICS  - Justice In Freedom (12" Version)

1. THE STONE ROSES Don’t Stop ( SilvertoneORE1989)
The trip didn’t quite start here for what sounds like Waterfall played backwards on The Stone Roses’ era-defining eponymous debut album, but it sounds like it. Vocalist Ian Brown and guitarist John Squire met in 1980 at Altrincham Grammar School. With bassist …