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It doesn’t end with childhood

Image: Jo Jarosinska

Goodnight Japan, Sketch Jets, Cakewalk at the Lady Hampshire, March 17

Marcus: Do you guys know the original meaning of Cakewalk? It’s pretty disturbing.

Rob: I never thought about it, actually. I’ve always disliked cake, so have not been drawn to cake idioms in my everyday speech.

Marcus: What do you mean, you dislike cake? Who doesn’t like cake?

Rob: I don’t like it. It’s too sweet, it’s too buttery, and it tastes of boredom. Didn’t you ever get dragged into boring cake situations with your boring mum growing up? My boring mum would take me shopping, which was boring to begin with, then she would meet a boring friend in a boring café and they would sit around eating boring cake and talking about their boring noisy neighbours or someone boring who was causing them grief at their boring jobs. And I would have to sit there staring at my own boring slice of cake, which was supposed to be a special treat to make me shut my own boring gob for a few minutes so they could ignore me and crap on about boring adult stuff. And they were so long-winded and greedy. Oh should we have another boring, fattening, sweet, buttery slice of cake? Oh I really shouldn’t, I’m supposed to be on a boring diet. Oh go on love, just one more boring slice and another boring skinnycino. I won’t tell your boring husband. It was a fucking nightmare.

Jo: What a terrible, underprivileged childhood you experienced. You’ve very scarred, aren’t you.

Marcus: So you blame the cake for all this? I suspect there are other issues at play here.

Rob: No it’s definitely just a hatred of cake. It doesn’t end with childhood. Just when I thought I was old enough not to be dragged along to these boring occasions, I found out I had to go on boring dates with boring girls in high school when I was too young to get into pubs. Oh I know this great cafe in Fitzroy. They do the most amazing flourless chocolate cake I just love it. Shall we meet there on Saturday at two? I know heaps of great op shops nearby. Oh fuck I think I just threw up on my phone, love. I’ll try to make it at two, sure. Yes, cake sounds amazing. The pivotal moment came in first year uni when I actually broke up with a woman I was living with because she told me her birthday wish was for me to take her to afternoon tea at the Windsor Hotel in Melbourne. This is a scenario where you pay the hotel $95 per person and they give you one drink and all the cake you can eat for two hours.

Marcus: That sounds pretty good to me. I wish I’d had a girlfriend like that in first year. I was mostly sitting at home with my housemates playing video games.

Rob: For context, understand that I was living in a tiny room with no windows and delivering Pizza Hut pizzas for a living, so this was a demand for me to spend almost my entire weekly income on cake at the expense of goon and smokes.

Jo: So basically she was dating a poor drunken slob and trying to eke out a few moments of luxury, but you just didn’t have the class to rise to the occasion.

Rob: That’s another way to put it. To be fair, she was a nice girl. Too much cake. I’ve never eaten cake since. I went and found a new girlfriend who prefers goon and smokes.

Jo: I’m pretty sure I’ve seen you eat cake somewhere.

Rob: Well yes, I mean I’ve never voluntarily gone out to meet someone for cake since. I’m not fussy about it. If cake is the only thing on the menu, or if we’re at a wedding, Christmas or birthday party, or in a foreign country like France where cake is the staple diet of the proletariat, I will not be a cake snob, I will partake.

Jo: Marcus, what were you trying to say about the original meaning of cakewalk before?

Marcus: It dates back to the Antebellum South, when white American slave owners used to dress up their black slaves in aristocratic finery and force them to dance in competition for pieces of cake. Hang on, let’s go to the dictionary:

Originally a form of dance that white masters had their slaves perform for them and their audiences as entertainment. The slaveowners considered the spectacle extremely amusing since the dances derived from sophisticated white European aristocracy. As such, slaveowners dressed the slaves in costumes of exaggerated finery, like ridiculously tall tophats and flashy striped pants, and taught the slaves variations of the original dance steps designed as highly comical parodies. Audiences selected their favorites, and the slaves who performed most entertainingly for their masters were rewarded with a piece of cake.

Jo: Wow.

Rob: I wonder if the expression “piece of cake” also came out of this.

Jo: I’m still trying to understand why a cakewalk is supposed to describe something easy. It sounds more like the garden party scene in Get Out.

Marcus: Maybe if you were a slave, humiliating yourself in a ridiculous ballroom outfit for a piece of cake was a relatively easy day compared with picking cotton for 12 hours and collapsing in a shotgun shack with a bowl of gruel. Not much easier though.

Jo: I’m guessing the expression was carried into present day language by white people, not the slaves who had to perform the cakewalk.

Rob: Maybe we can stop talking about cake soon. I’m getting sick of the word cake.

Marcus: But we haven’t talked about the band Cakewalk.

Jo: Well, ok their set was awesome. They’re a special band.

Marcus: What would you say about them to someone who has never seen them?

Jo: They’re unusual. I hardly ever see a band with a frontperson anymore, just alone with the mic, no guitar to hide behind. It feels like in the classic rock era, most bands had a Mick Jagger, Iggy Pop, Janis Joplin or Ian Curtis out front, presenting a stage persona.

Marcus: Rose from Okin Osan was saying that Jack from Cakewalk reminds her of Mark E. Smith from the Fall. I think that’s a good reference point for what he and the band are doing. They don’t exactly sound like the Fall, it’s more abrasive and angry, but there’s a clear influence.

Mark E. Smith

Rob: I was thinking about that during the show. We all love The Fall, and it’s easy to love Cakewalk on that basis. But I was also thinking I can understand every word Mark E. Smith says. He’s a bit like a rapper in a lot of his delivery – not exactly, because he’s experimenting with different vocal effects all the time from song to song, but I always hear Mark’s words clearly, emphatically. The weird extra vowel sounds and squeals are definitely an influence on Jack in Cakewalk. I love that. James Murphy does it heaps in LCD too. But in Cakewalk I can’t really understand anything Jack is singing. It’s more like a psychiatric release, the noise he makes with his voice. I was thinking he reminds me more of David Yow from the Jesus Lizard.

Marcus: I feel like you’re focusing a lot on Jack because he has assumed the position of showman. My impression was, the guitarist and drummer play equal roles and the sound is very collaborative.

David Yow

Rob: Yeah, very much. But the strange vocals were the first thing that captured us when we heard Cakewalk on Bandcamp, so it’s worth pointing out that Jack has the ambition of creating a unique stage persona and a unique voice. It’s not trying to be like anyone, but it comes from a tradition of eccentric vocalists like Captain Beefheart and Tom Waits, Cate Le Bon, Deerhoof, Damo Suzuki in Can, and the great shouting and riffs acts of the nineties like Shellac, Slint, Fugazi, Melvins and Jesus Lizard. With those bands, it’s very hard to understand where the songs or the arrangements come from. Nobody has ever been able to copy any of them since, because they’re totally unique in their style and chemistry. Cakewalk are definitely not trying to copy anyone, and I would have no idea how to copy them if I wanted to.

Jo: Yeah, we were baffled enough that we went to see them again the following week at Waywards. It’s hard to get a grip on their process.

Rob: I was pretty drunk both times. I have to take it in again. But I’m really impressed by that. How do they rehearse?

Jo: I was thinking they are the kind of popular modernist act, determined to break new ground, that Mark Fisher was claiming no longer exists in his book Ghosts of My Life. I would like to call Mark and say, look, here, I found one! But Mark is no longer with us.

A good book

Marcus: Fisher doesn’t deny these bands still appear, but they are no longer the popular norm as they once were. They are modernist in obscurity, for a tiny underground audience. Labels now are only signing and selling copies of copies of copies of stuff that people have bought in the past. Spotify algorithms are only recommending bands to you that sound like the bands you already listen to.

Jo: I guess so. It’s good when you find a band with the ambition to try something new, anyway. It’s still a thing. Not everyone wants to be applauded for sounding exactly like MBV or Joy Division.

Marcus: Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Rob: I love referential music. I love making it. And I’ve long believed that art is a collective continuum and originality is a myth. But I appreciate every attempt to resuscitate modernism and authorship. They may be myths, but myths worth pursuing if they create new sounds occasionally. I think it’s good to do a bit of both, love your influences and experiment whenever you hear an opening for something new.

Jo: Shall we duck out at this point? Pretty sure we nailed it.

Rob: Sure. Shout out to our pals Sketch Jets and Goodnight Japan, and thank you Marcus for your DJ set.

Marcus: No worries. I’m going up the street to eat some cake.

Images: Echo Room

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