The Rise of the Anti-Celeb

Reality TV. Celebrity culture. Heat. Closer. The Only Way Is Pissing Essex.

Since the rise (and subsequent fall) of Big Brother, mainstream UK culture has been dominated by those that shout loudest, those least inhibited by their dignity and sense of reservation. In a world where X Factor et al provide a convenient route to the nation’s living rooms for those who are willing to make a spectacle of themselves, finding and exposing true talent from those unconcerned with the accompanying spotlight has become increasingly difficult. Indeed, the reality TV route is already old hat. Today a child in their bedroom can generate an army of online followers simply by spouting banalities into their iSight camera, which goes some way to explaining why we’re all so fascinated when a character emerges and chooses not to plaster their face across every available means of communication whenever possible.

We are now positively drawn to those who wish to avoid the limelight. Why don’t they want us to know what they look like? How come they’re not suckers for fame like the rest of us?

Daft Punk have played this game superbly. Despite being amongst the very biggest names in dance music, which itself is currently at an all-time popularity high, I’d be willing to bet Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter could comfortably walk down London’s Oxford Street without being recognised (provided they left their helmets at home). What’s so fiendishly excellent about the way they’ve gone about creating android alter-egos is that they could still go out on a world tour playing to sold out stadiums if they’d like to, but need never show their faces the whole time.

Jai Paul has been the most recent case of hype-by-mystery. Whilst press shots of Jai exist, and he’s not been shy about letting us know his name, the way he has kept in the shadows since blowing up with BTSTU and Jasmine has created a public fascination that has only intensified over recent weeks and months. Not even Jai’s label seem to know what he’s about to do at any given time, and I love the guy for it. Richard Russell, owner of XL Recordings, was recently quoted as saying,

“The way he’s going about things is, I think for many, baffling. But it’s how he’s going about things, and as such it can only be right because it’s his way of doing it. He’s going about things in the most Jai Paul way you could possibly go about things. And who knows where that may lead.”

The bizarre events surrounding his debut album ‘leak’ only serve to prove that nobody quite knows what Jai’s up to at any moment in time.

An even more extreme case is the positively introverted Burial. I make no bones about the fact that Burial is amongst my very favourite artists working today, his emotion-laden post-garage offerings striking a particular chord with my musical tastes. In the early days of his rise to prominence, nobody paid too much attention that he chose not to show his face. So it was a rare case of a producer not also being a DJ, who cares? I’d be hard pushed to pick Kode9 out of a line up after all.

However, when his second album, Untrue, was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Music Award in 2008, the spotlight intensified significantly, culminating in Gordon Smart’s tactless campaign to unmask him in The Sun. Rather than give them the pleasure of seeing their tawdry little campaign through to some kind of Bin Laden-esque reveal, the mystery man in question popped up on MySpace to put the issue to bed, in typically low-key fashion:

“For a while there’s been talk about who I am. I wanted to be unknown because I want it to be about tunes.

But the unknown thing has become an issue. My name’s Will Bevan, I’m from South London, I’m keeping my head down and finishing my next album.”

I hope that made you feel like a right bell end, Gordon. He explained his reasoning slightly more eloquently in this fantastic in-depth interview with The Wire a year or so earlier:

“I’m just a well low key person. I want to be unknown, because I’d rather be around my mates and family than other things, but there’s no need to focus on it. Most of the tunes I like, I never knew what the people who made them looked like anyway. It draws you in. You could believe in it more. I like it if it’s more secret, people can get into the tunes more. I just want to be in a symbol, a tune, the name of a tune. It’s not like it’s a new thing. It’s one of the old underground ways and it’s easier.

Everyone goes on about themselves, they reveal everything and give it away. It’s an obsession in London, people and the media are too blatant, trying to project this image, prove themselves and trying to be something. They should just hold back a bit, it’s sexier.”

And he’s right. My personal drum & bass and UK garage vinyl collection has no photos of the producers splashed all over the place. Just text credits on the label stickers and basic logo design on the sleeve 90% of the time. I didn’t know who was black or white, I didn’t know that Source Direct was two people, I didn’t know that DJ Rap was female… but it didn’t matter. It was about the music. It should always be about the music. Anything else is just a distraction.

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