Sunday, 2 June 2019

Where is The Disco in This Town?

Photo courtesy of SSATM.
Formed in 2014 after Semeli Economou and Haraldur Agustsson met while working on a short film, Santa Semeli and the Monks are an eclectic, impossible to pigeon hole band! Having seen them live a couple of times they veer between European avant garde and punk, with echoes of early Bowie, Nick Cave and 'Cabaret' sitting alongside full on rock! Full of honesty and warmth their eponymous album came out in 2014 confronting and engaging with the human condition, the real lived experience that each of us uncomfortably recognizes, dealing with hope, disappointment, love and our own inconsistencies-like listening to the soundtrack of you life-not your Facebook life, your real life-evoking memories that make you smile and wince.
Their diverse songwriting has resulted in an intriguing collection of work that, while being coherent, contains plenty of surprises, the latest being the release of disco track and accompanying video ‘Where is The Disco in This Town?’. Instantly catchy and keying into half remembered hits from the 70s the song/video is a full on postmodern collage of disco.

Your eclectic song writing gives you a lot of options, why did you decide to go for a disco homage release?
I was actually literally looking for the disco when the concept of the song was conceived. A place to go where you can dance and have fun. It was a Saturday night when my friend Aisling came over for us to dress up and go out. I asked her ‘Where is the disco in this town?’ and after a night of adventures and misadventures we came back to my house at 4am when she said to me: ‘You do realise that WE are the disco in this town.’ We met a lot of freaks that night, drunks, people high on drugs telling me they were poetic geniuses, some strange group in a Chinese restaurant etc hence the ‘freak’ middle section in the song.
From a personal aspect, I come from a generation where we used to go out to discotheques. Dress up and dance, often to impress the boy we fancied and then hopefully make out in the corner or during the slow dance section before the club would close. It’s kind of romantic in my mind.
But from a social standpoint it’s an homage to an era where life was more carefree. People would let their hair down and just enjoy themselves. I feel that’s what’s missing in today’s life and as an artist and a storyteller you contemplate what message you want to put out there for the world to hear. I feel that at the moment people need to have their worries unloaded. I can’t do it through changing legislations or solving poverty and other social or personal injustices, but I can maybe cheer people up and make them forget their woes for four and a half minutes.
I wanted to create a song that everyone will hear and feel happy when they do. A happy hit!

I ended up revisiting Sylvester's 'Mighty Real' after listening to 'Where is the disco in this town'! Were there any artists that you felt particularly inspired by when you were writing and recording the song?
I don’t think anyone in particular. It’s probably an amalgamation of many people I like, like Earth, Wind and Fire, the Jacksons, Chic, etc..I wrote the song in one go, words, music and all. We haven’t changed a line or a chord. It’s funny how these things happen.
And the fact that we recorded it in Bryan Ferry’s studio was perfect. You know being surrounded by all these glamorous women on posters on his wall. It gave us the disco seal.

The song and video are light hearted and fun in a time that feels neither, was that a deliberate decision?
Yes. I am a pretty joyous person and I have the ability to convey that joy to my friends and other people I come across in life, so I wanted to extend that embrace to a wider audience. I am a healer and as much as it may sound hippy-dippy or pretentious, I am aware of my abilities and not afraid to use them for the good. I recently read a Picasso quote that brought me to tears. He said: ‘The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.’ It struck such a chord with me because that’s exactly how I feel.  In a world where people are concerned with Instagram followers or asking me what my PR angle is…it’s hard sometimes you know…keeping the discipline and focus intact to retain your purity. That's 98% of the work I do. The 2% is just the execution of it. Shed the light!

Was the 'disco vibe' hard to capture for the video?
Again, it took a lot of mental effort to prepare but then it all came together very quickly and effortlessly. I invited some friends who were available at the time to take part in the music video and there was a spirit of celebration throughout the shoot. Apart from my musicians who are in the video, the rest of the cast all have an interesting background and story. It’s a coming together of people party. So many friends of mine were jealous that they weren’t included in the shoot but I had a time frame and many of them live abroad or weren’t around. I was lucky to have a great team of three cinematographers and a brilliant editor who instinctively always knows what I want and is needed. The wardrobe was mine. If I think about it really my life is not that different from the video. Haha!

Do either of you have a background in drama and dance?
I studied acting and directing but my first love was dance. I wanted to be a ballerina. I nearly went to Moscow as at the age of ten to study under the guidance of legendary Russian prima ballerina Maja Plisetskaya, who was a close family friend but my parents were against it.  In hindsight I think they made the right decision for me. It’s a hard life to be a dancer and most of them retire in their thirties. Looking back, all my idols and crushes as a kid had always been dancers. Never actors or rock stars or whatever. To this day I still have a crush on Bob Fosse who was an incredible director and choreographer. A genius and quite the rascal. My ideal type really.
Haraldur also studied acting and in all fairness he steals the show in the video. The dancing Disco Elf!

The video is very pan European, was that a message you wanted to send? A reminder of how fun things can be when we work and relax together?
Yes I wanted to convey a spirit of unity and collectivism. We are not so different from each other as human beings. We all want more or less the same things in life. It’s things like the news or the media that like to fragment and find PR angles because it sells more. But what’s to sell and for what purpose? You can’t sell peace of mind.

Early Discos were a safe space for black and gay people in a hostile 1970s America. Was the cultural importance of early Disco something you were conscious of when writing the song?  The idea of Disco's historical role as a cultural resource against prejudice?
I don’t think I went that far in my thinking but I had a feeling that Disco was going to make a big come back for the simple reason that there’s not much current music out there that’s made for dancing. If you look around even fashion has caught up now with sequence and glitter and general disco glamour. The disco era wasn’t around for very long and to think that they were burning all the records at some point. I invited someone to our launch from a well known punk band who told me that he was a punk and would not even get through the door past the disco bouncers. I told him that this was punk too but in a different way. He didn’t get it but that’s OK.

How did the ‘on-location’ bits of the video go, how did people respond?!
It was great fun walking up and down Old Compton Street blasting out ‘Where is the Disco in this Town?’ Everyone was filming us and watching the shoot. And then of course there were the alleyways in Soho where we shot the scenes with Phil Dirtbox and Andrjezek playing the freaks. It was very funny because if you put them next to each other, they look like chalk and cheese and yet they’re both great raconteurs and entertainers. And  great mates of mine.

Does the change in the lyrics from 'Where is The Disco in This Town' to 'We are the disco in this town' reflect a realisation that fulfilment is not found in consumerism of the spectacle but in co-operative creativity and community?
When I wrote the song, and I don’t know if people notice it, I wanted to write a song that starts in a minor and ends up in major, i.e hope and resolution. Kind of like a Bach prelude. So yes, WE ARE the disco in this town means that the fun is within us and that there’s no need to seek for outside gratification to find fulfillment. It’s a very yogic approach.
The power of music is awesome and I wanted to create a mantra: WE ARE THE DISCO IN THIS TOWN. Imagine everyone repeating that over and over in their heads and aloud. Imagine the impact it would have!

Check out the song/video here. 
and the single is available here on their website: http://www.santasemeliandthemonks.com/ 

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