Blog: TOWIE Live

Guest post by Nadia Ramoul 

I’ve written about The Only Way is Essex before but feel earnestly compelled to revisit it in the light of last night’s live episode. Truly it rendered me speechless at the time, but now, following a good night’s sleep and several sobering coffees, I, like one who has witnessed untold terror, am blinking in cold sunlight, now ready to speak.  Regarded by most of Twitter as ‘the worst TV episode ever,’ it needs to be seen to be believed. But please don’t try to see it.

In the two years since it’s initial inception, TOWIE has matured into a barely comprehensible clusterfuck of bronzed ladies and doleful weepy men bumbling around in sports cars. Every now and again someone will open a boutique or attempt to launch a singing career, engagements are celebrated then repealed and tiny dogs are bought as reparations for past grievances. I have seen enough shots of shaking, verge of death chihuahuas in costumes to last a lifetime. Yet somehow I cannot look away.

My love for TOWIE is strong and true, long have I marvelled at it being a perfect little piece of postmodern theatre, somewhere between reality and deception, with “authentic” relationships tempered by nonsensical set pieces. You can almost see the switch when things get real for the characters, faces distorting in rage and confusion as semi-scripted dialogue hits a nerve. It is unashamed in its content yet mysterious in its machinations, and for years I have sat, enthralled, attempting to figure out just how much is real and how much is fake.

A live show seemed like a pretty brave move considering the pretty hit and miss nature of the live format with some of the soaps who have recently tried it. TOWIE would go one better than merely a standard episode, staging a theatre “variety performance” of stilted and downright bizarre skits and musical numbers with setup conversations both in the “audience” and behind the scenes.

Last week sister channel ITV made the curious choice of airing David Lynch’s labyrinthine masterpiece, Inland Empire, a deliberately disturbing piece that offers a harrowing look at the psychological trauma of the life of an actor when reality mirrors fiction. I can’t help but think perhaps it was from here that the producers of TOWIE took inspiration: the motif of the stage itself, the comparison between performances on and off, the blurring lines between role and self. I could go on, but I assume you get the idea.

TOWIE’s live foray could have been beautiful and triumphant – Pat Sharp was there for Christ’s sake – yet it fell flat, so flat, a bloated mess of poor editing and wide-eyed confusion from an obviously bewildered cast. At points floor managers could be heard prompting characters to speak about certain topics before cutting them off completely, and, most distressing: wee little Joey Essex shed actual tears at the pressure of being cajoled into proposing on TV. Poor mite, the episode ended on his sad, lovelorn face which mimicked my own after 50 minutes of fraught televised confusion.

More Lynchian than the premise itself was a frankly terrifying performance involving a drunk woman pretending to be a ventriloquist’s dummy that got a staggering amount of air time and is now seared onto my mind forever. These skits were bookended by self-congratulatory, fluffy dialogue and the odd debate over who slept with who, though of this however, none could be sure. Characters were left to ramble at length, every now and again glancing round for reassurance like frightened deer before being inexplicably cut short. If the vertical-haired auteur himself had a hand in this exercise in discomfort I honestly wouldn’t be surprised.

My fierce affection for TOWIE and it’s bullshit balm on the mundane nature of real life has been shaken somewhat, but I don’t see this failed experiment as a harbinger of bad news. The curtain has been drawn, Oz-style, to reveal a shambling mess of bewilderment that I never want to see again, but I think it can trundle on, chalk this up to experience and throw in more shots of trembling handbag dogs for posterity. I feel now I am owed this.

Music: Death From Above 1979 play HMV Forum

So here it is, folks. After almost a decade of lying dormant the legendary Death From Above 1979 have resurrected themselves like super cool bearded zombies from their self-imposed grave.

Rare is the band who can produce one solitary album many moons ago yet still command such respect and anticipation. It’s been a long wait, and with no new material to speak of, it is a triumph that the Kentish Town Forum (or as it is now known, the HMV Forum) is packed out for two consecutive nights.

Following the limited run of E.P ‘Head‘s Up’, debut album ‘You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine’ is a strange beast. With only ten tracks and a modest running time, it did all it needed to. Deceptively simple, just two instruments creating an almighty racket of the rawest basslines and most vicious beats around.

DFA1979 left their mark on the alternative scene then vanished without a trace, citing musical differences before popping up again in various side projects. The announcement of a reformation, playing just ten dates around the world, sparked a ticket buying frenzy among those hungry for a bit of dance-punk nostalgia, and wow, judging by the crowd, nostalgic it was indeed.

Tighter than tight jeans and artfully scruffy beards crammed into the Forum, contending with overly aggressive Agent Smith-like security guards and confusing ticket allocation. Those of us relegated to the seated balcony looked down with anguish and envy at those standing, while the burly security kept their sharp eyes peeled for any escapees daring to make a break for it and dash into the crowd.

Like a bad prison break movie, the guards were joyless and stern. ‘Surely,’ one would think, in these ever-changing times, ‘Bin Laden has been caught! He’s not hiding out at a North London venue evading titanium-jawed sniffer dogs and American rage here, chill out you guys..’ Their thinly veiled contempt for the crowd was certainly jarring.

The support, Young Legionnaire, were instantly forgettable, the odd tune sticking out at the time, but overall an uninteresting prospect – a shock considering the (semi) all-star lineup of Automatic and Bloc Party members. But it is a pretty tall order to impress a crowd so intently focused on enjoying the headliners. The sound was controlled and clear, but Paul Mullen’s rockstar posturing was irritating at best, his voice as shrill and yelpy as in his Automatic days.

The crowd surges forward as DFA1979 appear on stage. Dressed all in white much like a Clockwork Orange droog, Sebastien Grainger beat his drums senseless through opener ‘Turn It Out,’ while the more diminutive Jesse Keeler stood head down, beard on, focus entirely on his bass. For just two guys they make a riotously huge sound, continuously thudding as little circle pits formed then dispersed in the crowd.

Despite the sound occasionally wandering into fuzzy incoherence, they powered through a speedy set of pretty much every track ever released, with the sad exception of ‘Sexy Results’. “Most bands’ discography would take all night. Ours takes less than an hour!”, Grainger proclaimed to the grateful crowd. Each song was greeted like a long lost, smelly but well-loved friend, even lesser known EP tracks receiving rapturous admiration. Time hasn’t dampened DFA1979’s spirits in the slightest, their energy and sense of fun as great as back in the day at the Mean Fiddler.

Crowd interaction was pretty minimal, though Grainger found time to joke about the royal wedding (“I hear some guy got married?”). But no matter, they could have run through ‘Black History Month’ several times before anyone got bored of hearing it. DFA1979 played like their lives depended on it – a chugging, thudding set that refused to let up, making the cavernous Forum seem like a flimsy shack as tribal beats and massive walls of distorted bass echoed around the building’s structure.

Closing the main set on ‘Romantic Rights’ and ‘Do It!’ was a wise move. Crowd surfers threw themselves with reckless abandon over the barriers and into the enraged arms of waiting security while the band extended the songs with extra synth and a bizarre little dance. Lovely.

Watch DFA1979 live at the HMV Forum on Song Kick

Image from Clash Music