Covert Boom et al, listening to Trophy Wife
There’s a three-legged dog at the top of the road, lying there with his balls out in the band-killing drizzle. I respect the three-legged functioning and I pet the filthy beast. Later, I’m telling the promoter that his band is dogshit and he’s flipping out and threatening to beat me up. I’m more worried that my girl is going to hit him. What’s sad is that the Duke Spirit is here, a band that opened for REM, and this promoter Ifham wants to replace them with a school choir and a cover band. And that band is clearing the crowd. They break into a version of Barbie Girl and people literally flee the hall clutching their ears. It is, in aesthetic terms, dogshit, but Ifham is, in between threatening to rape me, lecturing about local talent. What local talent? Aqua?
The whole thing is an arthouse nightmare, a performance piece on everything that’s wrong with Colombo. The bad sound, the weird weather and – worst of all – the bad vibes. Now Ifham’s girlfriend is in my face, trying to stare me down. It might be more convincing if her colored contacts enabled human eye contact. She’s telling me to leave. I’m like, ‘I’m waiting for the next band, and I don’t have to leave’. I tell her it’s just my opinion, and she tells me to leave. Which is exactly what’s wrong with this country. If people think different we ask them to leave. Or threaten to assault them. Or do.
That’s the real Duke Spirit around here. A bunch of local jokes who think they’re local royalty and mess up the party for everyone.
The Duke Of Letch
Covert Boom plays an amazing set at the Electric Peacock Festival and for an hour I can forget that ‘Summer Of 69’ exists. Then Roger Sanchez breaks into some mediocre commercial house and I go to pee. I come back and there’s a major scene. My girl wouldn’t dance with some guy and he told her to leave. For not dancing with him? She said he pointed to his walkie talkie and said he was an organizer. How pathetic. He tries to talk to me and I’m don’t want to give him the time of day, which would be more convincing if I hadn’t fallen over a chair. I know the actual organizer and I know enough people to punish him, but I actually bear him more confusion than malice. I mean, does this guy normally threaten girls into dancing with him? Does that work? Who needs to do that? What perverse vestige of the rape culture is this?
If my girl wants to dance on a table that’s her business. If she wants to dance with a guy, that’s not cool with me, but still her business. If she says no it means no, but some Sri Lankan men think that they can get away with anything. On the extreme these men are rapists, in the middle they’re perverts, but this Amil (or something) character just verged on the pathetic. He was pointing to his walkie talkie and saying he’s an organizer, like the dance floor is his personal harem. Except it’s not. My girl is stronger than him, she’s tougher than him and she’s doing the right thing, she’s just having a good time and not messing with anybody. I’m going home with the girl and he’s going home with the walkie talkie. That’s the Duke Of Letch.
The Duke Of Talent
Park Street Mews had a schedule for Sunday, which I understand. Because the Duke Spirit and Trophy Wife got rained out at the festival they’ve offered to play for free. Hundreds of people have showed up to see the Duke, which this local Duke should understand, if he wasn’t more of a local douche. The people were there for the international bands, and that would have made his party a success. However, he totally kills it. Like, totally and obliviously kills the party, so much so that everyone literally leaves.
After Trophy Wife’s set, where everyone is finally finally rocking, Ifham puts on a school choir singing versions of ‘Poker Face’, which the mediocre sound guy can’t even mix properly. This kids are actually sweet, if not really what people came for. Then he puts on a local cover band, a band which has already played earlier in the day, while the Duke Spirit is sitting around like WTF? This is a band that’s played on Letterman and they’re sitting there listening to a swarthy gentleman belt out ‘Eye Of The Tiger’.
The crowd simply flees. It’s fucking horrifying, the Electric Peacock organizer is almost in tears, begging Ifham to let the Duke Spirit play. I look to the end of the road and people are getting into cars, calling cabs. Any party promoter would realize that his job is to promote the party, not his band, but Ifham seems willfully obtuse. In what is perhaps not the most constructive phrasing, I tell him the band is dogshit. He flips the fuck out. I’m vaguely connected enough that he can’t actually fuck with me, but he tries to posture and wag his finger. I do not fucking care. Harsh language is never especially productive, but I never threatened violence to anyone and I was just saying my opinion. He is threatening violence, not actually doing anything and, to me, just looks like a belligerent ass. And the band actually is dogshit. They’re playing ‘Sweet Child Of Mine’ now and it’s ear-bleedingly bad. Covert Boom is dancing in tragic irony, dancing to the end of the party.
Ifham is in my face now, telling me we need to support local talent. I’m like, OK, but this is merely locals playing cover songs. Local yes, talent no. He’s all in my face with the wagging finger, saying he’s going to beat me up and I just find it childish. I tell him I have no beef with him, that I want no violence, but the girl is having none of it. If he pushes it she will fuck him up and I actually feel sorry for him. The drummer from Trophy Wife is sitting there in bemused shock. Ifham knows I work at The Sunday Leader and he’s saying he can make sure my Editor won’t publish anything. I’m like, er, OK. Is this what you’re proud of? Violence, covering stuff up, and sucking at your job? I mean, please. That’s the Duke Of Talent.
The Douche Spirit
That’s the duke spirit in Colombo. Everybody feels like a local god when they’re with the boys, they do what they want, they do what they want. It’s like we cannot fucking deal with quality. We just want the same controllable mediocrity. Too often going out isn’t about the music or dancing, it’s just about power. At its worst, it’s about violence and sexual abuse. That’s the Duke of Talent and the Duke of Letch, but it’s not the Duke Spirit.
The Real Duke Spirit
The real Duke Spirit, the band, is at the top of the road. I feel like fucking crying. They’re the ‘biggest’ people here, but the bands have been the most humble. The guys from Covert Boom are keenly intelligent and culturally aware in person and the only culture they push on stage is fun. The girl from the Duke Spirit couldn’t play but she didn’t retreat to a dressing room, she was always on the dance floor, supporting the festival in her shimmery pants. The lead singer of Trophy Wife was just breathless at the end of the set and happy to be this far east. The real organizers, Leah Marikkar and her sister, are just nice girls who love music and wanted to give something back. The guys that acted like dukes were really fucking paupers and the ones that acted humble were, well, not kings, but compassionate human beings. Which is about all I think a human being can aspire to be.
Now the Duke Spirit is at the top of the road, getting into a car. I feel ashamed, but they just smile, open the trunk and give us a CD. So now we can finally listen to the music. I’ve spent like 48 hours waiting for the Duke Spirit to play and it ends up being a CD from their hand. I don’t know what to say. I want to say something that will show them that all the chaos makes sense. That this is a part of Sri Lanka, that this is actually the part that we miss when we go. But how to explain?
I just tell them to please take it as an experience, to take it as art. The Electric Peacock Festival was an epic fail as a music festival, but it was one hell of a performance piece. Those few days were everything that’s wrong with Sri Lanka but, in between, little gasps of everything that’s right. The food, the music, the people. The hospitality, the rhythm, the lovely chaos and the human beings who do say thank you, who do appreciate visitors, who do treat other people with respect and who don’t willfully fuck things up for everybody else.
If there’s anything the bands could take away I hope they take that. We’re not all local dukes, we’re not all douchebags, and we’re not all fucking crazy. Those are my people and I won’t repudiate them, but some of us are just dudes and we really did want to hear you play. So, uh, thank you, come again?