On friday night I went to an event called ‘Dancefloor Meditations’, a conceptual performance by Jarvis Cocker and Steve Mackey, which was part of the Frieze Art Fair. It took place in the abandoned office venue Store Studios on the Strand, a very cool location for a party. We arrived just after 9.30pm and people were milling about and tucking into the free bar and music was playing. It sort of felt like a party but I didn’t think we were here for one. Honestly, I didn’t really know what to expect. The two words in the title gave a bit of a clue but that was all we knew. And that was all about anyone knew judging from the way people were standing around waiting for something to happen. We soon heard a voice which was unmistakably Jarvis’, telling people in his laconic Sheffield accent that it would start in fifteen minutes and the bar would be closed and we should all settle down and get ready. Anticipation grew. He then said that the performance would take place in total darknesss and we should all sit down on the newly carpeted floor. We complied.
The lights went out and then Jarvis started to explain that he was going to take us on a journey into ourselves via the power of meditation and music and transcend us into a different state of consciousness but, in order for it to work, we would need to go with it and be still, calm and quiet and turn off our phones off and allow ourselves to be transported, led through the darkness only by his gentle reassuring voice. There was a bit of hub bub but everyone sat down and the room went quiet. Ish. And it began. The lights went out and Jarvis started explaining how our brain waves oscillate when we meditate by repeating a mantra and how the repetition changes the pace of the waves and as it causes them to slow we drop into a different state of mind where the mental chatter decreases and we can exist in a calmer state of being. As he is saying this a massive strobe light is pulsating slowly and deep bass tones pump out of the speaker.
I am settling my mind down and tuning into to his voice and doing my best to lose myself in the experience but the girl next to me is still texting on her phone and all I can see in the periphery of my sight is the bright light from her screen. I really want this to work so I tell her to switch it off, she huffs but does it. I start to let myself go. Jarvis and the music are leading me towards something and I want to follow. But literally within a few short minutes, the background chatter has increased, some people are getting up, I start to see more phones light up. It wasn’t so much that the crowd were resisting it, they were not even capable of going with it. It became very apparent that people were already not listening to what he was saying. Even though what he was saying was fascinating and compelling they had already switched off.
As it went on it just got worse and it soon became apparent they had lost the room. The crowd had utterly forgotten that they were supposed to be quiet and instead were whoop whooping and taking pictures, standing up, walking around, chatting and dancing. Jarvis was actually telling a fascinating story about the birth of bass in music and how the human heartbeat of a keyboard player hooked up to electrodes to a synth had ultimately created the backbone for the song Saturday Night Fever. There were some of us who were desperately trying to stay with it but there was just too much background activity to concentrate enough to lose yourself in what he was saying and it became harder and harder to actually hear him above the din. But it wouldn’t have mattered what he was saying, these people just didn’t have the attention span to follow him for a more than a nanosecond. It just felt like a modern audience had completely lost the ability to be a passive observer. They had to be a vocal participant. They had to be included. It has got to that stage for people when it needs to be about them or they are just not interested.
The irony was that this entire performance was about losing yourself, about getting away from the ego and into something bigger, more meaningful and all it really served to highlight was how incapable most people now are of doing exactly that. Dancefloor meditations is actually a very well conceived piece which draws on the meditative aspects of dance music and showed, what I have always believed, that when we dance and connect with music we are essentially dancing to the beat on the inside, to the rhythm of our own heartbeats, it just matches with the music on the outside and the fusion of the two is what creates this harmonious all encompassing experience that can lift you above and beyond yourself. Sadly that is not what happened that night. Not even close.
I felt so sorry for Jarvis Cocker and Steve Mackey who had obviously massively underestimated the ability of Generation Y ‘do we really have to pay attention’ and Gen Zzzzz to be able to follow anything longer than the time it takes to check their status update but in all fairness to the crowd, they probably should never have attempted to do it on a Friday night and cardinal mistake number one – never give out free booze to people who you wish to remain silent. Alcohol and quiet are incompatible to the human brain. And everyone was geared up for the weekend and just couldn’t quiet themselves down. It should have probably been on a monday night with juice served instead of cocktails. Regardless I feel it just showed how visible the ADD destruction of people’s attention has become in this day and age.
The performance ended, to add insult to injury with the power going out and Jarvis tried to talk to the crowd through a megaphone as the mic had died but you couldn’t hear a word he said, which just cemented the fact that no-one had really paid attention in the first place. Almost everyone was on their feet shuffling and dancing and utterly forgetting the basic instruction that they should have been sat down meditating in order to project themselves into a new consciousness. I saw Jarvis smoking outside afterwards and he looked quite dejected. I wanted to tell him that there was nothing wrong with what he had created. It is actually quite brilliant. I wanted to say its not you, its them. It is the times we live in and the death of attention that is the problem. In the right environment with a subdued non-drunk audience it probably would have been amazing. But I didn’t. I just sloped off, back into reality, regretting that I was not able to disappear, even for a little while. I hope really hope they do it again in a space and time that is compatible with the concept although that time might possibly be in the past. Personally I am ready to transcend. I am desperate to get the fuck away from the chatter. Please take me away…