Irony really irks me. Not really as a concept in and of itself, but the role irony plays in our culture. Two things really stand out to me about irony. First it can be used flippantly as a cheap narrative or tonal effect by those are just are not that clever. If you’re bad at communicating your point, it becomes easy to just play off a misfire as being ironic. No need to further delve into your lack of wit or tact.
Second, the idea that people enjoy or do things ironically directly contributes to cultural supremacy. Suggesting you enjoy something, whether it be a film or a song, out of irony establishes the presence of a hierarchy. Whatever piece of work you’re enjoying through your own sense of maligned irony now inherently has a value placed on it that suggests you believe it is somehow lesser than you or your taste. It implies that you think you are somehow better, as in more refined or cultured. When you enjoy something ironically, you are placing a value judgment on something that really does not need your validation. It undermines the creative efforts behind it and being ironic about it is just shitty.
I enjoy camp, which is objectively sillier than artistic expressions that are culturally determined to be more serious. And camp is an area that largely suffers from the misfortune of being enjoyed ironically. Things that are camp are often made on a lower budget, contain fringe elements, and appeal to tastes beyond the mainstream. Things that are camp, no matter how silly, are made with sincerity. It just comes off as pretentious when you enjoy something camp without sincerity. So, if you are going to create or enjoy something campy, do it with respect and sincerity. Whatever it is may be out of the norm, but don’t force it to exist within a structured cl hierarchy thus diminishing the artistic intent and cultural value.
Earlier this year, a friend introduced me to an absurdist revival band called Sex on Toast. Formed in Melbourne, Australia, Sex on Toast is a revivalist boy band creating their own spin on synthesized R&B and new jack swing of the 1980s and 90s. So, I know what you’re thinking. A whole bunch of white guys playing black pop music from three decades ago? How is this not ironic and how can we take this seriously? The answer is quite simple: they have respect for their music inspirations, and they are very skilled at what they do.
I often find that most revivalist acts are just novelty acts driven by irony, but that is not Sex on Toast. With their songs drip with stylistic clichés like partying, bubble baths, and sex, all sung over sweat inducing funk and disco beats accented with killer synth riffs and full horn sections, the members of Sex on Toast pay tribute to these dated pop motifs with their skilled and expert musicianship.
Sex on Toast relies heavily on humor to convey their style and this is obvious in their lyrics and music videos. This by no means undermines the sincerity of the band’s sound. On this band’s style, lead singer Angus Leslie said “We’re not really a parody act. We mess with musical archetypes, but we genuinely love the styles of music that we play, and the band’s full of seriously gifted players.”
While the lyrics are ridiculous and funny, the band really shines through musically as being precise and tight. While songs that inspired Sex on Toast’s sound are musically tight as well, those songs featured lyrics just as sugary. “There’s that influence but I try to infuse any sort of insanity that I believe to be our own as a band,” Leslie said. “As a band of absolute weirdos, that we are, it makes sense to infuse those influences with our own bacteria.”
Sex on Toast’s unbelievable musicianship is on full effect with their 2015 single “Oh Loretta!” Filled with sweaty groove, disco rhythms, and supreme horn solos, “Oh Loretta!” is a triumph in revivalism that features so much humor but as an homage to a bygone era. Sex on Toast’s take on forgotten, esoteric R&B pop stylings pays respect in all the right ways, musically, while having fun with the indulgent lyrics of the form. “I wrote it in my underpants in a room above a pub in North Australia, with a little toy piano. I filled it up with the sort of dodgy rhymes you often find in those sorts of love songs, and just boosted the foolishness, I guess. Those songs are often about a guy pledging his undying love to someone he wants to sleep with, and you know it’s really insincere, so for the second half of the song, it switches to a different girl called Rebecca…”
Even the video for “Oh Loretta” majestically serves the homage driven appeal of the band. Adorned in tacky outfits, Sex on Toast perform “Oh Loretta” to a dancing throng a la musical variety shows from the 70s and 80s. With a polished energy, everything starts off like a standard music video tribute. However, as time goes on and the sweat pours and the dancers look more pallid, heads explode (literally) as Sex on Toast reaches a musical climax delighting in the bloody devastation they have caused with their sounds. It is shocking and mesmerizing, but the music, the most important factor for a band, stands on its own.
Sex on Toast is a rare occurrence where revivalism isn’t based on tired irony. They serve as a band that is genuinely respecting and having fun with the music that inspired them. “I think people love Sex on Toast because we’re funky and fun,” said Leslie. “We refuse to be earnest, partly because we’re genuinely strange people, but also because the music we love often had a strong sense of humour. People like Prince, George Clinton, Zapp, Rick James, even Michael Jackson. These dudes were wacky, man, and we love that.”
While Leslie’s comment can seem like Sex on Toast is a band that relies heavily on irony, they are much cleverer than that. They contribute to the form while standing on their own musically beyond what one may typically expect from a parody or novelty act.