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Dean & Britta

Stephen Franklin

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL: Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips of Dean & Britta were commissioned by the Andy Warhol Museum and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust to write and perform songs and music for 13 of Warhol’s Screen Tests'.
Dean & Britta
Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips of Dean & Britta were commissioned by the Andy Warhol Museum and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust to write and perform songs and music for 13 of Warhol’s Screen Tests. The result is 13 Most Beautiful… which was performed by Dean & Britta (with Matt Sumrow on guitars, keyboards and Edward Lee Waters on drums, bass, guitars) at the CUB Malthouse on Friday night. The Screen Tests are four-minute long, silent black and white cinematic portraits of people who visited Warhol’s Factory studio between 1964 and 1966. These screen tests were used in Warhol’s Plastic Exploding Inevitable multimedia shows of the sixties. These shows were events that featured dancers, projected film and music played by the Velvet Underground and Nico. While 13 Most Beautiful… features a live band and projection of the “Screen tests” the show is not an attempt to recreate the Plastic Exploding Inevitable, although if the Warhol Museum didn’t want the music to sound like the Velvet underground then they made a mistake in commissioning ex-Luna members Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips. Luna achieved indie stardom in the nineties with small but perfectly formed pop/rock songs. Luna’s music is built on superb melodic guitar work that is reminiscent of earlier New York bands Television and the Velvet Underground. 13 Most Beautiful… is not a concert with projected backdrops, nor is it a kind of live installation, the show is more like a collection of music videos where the music, with the exception of two pieces, is created for the video rather than the other way around. On the whole the concept works, for the most part I reacted to the screen tests and the music together. Only once did I found myself focussing on the performance of the band, when I found myself thinking, “this is a really great version of this song” as Britta sang Bob Dylan’s “I’ll keep it with mine” for Nico’s screen test. I think your reaction to the screen tests is influenced by what you know about the subjects, and Wareham and Phillips introduce some screen tests with brief stories about the people we are about to see. The screen tests are partly a social document of the Warhol’s Factory period, when he tried to make art from the lives of others. The Factory people assumed created identities and became ‘Superstars’. Warhol wanted his art to be beautiful and indeed the people we see are all young and beautiful. However in the screen tests Warhol seemed to be trying to test whether these contrived personas would stand up to scrutiny – the lighting is harsh and the subjects sit for four minutes without speaking or moving. Some of Warhol’s Superstars were disturbed and vulnerable people and their lives took tragic turns after the hollow glamour and ‘fifteen minutes’ of fame they experienced in Warhol’s circle. The music has at times a melancholic quality and feel of being pulled from another time as the screen tests are. We hear sounds forever associated with the sixties and the Velvet Underground – tambourines and tom toms played with beaters – but we also hear Wareham’s inventive guitar playing and strong song writing. Some pieces are like movie sound tracks with plenty of space, others use driving beats and bass lines to create the impression of audacity energy, chaos and danger. I felt the quieter, more textured and complex tracks suffered somewhat from poor mixing and the acoustics of the venue. The choice of a recently uncovered bootleg Velvet’s track - Not a young man anymore was perfect for Lou Reed’s screen test. Only Reed could have written a song with that title when he was in his early twenties and we see Reed as a young punk drinking a Coke to the sound of a riff driven garage jam. After the last film was shown I found myself wondering how the show should end, we’d seen the thirteen tests and yet it still felt like a rock gig. The band obviously felt the same way and come back on stage to play a Luna and Galaxie 500 song to see us on our way. Dean & Britta 13 Most Beautiful ... Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests Part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival 15 Oct at 8:00PM 16 Oct at 8:00PM 17 Oct at 8:00PM The CUB Malthouse, Merlyn Theatre 113 Sturt Street, SOUTHBANK Melbourne International Arts Festival 9 – 24 October, 2009
What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Stephen its an ArtsHub music reviewer.