DJ Culture

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1991
Original album - Discography
Producer (album version) - Brothers in Rhythm, Pet Shop Boys; (single version) - Brothers in Rhythm, Pet Shop Boys, Stephen Hague
Subsequent albums - PopArt, Behaviour 2001 reissue Further Listening 1990-1991 bonus disc, Smash
Other releases - single (UK #13)

Pet Shop Boys lyrics tend to be relatively straightforward. This is about as obscurantist as they get (or maybe second only to "Don Juan"). If it weren't for the fact that they've been quite forthright as to what this track is about, it would be rather difficult to discern it. In short, it's a censure of the militaristic, pro-war sentiments that sprang up in Britain and America during the 1991 Gulf War with Iraq. At least, that's part of what it's about. There also seems to be a good deal of commentary about people who refuse to accept themselves as they are, even going so far as to change their personal appearance. (After noting how some people "re-invent themselves," Neil sings, "Like Liz before Betty, she after Sean," which refers to Elizabeth Taylor before her stay at the Betty Ford Clinic and to Madonna after her marriage to Sean Penn.) All of this, they seem to say, is indicative of an escapist society in which people, "living in a satellite fantasy," allow the mass media to tell them what to think, feel, and believe, as well as how to act.

Neil has noted, "The essence of the song is in the first place insincerity—about George Bush who acted like he was Winston Churchill. He referred to World War II and, as a matter of fact, he sampled things Churchill said, just like artists do with records from the past. That is why it is called 'DJ Culture'." In the video, the line "My lord, may I say nothing?" is spoken by Neil in the role of Oscar Wilde—an independent thinker persecuted by the state for not conforming, which is very much in keeping with the song's overall cultural critique. In fact, as one of my site visitors has pointed out, in so doing Neil has essentially "sampled" Wilde, an act that parallels precisely the sort of "political sampling" that inspired the song in the first place, though surely not with the insincerity that the Boys were otherwise commenting on.

This song's remarkably dense backing track is layered with "scratching" and other sampled "found sounds" that metaphorically underscore the theme of a DJ culture, musically exemplifying the construction of a new reality out of bits and pieces drawn from other sources. But the musical highlight, at least in this writer's opinion, is the breathtakingly beautiful bridge or "middle eight," sung by Neil with a rich backwash of synth strings playing a repeated series of descending chords. The music assumes a simultaneously epic and tragic quality as the lyrics outline the hypocrisy of mass self-indulgence:

Now, as a matter of pride
Indulge yourself—your every mood
No feast-days or fast-days or days of abstinence intrude

Why let anything—war and religion included—interfere with personal pleasure? Heaven forbid sacrifice. Our musical heroes seem to be suggesting that we are all too willing accomplices in our own deception. It's hard to think of another more scathing social indictment in the Pet Shop Boys' entire body of work.



Officially released

Official but unreleased

List cross-references