Over the festive period, I was surprized that it was my parents who told me about the latest stirring in club culture: the sweet old lady who used to run the haberdashers store in my home town had reinvented herself as an electro-rock DJ! Of course I could hardly believe it, but check this out:
Ruth Flowers (aka DJ Mamy Rock) cleverly plays with our percepetions of age and popular music. She is not exactly a gimmick as she can actually DJ, create and release dance music, impress crowds with her live set, and tour internationally.
Instead of being a gimmick she is a professional DJ act based on a gimmick: the notion that such an old person can be a central part of a youth cultural scene.
Unlike the middle-aged hippies of European fringe culture she claims none of the cultural capital of a counter-cultural old-timer. Instead Mamy Rock is a commercial act, blindly innocent (as her Terminator shades suggest) of the culture of intoxicants that fuel her youthful audience. What we don’t understand from all this is exactly how they see her. Young clubbers are giving her a serious listen, so does she indicate a refreshing lack of age-prejudice? What gives Flowers an experiential ticket into their world of youthful hedonism? Does her age not matter because she can really feel the music? … Also, I wonder, how does her own peer group see her antics?
There are two stories of her emergence. In the one she tells, she gate-crashed a club night held for her grandson’s birthday and just loved the music. In another version, she was a model who was put in DJ gear as a joke by a photographer, then made her into a business project by a clubland entrepreneur who spotted the picture. The distance between the romantic and industrial versions of her biography indicate the cultural work upon which her image rests.
While the DJ Mamy Rock phenomenon seems novel in clubland, one wonder whether elsewhere we haven’t been here before. Often sporting elements of her combination of chains, shades and wild white hair, several disparate characters spring to mind: Andy Warhol, Phil Spector, Karl Largerfeld, Pete Waterman and, yes, Jimmy Saville. While it seems that style (and product) is what gives the aged their long-stay ticket as celebrities in the glamourous world of youth culture, what Mamy Rock has at the moment is a refreshing lack of a track record. She can therefore enjoy herself as an innocent abroad in the dirty world of electro: growing old, as some might say, disgracefully. This brings us on to a final stereotype that DJ Mamy Rock’s image again negotiates with ease: that of the old rebel who stubbornly refuses to face those tranquil, twilight years.
It’s an old person’s world – expect a movie of Ruth’s life story soon!