July 12, 2008
Mark Ronson brings acid house to Duran Duran in the Smirnoff Experience
Duran Duran, Mark Ronson and lots of the sponsor’s vodka - is this the future of music?
La Cigale, a cabaret-era ballroom in Paris’s Pigalle distract, is packed to its gilt-leafed rafters. Preening fashionistas peer over their shades, middle-aged women barrel their way to the front and Hollywood star Eva Mendes and model Daisy Lowe look on from the posh seats as four fortysomething men in striped shirts and bondage trousers stride onstage to join a pencil-thin dude in a silver Beatles suit. And expertly bring the house down.
The quartet, ripping into Is There Something I Should Know? with gusto, are Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and the Taylors, John and Roger (no relation). The skinny dude is Lowe’s boyfriend Mark Ronson: DJ, producer to Amy Winehouse and sprinkler of pixie dust on to tracks by Radiohead, Coldplay and the Zutons. The 32-year-old is also, it turns out, a rabid Duran Duran fan who, as a boy. attempted to “duplicate John’s signature coiff on to my tiny head”.
The band have known Ronson’s parents for years and remember meeting him aged 9. When a collaboration was suggested, John Taylor recalls: “We said, ‘Hey, knock yourself out – create your Duran Duran megamix from hell.’ ” And so, in a one-off performance, to be shown on Channel 4, Ronson is giving the band a makeover, upholstering their back catalogue with the funk and swing of his nine-piece brass and string band and interweaving their live tracks as a DJ would mix records. It’s a perfect synergy: New Romantic powerhouse, New York whizzkid . . . and, erm, multinational drinks conglomerate.
Smirnoff, you see, has facilitated the whole shebang as part of a series of international collaborations. At what must have been colossal expense, it has filled the venue with competion winners, journalists and the beneficiaries of local give-aways, and plied everyone with geysers of their hard stuff.
As one of those liggers, it’s hard to preach anti-commercialism, but such an orgy of branding can leave a strange taste. When someone, surely a plant, asks at the pre-gig press conference how Smirnoff has improved Duran Duran’s music, Rhodes treats the question with the contempt it deserves: “It depends how much of it you drink.”
Later, Le Bon defends the lucrative, sponsor-led model that has become an industry staple: “A lot of the money that was coming from record companies has dried up, so it’s great that somebody’s willing to pay for something like this.” Rhodes, in serious mode, goes further: “It might actually be better for a band to do something with a sponsor than tie up their career with a bunch of foolish record company executives.” “It’s not like we’re playing for Fiat,” whispers Ronson.
But most of the cynicism evaporates in the fug of La Cigale, whose floor bounces beneath pogoing housewives.
Le Bon is in expansive, galloping form and John Taylor stalks the stage with his tiger-skin bass and a hilarious repertoire of leers and frowns On guitar, Ronson looks like an adolescent interloper for whom Jim has fixed it.
But his reinvigorating touch is soon apparent. There’s an acid house rerub of Wild Boys, an audacious segue from The Chauffeur into Blur’s Song 2 and a Bond medley that sets tongues wagging about a possible reunion for the next 007 theme. They encore with a triumphant version of Rio that has Le Bon raising his arms to reveal a flash of paunch and Ronson raising a glass: “Smirnoff, of course!”
Smirnoff Experience, Fri, Channel 4, 12.15am
Courtesy Times London