Clément Paradis

photographic continuum

Sound of Midnight - The Theory of Bitter Fun

Introductory text to the book Sound of Midnight.

“We’re having big fun and the party’s just begun”… That’s what Innercity was singing in 1988. I remember it, in a way. It was cool, and everybody wants to be cool. Everybody wants to party. I was too young at the time, but somehow I was eager to join the bandwagon. I had a brain wave in my teens, probably as I was reading Bret Easton Ellis’ Glamorama. It was a kind of revelation: “That’s it! That’s what I want to do with my life!” Party, hard.

Of course that’s probably not the reaction the author wanted the reader to have as he was describing the celebrity culture and the consumerism in our societies! Or maybe that’s exactly what he wanted, without even realizing it… So I started to go out, once, twice, four times, six times a week. “It won’t take a lot of thought for you to do it”, as Innercity prophesized in the second verse of Big Fun. I started partying in my hometown, but also around the world, as I was following music bands on tour and travelling with friends on a regular basis… We wanted to be cool kids, floating away from all the sweat of the everyday life, surrounded by chicks whose only passions are fashion and parties. The first part was easier but somehow we didn’t do bad at all that. In the meantime, I started to take photos of this world. Out of fascination, but also, just to remember–or even get to know–what happened in the depths of the nights. Since it’s a moment when you’re not really yourself, you always wonder who you are the next morning.

One night I was outside of a club in London, I think at that moment I started to realize… I could hear some lyrics floating: “With a pineapple head, Walks in the sun, With a friend the mouse, with a friend the shadow, War machine… war machine… Wrap her arms, wrap her arms around me, War machine… war machine… Come to wrap her arms, tight around her body… Your voice, I’m not incredible, Your voice is in desperation, I hear you, I hear bleeding…”

What the hell are we doing here? I wasn’t thinking that in a tormented way, but rather in a fun-non-sense-eager-to-party way. Asking the question made me forget to look for the answer. I took a look at the glowing lights and re-entered the place.

How many pictures did I take that night? One roll? Two rolls, three? When I was running out of rolls, I’d re-expose the previous ones anyway. And of course there’s the digital cameras… I’m a trigger happy, it always helps to wash the doubts away. All those nightlife photos, I used to put them in a folder and forget them… Most of them were tacky photographs, the kind you don’t really want to brag about–at least that was my feeling. They looked like stills from an Italian movie or something like that. Definitely not my style, but funny. I called the folder “Sound of Midnight”, and got used to have it on my hard drive. I kept filling it, from time to time–this one and a couple of others, untied to my main photographic projects (or what I thought were so). Yeah, all that wasn’t making a lot of sense. The parties were here, but also some abstract photographic mumbles, bitter screenshots, stolen weirdness and a couple of misfires. Melting images we see in half-dreams, blocked vision through tired cathodic eyes... In the night of our big cities, reality mix with images on the computer screens. I had the recount of my parties, but also faces, situations, lights… “with a pineapple head, with a friend the mouse, with a friend the shadow…” The photographs were putting together at the same level some things that couldn’t match in my mind. The blacks, the whites and the grain acted as a fig leaf for a sundered world–I did not hide from that. Somehow it unified this scattered system while preserving its oniric part.

Only later did I understand that this amalgamation wasn’t a problem, but the actual message the images were trying to deliver. This is what the photographs were telling me: the coexistence of the biggest fun and the utter bitterness. The two sides always were right in front of me, both in an intense way. But somehow, unperceivable. The bitter and the fun–we completely dissociate that in our minds, formatted as we are by our separative cosmologies. Still they are the principles at the basis of our modern lifestyle. “You dance and shake the hurt” as Earth, Wind & Fire ended up singing in the 80s. Like a lot of bands of the post-disco era in fact. The bankrupt of the Enlightenment leads to this desperate situation, this precise mixture of bitterness and fun, both pushed to the maximum intensity. And so our time is made of an infra-human and an infra-sexed magma into which sinks the remains of the ancient civilization. This is where we are. That’s what I learnt through the photographs. Parties are not so much about rejoicing, of course I knew that. Everybody knows it’s about forgetting, escaping. But the smugglers don’t work for free anymore. It is, some said to me, sad. Sad because the big fun is in fact a market and all the fun is deployed to make you forget that our fun is this big market. It’s a cycle of opposition. 

 Bitter, fun, love, fear, wake, sleep... Nothing new under the sunlights you’ll say. “Get your own ends, The sex and everything”. That’s what the songs says in the heart of the night, paradoxically comforting those who are afraid of the silence. But still… Past midnight, when the smell of perfumes, cigarette and restaurant grease mix, when the humming of the bass echoes in the streets, when I hear this sound of midnight, I get this appetite for action, for images and for their destruction. 

 C.P., July 2014.