Most readers are probably familiar with R.U. Sirius as the Editor-in-Chief of "Mondo 2000" magazine. What you may not know is that Sirius is really a snap, crackle, pop star at heart. He, like John Shirley, got his "start" as a punk rocker, and while this sensibility has informed his writing ever since, he's always wanted to combine the two interests. Mondo Vanilli is his passion project of the moment. A grand synthesizer, R.U. Sirius dreams of bundling all his talents together into a big multi-media mindfuck for fun, profit, and cyber-apocalyptic soothsaying.
Mondo Vanilli: Coming soon to a Holo-Deck near you!
- Gareth Branwyn
Karla: So what's the story behind Mondo Vanilli?
RUS: Well, we're basically taking the implications of Milli Vanilli and the Janet Jackson Tour etcetera and doing it right. Now, within the realm of house, hip hop and industrial music this isn't new. The interaction of humans and machines, and the replacement of humans by machines is nothing new. Kraftwerk had robots perform in their stead years ago. Poor Kraftwerk. They got out in front of the wave. What makes Mondo Vanilli different from those inside these movements is that Mondo Vanilli is more explicitly reactive. And by being reactive, we get away with a bunch of stuff. One thing we get away with is flirting with the mainstream. We may actually do a genuine Milli Vanilli-style sappy love song as part of "Read My Lips" for instance.
So Mondo Vanilli is taking the implications of a lot of stuff that's been happening in music and performance over the last few years, sort of synthesizing it down to an accessible and funny semiotic representation and then hopefully selling it all like pancakes. It's both a critique and a celebration of life in the simulacrum.... like cyberpunk, of course.
Karla: We now have a tape that we can listen to, but what will the performance aspect of Mondo Vanilli be like?
RUS: Again ruthlessly ignoring the industrial avant-garde (and even Laurie Anderson), I see Mondo Vanilli as picking up rock theater where David Bowie left off -- in his failed attempt, the Diamond Dogs tour. What if David Bowie had a Robert Wilson or a George Coates to work with. What if the cultural environment had grown sophisticated enough for him to leave the longhaired guitar players off stage and allow the performer to be himself and with some other actors. This is my goal with Mondo Vanilli as a performance medium. Actually one of two goals. To use multimedia and sophisticated stage environmentalism and illusionist techniques to create a rock show at the level of a Robert Wilson production.
Karla: To make what kind of statement? What kind of statement is "Read My Lips" going to make?
RUS: The performance statement itself is about media communications as manipulator. I think that communications through media was designed for politics and sales. As media babies, we're all schooled in pretension, in communication that's crafted, considered and mediated. Well, that's art as well. So we come from a long line of artists who play with those considerations ÊWarhol being primary. Within that, we have some fun with some of the more fascistic aspects of the acid house movement... you know... everybody dancing together to the same beat, all is one, and thou shalt have no other music save for house... the complete elimination of the star, the ego, the individual personality, the individual statement... that has a place but it's also perfectly fascist.
Now all of this sounds a little bit banal and like it's all been done before. And even the fact that MV does all this in an extremely ambiguous manner actually embracing media manipulation while critiquing it that statement has been made very succinctly by Devo, Laibach and others. Fortunately, I can't communicate in words the depth of weirdness implicit in MV. It's sort of like Milli Vanilli meets Laibach at Max Headroom's place having fully absorbed Frank Zappa's critique of the hippies in "We're Only in it for the Money," applied it to acid house culture and thrown in some cheeky 90's style Beatles parodies. There's a kind of egotistical, psychotidelic, cosmic politician-eating-his-own-tail aspect to R. U. Sirius that comes out in my song lyrics and in my choice of "I am the Walrus" as a cover song...
Karla: What about the Beatlesque aspect of this? Isn't that extremely retro?
RUS: Yeah, it is. Although I still find clever British psychedelic pop to be some of the most damned listenable stuff around. Think of Robyn Hitchcock and Dukes of the Stratosphere as influences on our pop side as much as the Beatles. And Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy by Eno.
Also, I think the Beatles have a powerful resonance from having been the last cultural phenomenon to be in the position of actually embodying the zeitgeist of its time. That very possibility has dispersed and decentralized. And that's good. But somewhere in the subconscious of R. U. Sirius is a vainglorious hunger to be at the center of the next zeitgeist. It's silly and impossible but I think it motivates a peculiar kind of creative intensity modified by self-consciousness and self-parody... which is retro in the 70's and 80's sense rather than in the 60's sense. The 90's are supposed to be about the new sincerity of course. But as a virtual reality house band, Mondo Vanilli is about not being able to tell your hallucinations from supposed reality. Somebody's gotta maintain a sense or irresponsibility with more intellect than Axl Rose!
Karla: You described Mondo Vanilli's rock theater intentions as being one of two intentions. What's the other?
RUS: Ah, well this relates to the other side of my ambiguous feelings about the house movement. On the positive side, I'd like to embrace the house aesthetic and have some Mondo Vanilli performances actually be environments rather than stage shows. People would come and the album would play as various technological and playful things happened around them, and there would be interactive games and things to play with, and before and after Mondo Vanilli music, you'd basically have house dance music. I think a Mondo Vanilli environment would sort of be like Pee Wee's Playhouse for adults with cyberpunk overtones. Naturally, we'll have a room set aside for pornography. You know, Karla, I'm 101% pro-porn!
Karla: Fuck you!
Read My Lips, the album will consist of a side of dance tracks and a side of psychedelic pop tracks.
Read My Lips, the multimedia performance will be performance-ready in the late winter of 1992.
As well as being a performance group, Mondo Vanilli is alternatively a post-acid house party environment. We do weddings and Bas Mitzvah's.
R. U. Sirius started "Mondo 2000" magazine with Queen Mu and is currently Editor-In-Chief. R. U. Sirius Productions & Mondo Vanilli are independent projects and its excesses in no way reflect upon the standards of decency established by "Mondo 2000."
R. U. Sirius is lead lipsyncer and sometime vocalist for Mondo Vanilli He was vocalist for Party Dogs, a popular punk funk band in Rochester N.Y., 1978-1981.
Scrappi DŸ is a San Francisco-based musician who has performed on albums with Bruce Joyner & the Tinglers, Really Boom Band, Manual Scan, Hair Theater, and The Answers. He has performed locally with the Tory Miller Ensemble, The Mirrors, Happily Ever After, as well as solo.
Songs on the current cassette:
The President of Outer Space (Lyrics: Sirius - Music: DŸ)
I am the Walrus
(Lennon - McCartney)
Glad Handed (Sirius - DŸ)
Merry Tweekster World Mutation Day (Sirius - DŸ) Sufi Sales (Sirius - DŸ)
Mondo Vanilli Performance Group for Read My Lips includes:
Project Coordinator: Evan Gourvitz
Performance Director: Janet Ramage
Mondo Vanilli Stage Performers: R. U. Sirius, Kenneth Laddish, Simone Part One
Oz: Scrappi DŸ
Visual Media: Allan Lundell
Props: Andrew Grossberg
Costuming: Kyle Chan
Mondo Vanilli Top Ten influences
1: Milli Vanilli
2: The Beatles
4: General Schwartzkopf
5: Alice Cooper
6: George Clinton
7: Hogan's Heroes
8: Brian Wilson
9: Acid House
10: The Residents