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Snakes, Planes and the Triumph of Ironic Appreciation

Glenn McDonald

Does the Snakes on a Plane phenomenon signal the End of Days in Hollywood?

A lot of people don't know this, but there exists in the Judeo-Christian tradition a body of apocryphal texts — companion passages to the Biblical book of Revelations — that mention Samuel L. Jackson by name.

The apocrypha are writings that, due to the typical infighting of bitchy little Gnostic scholars, never quite made it into the Bible. The established church does not believe these writings to be canonical, but then again, the established church thinks that dinosaur fossils are cosmic pranks scattered about the earth to test our faith.

Anyway. Like many PopMatters readers, I suspect, I tend to keep a sheaf or two of Hellenistic Judaic texts on the nightstand for light bedtime reading. You can only breeze through so much James Joyce before you start to feel like you're slumming. Imagine my surprise when, in a section of passages presaging the end of the world, I came across the following:

And lo, unto the land of Babel shall come a man, one like unto the Son of man, clothed with rich garment down to the foot, and girt about the ears with a Kangol cap. And he shall be called Samuel, son of Jack, with an "L" in there somewhere, and speaking with a great voice, as of a blasphemous trumpet, he shall banish yon serpents from the sky…

When I read this I thought: Sonofa . . . they're talking about Snakes on a Plane!

On reflection, it's entirely unsurprising to me that Snakes on a Plane may be one of the signs of the Apocalypse. Actually, just about any summer movie in wide release these days could be interpreted as such, but there's something about SoaP that seems epochal.

For the unfamiliar, SoaP started out as a screenplay destined, it seemed, to be a 3 am feature on the SciFi channel at best. Somehow, the script landed in the lap of discerning thespian Sam Jackson, who inexplicably and immediately signed on. The story goes that, when Jackson got involved, the pleasantly surprised studio tried to class up the project and change the title to "Pacific Air Flight 121". But Jackson demanded they keep the original name. A mad prophet in a barren land, Jackson alone saw the potential behemoth that lay slumbering beneath that title.


Snakes on a Plane Casting

Word eventually leaked to the trade magazines and websites that there was a movie, now in pre-production, that was actually called "Snakes on a Plane", and that it was about exactly what it said it was about. This piqued the skepticism of many, and for several months it was unclear whether the entire story was an elaborate hoax. (In fact, one of the very first SoaP reports appeared on the forums at the Museum of Hoaxes.) Eventually, New Line Cinema and Jackson went public, confirming that the movie was indeed in production, that it was slated for a summer 2006 release, and that yes, goddammit, it was called "Snakes on a Plane".

Almost immediately, SoaP became an unprecedented phenomenon in Hollywood's weird and unknowable world of marketing, movies, and commodity. Hundreds of online fansites popped up instantly, and soon SoaP was being covered in every entertainment publication and broadcast on the planet. It seems we of the Internet generation, weaned since babes on irony and kitsch, were simply waiting for this one exquisite moment of trash culture to fully galvanize and display our might. The phrase itself entered the lexicon via the Urban Dictionary as "a simple existential observation that has the same meaning as 'Whaddya gonna do?' or 'Shit Happens'".

Guy 1: (irate) Dude, you just ran into the back of my SUV!

Guy 2: (calm) Snakes on a plane, man. Snakes on a plane.

Meanwhile, YouTube sprouted SoaP-themed DIY videos by the dozens, and several online retailers began vigorously ignoring licensing issues with bootleg SoaP t-shirts and merchandise. The best shirts employ a minimalist graphic style that distills SoaP to its essence: [picture of snakes] + [picture of plane] = [picture of crashing plane]. Check it out here at Damnation-Inc.com. One particularly viral artifact was an audio recording of a Sam Jackson soundalike screaming, simply and elegantly, "I want these motherfucking snakes off this motherfucking plane!"


Snakes on a Plane: How Hollywood Really Works

So overwhelming was this sudden groundswell of SoaP appropriation that, in March, New Line actually went back and shot five more days of additional footage, adding gore, nudity, and language to take the film from a PG-13 to the hipper R rating. They've skewed the advance trailers and ads to reflect this new arch, self-aware approach, and even added a scene with the "motherfucking snakes" line, verbatim, from the viral Internet track.

In other words, everything about the movie — from the script to the entire pre-release marketing plan — has been retooled in response to audience reaction that began before the project even started filming. And it looks like it's going to work. Most summer movie prognosticators have slotted SoaP into their top five probable moneymakers for 2006, along heavyweights like The Da Vinci Code and Superman Returns. All because of those four incredible, ridiculous, utterly evocative words.

It's all so strange and modern, so mind-twistingly meta, that I have to believe we're approaching some end-of-days scenario in Hollywood. I'm just watching it unfold, like a natural disaster, or baseball's pathetic National League West. A highly-placed source in the Hollywood marketing community recently told me — and I'm really not making this up — that the SoaP phenomenon has executives scared to death. These guys spend a lot of money trying to sell us what they think we want. When an empirically bad idea can become a monster summer blockbuster on the strength of out-of-control digital-age irony, the whole traditional movie marketing system is in jeopardy.

In that regard, at least, the SoaP phenomenon is fascinating -- a rudderless new paradigm of promotion in which consumers ironically hype the product to themselves. The Hollywood-Internet feedback loop has gone totally haywire with this one. It's like a global improv comedy festival out there, with thousands of multimedia riffs on a single premise. There are even some preliminary sequel concepts. (My enduring favorite: Snakes on a Plane 2: Bears on a Train).

It's safe to say, in fact, that the real pop cultural impact of SoaP has already peaked. That's the apocalyptic part: Here we have a massive, Internet-mediated audience response that is more entertaining and significant than the film itself. Which, kindly bear in mind, has still not yet been released.

Ah, well. What are ya gonna do? Snakes on a Plane, man. Snakes on a Plane...


Snakes on a Plane on CNN

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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