Filmstill: Bonnie Banane & Waltaa (Music), Helmi (Video): «Champs-Élysées» (France 2014)

Who Deserves It?

A kaleidoscopic tumble through decades of international street fashion, the video clip «Champs-Élysées» poses puzzles about class and style. Drawing from Britain’s chav, America’s ghetto fabulous, and other globally-resonant, working-class sartorial fields, the collaboration by Paris-based vocalist Bonnie Banane, producer Walter Mecca (Waltaa), and director Helmi, struts with confidence over the blurred lines between celebration and imitation, pastiche and burlesque. It’s not clear that the video transcends the pitfalls of classface minstrelsy, or even gives a shit.From the Norient book Seismographic Sounds (see and order here).

Low-fi but slick, Charni employs repetition, rhythm, and simple but delirious digital effects to furnish Banane, Waltaa, and friends with Tumblr-esque cascades of free-floating objects of desire: cash, weed, sportswear, nostalgic devices like skypagers and flip phones. Also, French fries and kebab. And faces – many faces, often close up, showcasing a crew as motley as proletarian Paris. They are so fresh that their fashion and facial gestures, in the hip register of the day, appear as flat in affect as their vintage clothes are crisp. Less like they’re looking into a camera than a mirror, or a smartphone.

For four brief measures they «put a donk on it» in classic chav style, but for the most part Banane and Waltaa nonchalantly drawl refrains of self-praise over the sort of minimal, bass-laden track that undergirds hardcore contemporary rap. Although French bars have been spit for decades, Banane and Waltaa rap as if paying tribute to the early days of European hip hop when a charmingly fragmentary English was still lingua franca. «I’m fresh», Banane drones, «I deserve it» – in a blasé delivery that threatens to slip so deep into detachment it might undermine the cool celebration of subcultural style as public power.

As the video shows, when transposed across time and place – and on the right bodies in the right space – track suits, rugby shirts, and tennis shoes can be used to gleefully cakewalk on the dress codes of the privileged, posh, and preppy – even if the signifying force of Izod or Fila as street wear inherently bears witness to structural inequality and cultural hierarchies. What good is self-fashioning, the video asks, if all it serves is a humorless rant about consumerism? In an interview Banane acknowledges that the Champs-Elysées «c’est l'enfer de la consommation», but rather than a «conscious» stance on consumption, she prefers a naive jouissance in alignment with the «eternal» style of, in her words, «caillera européenne».

Filmstill: Bonnie Banane & Waltaa (Music), Helmi (Video): «Champs-Élysées» (France 2014)

This video is part of the Norient exhibition «Seismographic Sounds» and this commentary was published first in the correspondent Norient book.

Published on October 27, 2015

Last updated on January 15, 2020

Biography

Wayne Marshall is a technomusicologist who writes and teaches about music, technology, and culture from Cambridge, MA. Hip-hop scholar since being knee-high to a duck, he wrote his dissertation on reggae, edited the book on reggaeton, and publishes an acclaimed blog at wayneandwax.com.

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