It’s 1997 and guess who’s been invited to play on MTV’s leading catwalk-cum-rock concert crossover show? Only psychedelic big beat electro-grunge pioneers, Death In Vegas…
“I don’t remember all the details,” laughs Mat Flint, Heavenly Social DJ and Death In Vegas bassist. “It was the 90s and I was playing in Death In Vegas. It was a bit crazy.”
Message received and understood. There are perhaps more bizarre stories to be had from the shenanigans of Mr Fearless and Co, but few tales will beat the undiluted oddness of 5 November 1997 when they arrived in New York to record an edition of ‘MTV Fashionably Loud’.
Death In Vegas had released their debut album, ‘Dead Elvis’, into the eye of the big beat storm in the spring of 1997 while ‘Dirt’, released the previous year as a single, had been building a head of steam with heavy rotation on MTV thanks to its memorable video that caught the attention in a post-apocalyptic, pigs on leads, vampire Nazi, school girl, animal mask, naked dancing, dead mannequins kind of way.
“It was an incredibly exciting time around that era,” says Mat. “There was quite a big buzz about us. We were supporting The Chemical Brothers on a three-week tour of the States. They were already massive, ‘Block Rocking Beats’ was everywhere so we were playing big venues, it was a phenomenal experience really.
“When you’re on tour you do all sorts of promo. You turn up and play at a radio station or in a record shop. Our tour itinerary had ‘MTV Fashionably Loud’ pencilled in at The Roseland Ballroom. I thought, ‘Oh that’s just turning up at MTV and doing a song’, I didn’t know what it was or even ask.”
It wasn’t until they arrived at the famous West 52nd Street venue that the concept was explained to them. They’d do a couple of songs live, the singles ‘Dirt’ and ‘Rocco (Sing For A Drink Mix)’, and while they were doing that there’d be a 10-minute fashion show by John Bartlett, one of the US’s most talked about fashion designers.
“I don’t think we took it in until we saw the dressing rooms,” says Mat. “Cindy Crawford was in one room. And it wasn’t until we went out to do the soundcheck that we realised it was quite a big thing.”
The show was a spin-off from MTV’s hugely popular ‘House Of Style’ series that premiered in 1989 and ran for 11 years. Presented by Cindy Crawford, it was aimed squarely at the US’s increasing appetite for all things supermodel. ‘MTV Fashionably Loud’ managed to shoehorn those very models into an annual live fashion show soundtracked by the current hot ticket acts playing live (interestingly, one of the show’s directors was Bruce Gowers, a name pop video anoraks will recognise as he directed Queen’s groundbreaking ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ promo).
‘MTV Fashionably Loud’ was a prime time, coast-to-coast broadcast and featured The Roseland kitted out in full fashion show regalia, complete with a vast, triangular catwalk that passed in front of the stage where the bands took their place. While none of us are supermodel experts, the show is studded with them – is that Helena Christensen? Jodie Kidd? Linda Evangelista? Eva Herzigova? It was indeed quite a big thing.
Along with Death In Vegas, the show – which while recorded in November 1997 didn’t air until the following February – also featured a heavy rap presence with Method Man and Redman, EPMD’s Erick Sermon, Def Squad’s Keith Murray and The Crystal Method, as well as some bloke called Fatboy Slim.
“It was pretty easy to put bands like us and Crystal Method on because there was no singer,” believes Mat. “It was ideal music for looking at something else.”
As if to prove the point, a year earlier the line-up had included Elastica and The Prodigy. YouTube is your friend here and you’ll see models flummoxed when confronted with a) being upstaged by Keith Flint b) trying to walk all swishy to Elastica’s ‘Connection’.
Mat is no stranger to the limelight having been frontman with early 90s shoegaze trailblazers Revolver, along with Hamish Brown who went on to forge a very successful career as a rock photographer. Here, on bass in a red T-shirt, jeans and Adidas Shell Toes, Mat is inadvertently the focus of attention once again. TV cameras in his face, supermodels gliding by in front of him – what was going through his head?
“Usually when we played live, there was a film show behind the band and that was what you’d look at,” he explains. “But for this, the cameras were on me and guitarist Ian Button because we were either side of the stage at the front. I didn’t know whether I was supposed to be looking at the models or trying to play normally. It was a very strange thing to find yourself in the middle of.”
You’d guess by the looks of the over-the-top dancing that very few of the rent-a-crowd audience knew who Death In Vegas were. Still, they seemed to be enjoying themselves. But what about the band, did they enjoy it?
“I think I enjoyed it,” offers Mat. “It was over quite quickly and we were all like, ‘Was that good? Was that fun? I’m not really sure, I think it was’. One of the weirdest things was that these extremely successful models were really getting in to it by the end. They probably didn’t know who Death In Vegas were either, but towards the end one of them took her top off and swung it round her head… I thought that was quite funny. I gave one of my friends my camera while we went on and my mate, bless him, managed to get that one.”
So with all those supermodels in one place, did they backstage it for the aftershow?
“We tried it for a bit,” laughs Mat. “But I don’t think anyone in the band was particularity comfortable in those kind of situations, it was pretty schmoozy. We knew a lot of people in New York at that point so we went out and did something a bit more degenerate.”
These days we expect everything, ever, to be on YouTube, but the ubiquitous video channel only came into being in 2005 and back in 1997 a usable form of the internet in the home was still years away.
“Over the years there have been various Death In Vegas TV appearances that I’d look for,” says Mat, “and one by one they’ve all appeared online. This was the one thing that I’ve always remembered and wondered if it was ever going to be appear online. It’s taken until now for someone to finally upload it.”
The segment was recorded off the TV onto a good old fashioned VHS and only uploaded to YouTube in August by long-time Death In Vegas fan, Jason Hall.
“It was a great performance,” says Jason.
“I taped it off of MTV when I was about 13. ‘Dirt’ was one of my favorite songs, seeing them play live instruments in addition to synthesisers and sequencers was mind-blowing to me at the time. I came across it when I was converting some of my old VHS tapes to MP4 files. Many of the other ‘Fashionably Loud’ performances had been put online, but the Death in Vegas one wasn’t there for some reason. I’d seen tweets and people on message boards asking if anyone had it so I figured I’d put it up on YouTube.”
“Thank goodness for Jason Hall, eh?” laughs Mat. “It’s a piece of history and these people are keeping it alive. It was great to see it.”