“It was just as well he was pretty because he wasn't very smart!”
WARNING: This episode contains a discussion about a real-life extreme violent event.
Aruan talks about his accidental outing at school and his lifelong music love of David Bowie, Prince… and Bucks Fizz!
Other subjects include the Russell T Davies HIV / AIDS drama, “It’s a Sin” and the homophobic murder of Jody Dobrowski.
A big thanks to our new Patreon subscriber Warren Woods whose generosity is allowing you to enjoy this episode.
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This episode contains content that some listeners may find distressing. Please consult the show notes for more information.
We're going to go down the Buck's Fizz rabbit hole!
And we all do it. I mean, we just got to call this what it is, you know, and own this Bucks Fizz... The Bucks Fizz shame.
I'm Dan Hall. I'm a gay man and I love my music. However, I've spent my life translating hetero normative content into my own story. So I'm speaking with Queer musicians from around the world who mirror and inspire my Queer journey.
Welcome to In The Key of Q.
Today, I welcome a musician who describes his sound somewhat tantalisingly as "Torch Song Electropop1. for the darker soul". Aruan Duval welcomed In the Key of Q.
Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Where did that description come from?
Um... it was me and my bandmates. We were just lounging around and drinking cocktails and just being a little bit bored and just sort of, you know, just sort of just what mates do sort of put together were just sort of just seemed like a nice description.
The stuff that we were writing, the musical side of it was is more, I'm going to say fun, whereas my lyrics are not so fun. And it was quite nice to put those two together and see what comes through there. And that's just kind of where we've got to. And you know, we came up with a name Furiku, which means "freak" in Japanese, and I kind of liked that as well. I quite like the idea of these bored Japanese teenage girls just sitting around just sort of waiting for something decent on the radio to come on and describes their dark, miserable lives. I don't know.
It just kind of ticks a lot of boxes for me.
Because there is a lovely mood to your music. It has a delicious filth about it.
That's it was is it's all very ‘80s based. It's all a bit tongue in cheek. And it's not really meant for PG audience. And we can talk about grown up things. Why not? And we can have fun with it.
Song Clip: Knights of the Opium Moon 2.17
Lying in waiting for the sunset
Breath bated for the sunset
My eyes dilating for the sunset
Yeah, my parents had a lot of vinyls and tapes and I sort of, you know, as I got into music, I devoured all of them, got myself into trouble all the time, playing, playing my dad's vinyls, you know, getting things out of Roberta Flack and Boney M. And I just thought it was all just like my parents' taste of music was quite varied, although similar. They were both they were both more Rolling Stones and Beatles, if that makes sense. Yeah.
So my mother would agree with them very much. She always thought this was a Rolling Stones girl. She says the Beatles were a little bit too clean.
Exactly. But, you know, as you know now, of course, I look back and say, oh, actually, although as a younger person, the Rolling Stones is much more fun, but as an older person. The Beatles are far more superior. I'm sorry. They are. And you get to a certain age when you realise, 'Are the Beatles better?' And you sort of drill into that.
You start listening to their back catalogue and you're like, 'Wow, this is really, really amazing, impressive stuff.'
And when you start drilling into it a bit more and you just always assume it's the John Lennon stuff, which is absolutely fantastic. But when I go through it and say, well, actually, oh, these are Paul McCartney tracks, I didn't see that coming.
It's always very empowering that moment in your life when you start to drill into music and start to realise, 'Oh, I actually like this or dislike this independently. I know lots of people are saying A - B - C, but in fact, I'm going, you know, X - Y -Z.
And your musical tastes change over the years. You know, I mean, I you know, I love listening to, you know, Bucks Fizz records, but, you know, that's not my musical tastes now. I enjoy listening to it because it evokes what that meant to me as a 10 year old, 11 year old or whatever it was then. But it's not the kind of music I would listen to if that was new music today, it would pass me by.
Now, I'm glad you brought up Bucks Fizz.
As I raised it, just like we've perhaps gone down, that we're going down the wrong rabbit hole.
We're going to go down a Bucks Fizz rabbit hole!
Let's see where this goes.
We've started, so we'll finish.
But, you know, my Bucks Fizz fan-boy-ness is supported by the fact that I managed to get my friend Stephen (Emms) into them, you know, and he is a good proper journalist, he's a muso, and he, you know, he only likes is really hard-core Pet Shop Boys songs that are in really difficult keys. And he's like super grown-up.
And I force fed him some Bucks Fizz. And I think it's fair to say that he resented it and didn't really want to do it. And then suddenly, you know, 20 minutes later I got a text back with him saying, oh, my God, "Cold War" extended version is stunning.
And then he fell down the hole!
Well, and we all do it. I mean, we just got to call this what it is, you know, and just own this Bucks Fizz shame. I don't know what. That sounds like an advanced cocktail, doesn't it?!
You know, "My Camera Never Lies", "Can't Stand the Heat", "When We Were Young". I mean, the production of those were just so good. And it was and it wasn't this throwaway bubble-gum pop that they came across as on television. You know, when you listen to and even now those records, I think, stand up today in terms of the production.
Absolutely. And the excellent songwriting team that they were a part of their songs were being pinched by other artists. I mean, people like Tina Turner and Cher.
You know, and the strongest of the species survives.
So what can we say about that? So well done Cher and Tina!
Bucks Fizz made them what they are today!
Song Clip: Knights of the Opium Moon 6.25
Ladies dusted in opium
Gentlemen in various colognes
Dukes & tramps / suckers & vamps
It's time to leave your homes
I'm waiting for you...
This podcast is very much about Queer identity, did you find music helped you start to find that within yourself?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. It was it was absolutely the saviour. I mean, this could have gone to a very dark place if it wasn't for the sake of music.l, so where are we now? So in:
And I seem to remember those like echoes of S&M because you had like a leather cap and chains or, you know.
Yes, it was all in black and the black eyeliner wasn't as neat as what you'd get in Spandau Ballet.
And it was just it was just it was just dirty and it was just it was just very appealing. I loved it. I mean, now we listen to "Tainted Love" and it's such a classic song. It's just part of our culture. It's just what it is. But then it was just like it was just so new and fresh.
I've never seen anything like it.
Because Top of the Pops was completely mixed genre, wasn't it? It was. It was probably the most powerful music programme in the country. And yeah. And you literally could have a piece of bubble-gum pop and then you would suddenly cut to the Smiths.
And it was the time when the charts were interesting and they had Top of the Pops played whatever was in the charts, whatever was climbing. And it could be, as you say, up and charts would be to follow these and sort of something. We would land in at number 35 and then it goes up a couple of slots and that it jumps 20 and that's a real big deal.
It was almost like a sport. It was the closest thing I got to sports was following my artists up and down. I'd be heartbroken when the charts would come out and it'd be like, 'Down two places' and you'd be like, 'NOOOOOO!'.
Song Clip: Jamadelic (Instrumental) 9.24
I'm reminded of a time at school and I kind of got into myself a little bit and sort of not really sort of engaging in too much of the work. And I just remember this boy in class walking around and is doing some sort of survey like "Do you prefer Madness or Wham?".
I mean, where the teacher was during all this, I don't know!
So, he came up to my desk and I just sort of waved dismissively and said, 'Wham'. And the whole room, the whole classroom just fell silent like, oh, shit. And I looked up and I it occurred to me that every girl said, 'Wham' and every boy said 'Madness'. And I was like, 'Oh, that's kind of my first coming out of sorts. And I didn't see that coming.'
And, you know, I mean, I'm not going to go down to the root of the bullying because that bullying did start after that. But, yeah, it was it was it was music that accidentally I came out by choosing the joyful tunes of George and Andrew!
Song Clip: Jamadelic (Instrumental) 10.42
And then Prince came along and it wasn't just the music.
I mean, even the music was like nothing I've ever heard before. It was the look, it was he was wearing high heels. He was androgynous and this whole fuck you attitude.
And I absolutely fucking loved it. And it made me feel special. And, you know, as a 13 year old, you know, and there's a lot going on in a 13 year old. And it just made me feel, yeah, as I say, it just made me feel special.
And it's a real powerful moment to have that escapism from the general horrors of those of teenage years. And, you know, and, you know, it's life saving. And I think that music that you go into.
I remember that first experience with buying Madonna's "Like a Virgin" album. And I got into Madonna just literally weeks before "True Blue" came out and I'd gone out and bought this LP. And before I'd even played it, I had such a strange sense of identity. And I really was the first time I'd realised that music can provide you, in a way, with an emotional outfit.
And it's that importance of putting a name to something or an identity to something.
Yeah. And you mentioned tribes earlier, and that's what it felt like there. I mean, even though at school no one liked Prince. But I made it even more special for me because like I do and I found my people, you know, I just felt really empowering and, you know, and it reminds me of the Bowie lyric. "Oh, no, Love. You're not alone." And that really, really resonates with you to know that there's other people like you out there and you might be in some, you know, backwater town and some crappy school or some crappy experience is going on.
And then you've got that. And oh, and of course, by this point, I mean, I haven't even discovered David Bowie yet. So, you know, we've got all of that mindfuck to come.
How did you discover Bowie and what was that moment like?
It was years later, I always felt embarrassed to say it. So when was "Let's Dance"? That was '82, maybe '82 / '83? And I don't know if you remember the look. The look was was very sharp suits and that it's about the most.
Quite loose-fitting suits weren't they? Quite linen'y. But it suits when they kind of linen'y type things.
Yeah. They're not quite zoot suits. But, you know, but it was it was it's just it just looks so handsome.
And it was the most I don't want to use the word "normal" because describing Bowie as "normal" is obviously a sin, but it's the most mainstream, most that he's ever looked. And so I didn't really... I loved the record.
I loved "Let's Dance". And I loved the album. And my brother had the vinyl.
We used to play it all the time, but I didn't really know all this history that was behind it many, many years later before I realised that there was massive back catalogue and just how Queer it is. And it was like,
'Why did no one tell me about this sooner?'.
It's both wonderful and also infuriating, isn't it, when you discover something from the past and you sort of feel like saying to the world around you, 'Do none of you see me? Did you none of you think to say and tell me about this?'.
Yeah. Or worse still, 'Have you heard about this fella called David Bowie? He's amazing!'
You know, you just broken a memory of mine. I remember going into a musical disagreement with my mother where I tried to convince her that Jason Donovan's second album was better than the Beatles.
I'm just... Oh, my God... poor woman.
Song Clip: W. Me 14.44
I am the one that makes me exciting
I'll awaken you to my devices
If you don't mind the trouble you can w. me
So join me in the bubble of imagine fantasy
W. me, w. me
Doing the maths, it becomes clear to me that you were becoming a young adult at a time when it was not a fun time to be a gay man in the United Kingdom or possibly in the world.
Watching "It's a Sin" in the recent weeks has been a bit of an eye opener, but just a memory. And I'm quite surprised how locked down that memory has been.
Aruan for those who haven't seen it yet could you explain what "It's a Sin" is?
So it is a drama about five kids that come from different backgrounds, different parts of the country, and they all come together in London and it's at the dawn of AIDS and these kids are grappling with that this is happening. Because we lived through it and because one didn't really know any different, it just seemed. Well, that's how it is, isn't it? And it's just like, well, if you don't know any different. Well, what's to know? It is what it is now, looking back at it, just like that's just awful.
It was so traumatic that we as a community went through that.
I certainly wasn't sure whether to watch it or not. I think Russell T. Davies, his writing is stunning. I absolutely love it. But I wasn't sure what I would get out of watching it.
Right. And I know some people that aren't ready to watch it. They're not in the headspace to watch. It absolutely breaks my heart that I mean, that is PTSD. You know, they just know what the ending is. And they, you know, I must of it when I when I started watching, I didn't really quite know where it was going to go and obviously no spoilers for anyone that hasn't watched it: it did go there.
And you're like, 'Oh, OK.'.
To me, I think it's one of the best dramas I've seen on TV probably since 'Six Feet Under'. It is the quality of it is just stellar.
Song Clip: Tokyo Hotel 17.25
All I have - have - have - have
Have is my Tokyo hotel
All I have is my Tokyo hotel
All I have is my Tokyo hotel
It's a cheery little number about a boy's HIV diagnosis. So it's about a boy that goes travelling the world and all sorts of adventures, everything's fine and lovely and bright lights and on the return journey that's when the diagnosis gets called in and the boy is like, 'Aaah. What do we do now? Do we do we go home with this? What do we do? Where do we go?'
These diagnoses used to come with not only obviously a potential risk to one's own physical health, but in fact, on top of that, a crushing disapproval and prejudice from the outside communities, from the rest of the world, as if, you know, the threat to one's own health wasn't enough for you to worry about. You had all this other nonsense.
You know, we've come a long, long way. You know, marriage equality, you know, equal age of consent. And, you know, these all these legal barriers that we've knocked down. But there's still that stigma today about HIV. And it's still and it's curious why. That's why that's there.
So, yes. So that's what the song's about, having that diagnosis and just going. 'Shit, what now? What does this mean?' and trying to unpack it all.
Song Clip: Tokyo Hotel 19.13
Oh brother, feel the head pressure on floor 69
Waiting for my ears to pop
Oh brother, this is dead pleasure and I saw the line
Who, with, when, where, why, what… the fuck?
MySpace was, I guess it was even before Facebook and all that. So it was an online music platform. It was it was social media for music. So you can go and find independent music bands or even established bands. And it was just a really nice way of connecting the world and different music.
And, you know, for us, you know, we made friends and I'm putting that in quotes because we never met any of these people, or not many of them, you know, sort of other artists from Berlin, New York, Tokyo, Sydney, and even collaborated with these people without even meeting them and making music with these.
And it was just it was there's so much creativity. Because there was a lot of noise going on and with record labels about the unfairness of it and people signing really shit contracts and... Blondie, that they turned out to be broke because they signed some crap deal as well. How can Blondie be broke? You know, one of the most successful rock bands in history. How does that work?
So it felt like this refreshing new thing to get away from this mothership of corporate record labels. And it felt like this was very much the future. And we were racking up hundreds of thousands of plays across the records, the songs that we were posting up there. And it was just incredible. We were quasi pop stars, I guess. We were put in the music out there and we were sticking it to the man.
And what killed that?
It became quite naff, quite quickly. It did actually feel like to come down, because you know the rise of it and the success of it and the stuff that we really enjoying. And then it just sort of I just felt like this has come down a little magic and gone all the creativity just sort of like left the room. It's it was just like, 'Yeah. OK, fine. Let's go offline.'
Song Clip: Come Closer 21.19
I’m coming, I’m coming…
Dan 21.34n incident in South London in:
Song Clip: Come Closer 21.50
Hear me call your name
All you know is now over
I will ease your pain
There’s a new world to find
Let’s leave this behind - come closer
If you feel the need to come closer
Yeah, as you say it’s about Jody who was twenty four, I think, and he worked in a bar here in Clapham. Walking home and basically got kicked to death on Clapham Common,
And I know it affected a lot of us. The incident, the crime is just so unspeakably horrible and horrific. And it just seemed really shocking that it happened then and on our doorstep. I'm going to say that was another factor. And it really, really, really upset me, as I know did a lot of people.
And so I wrote the song the following day, following morning, I think I tried to imagine that the perhaps the split second from the brutality, the pain of it to the point of dying. Was there a moment where, I don't know, the angels came down to tell him it's OK, put their wings around him and take him away?
Well, I just wanted him to know that, you know, there is love out there, there are more of us than there are of them.
Song Clip: Come Closer 23.38
If you feel the need to come closer
It’s beautiful - feel my love
Let me take you higher
To paradise above
There’s a new world for us
Where love is a must - come closer
I think one of the values of Queer visibility is not only allowing us not to feel alone and seeing ourselves reflected back, but I think there's also an element of stopping non-Queer people feeling so frightened of us when they can just see us as normal people.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. So I think the story of Jody is just like, well, so 'What do I do? Just let this kid go about his business, go home after he's had a heart shift wherever he works, or will I kick into death?'
How does that brain function that that's even a question?
Song Clip: Go! Go! 24.40
What do you think your 15 year old self would think of the music that you've created?
Oh, good question. Gosh, so this is this is 50 year old Aaron talking to 15 year Aruan?
That's the one.
What would I say? I think I'd say, 'Don't give up. Don't give up so easily. Put yourself out there. Don't be afraid. You know, you're a darn good songwriter. Go get them, kid.'.
And would you like the album, do you think?
Do you think you'd understand it?
No, definitely not! It was just as well he was pretty because he wasn't very smart.
So one of the main ambitions of this podcast is to introduce people to Queer music that they might not have heard before. And I think often one of the best ways to introduce someone to an artist is to have a sort of gateway drug into their catalogue. You know, that one song that's going to lure people in to your mood and your whole feel and your sound. Out of your songs, what do you think would be the best gateway drug?
I'm going go with "Go! Go!". We've talked about quite a few of the songs that have some sort of dark meaning. And I think "Go! Go!" is a good gateway drug because it's just a bit of fun and I love it. And actually, it was it was it was actually the first track that we record thinking about it. So, yeah, that that makes sense to be my gateway song.
Song Clip: Go! Go! 26.26
Excuse me, sir
A little something for the weekend?
Your just desserts
Cherry-topping, body-popping revenge
Excuse me, Miss Lady
Aruan Duval has been absolutely lovely to have you on In the Key of Q and thank you for not deleting your album of the platforms.
Keep it on there, darling.
Thank you so much for having me. And can I just say excellent title to the podcast. Top notch. Well done. I love you.
Thank you very much, Sweetie.
Song Clip: Go! Go! 27.14
… on the dance floor.
Girls and boys, go! Go!
If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in this episode, please consult the show notes for support links.
Song Clip: Go! Go! 27.36
Go ‘cause we gotta…
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See you next Quesday!
Song Clip: Go! Go! 28.07
Blow, yeah you oughta
Go! Go! Why don’t cha?
She’s a hip shooter
He’s a VIP groover
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