Saturday, August 6, 2016

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: The Nomi Song (Andrew Horn, 2004)

Klaus Nomi is one of the most fascinating and original musicians I have come across. While his music is not really my thing, I have been fascinated by his unique approach and how fully realised his project was. Nomi was a counter-tenor singer of arias and pop songs long before these things were popular, and he did so while building an androgynous, alien persona which felt completely his own and perfectly in sync with the blend of musical styles he operated in.

Today, if you recognise the name and face, it is probably from his appearance backing David Bowie on Saturday Night Live in the late seventies, or his great cameo as one of Bowie's henchmen on The Venture Brothers


I first heard about Klaus Nomi in 2013 via a podcast. The hosts were listening to 'scary' sounds, and one of the clips was a Klaus Nomi song. The clip was his live performance of 'Cold Song'. It was a case of poor taste --  Nomi was dying from AIDs-related illnesses at the time it was recorded and the performance was one of his last.

Interest piqued, I looked him up and fell down a rabbit hole. Eventually, I came upon this documentary on Youtube.

If you want to learn about Nomi, The Nomi Song (2004) is the perfect introduction.

Beginning with a clip from the fifties sci-fi classic It Came From Outer Space (Jack Arnold, 1953), The Nomi Song perfectly encapsulates Nomi's unique persona and appeal.

A trained opera singer, Nomi was a German immigrant who found his home and muse in the New York City of the mid-seventies. While the city grappled with a massive deficit, crumbling infrastructure, crime and blackouts, its arts scene was a vibrant site for improvised, handmade art. In this environment of like-minded outsiders, Nomi began to develop a show based around his unique counter-tenor. Singing arias and pop covers, Nomi was impossible to label, and was at the forefront of what New York's art scene signified.

As well as a chronicle of a unique talent, the story of Klaus Nomi is the story of a specific time in American underground culture. We get interviews with, and vintage footage of, icons of the new and no wave scenes,  building a picture of a man and a time that will probably never be repeated.

I won't spoil the movie, but it is a terrific balancing act between exploring Nomi's talents, and his less successful personal life. As his success grew, Nomi began to ignore the collaborators who had written his songs and helped him gain the spotlight.

Overall, this is a terrific documentary, and is definitely worth a look.

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