In 1983, a precocious scenester brat from Detroit, who’d made a bit of a name for herself in underground New York clubs like the Danceteria, played a brief PA at the then-scummy Camden Palace to try and flog copies of her single ‘Everybody’, a stripped-down electropop tune, informed by the emergent house music of the era. ‘Everybody’ flopped, but her second single, the vastly inferior ‘Holiday’, fared better, and Madonna went on to be the high priestess of the dancefloor, and the arguable architect of popular music as we know it. Hooray!
In 2005, Madonna is a genteel Englishwoman, and the Camden Palace is KOKO, a grand, chandelier-adorned hot-spot for secret London shows (including a recent Coldplay gig, where Madge’s mate Gwynnie turned up to a paparazzi storm). Tonight’s exclusive show is to promote ‘Confessions On A Dancefloor’, and could turn out to be the most spectacular yet. Triumphant in every sense, the new record takes Madonna back full circle to her clubbing days, using the exact same influences as she used in 1982, but replacing Jellybean Benitez with Jacques Lu Cont to give the sound a psychedelic future-house re-rub. New Order and the Pet Shop Boys – who both owe their careers to the same collision of the NYC and UK undergrounds – are here to pay their respects. Outside, the already giant ‘KOKO’ writing is upstaged by the three-times-as-big ‘MADONNA’ in silver font, and the already glitzy interior is transformed via a few mirrorballs and an endless supply of free cocktails – upstairs and downstairs. Socialist decadence – don’t you just love it?
Number One single ‘Hung Up’ has proved one of the most divisive pop smashes of recent times, but as the mongy bass cranks up and the ABBA sample wafts in, the competition-winning crowd goes bananas and the yogic Madonna strides onstage in purple boob tube and wraparound shades. And you can’t help feeling history in the air. It’s a meticulously stage-managed return to source, of course.
“The first time I played Camden Palace was 22 years ago! I want to tell you how fantastic it is to be back!” she announces. While it’s obvious she wouldn’t remember one stinking PA out of hundreds, it’s the thought that counts. From ‘Get Together’ (‘Frozen’ by way of Vitalic’s ‘La Roc #1’), the song morphs into the hilarious ‘I Love New York’ (“But I love London too!”), which in turn collapses into the thumping mantra ‘Let It Will Be’, itself referencing ‘Papa Don’t Preach’. And, after a cheeky rendition of ‘Everybody’ with added bass bins, she’s gone. And it’s easy to forget, amid all this intertextual pop history, the simple reason that Madonna made it all the way to the top. Which is that nobody (even our own Alex Turner) can own and command a stage like Madonna. To see that in a place this small, where it all began, with material that does her justice, is to be touched, for the very first time.