It’s when Norman Cook slips a Guy Fawkes mask on while DJing in the House of Commons that dance culture can be said to have cheekily won its war with a parliament which once tried to ban it.
These days, the foolishness of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act’s outlawing of “repetitive beats” is plain to any but the most hidebound shire Tory. Still Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, is the first DJ to perform in parliament, and it feels like a small, belated victory. “Surreal,” his watching wife, Zoe Ball, concludes.
Cook’s mask, popularised by Occupy but inspired by Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s anarchist, anti-Thatcher V for Vendetta comic is, like rave culture, rooted in the late 1980s. But the reason for Cook’s set in a small Commons bar shows that culture’s maturity in 2013. It’s been organised by MP Mike Weatherley and the clubland youth charity Last Night A DJ Saved My Life, which aims to inspire and include under-25s.
Poet Sonny Green, who precedes Cook, is of that generation, and offers a vision of self-sufficient hope and organic community, where he thinks and cooks for himself, and dreams of “ destroying the machines”. If this taste of Parliament has helped his steely sense of mission, it’s already a success.
Cook begins with his standard, sampled gospel preacher’s invocation, gaining unique resonance here: “It then becomes our house…no one owns it.” If Zoe Ball wanted “surreal”, she might have glanced at the debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Non-Conflict Situations announced on the screens behind her husband, as the frequencies spin higher, and Cook slips on that mask. He plays the Big Beats style he pioneered, a funkier, more loosely hedonist House. Churchy organ crests into gospel-house ecstasy as several MPs in the small tent awkwardly loosen their ties. By the time Cook concludes with a stuttering, scratchy fragment of “Praise You”, people are forgetting where they are and dancing.
Cook is only the support act for competition winner Bryce Fury, who includes Jazz Age swing in an equally open-minded set. In the hall behind him, meanwhile, MPs are queuing to be photographed with Cook and a freshly painted, giant Smiley face. Any reviled raver wearing this symbol of E-fuelled abandon who imagined that 20 years ago would have known they were on one.