This is a story which takes in a largely forgotten 80s singer songwriter, bare bottoms, and a sweating, salivating former prime minister. It's a story of regret, longing, and the short-lived effects of sudden fame. Along the way we'll meet movie stars and aerobics instructors. We'll learn about ourselves and the lives of others. This is the story of the video for "Call on Me" by Eric Prydz.
Every story has a beginning. Ours takes place in a flat in London. Huse Monfaradi, a director at the start of his career, was put forward for a music video job by a friend working at Ministry of Sound, the label who released Prydz's charbusting filter-house smash hit. "The commissioner from MoS was a friend of mine," Huse tells me down the phone, "and he said, "look this is a good opportunity, it's going to be a big track, you should do it." I wrote a really throwaway idea, about sexual aerobics. It was that simple." The idea that came to him within a minute of hearing the record for the first time went on to become one of the most significant pieces of public art of the 21st century.
"Call on Me" is a video that lives long in the memory. Even now, hearing just a split second of it on the radio is all you need to be transported to that sweaty, sexy, lewd, and incredibly crude aerobics class. While we've become so desensitized to sex that you half expect Antiques Roadshow to feature a bukkake scene or two, there's something so genuinely real about the video, something so almost tactile about it, so genuinely filled with priapic longing and lycra-encased lust that watching it now, feels like an act of genuine transgression.
To find out exactly how and why the video for a relatively unknown Swedish progressive house producer entranced and seduced a nation, I set out to track down its key players.
"In pre-production, in shooting, in post production, even in editing, I don't think anyone really felt it was over the top, or extraordinary or even erotic," Huse remembers. Now, given that this is a video in which an aerobics instructor, played by Deanne Berry, and her crew of nimble bodied dancers virtually fuck a sweat-soaked lone male, played with gusto by Juan Pablo Di Pace, over a thuddingly monotonous, MDMA-spangled soundtrack, that might seem like a slightly naive attitude. After all, this is a video so saucy that disgraced warmongering former-PM Tony Blair actually fell off his rowing machine while watching it for the first time. For a second, if I can be so bold, imagine that scene: Blair, in his little white Donnay socks and shiny PE shorts, probably wearing a grubby old t-shirt with some Labour slogan on the front, pumping away on the machine, his biceps glistening with sweat, his teeth clenched, his whole body arching and straining, like a dolphin trying to break free of one of John West's infernal nets, a semi billowing around his boxers, eyes on stalks watching "Call on Me" for the first time. There's a fall and a thud and Cherie arrives, barging into the No.10 gym, aghast at the sight that's unfolding. That's how salacious a video it was, and still is.
The video, for all of Huse's efforts, wouldn't have been the video it is had it not been for the fundamental thing that makes "Call on Me" as memorable as it is: the dancers. Now, dancing and dancers are an elemental part of pop music and have been ever since Elvis started shaking his dick around on stage so much that American broadcasters had to film him from the waist up. Pop music makes people want to sing, cry, fuck, and dance. "Call on Me" probably makes a certain kind of person want to do all of those at once. So, like any rational person writing an article about the video for "Call on Me" by Eric Prydz, I tried to track down those dancers. Things didn't pan out as planned.
Aside from a quickly turned around cash-in workout DVD—this was when people still bought workout DVDs by the truckload, and in every dream home there was a heartache and a copy of 5 Step Fat Attack with Claire Richards from Steps—churned out by Ministry of Sound, Pump It Up! The Ultimate Dance Workout, the cast were never reunited. Which meant tracking them down was difficult. The search for Deanne and Juan, for Laura More, Franky Wedge and Laura Jayne Smith, Rosy Hawkins and Laura Bowle led me to deeply sad, strange parts of the internet, parts of the internet I knew always existed but was too afraid to search out for myself.
This is the thing about "Call on Me" that makes it such an interesting pop culture phenomenon, one that was spoofed by cancer charities, the Royal Marines, and this terrible metal band—it is a perfect example of Physical Anonymity. No one in the video is named. Really and truly, no one in the video is anything other than a lump—a taut lump admittedly but still a lump—of bronzed flesh. The camera longingly and lovingly gazes at breasts and buttocks, to the point where even faces are nothing more than mere accessories. This preoccupation with physicality is interesting for a few reasons. Firstly, because it boldly frames the participants as purely physical, purely sexual objects, rather than pretending to imbue them with anything as troubling as a "personality." Secondly, because it demonstrates the pure potency of flesh on screen and forces us to consider our inherently scopophilic relationship to video as a medium, which is always important when you're watching the video for a third rate house record. Thirdly, and most vitally, this physical anonymity is a means by which the self is eradicated and replaced by a body in it's purest form, which in turn means that nearly everyone involved in the video seems to have sunk without a trace.
Before beginning the research for this article, I thought I knew what a sad sentence was. I'd read enough novels to have a slight grasp on what a bleak, destructive, genuinely depressing and depressing collection of words was. Now I know I've been wrong all this time. The single darkest thing you can ever, ever read is thus:
There is no information about this dancer - please let us know anything you know below.
Fuck Hemingway and his baby shoes, this is the real miserable deal. In a world where everything about you as a person—every whim, desire, predilection—is searchable and retrievable, the lack of concrete information available about a group of people who are otherwise enshrined in the permanency of this music video is about as depressing as it gets. Especially when that news is delivered to you via a website that looks like this:
The final resting home for most of the "Call on Me" cast was here, at Music Video Babes, a website dedicated to cataloguing the various babes who've appeared in music videos over the years. The site has little time for anything that even resembles traditional biography, preferring to stay firmly rooted in the realm of Physical Anonymity, where all that matters is those all important vital statistics. There's something, probably mildly significant, to be said about the reduction of a human being to a set of numbers, but this is a piece about a tawdry bit of masturbatory nonsense that sold a lot of records and kept Kleenex in business for a while so we'll leave that article to someone a bit brighter.
The point is thus: despite being in possession of bodies which thanks to their brief moment of fame are almost instantaneously recognizable, these dancers are nothing but anonymous cyphers, empty vessels. And so what? Most of us go through life without making a mark. Most of us live and work and die and are remembered only by a select few who go on to die themselves, and eventually, our name, all of our names, become nothing more than a whisper in the wind. It doesn't matter that Franky Wedge didn't go on to become a massive celebrity. Because that isn't the point of art. Art does more than that. Art makes us immortal. Art is both a way of celebrating corporeality and totally destroying it.
And, to any doubters out there, "Call on Me" definitely is a work of art. It is amazingly lurid, amazingly tacky, amazingly brash and amazingly bold. It takes life and turns it up to 11, instilling a mundane situation—the act of going to an aerobics class—with an incredibly potent sense of primal sexuality. This is its power in a nutshell: it takes the everyday and finds something incredible in it. Sure, as a piece of art "Call on Me" verges on the problematic—all that bare flesh, presented baldly there, without context, without any sense at all of it belonging to anyone, presented as pure object— but come on, anything that has such a pervasive, wide-reaching impact on a nation's psyche deserves to be valued on some level, and maybe even cherished.
It should play on a permanent loop at the entrance of the National Gallery, for this is the real art of the people. It is a perfect capsule, a pristine embodiment of early 21st century desire. It is fetishistic and inclusive at the same time. It speaks to all of us, whether we'd like to admit it or not.
The best thing about "Call on Me?" It nearly never happened. We were very, very nearly robbed of it's throbbing delights. "Half an hour into shooting it," Huse tells me, "we lost all power. A digger cut through the power lines and we nearly scrapped it for an insurance job." A world without the video for "Call on Me" is a world that's nigh on unimaginable. Deanne and Juan and the rest may have vanished, but they'll always be there, in our hearts, in our minds, in our pants.