By: Emma Corcoran

Since its conception, DONT WALK has solidified its reputation as an event that consistently elevates the tradition of runway shows beyond the realm of purely fashion: it is a dynamic, hybrid, multimedia art performance constructed through the amalgamation of movement, visuals and sound, during which the human body transforms into an expressive canvas, and the catwalk, an immersive sensory experience. 

That being said, though people predominantly recognise DONT WALK as an event that celebrates fashion, those attendees, followers and committee members alike will attest to the fact that the music produced by the DONT WALK Music team is just as fundamental a component to the show's brand identity, and more generally, purpose of existence: the audio works in tandem with the visuals - the fashion, video installations, lighting and stage design - to communicate artistic expression; in other words, one cannot exist without the other. 

The theme of DONT WALK 2017 "Progress/Regress" (defined as "the tension that exists between progression and regression both on an individual and collective scale", to use their words) permeated throughout the show, but especially in relation to its thoughtful music selection. During the show's introduction, analogue synthesisers and electronic alterations produced envelopes of waveforms which created undulating rhythms and reverberating, short explosions of sound (think Blade Runner), as though the space itself had abruptly jolted awake. Rather than representing space, the music aspired to create it. Small snip-its of well-known, catchy pop songs (Coldplay and Rihanna, most notably) intermixed with throbbing beats came to follow, like a kind of teaser for what the rest of the night would bring, before the music faded. Here, the mechanical quality of the artificial electronic sound seemed to underscore one of the three manifestations of progress which the show's theme grappled with: "the mechanisation of technological advancements". 

Next, three musicians, two violinists and one cellist, took to the stage: beginning with long sequences of low-pitched, dissonant chords and ending with choppy, faster-paced chord progressions, the piece reminded me of Penguin Cafe Orchestra's "Perpetuum Mobile". It appeared a deliberate decision to isolate these musicians, illuminated by a spotlight: I could not help but feel that this referenced another of the three manifestations of progress pertaining to the show's theme: the "individual psyche". After all, it goes without saying that music undoubtedly has a direct correlation to human emotion, and those who create music feel a sense of attachment to their instrument as an extension of their soul.

After the musicians exited the stage, and a brief interlude of "Paroles, Paroles", a duet sung by Dalida and Alain Delon, first recorded in 1972, a distinguishable 'ding' evoking a countdown timer ruptured the moment. The inclusion of "Paroles, Paroles" embodied the concept of "Regress", and the electronic interference that catapulted the listener back to reality, the concept of "Progress": it is this dichotomy between where we have come from, where we are now and what we will eventually become that the show's theme explored throughout. 

The countdown timer continued, overlapping melodies rose to the forefront... a quick pause, then an explosive bass drop... and, well, the rest is history. You could say that in that moment, when the lights went up to fully reveal the stage, the models performed their stylised choreography, the bass thundered and the crowd screamed wilder, that the show lived out the final of the three manifestations of progress relating to its theme: "our societal drive". For it was in that moment, and throughout the entirety of the show, that every attendee - guests, sponsors and committee members alike - united as a collective whole, not only to celebrate creative spirit and freedom of artistic expression, but to raise awareness for charitable causes, spark discussion and inspire action.

Despite the length of the show - two hours of non-stop content (and entertainment) - the music never lost its momentum. Sing-a-long crowd-pleasers kept audience members bumping and bouncing: everything from "SexyBack" (Justin Timberlake, 2006) and "This Girl" (Kungs, 2016) to hits like "Voulez-Vous" (ABBA, 1979), "September" (Earth, Wind and Fire, 1978) and "Like a Prayer" (Madonna, 1989). These classic oldie-but-goodie throwbacks alluded to the other themes of DONT WALK Music 2017: "NUMB3RS" and "The Seasons". Over the course of the 2016-17 academic year, DWM hosted events such as "016" (songs of Summer 2016), "070" (relieving the 1970s), "Motown 1960" and "Zero Zero" (music from the 2000s) which reflected this year's theme through honouring different eras of music. Other events included "SUMMER", "AW17" and "Spring", quite explicitly employing music as a vehicle to capture the essence of each season. 

Image credits: DONT WALK Music 2017

Image credits: DONT WALK Music 2017

The concepts "Progress/Regress", "NUMB3RS" and "The Seasons" that defined DWM 17 thereby introduced a new generation of music: in the spirit of the old and the new, the music of DONT WALK 2017 demonstrated the way in which popular styles/genres/types of music continuously morph into something new and different - changes driven by the music industry embracing emerging technology and individual talent - but remain grounded in tradition. It's similar to the way in which fashion trends fade out but later make a comeback, reinventing past styles to give classic looks new twists: like the changing seasons and the passage of time, it all circles back.

All images courtesy of DONT WALK 2017: photography by Alex Massek and assisted by Sammi Ciardi on behalf of Ampersand Media.

ST.ART Magazine