Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Lights and Music

Last week was for me, the week of the light show. *Echo effect* The Light Show, Light Show, Ight Show. This is because it was also the week of FuturEverything, a blooming fantastic music arts festival which, from my experience aims to woo its audiences with the instant gratification of a laser beams, mirrors and stamina-shattering stroke lights. Without really realising I'd filled my week with events from the FutureEverything programme with performances from Darkside, Dean Blunt and Evian Christ.

Darkside was a show that was unexpectedly soothing, projecting a lunar dreamscape across the room in the form of a mirrored orb and a sound that tiptoed between Pink Floyd and a road movie soundtrack. Pink beams of light swept over our heads like the surface of water and I felt like I was on drugs instead of two beers down. A few of the dilated pupils around me looked happy, so although I imagine it was mostly for their benefit I felt wonderfully blissed out too. I also considered whether I should adopt a no-festivals policy for the sake of enjoying live music in lab-like conditions where the sound and lighting is as controlled and joyous as possible and you stroll out converted, like the new member of a cult. 

Speaking of cults and feeling spontaneously blissed out and creepy, earlier in the week I caught a screening of Under The Skin. My gosh. What a film for feeling enthralled and terrified. It always amazes me when films like Under The Skin bookend the hype of Oscar season. Just as the collective obligation to attend the cinema and keep in the loop with cultural references dissipates then along come the films that are actually worthy of accolades. Mica Levi's hypnotic score has a lot to answer for and carries much of the film's strange beauty. While some part of the film made harrowing viewing the score, the images of black watery voids and of Scarlett Johansson as a predator in a white van were what stuck with me. I found myself at points almost revelling in the sight of Johansson's van cruising around the streets of Glasgow. What a novelty! The familiar image of the male lech completely inverted, and although I knew I was watching someone cold and dangerous I almost felt empowered by her view of the men on the pavement, suddenly vulnerable and gazed upon which is how anybody who has been yelled at from a white van will have felt. The documentary element of the film also blew my mind somewhat; with the most ordinary people you will see, to the point of being hyper-ordinary. And Scarlett Johansson, Claire's Accessories and constant references to Tesco supermarkets, all happening at the same time; everything about the film felt off and jarring, but wonderfully so. In a way that made me think that 'off' doesn't happen nearly enough. Other films that have stuck in my mind for feeling 'off' or completely new to me in their style are Holy Motors and more recently Nymphomanic. Off is good. 

Clockwise from top left: Dean Blunt, Darkside at The Ritz, the dark watery void in Under The Skin, white van preying in Under The Skin, Dean Blunt's normcore cap, the green lasers at Evian Christ and The Hall. 

And while I'm praising 'off'-ness, I suppose the highlight of my week was the Dean Blunt gig at Soup Kitchen. If we're talking about jarring, awe-inspiring newness then I'd say that Dean Blunt had all of those bases covered. On a side note- while I'm enjoying a renewed interest in going to gigs and listening to new music at the moment I'm not claiming that my 'new' is the same 'new' for you. Some of you lot may be in the habit of going to much more experimental performances than I am. But the Dean Blunt gig felt like a game-changer. 

My colleague Polly wrote a piece which sums up his musical style very eloquently. The gig started with about 10 minutes flat noise- almost static- and dimmed lights, and an audience that went from writhing with anticipation to relaxing into conversation before becoming restless again. Then it was all saxophones and beautiful Cranberries-esque vocals from Joanne Robertson and drum machines and Dean Blunt's flat singing style and sound effects. Dogs barking and glass smashing, sirens blaring. Musical genres flitted, the lights came up and down, and all the while a member of Blunt's band stood at the back of the stage doing absolutely nothing. Just standing still, with the purpose of looking ahead, hands crossed. At points his black outfit merged into the dark curtain behind him so that it looked like his head as floating in the same dark water of Under The Skin. The most intense strobe show I have ever had the unease and gradual pleasure of experiencing also happened. That was a good one for connecting the audience. The lights started off so intense that nobody could look at the stage and we all covered our heads like we'd cut an especially unforgiving onion. Everyone grimaced, framed by the lights into slow motion, watching each other and then very gradually the flashing slowed somewhat and it actually felt good. A bit like the feeling of eyes growing used to a dark room but in reverse, it felt manageable and actually comforting. But nothing about that performance was familiar and nothing could be pinned down. 

Did you read that recent piece about Normcore? Or one of the multiple others that circulated during the same week in which somebody finally named a sartorial non-style which many of us have been wooed by/trying to pin down for a while. Dean Blunt and singer Joanna Robertson were as normcore as they come; he in a baseball cap with a simple Nike tick and an outfit so non-descript and 'American Dad' that I can barely remember it. She wore an oversized North Fleece jacket which made it look like she'd come straight from a campfire to absorb the warm glow of the strobes too. The Nike and North Face logos weren't flashy, they blended in with the whole undefinable quality of the performance. Ultimately I felt like I had witnessed a performance piece and an artist who likes to fuck around and challenge his audience. It's always refreshing to watch an artist who is brave enough to do things boldly and risk losing you, but who has enough faith in the audience to do so. What I really want is to see him commissioned at the Manchester International Festival, given an extraordinarily large space somewhere and to see what he creates. Something similar to the Massive Attack and Adam Curtis outing at the last festival would do it. 

The swansong of the week of flashy lights and haunting scores was a performance from Evian Christ and The Hall. I hadn't heard of Evian Christ beforehand and did wonder if I would arrive and find it a top-secret operation, the unveiling of Kanye West's own brand of bottled water, which is frankly what the name alludes to. In my mind. Instead we were beckoned into a small theatre space and invited to sit on the floor ("like carpet time!" I exclaimed loudly) underneath a mirror, a laser and vacuum pumps. I just had to google what we were sat underneath. At the time I couldn't be totally sure. Were there two mirrors? Or was that other just a reflection? It was so dark I wasn't sure. I spent the next hour feeling hypnotised, watching streams of green laser beams splash and change form. Sort of like the visualiser settings that used to respond the music playing on Windows Media Player. Except right there in the air above us, responding to the sounds being produced by two baby-faced men, plugging and twisting at their synths and a complex series of wires beside us. I had no idea what was making all of this happen, but I sat blissfully unaware watching the dancing beams until it was all over and I was spit out into the light of day. 

I spend an increasing amount of time at work interacting with arts organisations and thinking about programming and creative practises which is fantastic and something I hope to continue to do. I do however find that my own personal time for writing and creating things take a hit and the last week has been a reminder to battle on with finding the time. I sometimes question the balance of attending film screenings and inspiring events if I'm not then able to put time into messing around and trying things out for myself. For now that's where this blog comes into play; somewhere to lay out things out and come back to later. In the mean time I've created a personal rider list containing two words: Light Show. 

PS, You can download Dean Blunt's last album Stone Island for free here. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This post is really great, loads of inspiring things here.

First of all, all the bands you named are pretty cool. I'd love to be there and watch all that. And Under the Skin, I'm eager to watch that film. It looks so promising with the trailer and the first images I've seen of it. All my "cinephile" friends are also excited about it. And I know what you mean with off films. I liked a lot Holy Motors, I'm actually a big fan of Carax even when his films doesn't make any sense at all the first time you watched them. They make you think a lot about what you've seen when you leave the cinema. Same with von Trier, and I've just watched Nymphomaniac a few days ago.

And I read that Normcore article. It has been all over the internet these last days. I found it 'cause I had to do a piece for a fashiong magazine about sport clothes and then I thought about how this has been a growing trend.

Thanks for all the links including the one to the album of Dean Blunt.