Venue: Lighthouse, Brighton. Event: Progress Bar # 2.
Elizabeth Bernholz (aka Gazelle Twin) speaks openly about her hyper self-aware creative process and the perks and pains of neurosis, before performing a set from 2014’s critically acclaimed album ‘Unflesh’. If you don’t know Bernholz, imagine a demurely dressed, eloquent thirty-something with a political mindset and an aggressive artistic drive. If you don’t know Gazelle Twin, picture a demonically possessed teenage girl, slow body-popping to dirty synth beats in her school P.E. kit.
The hoodie and hockey socks are no gimmick; they’re pivotal to the message. And the message hits me hard as I am forced to remember my raging adolescence through ‘Bernholz’s words:
“I did not want to be in my own flesh. I wanted to be Carrie and set everyone on fire… the costume is about reclaiming those uncomfortable memories, becoming like a superhero.”
We see that the sportswear also represents the artist’s empathy with the disillusioned restless youth of today. She talks about growing up near Grantham, the lack of opportunities, of stimulation, rules applied to teenagers (like only four in a shop at any one time) that make them feel distrusted, ostracised, dehumanised. The London riots are referenced, “kids that have been shat out of the education system, their hormonal destructive tendencies colliding with the needing and wanting of stuff – consumerism.” I’m sitting there nodding along to her opinion that violence seems the obvious product of the chasm between young people and this crazy world.
These views are packaged neatly in Esther Springett and Bernholtz’s ‘Belly Of the Beast’ music video:
Images flash up on the projector screen: an ex-ray of a young skeleton, a bleak urban landscape, supernatural horror-children from Cronenberg’s ‘The Brood’. This is Bernholz’s ‘library’; the visual diary of her influences and inspirations, a collection of found images and photographs she and her friends have taken. “I’m an explosion of a person but I have to organise things in some way and visually organising them works for me.” She says. A possessed waif claws at our eyes from it’s 16:9 celexon container.
Corruption within the music industry is the other topic of this evening. How can an artist with big ideas afford to survive and create without the financial backing and persistent marketing of a large label? Perhaps in the way Gazelle Twin has done, by sticking up two fingers and making her Art her life without expectation of outward success. Three years previously, her self-released album ‘The Entire City’ was met with suitable hype, but lost momentum due to the lack of resources required to keep ramming it down the throats of the public. With ‘Unflesh’, that inescapable vibe of “I don’t give a shit what happens” seems to have aligned with the general feelings of the audience so closely as to have carved a deep scar.
Gazelle Twin brings her anger, her sexual phobias and her hyper-sensitivity to the stage. Well actually, there is no stage, we’re in a basement boardroom with the lights turned out. One floor lamp lights her from behind and the creature she has become appears to bear no resemblance to the woman presenting ideas to her seated audience upstairs, just minutes earlier.
I sit cross legged on the floor at the front, like in school assembly, my temples beginning to throb from the repetitive synth bass intro. There is a haunting of frequencies, a static energy ghost in the room (Bernholtz is a fan of Warren Ellis’ comics). I’m buzzing because it feels like I’m watching my own dark side. She is instantly mesmerising yet strangely disgusting and we know that is how she wants to be perceived. Briefly it strikes me as disappointingly refreshing to be watching a front-woman perform without using her figure to titillate.
So, the artist wants to take metaphorical revenge on society for the ills that impacted with violence on her perception of her own identity at such a turbulent developmental stage. We, her audience, should fear her persona. The result is not so much super-human as unhuman. Different laws apply to the way this creature moves, the sounds that are born from its mouth. This is a horror-show, but so sensitively and tastefully executed as to arouse our sympathies through our revulsion. This is political. This is now. I am euphoric in being allowed to feel my anger at society and transcend it in the moment through the enjoyment of music, particularly the heavier, dirtier, fuzzier, weirder and more frightening it gets.
FOR FANS OF FEVER RAY, GRIMES, BAT FOR LASHES, NITE JEWEL, ZOLA JESUS, CHELSEA WOLFE, DEAD CAN DANCE, M.I.A…
By Rachel James