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Three Songs No Flash

Fruity, Creamy, Squelchy: Lone Taxidermist & Aja Ireland Reviewed
Melissa Steiner , August 29th, 2017 08:15

A damp, dark basement is filled with custard, cream and oozing thudding bass. Melissa Steiner reports back from the launch gig for Lone Taxidermist's new album

I'm having a laugh to myself thinking about experimental sound artist Aja Ireland's Facebook description of herself as a 'singer songwriter'. Of course, she is a singer who writes her own songs, and delving back a couple of years into her musical past on YouTube, this description is fairly apt. Her live in session on The Beat on BBC Radio Nottingham in 2014, for example, is a Lorde-esque unconventional pop performance, with Aja styled in 1950s curls and winged eyeliner, pure vocals smooth over controlled electronic beats.

Three years later and here she is writhing on the beer-soaked floor in the basement at the Red Gallery in Shoreditch, bent backwards like Regan in The Exorcist, screaming like a wronged soul while the venue shudders under the weight of the metal-twisting bass emanating from her sound desk.

So, probably not the first thing that springs to mind when you think 'singer songwriter'. Indeed, about 10 minutes into the performance a woman in front of me tells her friend she has to leave. When her friend asks if she is okay, the woman nods her head yes, and then shakes it no before making a quick exit. This about sums it up. It's amazing and it's not okay.

This is the release party for Trifle, the new album by Lone Taxidermist aka Natalie Sharp, and Aja is the opening act. I'd read that Lone Taxidermist performances tend to be tactile and messy, and the promotion for the party promised lashings of artificial cream and custard-filled inflatable vaginas.

A while after I arrive I notice other audience members have donned plastic aprons, but I wasn't offered one at the door. This affords me a few moments of anxiety about what the hell is going to happen to me, until I realise how flimsy these aprons are; they won't save anyone from random acts of dessert-based terrorism. Instead, they make the audience look like a gang of expectant butchers. Stretched black and clear plastic criss-crosses the venue, turning it into a giant spider's fetish den, and surreal short films projected onto the wall include body horror shots of people pulling the gunk out of their pores with charcoal face masks.

Two figures dressed in brightly coloured Missy Elliot-style puffy suits, wearing Japanese mouth stretchers (£4 online if you want to look like a scary sex doll) guard the door, forcing punters to squeeze through them to get inside. They are part of the Lone Taxidermist contingent, who, along with her Arse-onists (the artificial cream sprayers) mingle with the audience during the performance, causing chaos and wrapping everything in sight in plastic. Sharp, draped in yellow rubber gloves and emitting some distinctly Nina Hagen vibes, is accompanied by Philip Winter and Will Kwerk to perform Trifle, a surreal, dreamy, sinuously sexy and absurdist take on the quotidian realities of life.

The choice of Aja to support the release of Trifle is an inspired one. Engagement with gender and sexuality is integral to the music of both artists, though Lone Taxidermist uses fetishistic artificiality and grotesquely humorous archetypes to do this, while Aja goes straight for the exposed organs.

Performing in front of an ever-changing backdrop of her own acid-fried illustrations, Aja appears among the audience dressed in white satin puffy wing sleeves and a leotard, a strip of white across the eyes. She asks for silence before beginning her first piece, a dense layering of choral-like vocals. The crowd parts as she lunges through us, occasionally choosing members of the audience to cling to. Dressed in white and with the vocals rising in a crescendo of devotional noise, she's a fallen angel, a confused alien among humans. It's eerily beautiful, and the audience is coping well, until that event horizon of gut-lurching bass hits us with force; it's 'brown noise' if ever there was. The woman tells her friend she has to leave, and the crowd reshuffles, preparing for extremity.

What I enjoy is the fact that most of this crowd actually looks like Aja (sans the mutant angel costume). There are many young women with wild long blonde hair in attendance and it's a wonderful thing to be surrounded by at a harsh noise gig. At one point, dodging around, trying to see past a tall man, I think Aja has put a guy in a headlock, but then I realise it is actually his girlfriend giving him a hug. Still it seems conceivable that, inspired by Aja's raw and visceral energy, all the women in this room may go feral at any moment. At one point, Aja gets the women in the front row to scream into her mic, and this is recorded and looped in a cacophony of voices full of rage and catharsis which gives me chills.

Later in the set, Aja's angel wings are discarded and we're immersed in strobe and stabbing bursts of darkest techno. Despite the uncompromising nature of the music, there is a vulnerability to the performance as Aja roams around, almost pleading with us to understand this psychic pain and entangling us in her mic cord, trusting that we'll sort it out for her. Her experimentation with field recordings and the limits of sound make for a captivating sonic experience, while the attention to the visual is reminiscent of the theatricality of artists such as Peaches.

Lone Taxidermist finishes the night with a triumphant crowd surf across a sheet of plastic that has been passed over our heads. With plastic above us and wrapped all around us by the Arse-onists, it's like we're trapped inside a sweaty tupperware bowl. Colourful sprinkles are thrown on top, and so I guess perhaps the message is, we are all Trifle. Or maybe Trifle's going to kill us all. I'm not entirely sure, but I'm enjoying the ambivalence.

Aja Ireland photos by Laura Kate Bemrose. Lone Taxidermist photo by Dominic Owen.

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