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LIVE REPORT: Chicks On Speed
Melissa Rakshana Steiner , July 8th, 2014 15:20

Melissa Steiner finds the music-art collective high on glitter paint but low on challenging inventiveness at the UK launch of their single Utopia last week

Photograph courtesy of Steven Hughes

The hopelessly hip Ace Hotel in Shoreditch was the backdrop to art/fashion/music ensemble Chicks On Speed's UK release of 'Utopia', the first single off their new album Artstravaganza. The venue's curated-creative schtick is the sort that sets my teeth on edge, especially when it's a bitch to find the actual gig room, and it's only made worse when the entry stamp on your arm says "Shoreditch". I last saw Chicks On Speed 11 years ago at the tail end of electroclash. That time was in a rock & roll pub, an arresting context for the group's feminist, consumer-critique euro-disco. Using the Ace Hotel by comparison felt lazy, like someone looking to showcase an "art band" had bought into the Shoreditch marketing a little too hard. It made for a neat connection with the single 'Utopia', though. The song explores the notion of utopia in the digital age, tied up as it is with gentrification and consumerism, pop-ups and start-ups and social media. So maybe the choice of location was deliberate. But I dunno. It was difficult to get excited by it.

COS core members Melissa Logan was joined by long-time collaborator Anat Ben-David and dancer Kroot Juurak, with Logan and Ben-David exchanging spoken/rapped vocals and controlling the sound, leaving Juurak to create exhausting-looking shapes in front of a backdrop of projected film clips. The set was comprised of songs from the new album, including the multi-layered, danceable single itself, an excellent disco/deadpan cover of Talking Heads' 'Burning Down The House' and 'Plastic Bag', which reworks the lyrics of the X-Ray Spex song of the same name.

Being as concerned with the art as the music, it was no surprise that costume played a big part. Experimental London label Boudicca Platform 13 dressed the group, and bright fluoro lycra, giant fin collars and strips of glitter paint augmented the energetic playfulness they brought to the stage. The performance was as awkwardly spontaneous as when I first saw them all those years ago, and I was disappointed that some of the more interesting elements they have incorporated into recent Artstravaganza performances didn't make it to this London show. COS have developed six apps to accompany the album and audience members have used these to compose and mix live sound in real time, challenging the notion of the audience as passive consumer. There was nothing like this tonight. As far as smashing the invisible wall went, all that was on offer was a large shiny gold sheet that was passed into the audience and which became a damp liability by the time it had passed over my head for the sixth time.

The crowd greeted the new songs with the enthusiasm but the freshness and challenge of early COS wasn't present. I left feeling like there should have been more to it. Where were the guitar shoes? The ObjektInstruments the band has pioneered? It felt a little bit like (to quote the band) "art for art's sake", just going through the motions. This is a band that has something interesting to say, they just weren't saying it tonight.