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Live Report: Gazelle Twin & NYX at Oval Space
Sarah Cohen , December 19th, 2018 17:38

Elizabeth Bernholz, aka Gazelle Twin, stages a spectacular new show with electronic drone choir NYX

Picture by Patrick Clarke

I wasn’t 100% sure if I was going to make Gazelle Twin’s Sunday night performance at the Oval space in Bethnal Green. It had been a weekend of travel from Cornwall through relentless rain and wind, straight to a large Chanukah gathering (it isn’t ‘Christmas for Jews’, cba to explain) with extended family and my gentile boyfriend for a bit of festive cultural exchange, and I had an important interview first thing on Monday morning. I wasn’t fully in the mood to hit the town that night – but I’d put on my sparkly boots and slightly overdressed for the family do, because of course I knew deep down that tiredness wasn’t going to let me miss a Gazelle Twin gig. It was the correct decision.

I saw her at Milhões de Festa in Barcelos this past summer, for a snarling bone-chilling performance that left me so awestruck and inspired I spent weeks evangelising about her album Pastoral, trying and probably failing to describe how she embodies the many voices of Brexit – the tension, the fascism, the longing for mythical sovereignty and the England of old, passive aggression, a society uncomfortable with itself, all backed by dense, pulsing beats. Gazelle Twin pranced around the stage as a demonic jester-thug playing the recorder and I thought, Wow, I wish I’d thought this up. So back in Brexit-land,I was ready for some critique on our crumbling government and also a bit of a dance.

Tonight’s production in collaboration with NYX electronic drone choir is an entirely different beast. Members of the choir, dressed in black with red-veiled faces, silently assume their positions in an orderly line, faces down, and it feels more like the start of a cult ritual than a gig. When Bernholz arrives on stage the playful, teasing jester is gone, replaced with something that oozes a new sense of feminine authority. Clad in a red jumpsuit and veiled in the same sheer net as the choir, there are echoes of the previous costume but this drapery creates an image that is closer to a mourning figure of The Madonna than a mischievous evil spirit.

The focus of the voice has changed too. The songs tonight are the more tense from the album; beginning with an elongated version of ‘Folly’, a pained “What species is this / What century?” repeated again and again by the choir in screeching highs and rumbling lows. The terrifying, satanic grin is gone, too, and instead we are posed with real judgements: Bernholz repeatedly points to the crowd during ‘Glory’, asking “Who are you?”, and we are entirely sucked in.

Perhaps I have been reading too much radical feminist fiction and am too eager to be swept up into a matriarchy, but the focus on lyrics and the inclusion of more women’s vocals seems like a nod to Bernholz’s views on our current political climate. There’s also more focus on her own unprocessed singing, brilliantly accompanied by NYX who are incredibly skilled technicians in their own right, merging visceral, scratching vocals with live electronic manipulation as they stand at their mixing desks. The layers of powerful, stinging voices, the costumes, the choreography and the strobe lights: the show has total command over its audience.

I am constantly astonished by Bernholz’s ability to turn a high concept into a solid, immersive, engaging performance. It is hard not to be entirely entranced by something so complete in its message; I forget all about my tiredness and feel entirely connected.