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Baker's Dozen

Heavenly Chorals: Gazelle Twin’s Favourite Albums
Hannah Pezzack , March 30th, 2022 10:29

From aliens, immortality and the early electronica of sci-fi films, to the sublime, immersive harmonies of devotional music, Gazelle Twin talks to Hannah Pezzack about thirteen albums that influenced her

Photo by Victor Frankowski

Elizabeth Bernholz is sipping a cup of coffee in a brightly lit, white-walled room of her rural, West Midlands home. The house, she tells me, is a former chapel situated “out in the sticks” of the rolling countryside between Nottingham and Manchester. It’s a more than a fitting location, resonating with the fascination with pagan sensibilities and the mystical character of England at the heart of her music as Gazelle Twin. Reverent as hymns, choral-style vocals snake through her discography, often manipulated beyond human recognisability, taking shape as hypotonic siren calls, cyborg choruses or fractured, breathy harmonies. Last year’s Deep England, her latest studio release, was made in collaboration with the NYX drone choir and is a dramatic reworking of 2018’s Pastoral - tQ’s number one album of that year. Both records reverberate with the darkest manifestations of the UK’s political psyche, exploring themes such as Brexit, fascistic nostalgia for a rose-tinted past, drawing allegories between medieval torture and the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.

Onstage, Gazelle Twin performs in one of a number of demonic personas, taking up the guise of a nightmarish court jester in Adidas Gazelle trainers and a blood red tracksuit, or as a monstrous reincarnation of her teenage self replete with a neon blue PE kit. Embodying these characters obliterates her own identity, giving her the ability to speak in a multitude of disjointed, antagonistic voices. Yet there's also a ritualistic function behind the costumes. For 2014's Unflesh, she appears on the record sleeve swaddled in a hoodie with a face made of raw meat, gnashing teeth barred. The outfit channeled Bernholz's alienated emotions towards adolescence and puberty allowing her to become a "strange puppet of that time" in order to "explore feelings and actions more." But far from being insular, Unflesh revels in the everyday horror of inhabiting a body, finding the same morbid pleasure with visceral corporeality that's present in the likes of David Cronenberg’s films. Take, for instance, tracks such as 'Belly of the Beast,' which opens with a supermarket checkout bleep before descending into a frenetically pulsating heartbeat, or the possessed glossolalia of 'Guts,' climaxing into a guttural scream.

As a composer, it's no surprise that Gazelle Twin is responsible for scoring such jump scare ventures as the Amazon series Nocturne and The Power, a supernatural horror set during the 1970s, in the old East London Royal Infirmary during the blackout darkness of power outages caused by striking miners. During our interview, however, she reveals a personal taste that lies more with science-fiction than horror, picking out the soundtracks from all three installments of the Alien franchise, The Terminator and the 1986 fantasy film The Highlander, a chronicle of an age-old war between immortal warriors featuring the triumphant Queen melody 'Who Wants to Live Forever.' The latter was a childhood favourite of mine too, and Bernholz and I trade anecdotes about watching the peacock feather-caped Sean Connery sauntering through breathtaking scenes of the Scottish wilderness to Michael Kamen's orchestral crescendos.

When I ask if she similarly set out to convey the grandiose landscapes and urban vistas portrayed in The Highlander through her debut record The Entire City, she pauses and turns to the wall behind her where a large framed image of the album artwork by Suzanne Moxhay hangs. She tilts the screen to show me the vista, tracing its grainy details. It depicts the ruins of a half-submerged citadel surrounded by rising water, misty mountains and a shadowy forest of pine trees. “I was reading a lot of J.G. Ballard around the time I wrote The Entire City,” she says. “And a question I kept coming back to what human civilization might look like in the future. If you were to look at the landscape we’re in now and zoom out to a really wide lens – what would that look like?” Inspired by a Max Ernst painting of the same title, there’s a seriousness and serenity to The Entire City that’s less evident on later releases. Composed before she found her “inner rage,” the record is utterly ethereal, containing panning synth-scapes and piercing, reverb-laden vocals. “It’s very pretty music,” she admits. “Which is surprising, given how DIY the method of making it was. My production skills were so minimal back then.” Despite my own gaping knowledge, it’s hard to agree here. But certainty there’s a transcendental simplicity to songs like ‘I Am Shell I Am Bone,’ where each roving chord carries impossibly heavy gravitas or the sinisterly stark acapella of ‘Bell Tower.’ Ten years on, with the record set to be reissued, I ask if she would have done anything differently. “No. There’s a lot in there that I wouldn’t do nowadays, but I deliberately didn’t change or edit anything for the reissue. The Entire City is a culmination of all the music I was listening to up until that point in my late twenties, much of which is included in these picks. It wouldn’t be right to alter it.”

Over the course of an hour, Bernholz regales me with tales of her childhood growing up near the sprawling Yorkshire Dales, a lifelong obsession with the Estonian composer Arvo Part and a friendship with Cosey Fanni Tutti. In fact, this is how I first found myself listening to Gazelle Twin – the 2016 Carter-Tutti remix of the titular track of Unflesh is an industrial earworm, all skittering rhythms, juicy, mechanical drops and looped angel-of-death cries. Producers such as Perc, Amelie Lens and I Hate Models have also released reworks, the intricate metal cogs of Bernholz’s compositions translating lucidly into throbbing techno. At the core of all of these incarnations of her sound, however, lies the desire to weave stories about our primordial existence and uncertain political future; sonic fictions that unfold on both macro and microcosmic levels.

The reissue of Gazelle Twin's The Entire City is released on vinyl and CD on April 29. It includes a "twin" album of never-before-released music called The Wasteland. To begin reading her Baker's Dozen, click the portrait below