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Gazelle Twin and Pantha Du Prince Talk Site, Space, and the Suburban Horror of J.G. Ballard

Ahead of their Illuminations performance, we discuss the possibilities for alternative modes of live music.

by Josh Baines
11 November 2016, 1:57am

This post ran originally on THUMP UK.

What do you want on a Friday night? A few quick pints after work, maybe a cheeky plastic tub of korma eaten with absolutely no remorse whatsoever, rounded off by a few furiously sweaty hours in a nightclub, safe in the knowledge that you probably won't be in work the next day? That's great and everything, but some people want more from the end of the week.

Two of those searchers and strivers are Hendrik Weber (AKA Pantha Du Prince) and Elizabeth Bernholz (better known as Gazelle Twin). This coming Friday sees them taking the stage at the Electric in Brixton, for the final part of this year's edition of Illuminations, a series of events that seek to explore the relationship between music, film, and art, where they'll be joined by Kompakt's micro-manipulative maestro The Field.

The trio have come together to conduct a kind of experiment into the limitations—and advantages—that come from using a traditional club space as a site for forward thinking electronic music. Ahead of the performance, we sat in on an incredibly interesting conversation between Hendrik and Elizabeth. Read the results below.

What can we expect from both Illuminations as a whole, and your shows in particular? Pantha Du Prince: Expect nothing. The show is about taking the audience to the place I am in when I create music. Basically I try to give an insight into what happens to me when the music takes shape and comes into existence. My approach is something like a unification process of all the senses that we have as human beings. I try to provide an experience that gets close to what I experience when this whole process is rolling. It's an atmospheric dance that evolves throughout the set and hopefully the audience will embrace the connection between the visuals and the audio.

Gazelle Twin: This show, Kingdom Come is based on the last novel by J.G. Ballard, which is very much a kind of English, suburban, horror landscape. It's a very prophetic vision of where things are going which is eerie because I wrote it way before the whole Brexit thing happened. In a nutshell, it's about suburban life becoming tribalised in the presence of an enormous shopping centre, which takes on an almost religious role. In a world of ruthless consumerism of emotional and cultural tolerance. You don't need to know Ballard, or the book, or London's suburbs to understand the show.

Both shows seem to be about the need to remove electronic music from the traditional club environment. Hendrik, you're talking about taking people to this higher state of awareness, something more introspective and Elizabeth, you're talking about it from a very political angle. Is that fair? Pantha Du Prince: For me, it's travellng with a community of people where I don't know where we're going but we all decide together. I always think it's misleading to say that it is not a political act. I think there is a general misunderstanding of what is political and what is personal because the two are so intertwined, so I think it's very important to put emphasis on this aspect of what "political" actually means and how society can change and how civilisation progresses. J.G. Ballard deals with that very high state of consciousness, where you almost hover in a dream state. It's political information that's also based on psychology. It's how subconscious states and dream states are interconnected, and how that influences people on their political actions and everyday lives.

Thinking about the audio visual in a more general sense, how dependent is success on the use of venues? Pantha Du Prince: My experience recently is that people want to see shows but don't necessarily want to go to a club. And that turns the whole thing upside down. You redefine the space you're in. We are at this turning point where people are more and more open and ready to receive new forms. What I think is important is that we create new spaces that are not predefined. It could be a challenge for museums, it could be a challenge for concert halls. Clubs feel limited now. For a time in my life, it was the biggest liberation I knew, but humankind has moved on and we need new formats. What you do, Elizabeth, is really interesting and challenging because it operates on all these levels where you can address people. Whereas when I started, these doors were closed, you couldn't address people on these levels.

Gazelle Twin: My background is in classical music. I wanted to be composer and write music for orchestra and films, you know like sitting in the BBC Studio Maida Vale whilst a massive string orchestra plays my music. But that hasn't happened. I started that route and quickly got incredibly bored of that traditional world—it has a lot of limitations that really frustrated me. When I went to concert halls, I would would want leave halfway through because everything was so stale and I would feel so tense in my seat because I couldn't react to the music. That's the problem with classical concerts: you want to punch the air, you want to physically act but you can't. You wait just to clap.

With regular gigs, the venues were limited with the three bands a night set up. Everything was so rigid. Which is why anything vaguely theatrical is just seen as lavish and gimmicky. It's not about that, it's about everyone's individual experience and about the message of the creator and you kind of have to shed everything and give yourself over to it. If it doesn't reach you then that's it. There's such a fine line between the piece of music or performance reaching people or totally losing people. I've definitely experienced various signs of that. There was one experience had where I definitely thought that I had lost everyone. It was the very first performance I did of my last album Unflesh. I was invited to perform at the BFI in London as a support gig. I came dressed up in my hood and I was playing a really short set of demos mostly. I was stood of in front of this seated audience, all totally silent and I was just like this was so wrong, this is not going to come across at all, what am I doing here? I almost left during the show, I was so nervous. But because I had chosen costume and chose a kind of awkward physical performance, people actually were kind of reassuring and came up to me afterwards saying that it was unlike anything they've ever seen before.

Can you name somewhere you would love to stage your music now that there are these new avenues you can pursue with electronic music and audio-visual performance?
Pantha Du Prince: I like to walk in the space and sit down and listen. I like to experience certain sonic architectures and as an artist I want to create them. This is something I find highly interesting and something that I am working on right now. I am looking to find funding actually, because there isn't a specific format to adhere to. You could work with a theatre but then you'd have to stick with that format, or a museum, or a gallery where you're in the art world and you have to deal with that scene. It's something that I deal with all the time, like how do I define what I do and who connects?

One solution is to make completely acoustic music, to get away from the digital. But unlike Elizabeth, I don't have any education in that sense. I learnt my music at home and played a lot of instruments but I was never really pushed into an education system. I found my own way to create and record music at a very early stage.

Elizabeth, have you had a think about somewhere? Elizabeth: Yeah, one of the things that first came to mind was when I was commissioned to do the Kingdom Come show, was whether or not I would be able to get it performed in a shopping mall in the daytime. The ultimate contrast and the ultimate uncanny to really make something that cuts through so strangely into everyday life. There's an artist called Mike Nelson, he creates totally believable spaces within art galleries so you would walk into a room that's been all boxed off and suddenly you are in a minicab office in Iraq or somewhere. He will do it down to every single detail—smells, sounds, every prop, every object. I just found it so amazing, it was the ultimate art experience. It totally takes over all of my senses and makes me feel strange, confused, dizzy almost. If I can kind of try to recreate that with a live performance somehow, somewhere then I'd be very happy.

Pantha Du Prince and Gazelle Twin appear alongside The Field at Electric Brixton this Friday as part of the 2016's Illumination series of events.

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