As you’d expect from any other of the out-there acts in Manimal Vinyl’s obscure LA cool pool (Rainbow Arabia, Warpaint, The Polyamorous Affair), Hecuba’s brand of witchy electro-art pop is so hot right now. Another camera-friendly boy/girl duo from Southern California, they’re easy to typecast, harder to pin down.
On the surface, their thing’s sparse trip-hop adorned with didgeridoos, train whistles, boings and purrs and not much else; Paradise either ekes out a carefully crafted eclectic minimalism, or it’s just criminally kitsch. Maybe it’s just the classical referencing of the band name, but not one of these songs would be much out of place in a spoof of sixties B-movie Jason and the Argonauts, alongside The Bangles’ Walk Like an Egyptian. Appropriate then that the pair first worked together on science-fiction musical projects (whatever those are).
That’s not to say they all sound the same. On ‘La Musica’, dark dub grooves peppered with Albuquerque’s clear-voiced chorus mutates into robotic siren song and spacy ska. ‘Extra Connection’’s winsome chorus and emotive synths channel a youthful Madonna, stripped and tied to the stake, while ambient Eastern jazz fusion ‘The Magic’ (‘I wanna watch cartoons with you, merry melodies and loony tunes’) could score any low-budget Manga film or a hotel lift in Tokyo, and haunted castle of a song ‘Humanize’ makes the tango sound gothic – picture Morticia Adams feeling the LA afterhours scene.
Standing alone, the bare bones of these tracks need a bit of fleshing out – they’d be better served soundtracking some cult indie movie. Beasley’s 58-second dirge ‘Everything’ could be a cautionary tale for any Carrie-esque prom queen: ‘She’s only seventeen, but she acts like she’s twenty-four, dressed in her powder blue, out on the dance floor. She’s going to get what she needs – she knows what she’s here for, and that’s everything, and then some more’. Further evidence of Paradise’s filmic potential comes in the form of grimy fifties-style singalong pop song Suffering, which finds its bosom buddy in its sexed-up B-movie-style video, an all-out homage to Californian filmmaker Kenneth Anger. Think leather bombers, shiny bonnets, and a clean-shaven Devendra Banhart as a Grease-style car mechanic (it’s actually him). On the basis of Paradise, Hecuba are another band who sound best on YouTube.
WhenYoshimi P-We, all-girl noise band OOIOO’s formidable frontwoman, isn’t Battling Pink Robots on The Flaming Lips album of the same name, she’s popping up in the unlikeliest of places. You might have heard her skin-shunting in ear-splitting Japanese rock band The Boredoms, or wigging out with Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon in New York supergroup Free Kitten. According to Yoshimi, none of the girls could play their instruments before they hooked up for an impromptu photoshoot for Japanese magazine Switch in 1996. A year later they opened for Sonic Youth in Japan, still with stickers on their fretboards.
Given that the title of their sixth record, Armonico Hewa, is a nonsensical melange of Spanish and Swahili loosely translatable as “harmonious air”, you might expect a hotchpotch of influences. Slightly more unexpectedly, and despite staying wonderfully true to their noisy Japanese roots, OOIOO (it’s pronounced ‘oo-oo-aye-oo-oo’) appropriate everything from acid-jazz to Afro-beat, Tangerine Dream-esque Krautrock to Balinese ape hollers, and wrap it up into something both upliftingly other and delightfully apocalyptic.
It’s not so much an album as a collection of free-flying oddly-shaped song fragments, each more culturally disparate than the next, so it’s quite fun to list them. Sparky opener ‘Sol’ moves effortlessly from punky high-pitched feedback to tribal house tune via Pere Ubu circa 1978, while ‘Polacca’ has a peculiar brand of African funk getting its wind chimes stuck in a blender. On ‘Honki Ponki’ extended instrumental indulgences, zany scattershot rhythms, and rhythmic spoken poetry to rival the Tom Tom Club (or the Um Bongo juice drink ad) give way to playground sing-songs and Brazilian beats. And ‘Orokai’, with its fanfare, claps, and chorusing cast of cutesy characters, wouldn’t sound out of place as a Japanese stand-in for The Magic Roundabout theme tune – at the very least it’s one hoot short of a kazoo circus. But from the rocketing trajectory of Nin Na Yama’s spacy guitar to the Californian woozy on ‘Agacim’, it’s all fucking cool.
Symptomatically, in their unbridled wildness, some tracks inevitably lose their way – not too much. surprisingly only three are over six minutes – but like the streets of some alien metropolis, there’re worse places to get lost in. Even if, with our ears ringing, we’re left wondering whether to scream like a baby, mock-up a dance routine, or slip into something more comfortable.
If possible, the notoriously media-shy Montreal collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor have been more elusive than ever before during their seven year hiatus. With a strict ‘no press, no pictures’ policy – except for an unprecedented NME cover on the worst-selling issue of the decade – this politically-minded and slyly subversive group of artists made waves when they struck out with ominous orchestral debut F?A?? in 1997, a spine-tinglingly beautiful composition featuring panoramic instrumentals spliced with live field recordings revealing the uncensored realities of state surveillance and police harassment.
Given that at the time the group were working out of a crumbling loft space called ‘hotel2tango’ and could only be glimpsed at live gigs performing in near darkness alongside provocative visuals of smoking tanks, it’s no wonder that something of a Godspeed mythology has flourished among an extraordinarily devoted fanbase. Danny Boyle cut the whole of apocalyptic thriller 28 days Later to Godspeed playing in his head. You get the picture. And then in 2010, inexplicably, GYBE returned for a series of live dates and to curate ATP’s Nightmare Before Christmas festival and haven’t left us since. Musical salvation is here.
Review: Shirin, dir Abbas Kiarostami at Le Louvre invite Abbas Kiarostami, The Louvre, in connection with the newly opened Islamic Arts department // KultureFlash.net
Shirin is the first feature to focus entirely upon the reception of a film by its audience – specifically a hundred-odd women in a dark cinema in Tehran. Demonstrating the art of ‘not showing’, what we see is the women’s uninhibited reactions to the film, played out on their faces as they watch. What we don’t see (only hear) is the object of their gaze, a melodramatic adaptation of Persian romance Khosrow and Shirin.
It’s a curious take on objectification. Instead of simply presenting women, Kiarostami shows them reacting. And consequently it’s their mystifying complexities and capacity for emotion which are on show. Not all of us would choose to watch women emoting for 90 minutes, however magnificent they may be. But it’s worth noting here that Kiarostami’s one hundred actresses hardly represent everywoman, but more the lip-biting doe-eyed vintage Hollywood type (think Olivia de Havilland’s Maid Marian). The question is, how could any woman be so entranced by what sounds like the tackiest kind of filmed reconstruction, complete with horse neighs, dungeon atmos and clanging swords? Shirin constitutes a pared-down fakery, but fakery nonetheless, where the lesser known faces of Iranian cinema only play the parts of sensational women. Even if they play them very well.
Like the sharpened pencil poised above the paper, or the blade cradled by the hand it strikes, Rebecca Horn’s work falls somewhere on the knife edge between acute pain and stabbing tenderness. At once touching and disturbing, often bizarre, it is impossible not to be drawn in and strung out by her unexpected inventions.
Horn’s moveable body sculptures, made from cotton, bandages or feathers, sad specimens in the cases that house them, come to life when worn. In their accompanying films we see a woman engulfed by a white ostrich-like fan, or another walking through fields bearing a giant horn. With each inanimate object, seemingly with a life of its own, it is difficult to determine whether the female subject is wearing it or being worn, whether it becomes her, or she becomes it.
Often taking the shape of masks, the sculptures simultaneously protect and restrain, acting as both shelter and prison. Significantly, as a student Horn became bed-bound having neglected to wear a mask while working with fibreglass. Pencil Mask, a metal headdress with protruding pencils, is a hefty incarnation of the forgotten face-guard she will always remember; her own iron mask.
In the cocoon-like Paradise Widow (1975), a woman is isolated inside a 240cm high black feathered chamber that, as indicated by the title, offers both the sumptuous pleasure of being alone and the sadness of detachment. (We can perhaps all imagine the sorrow and the ecstasy of death by feathery pillow.) A chance for escape is provided by the moveable ‘wings’ that lift up and out, revealing different parts of the woman within. Indeed, many of the sculptures share this ability to extend as well as envelop; the absurdly extended fingers of Finger Gloves try to pick up objects, or to scratch the walls on either side of the room. These menacing ‘extensions’ reach out for human intimacy, frightening the observer away as much as beckoning them closer.
Horn’s later works marry sculpture with intricate working mechanisms to create machines capable of independent movement. Sometimes this is cyclical, sometimes sudden, or hauntingly beautiful; sometimes, comically, it’s simply making a mess. Drunken Beetle (1991-93) is a contraption made of attenuated hinged rods, some holding small liqueur glasses. Every few minutes, the motorized “arms” flail away, banging against the brandy-splattered wall.
Messy self-destruction seems imminent in Pendulum with Emu Egg (1987). A large black egg is balanced a foot from the floor on the point of a sharp metal spike while, just millimetres above it, at regularly timed intervals, a spearlike pendulum swings in a wide arc – almost hitting the egg each time. Despite Horn’s meticulous arrangement, one can’t help thinking that sooner or later, it will. The artist agrees; her machines make mistakes, are transitory, ‘they have a soul because they act, shake, tremble, faint, almost fall apart, and then come back to life again. They are not perfect machines.’
With Horn, it seems, things are always on the edge of falling apart. And as we cover our faces with our hands, and peer out of the gaps between our fingers, we watch, and wait for the shit to hit the fan.
Gainsbourg stars in Lars Von Trier’s hotly anticipated new film Nymphomaniac, but she won’t be soundtracking it. The star’s much lauded 2010 release, IRM, a team effort largely orchestrated by long-time friend Beck, isn’t what one might expect from the same sylph-like chanteuse who delivered heartfelt melancholy four years ago with the Jarvis Cocker/Neil Hannon influenced 5:55. Taking her cues from numerous hair-raising rides into the metallic depths of an MRI Scanner after a near-death experience on water skis, Gainsbourg delivers the same sweet swoon-song of sex, fear and claustrophobia — but it’s not so very French, or so intimate. Her disconnected autobiographical vocals, half-sung in RP English, are largely surrendered in cool monotone. While Beck’s charged material oozes the same understated violence as Lars von Trier’s Antichrist — the notoriously sexually violent film whichGainsbourg took time out from recording to film — these palpitating tunes are too cool to be too bleak. An inspired cover of Jean-Pierre Ferland’s “Le chat du cafe des artistes” is more Bond theme tune than desperate swansong — if perhaps with some of the love-dungeon sensibility of the controversial 1984 “Lemon Incest” duet with Serge. Deeper, darker revelations might come from a live rendition of her father’s “Sorry Angel”, also covered for the Gainsbourg tribute album by mother Jane Birkin — whose influence this intriguing new voice hopefully won’t be casting off anytime soon.
Author of Hollywood Babylon, favourite of Jean Cocteau, and lifelong friend of Church of Satan founder, Anton Szandor LaVey. So indistinct are the life, the art, and the sensational claims of this 82-year-old man, it’s hard to know which came first: Anger’s troubling commentary, or the morbid reality. Experimental 1972 film ‘Lucifer Rising’ foreshadows the grisly demise of its big name stars. First up, Donald Cammell, director of cult film ‘Performance’; he committed suicide. Next, Marianne Faithful, legendary party girl and Mick Jagger’s onetime muse. Lastly Bobby Beausoleil, Love guitarist; he was set to star before he befriended Charles Manson, and later composed the film’s score from his prison cell. Wowzer. But black magic aside, Anger’s films still sound fantastic. In ‘Scorpio Rising’ a macho biker pulls on a pair of azure leather pants to the dreamy chorus of Bobby Vinton’s Blue Velvet (David Lynch anyone?). ‘Rabbit’s Moon’, an uncharacteristically lovely take on a Pierrot story set in a gloriously low-fi silvery Eden, plays out to salubrious sixties pop (including The Capris’ ‘There’s A Moon Out Tonight’ and The El Dorados’ ‘Tears On My Pillow’).
Leeds International Film Festival, November 2012 // KultureFlash.net
Believe it or not, before the release of Pierrot le Fou at the height of the New Wave in 1965, director Jean-Luc Godard had become disillusioned with cinema, feeling that “there was nothing left to do.” Afterwards, he had a change of heart: “I no longer feel this” he said, “Everything remains to be done”. With its collaged style, comic-book action, and playful allusions to mainstream Hollywood movies, all in glorious tricolor, Pierrot le fou was explosive proof of cinema’s latent potential – and, for Godard at least, opened up a big can of worms. Plot-wise, TV executive Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) ditches his bourgeois existence for his capricious babysitter Marianne (Anna Karina). Together they hit the road for Tahiti, to hook up with Marianne’s gun-running brother, and live blissfully by the sea a la Robinson Crusoe. It’s a film about film, and Ferdinand and Marianne tirelessly recast themselves as fictional characters – there’s an homage to Renoir’s La Chienne, scenes filched from film noir classic The Lady From Shanghai, and even a nod to Laurel and Hardy. Ironically, this “story of the last romantic couple”, as Godard called it, marked the beginning of a new phase in his career, but the end of his marriage to Karina. C’est la vie.
Almost fourteen years have passed since the ‘Sex and the City’-endorsed vibrator first reared its pink plastic head (that’s an Adrian Mole lifetime) and it’s still selling. Empowering, depressing, or just plain terrifying, the ubiquitous Rampant Rabbit lives on. The candidness of this play’s title – a pun on Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit – belies what is in fact a subtle (yes subtle), fresh, insightful foray into the mechanics of twenty-first sex and seduction and its ridiculous accoutrements.
Far from dominating proceedings, the Rabbit is merely a jumping-off point for this free-styling new theatre company ‘Washing Line’. Pitched somewhere between a Parisian clown show and Jane Fonda exercise video, a bushy-tailed five strong cast of twenty-somethings, one male, four female, strike pose after pose in an exhausting series of dynamic tableaux, each more hilarious than the last. Wearing tennis whites these peculiar ‘bunnies’ effortlessly jump from country garden, to fast food drive-in, to the slopes of Val-de-whatever, shunting shuttlecocks and chatting waxes all the while. Director and writer Jennifer Moule garners zeitgeisty colloquialisms and recasts them with devastating acuity. The super-slick wordplay, whether spouted by beatboxing bunny or gameshow host, together with the titillating electro soundtrack, weaves the skits into a sort of satirical cabaret – it’s pastiche at its best.
If this all sounds as throwaway as the disposable culture it parodies, go and see it. Carefully selected video clips featuring some real-life sex talk, alternately funny and desperately painful are, frankly, not easily forgotten.
Alessandra Ambrosio for Vivara Jewellery ad (2012)
Virgin and Child (c. 1450) by Jean Fouquet, is a portrait of Agnès Sorel, the Dame de Beauté and a favourite mistress of King Charles VII of France.
The immaculate conception is an essential part of Roman Catholic dogma, commonly confused with the virginity of Mary or the virgin birth. But the teaching actually states that Mary, not Christ, was conceived without human stain, free from sin and full of grace. Both mother and baby are sinless, unlike the rest of us. Together, they are the ultimate power couple.
Madonna and child have been depicted since the first century AD, but Mary as the picture of perfection, both virgin and mother, only starts to get sexy in the renaissance – around 1400 – when the painter’s mistress would pose as his model, women started smiling, and religious icons would dance, eat and sing like everybody else.
Now, as always, artists are mesmerised by the shape of pregnancy. The bulbous stomach, the balloon on sticks, will never get old. Modern painters get stuck on it: feminist icon Alice Neel, post-war New York’s darling Alfred Leslie, Christina Kubrick (wife of Stanley). and Lucian Freud returned to the pregnant woman model again and again. Both Jerry Hall and Kate Moss posed for Freud, prostrate and about to pop. We are fascinated by the transformation of sex symbol into baby-carrier. Celebrity bumps, babies and all the trappings of motherhood dominate women’s magazines and we lap it up.
Brigitte Bardot with her son, Nicolas-Jacques Charrier (1960). ‘I am not finding pregnancy much of a joy. I am afraid of childbirth, but I can’t find a way of avoiding it.’
But why do we care? Increasingly women are asking themselves whether they want to be mothers, and if so where motherhood sits within their idealised view of themselves. And we all look around us for the answers, to see the tribe after Madonna who contort their tired post-pregnancy bodies into superwoman shape and go back to work. We see it’s possible, at a price, to magic up up a baby in any size, shape or hue, and – thanks to IVF – without being touched by male hand. We see we are more disconnected from the grow-your own method than ever before. And we find it fascinating.
We are monumentally ambivalent and we know it. We fantasise about the beauty and fulfilment pregnancy and motherhood brings, but in reality we’re too busy, too scared, too body-con. We want to be the picture of blooming motherhood with matching pram/dog/yoga mat, without the hassle of actually having to be one. To stay, in simplified terms, immaculate.
A 1956 Grace Kelly masking her pregnancy bump with a Hermes handbag.
In 1991, a seven-months pregnant Demi Moore sat for a nude portrait by legendary photographer and friend Annie Leibovitz. Featured on the cover of Vanity Fair, it spawned countless imitations and parodies and continues to do so. Eva Herzigova, Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford, Heidi Klum. These naked pregnant women, all Playboy pin-ups, represent a rounded retort to two -dimensional sex dolls in male magazines. They are still sexy, they are still silent, but they are mothers. And they are posing for other women.
Man is missing from the equation. On the front of one issue of America’s Life Magazine, Gray’s Anatomy star Patrick Demsey holds an ear up to his girlfriend’s extended pregnant belly next to the caption ‘The Sexiest Dad Alive’. But even here (and in the Shakira and footballer boyfriend Gerard Pique Jan 2013 picture above) the image isn’t about him or them, it’s about us. The anonymous pregnant belly is what catches our attention.
Patrick Dempsey on the cover of Life Magazine, January 2007
With their larger-than-life coverstars, these covers hark back to the birth of the supermodel, of Amazonians Linda, Naomi and Christy – when rounded cheeks were rosy and golden thighs pumped iron. These women are the antitheses of Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ model where a weak, terrified woman is impregnated with satan’s spawn against her will and, eaten up by her own sense of responsibility, chooses to mother his child.
These women aren’t downtrodden housewives shackled to their pregnancy, and neither are they exploited glamour models. The fact that they are vigorously air-brushed, that the picture lies and that in reality pregnancy is full of aches, doubts and depression is by the by. We know that and we’d rather not think about it until we have to. We like them, we think we want to be them, we just don’t understand them. Are the pregnancy poster girls, their expressions as inscrutable as the immaculate Madonnas’, a symptom of the lie, misapprehension, the unrealisable fantasy? Or are they secular totems, a sort of Frankenstein’s Mary, an alluring symbol of our uncertainty about ourselves?