Performing Arts

Fuse Box 2008 Part I

Justin Follin
Five in the Morning

Etiquette breaks down that fourth wall, invites you in, sits you down at its table, and serves you a glass of confusion that implies you are witnessing a suicide.

Fuse Box 2008 Part I

Fuse Box 2008

04.24.2008 – 05.03.2008

Austin, TX

Part I: Performances covered: Etiquette, Five in the Morning, endless ocean endless sky, Inside the Dream Machine
A. Austin itself is experimental. Here we are in the middle of Texas. You can drive for a day and never leave the state. We are surrounded by cow ranches and long, flat roads and every stereotype I’d ever had about the Lone Star State before I moved here.
Think of the stereotypes you hold about Texas. Find letter G and continue reading.
B. We are outside a small café across from a storage house and an empty lot. A pretty woman with bright red lipstick sings Girl from Ipanema over two ukuleles and an upright bass at the other end of the patio. That is not part of the show, but it is, because we hear it. It becomes part of the show: Etiquette.
The show is just us: my self and a friend. We are new friends. I only met her a few weeks before, and we hardly know each other. I brought her with me because the program’s description offered that London-based collective Rotozaza’s Etiquette is “best done with someone you know, someone to share this with.” I found it exciting to bring someone I didn’t know. And now we are sitting at this small table outside the café at dusk, wearing headphones and staring into each other’s eyes. It’s what the voice said to do: Look into her eyes. Find letter E and continue reading.
C. The next night I am early and walk into the theatre where there is a petite actress in a bikini that shows off a tan and a flat stomach, staring wide eyed at me. Two ushers run forward and ask, “Sir, can I help you?” They usher me out. I wasn’t supposed to see that yet, so I leave the theater for a walk around the neighborhood.
This theater is the Salvage Vanguard, a brand new venue in East Austin that might once have been an airplane storage hangar for the old airport that sits abandoned across the street. (There is still a sign over there that reads, “Park here while you FLY!”) Now, there are empty runways, some small houses that must have appreciated like winning lottery tickets when those planes stopped shaking the roofs, and this theater, which, despite its rickety outsides, hosts a slew of professional theatrical productions that are helping Austin get noticed for more than South by Southwest. I am here to see Five in the Morning, another performance by Rotozaza -- the people that put on Etiquette. Because of this I am curious and very excited. I am also curious to see why that actress wore so little clothing. What image flashes in your mind’s eye when I say that?


Continue to letter M and continue reading.
D. I am nauseated. I am sitting, staring at a spinning light, and I feel like I’m going to throw up. This is Inside the Dreaming Machine, a visual sound art installation from St. Louis artists at a studio space in East Austin. Let me describe it for you.
Continue to letter H and continue reading.
E. I am a philosopher. She is a young prostitute. That is the basic gist of the story. My friend and I become the actors. We remain the spectators. This is the purpose of Etiquette: to break down that fourth wall, invite you in, sit you down at its table and serve you a glass of confusion that implies you are witnessing a suicide.
My friend and I are sitting at this table. We hardly know each other, but the voice in my headphones tells me to take her hand and touch her wrist. The voice in hers tells her to lean her head to the side and look off into the distance. She is flirting with me. The voice says, How could this girl be a prostitute? Look at the way her eyes move -- they do not move like a prostitute’s. We draw the stage on the table. We move small pieces around and write notes to each other. She is told what to do, and I am told how to respond. Sometimes the story is told using tiny figures on the table. Sometimes it is told through her, and sometimes it is told with sound bites of old films running through our headphones. But there is no story, just pieces of them. And there is no audience -- just my friend and me at a small table wearing headphones outside a café in East Austin. No one around us seems to care that I have dropped what appears to be blood into her water and she drinks it. Find Letter K and continue reading.
G. Austin is different. It’s the home of the state government, the state University, and the state mental hospital, all within walking distance from each other. You can find breakfast tacos, barbecue, and macrobiotic meals a block apart. People drive a lot here; mainly in big cars. But people bike and walk, too, for the environment. There’s something in the water here, maybe, or an energetic vibration emanating from the natural spring flowing through the center of the city. Something makes this place happen; something keeps the artists coming; something keeps Austin weird -- a tired motto that keeps bringing developers here, too. All this keeps going right in the center of one of the reddest states in America.
Consider, for a moment, the possibility of moving to Austin. You keep hearing about this place, don’t you? Find letter L and continue reading.
H. There is a woman sitting on a pillow in a lotus position in front of the spinning light. Her eyes are closed and she holds her hands like a Buddha statue. There are five other pillows surrounding this light, which sits on top of a spinning turntable. A shade with holes welded out of it spins around the bulb creating an intense strobe effect. I remember watching someone who must have been on more than dreaming stare into a black light in high school; I thought he looked crazy. This felt much like that: staring at a strobe light even though everyone says it will make you go blind.
Between the pillows were giant plush dolls and two big Operation game heads with the light-up red noses. At the other end of me and the spinning light was a guy with dreadlocks pushing buttons and bending circuits on a series of soundboards and effects peddles. He briefly looked at me with a vacant smile and continued to manipulate the sound which spun around me like the sounds of tiny gnomes from an early Pink Floyd album meeting a Josh Wink tweeked-out remix. I dig the sounds. I dig the idea of meditating in a dream machine. But no matter how hard I tried, eyes closed, eyes open, turned around, my head hurt, and I really felt like I was going to puke. That was Inside the Dreaming Machine. I feel like I missed out on something here. I probably did. They proclaimed a consciousness-enhancing experience, and I could see it happening. It looked like the blissed-out woman on my left was getting there. But I just had to leave. It was too intense. I was going to have to continue this conversation elsewhere. Find letter F and continue reading.

endless ocean endless sky

I. My directions had been wrong, and I showed up to endless ocean endless sky already confused. It was in the Music Lab, a mammoth rehearsal space smelling like wet cigarettes that houses muffled bands blasting in practice rooms like tattooed bees in a hive. But they told me on the phone to
cross the highway in the wrong direction and I ended up in a block of South Austin warehouses. When I finally found the place, a woman smiled and said, “We’ve been waiting for you.” I took off my shoes and eight of us processed quietly into a giant inflatable bubble. Think of a time you have entered a giant inflatable bubble. What did that feel like? Find letter N and continue reading.
J. This whole thing is the voices. There’s not much of a story. But that’s the point. Five in the Morning is three actors acting like they’re not acting. Just taking commands from someone somewhere in the sky. Each of them does a miraculous job confusing their audience. Do they know what is happening? Have they rehearsed this, or are they as surprised as we are? They look perpetually shocked and confused as the voices continue to tell them what to do and how they feel about this fantasy or their imprisonment in Aquaworld. They contort and kiss and slosh around the stage with a perfected naiveté. That they are in on the whole thing only becomes evident when the actors begin to preempt the voices. Yes, this was all an act, but it seemed real. Like a dream.
Five in the Morning flows like the mind of a schizophrenic. The actors’ autonomy becomes increasingly tormented by the manipulators in the speakers. When the woman I first saw staring at me in that bikini broke from her verbal captors to declare her cognizance that she was under control but could never escape, the fun of Aquaworld seemed to melt under the magnifying glass, implying that perhaps we are all imprisoned by our thoughts. What thoughts trap you? The result is a strange trip through a subconscious mind, a glimmer into the constricting chains of perceived reality. In the end, all of the revelations of the actors’ individuality in the face of these controllers disappear as the performance finishes where it started: three bright-eyed swimmers in tight bathing suits waiting to be told who they are and what they are supposed to do. The conversation continues. Find letter I and continue reading.
K. The magic of stage performance happens inside of the actor. It’s the moment when the performer loses all notion of self and acts from a place of deep intuition that bends any conventional notion of reality. Hitting that note is a thrill quite literally unlike any other. Etiquette creates this experience in the minds of its audience. It turns us -- just two people at a small table -- into the performers and overtakes the mind with cues, commands, and thoughts through headphones that release the constraints of self-identity to explore the nature of communication.
Who are you? my friend asks while oblivious couples stroll by us as if we are just two people playing a game. She sounds like she means it. She sounds like she really doesn’t know who I am. It’s true, in a way. But the lines I am told to say in response come too fast to say them all. I become confused, she looks confused, too. The boundary breaks down when there is so much to do and so much to say. I move a small man with a giant head towards my friend and place it on the table. We watch his funeral together. That is Etiquette: A play about communication and intimacy and death for only two people. Phenomenal. I have never experienced anything like it. Fuse Box begins for me. Find letter C and continue reading.
L. Enter Fuse Box, a ten-day experimental performance arts festival that calls itself “a festival about conversation.” This whole conversation feels a lot like a loosely veiled dialogue about the whole scene going on right here in the hottest cool city in the U.S. Because a lot is happening here: the existence of a ten-day-long exploration of interpretive theatre and abstract performance lends credence to the notion that a city at the heart of a state surrounded by megachurches and a polygamist controversy continues to strengthen its voice in the national conversation about art. But a lot isn’t happening here, too. It’s not New York. Plays here happen in warehouse theaters across from abandoned airports and behind thrift stores. Audiences for these shows can be sparse, with many of the seats filled with performers from other shows.
Still, the experiment seems better for its lack of hype and grandeur. The rules can bend because there aren’t too many to begin with. Interactive dance shows in a music rehearsal space? Plays with everything but a story? An experiential coffee shop mind-meld? It all works here. And sure, groups came in from London and Portland and Brooklyn, but pretentiousness takes its place in an empty row at the back of the house while the performers and spectators just get to have fun. That’s what Austin’s about, really: music and art and fun. (And beer.) It’s what my experience has been these past few days, and it started with Etiquette. Consider this: one train leaves westbound from New York, another eastbound from L.A. Touch your forehead, rub your eyes. This computer screen is glaring. Find Letter B and continue reading.
M. She wears a bikini because she is in Aquaworld. They are all wearing bikinis. All three of them, or, really, the two women are. The man wears a speedo. It’s never clear what Aquaworld actually is. It is either a fantasy theme park or it is hell. The stage is draped in white. There are no props. Actually, there is a mop and a bucket and the actors. In a way the actors are the props, because, like Etiquette, there are commanding voices here, too. Except they come from house speakers and they tell the actors what to think, do, and say. The actors look like nearly naked, wide-eyed robots just learning how to feel. Here are some of the things the voices say:
Raise one eyebrow. Explain what you mean. Make a human tower. Find Letter J and continue reading.
N. The bubble began to inflate around us. We sat on a line of pillows in the center of the space. “When the bubble has fully inflated,” they told us, “the performance will begin.”
Again, like Five in the Morning, there were three performers: two women and a man. Also, it was all white: our white bubble, their white clothing. There were no words in Tahni Holt’s endless ocean endless sky, though. Their voices were music. And their dancing seemed to combine ecstatic movement with the kind of rolling around on each other I’d seen people do at something called a “contact improv party” I’d once stumbled across. Once the bubble filled with air, we sat in place while the dancers transmuted from crawling icebergs to evolving monkeys, little children to sexy women dancing so close to me I could smell their deodorant and sweat. Video on either side of the bubble hinted at a transatlantic plane ride or an underwater immersion. Portland composer Thomas Tortland’s sparse score provided the highlight of the show, particularly a recurring piece that sounded something like a Ratatat song played backwards. For 45 minutes the dancers writhed and contorted and entered and exited the bubble while the eight of us on our pillows sat watching. I felt a little like I imagine Hansel might have felt seeing the gingerbread house witch coming and going with twigs to start the fire that would cook him. Something seemed so urgent about their movements, but I had no idea what. And I just sat there. What is going on here? It was a question I didn’t want to have because I felt it revealed my lack of comprehension of modern dance. But the abstractions of their movement and the sporadic in-out-in-out of these people into this artificial world we’d been drawn into seemed more confusing than entertaining. Still, though, there was an intriguing substance to this process, much in the way human emotion is beautiful even when we can’t make sense of our own thoughts. While the notion of “story” or “coherence” was left in the sun outside of our bubble, the Portland crew did create an experience. For those of us participating in the conversation, we could leave as if from a memory and ask: What the hell just happened in there? Find letter D and continue reading.

Inside the Dream Machine

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Julian Barratt and Oliver Maltman (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.