Gazelle Twin – Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Brighton – 11th October 2018

Photo by Jeff Hemmings

Music has this tendency to throw up the unexpected. Take Elizabeth Benholz, aka Gazelle Twin, a new mother, and outwardly normal looking. However, when she immerses herself in music, she wholeheartedly takes on a partial alter-ego (part her, part someone else), and makes sounds and sings lyrics utterly at odds with her public persona. Appearances, in her case, can be misleading.

Her recently released album, Pastoral, continued a path she has forged this last decade, in making music that is both haunting, and a little terrifying. Using her computer, plus assorted synths, and the odd recorder and field recording, she makes an often brutal techno, mixed with ambient and symphonic sounds. It’s all topped off by an angry railing against middle England, the tearoom chattering classes and the like, those who revel in the St. George’s flag, who are highly suspicious of foreigners, and modern movements such as gender-fluidity. As Brexit Day (or Fuxxit as she calls it) approaches, combined with the heightened sensitivities engendered by her recent experiences of pregnancy, and child rearing, Gazelle Twin presented the notion on Pastoral that, “There is horror in every idyll, and danger lurking beyond the ‘quaint’.”

On the live stage Bernholz attempts to replicate the album’s powerful menace, but with mixed results. With the help of husband Jez on backing tracks and electronic manipulation, and a bit of folksy recorder, she stalks the stage in her thematic costume, dressed as a court jester with riding hat, and adidas trainers, whilst manipulated multi-gender voices emanate theatrically, veering from the operatic, to heavily doctored chanting.

The bucolic backdrop, depicting a green and pleasant land in classic Constable fashion, is counterbalanced by the red costumes, and red lighting, although the potential fluidity of the performance is lost a bit via her somewhat awkward movement, and struggles with her costume. The sound too is affected at times, the mix a little too dense and distorted, most of the all-important lyrics lost within the audio quagmire. The rumbling techno beats of ‘Hobby Horse’ do get a few heads-a-bobbin’, and she comes back for a short encore with ‘Deep England’, recorder and moody ambience: “My Silver cloud / My retail park / My cul-de-sac / My England”.

It’s a stunning performance, a vicious assault on the dark recesses of our country, but also on a complacency that we know from history has a bad habit of settling in before it’s too late. A little more practised stagecraft, and a clearer sound would make this all the more remarkable.

Jeff Hemmings