Arika 13 Episode 5: 25 & 26 May, Tramway

Review by Jean-Xavier Boucherat | 03 Jun 2013

It’s a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, and the kids running about on the lawn are making everyone’s hangovers just a little more difficult, following the first ever Arika club night at Stereo. And the club night is the subject on everyone’s lips – not just whether or not it was the best club night Glasgow’s seen this year (it was), but whether or not the invasion of a stage set up for the Legendary Pony Zion De Garçon by a crowd of drunken revellers constitutes an appropriative conquest on the part of white hetronormativity?

Tongue in cheek as this is (or is it?), the sheer scope of discussion and activity that characterises Episode 5, prompted both by the variety of performance and the shifting, indeterminate nature of the content, is often overwhelming. The Saturday and Sunday alone feature discussions, film screenings, a sonic-lecture, dance, lip-syncs, catwalks, shadow puppetry, Kanye West. Where Episode 4 was a statement of intent, a call to arms, Episode 5 is messy, disarming, life-affirming, and indicative of, as ballroom scene member Michael Roberson Garçon puts it, ‘a community continually on the brink of annihilation… a community forever on the business end of a gun.’

Appearing at the club night was DJ Sprinkles, aka Terre Themlitz, who is also an artist across various media. Saturday sees a screening of the first four cantos of his work Soullessness, a multimedia collection which under certain definitions is the ‘Longest Recorded Album in the World’, clocking in at over 32 hours. Distributed on a micro-SD card, it is part of Themlitz’s wider desire to distinguish Digital Culture from Online Culture.

Currently Themlitz is engaged in the Sisyphean task of denying access to his work via the standard channels of digital distribution, i.e. YouTube, iTunes, Spotify etc. who are illegally distributing his music, for which he doesn’t get a penny. As she quite rightly argued in an article written for The Wire in 2012, digital audio culture does not require the internet to exist – ‘at what point and through what practices do we cease to remember that what we do is not about mass appeal, and in that sense may not be well served by mass systems of distribution?’

The attempt to assimilate a sub-culture so opposed to the central phallus of the mainstream, which itself insists on dichotomies and despises vagueness, can potentially be viewed as a unifying theme for Soullessness, which amongst other things meditates on the formation of gender cults, the politico-geographical effect on the body, and the stain of Christianity. Images include, hyper-hygienic tampon advertising, an in-depth look at the various electronics used by Philipino nunneries, and vivid footage of genital surgery, accompanied by the drones of a rural-American rosary group. The work is deeply affecting, at once profoundly unsettling and incredibly playful, working towards a ‘non-op’ understanding of transgenderism.

Boychild closes the weekend with a third, fifteen-minute performance. His brief but powerful appearances feel symbolic of the mental digestion at work between talks, screenings and performances. Boychild’s deconstructed / reconstructed lip-syncs overdrive the senses through a combination of movement, lighting and hyper-emotive edits of the likes of Rhianna, T2, Destiny’s Child, and more.

Among his last lip-syncs is Burial’s Archangel. The London producer’s retrograded two-step is remarkably appropriate, characterised as it is by a playful approach to gender via pitch-shifted vocal cuts, attributable to neither a standard male or female range. Google-researched variations on the lyrics include ‘Good at being alone’ and ‘Couldn’t be alone’, the ambiguity made all the more pertinent by the apparent separation of mouth and body, a trick achieved via a flashing LED mouth-guard.