Chris Cunningham

30.04.10 Words by: Charlie Jones

As part of the ETHER season, the Southbank Centre has laid on a veritable smorgasbord of cerebral performances. BEAK first, the new project from Geoff Barrow of Portishead, who are something like a laid-back NEU! and are very tight as a group. What I heard of BEAK was intriguing and made me want to hear more, but I only caught their last two songs.

Then an interval, which gave everyone the chance to hold their breath and think about what Mr Cunningham had in store for us. I have for a number of years had a bit of an issue with Cunningham, since ‘Rubber Johnny’, which I understand had taken him six years and was underwhelming compared to his earlier work… I was expecting a feature film or something. But maybe my expectations are just greedy.

The lights went down long before anything happened and the air was filled with dry ice. Finally, Cunningham crossed the stage and the three screens lit. On the screens appeared images of someone plugging things in, loud scratchbuzz sounds and then a laser cracked on, shooting narrowly over the heads of the crowd. The show was on, the three screens and the laser as a wonderful parody of this new surge of “3D” cinema… The opening light show segued into a wonderfully spooky reworking of Grace Jones’ William’s Blood, which I’d heard alluded to in an issue of DAZED last year. The film is fantastically creepy. He’s twisted the song and videod it up in a necro-pornographic voodoo kind of way, with a zombified Grace Jones stamping her feet, clicking her fingers and reacting from whippings. I have been trying to work out who made the sound remix for it and almost all of the performance, but I have no evidence to suggest it’s anyone other than Cunningham himself.

Next up was a reworking of Cunningham and Aphex’s Flex film, which was great to see in a live setting and in a more full version, as the version that I’d seen previously didn’t contain anywhere near as much violence. This version had something like Leftfield’s Phat Planet with a naked man and woman beating the living daylights out of each other in syncopation. This repeated to the point of excess until Cunningham mixed a warped recut of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love over the top, to much amusement… Then there was a mash-up of several things, a youtube video of a dog masturbating, a Boards of Canada video mashup off ‘Geogaddi’ that seemed to have been specially made for the set, with a timecode at the bottom that kept switching to 6::06::06 (KILL)… this was followed by a cut up of ‘Rubber Johnny’, and then a repeat of the ‘Rubber Johnny’ technique but with a four-year-old girl asleep in bed, which started out as a very playful piece, messing around with her face, almost as a parody of the ‘Rubber Johnny’ style, but then she gets torn apart and put back together. Somehow I liked this piece much more than ‘Rubber Johnny’, it was a more sensitive piece in a way. A pinnacle of the night was his closer piece, in terms of blowing away expectations, Cunningham turned his hand to New York and Acappella Blues in a very dreamy piece that showcased a wholly different side to his repertoire. The whole performance is out on YouTube – the quality’s not great but if you’re still unconvinced, prepare to be. Afterwards, Squarepusher played a DJ set in the foyer, which seemed to keep the audience entertained, but not enough to prevent a hubbub of chatter about CC’s video performance.


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