Sci-Fi Soundtrackby Kavish Chetty, images by Jenna Bass / 27.10.2010
Nikhil Singh’s triumphal return to Cape Town is passively met. At midnight, the margins of the Assembly are spaciously uncramped, the left side of the stage is a chasm of negative space. Singh drags along a persona: that skinny motherfucker, that wily-voiced vocalist; that emblem of emaciated excess. He is always two things at once, perhaps more. His music is sweeping; a kaleidoscope of high and low, synth-pop and noise pop, dark and agile and ghostly. Audiences tend to call him either a ‘genius’ or ‘self-indulgent’, but they approach him like everyone I’ve ever met who likes David Lynch films (except you, Lyle) – gap-toothed and slack-jawed at the enigma of his cinema, they quite enjoyed themselves, they just don’t how or why the fuck they did.
But it becomes immediate to me, two songs into the set on the danceless dancefloor, that the music itself is an artefact of twentieth century social psychosis. Nikhil Singh, the persona, is a loon, a lunatic, a lunar terrestrial transplanted into alien climes. His music is the mirror, and starting back from the stage is the whole chaos and drama of our times: celebrity, self-obsession, monomania, the affirmation that the Anglo-American mass solipsism has been decentralised; now you can taste their junk anywhere you want, now you can be a young, drunk, lusty American too.
I am slurped up into a kind of nausea by this music. It’s a curious, liminal space between appreciation and abhorrence. I wonder if we showed this set to a 1950s hop, to all those rock n’ roll rebels in their blazers, how they would react to this savage and demonic music. It seems like the future described by sci-fi paperbacks of that era. That’s right; this music is a sci-fi soundtrack. Singh plays the Korg, or rather molests it: it squeals and protests, heart-hammeringly plangent. Then he slides a creamy telecaster across his sharp shoulders, plucks at the strings with a black plectrum. Part of the problem with this band is how uneven the music is – at times, I’m just about sucked in, taken up, hypnotised by the surrealism of the image and the sound – but then, the honey inside the riffs drips away and there’s just bad music. It’s why I describe The Wild Eyes as embodying desire itself on stage – desire that exists to reconstitute and reassert itself as desire. You can’t satisfy yourself; you can only be teased.
Spooky Singh, sexy Singh: I don’t know what to make of him. I’ve heard stories of him lurking around Durban’s central business district at midnight, like a vampire aching for blood. The enigma surrounding him, this long-haired Injun, is vast, amorphous, consuming. But his music is a kooky melange that can’t be classed ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It wants an engagement, and it’s up to the modern listener, with so much choice in the world, to decide whether he’s worth it. He sings sometimes in an Elvis impersonation, (doing the B-52s ‘rock lobster’ gimmick); he shouts “Sex-slave!” in a song about imported East Slavic whores shipped over in containers. He flicks his hair back and takes off his thin, leather jacket. And the music continues to pulse; we are trapped in the static of Singh, concert zombies like in Antonioni’s Blowup (only less cool).
*All images © Jenna Bass.