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Spooky Attraction

Spooky Attractions

by Roger Young / 14.09.2011

There is a large seventies chandelier made out of glass balls; it hangs solid and imposing above the almost empty space of the converted church. A fold out table, a drum kit, a few chairs, cables. On three sides there are rising levels of empty plastic chairs. Juliana Venter’s project with Joseph Suchy, Spooky Attraction From A Distance is playing its last gig in Cape Town and there are about twelve people here to witness it.

For Venter and Suchy to be ignored by the Cape Town music scene like this, and I’m talking about the musicians not the audience, shows just how cloistered this city is, how weighed down the supposedly forward-thinking part of the scene is with social politics and second guessing. Maybe it’s just because Venter connects so deeply with a force she doesn’t really seem to understand, that she becomes so feral, so uncomposed on stage and is so uncompromising about her work that she is just not understandable from the stock standard approach. Maybe it’s because the music she makes is outside of conventional form and structure and therefore not mimic-able. Maybe she’s just competition. Maybe it’s none of these things; maybe the gig was just marketed badly.

All these thoughts are running through my head as Mira Matthew and beatboxer Kipper start to warm up the floor. Mira is slight but deeply genuine with her slow jazzy spoken word-esque songs. Righard Kapp sits on his chair, folded into himself, waiting to join her. Kipper performs a beat box solo that is more vaudeville than anything else, beat-boxing for the sake of it, amusing, but you know, comedy. Three drunk and cardiganed vasity boys wander into the venue and sit next to me, whispering to each other, then Juliana joins Mira and Kapp begins to play, and slowly but obviously the amateur feeling is transformed into something amorphous and penetrating, focusing the space into performance. Kapp is then left alone on the stage. He fires up his many pedals and begins to make his guitar into a painstakingly slow collision of two giant spaceships. One of the cardigan boys says to his friend, “I don’t think this is the right gig,” and they stumble out, their voices echoing through the anti chamber as a popping crackling takes over Kapp’s guitar work. It turns out to be unintentional and he has to bow out. Joseph Suchy finds himself a chair and begins to pull bagpipe sounds out of his guitar. He’s foreground and background at the same time, the echo of inhaling solvents and listening to the creaking of the planets. Gustav Holt meets Geiger.

Juliana returns to the stage. She’s fragile and imposing, she’s smart and she’s scattered; hot but fiercely unobjectifiable. “The next piece,” she says, “is a witch’s spell in Old German.” Kapp tinkles the ends of his uncut guitar strings into falling glass, Juliana at her ukulele, while the beatboxer finds his place between Joseph’s drones and the high pagan single chants. Her voice is a pain filled maypole as they circle round and pound the off-beat with feet and strings. There is a smiling menace to the whole affair, a glee at digging into the dark places. The band has swelled to Brydon Bolton on bass, Jono Sweetman on drums and Galina Juritz on violin. Juliana grips and alternates two microphones, hissing into one like a trapped cat, the other a seductress. Suchy’s guitar is spiralling somewhere, somewhere, I don’t know, somewhere else. I have to stop taking notes.

From the mournful questioning lull of “Two Black Sheep” to a piercing based on Ezra Pound, Juliana bends into it like a broken puppet. Suchy’s guitar line in Autumn anchors from above the drums and bass, like distantly related gods awakening from hibernation, as Juliana’s dry rasp wail glides out from the laptop glow. And then, shit gets dark. Stonehenge dark. Juritz strums the violin into Bolton and Sweetman’s displaced army on the march, Juliana sings indistinguishable from the guitar in some kind of internal inexpressible pain; a trail of hunger, death, destruction, insanity. Suchy stands among the carnage grinning in mad delight.

“Man With A Pipe” swirls with violin and background electronica, and them coalesces into some kind of bass driven exorcism, Juliana is like a rag doll in an electrical storm, her elbows as much instruments as the mics, her yellow shoes taken by some feral force, her voice threatening and knowing. One lone audience member is lifted by the strings of Suchy’s sinister guitar plucking and throws himself into the maelstrom, his feet pounding on the church floor, possessed. And then, it ends.

Venter and Suchy have taken their electronic, almost ambient experimental project that sometimes evokes CocoRosie or Joanna Newsom and, with this touring group, turned it into a powerful, operatic, gut stabbing experience. With force, honesty, and a ragged self-assurance they produce explorations rather than an announcements, music that requires surrender, a shedding of ego. Which is probably why it’s unfathomable by the bulk of Cape Town’s musical fraternity.

Spooky Attraction’s last performance in Cape Town


Spooky Attraction at The Bioscope in Joburg

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  1. Anonymous says:

    It’s unfair to blame the music fraternity in Cape town for the lack of turnout. The only ‘maybe’ in your article is the badly marketed part. Who are you to judge the intellect of a potential audience?
    An artist can’t expect to just arrive in town, set up a gig, and have sell out shows. It takes a lot of marketing, networking and effort to get people into seats, not just a couple of Facebook invites. Most artists spend ages building up a solid base of followers, and this is no different. It needs to be marketed properly, bottom line.

    I wholeheartedly agree that Juliana is an exceptional artist, and one who deserves respect and recognition, but this can’t be based on old mud ensemble followers. That music is done now. Those followers are gone. Replaced with a new crowd of eager music lovers, and they will be into her sound, massively. Most of the music followers in this town have no desire for mainstream piss served up by the likes of Goldfish et al. Juliana, if you read this, I hope you do more shows. My advice would be to look at performing in the right venues, on the right nights. Your choice of musicians is perfect, but their followings are not going to fill seats.

    I sincerely hope you perform again here.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    Secluded narrow minded mentalities can be utilised in a vicious, sedimentary manner, even when they are so not. Any musician worth their salt knows exactly what is going on in their city and where to go and why to go and so obviously can make a conscious decision to not – a self-righteous decision to not attend can seriously mar someone’s sense of performance and a desirous need to be loved by peers is quite necessary in this space-less vacuum. What right does a musician, not mentioning names, beg favours, ask, pray that his peers will support him at his show? We know what is good, we should support it. We know what is crap, we shouldn’t.
    Any form of experimentation should not be frowned upon by a grouping of derivative-minded self-regarding self-appointed ‘musicians’. We only have us. And us is what it will take to get what’s good over there [points vaguely overseas]. I have seen too much death to not feel indignant. And it is tiresome.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    Bull-horning someone is not cool. Cliquey, self-appointed queens of scenes should not have the say.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    Oh-ho! So we need the ‘right’ musicians to fill seats?
    Pray tell, who might those be? Nudge nudge, wink wink, blowjob blowjob.

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  5. YellowElevator says:

    Who’s Johanna Newsom?

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  6. sad truth says:

    The Spooky album launch in Woodstock a couple of weeks earlier was well attended, but after the first few songs half the audience had left. Sometimes political will and good intentions are there, but the flesh is weak. Juliana’s music sets itself apart from the vast majority of South African acts due to its sustained intensity and a desire to explore more abstract and less conventional sonic territory.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    How can you KAK someone out for not knowing Jo[h]anna Newsom?

    Joanna Newsom is this awesome little lady that plays the harp and sings delicately wrought little folksian songs, and she sounds like a little old-lady-child – a strange vocal quality for most but surprisingly awesome, actually.

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  8. YellowElevator says:

    I was actually just being a pedantic prick. I know Joanna Newsom quite well, I just wanted to point out the miss-spelling which is why I imagine I’ve been given two ‘KAKs’.

    And the article has been edited so that the spelling is now correct. Talk about positive change that we can all see.

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  9. Anonymous says:

    @Yellervator: Nais. Soz, get a little too into these musical dinguses. Can’t discern sarcasm. Anyone who doesn’t know her though should pick up Milk Eyed Mender & Ys and should also check out CocoRosie’s 1st album La Maison De Mon Reve. Glorious, I tell you.

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  10. YellowElevator says:

    Yeah, they are both good. I think just after Ys she came out with an EP – Joanna Newsom & the Ys Street Band which I really enjoyed and is definitely worth checking out, too.

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  11. Warrick Sony says:

    nice piece Roger – thanks

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  12. simon says:

    yo Roger

    I was there (one of the fortunate 12) – what an amazing performance !!!!!!!!
    thanks for reporting – thanks for being there

    i agree with you that the turn out was rather pathetic and i agree that it says sad things about cape town, our people etc

    the gig was a really special occasion and a lot of people missed out


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