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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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