A deeply engrossing, ghastly, yet intensely beautiful carousel of sound: Gazelle Twin‘s (Elizabeth Bernholz) ‘Deep England’ collaboration with the NYX Drone Choir is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, or heard before. Inspired by the tracks that form Bernholz’s 2018 album, Pastoral, this performance continues her harrowing up of England’s “rotten past” and exploration of its uncertain future.
Through the power of combined operatic voices, St. George-Meets-The-Handmaid’s-Tale costumes, and creative staging; Bernholz and her team have created a claustrophobic, charged gallop of anarchy with this latest endeavour. “What species is this?” questions Bernholz & the NYX choir through their overlapping vocals on ‘Folly’, an apt observation from a group of women who have powerful, beguiling voices. They are all used to full effect during a riveting, acapella rendition of following track ‘Glory’.
Informed by British paganism and ritualistic activity, ‘Deep England’ feels almost supernatural at points, and this is especially noticeable during ‘Fire Leap, lifted from the cult 1973 film The Wicker Man. Multiple recorders and kazoos are played – instruments of nostalgic folly turned in to present, frightening farce – as the women slowly move around the stage, chanting the lyrical motif “Take the flame inside you / Burn and burn below”, like a warped spell.
‘Better In My Day’ abruptly breaks this spell, with its nervous, persistent percussion. It stands out in terms of volume and energy, with Bernholz and her chorus performing frenzied, yet stunted movements whilst they spit and snarl their way through the lyrics. A spotlight on a tree at the back of the stage (which has been present throughout the performance) commands Bernholz to sit under it. The intro synth sequence to ‘Sunny Stories’ begins to play, and she delivers her dark fable under the fake foliage, gently lulling her choir in to following track ‘Golden Dawn’.
‘Throne’ brings Bernholz back to centre stage and down to her knees, as she sings of “insolvency” and eating your debts. Eponymous track ‘Deep England’ closes the performance in the same un-nerving way it began; dimly lit, with the women’s voices seething in unison. Whilst Bernholz’s unique vision was brought vividly to life on her original record Pastoral, it’s with the aid of the NYX drone choir during ‘Deep England’ that her vitriol takes its fullest form. ‘Deep England’ is a phenomenal accomplishment, and a jarring reminder that our past is never too far behind us.
‘Deep England’ Credits:
Gazelle Twin: Elizabeth Bernholz
NYX vocalists: Adelaide Pratoussy, Cecilia Forssberg, Natalie Sharp, Ruth Corey, Shireen Querishi, Sian O’Gorman
Compositions and Music Direction: Elizabeth Bernholz and Sian O’Gorman
Movement Director: Imogen Knight
Sound Associate: Peter Rice
Production and Costume Design: Chloe Lamford
Stylist: Anna Josephs
‘Deep England’ was performed as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival 2019.
Photo Credit: Jamie Cameron