An engrossing, ghastly, but intensely beautiful carousel of sound, Gazelle Twin‘s Deep England collaboration with the NYX Drone Choir is unlike anything you’ve seen or heard before. Inspired by the tracks that formed Bernholz’s 2018 album Pastoral, the joint performance at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall continued the artist’s 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, Gazelle Twin (aka Elizabeth Bernholz) and her team have created a claustrophobic, charged gallop of aural anarchy with this latest endeavour. Informed by British paganism and ritualistic activity, Deep England feels almost supernatural at points, especially during ‘Fire Leap’, which is lifted from the cult 1973 film The Wicker Man. Multiple recorders and kazoos are played – instruments of nostalgic folly turned into present, frightening farce – as the choir slowly moved 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 broke this spell, with its nervous, persistent percussion. It stands out in terms of volume and energy, with Bernholz and her chorus performing frenzied, stunted movements whilst snarling 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, as the intro synth sequence to ‘Sunny Stories’ begins to play. Bernhlz delivered her dark fable under the fake foliage, gently lulling the choir into following track ‘Golden Dawn’.
‘Throne’ brought Bernholz back to centre stage and down to her knees, singing of “insolvency” and racking up debts. Eponymous track ‘Deep England’ closed the performance in the same un-nerving way it began; dimly lit, with the choir and Bernholz’s voices seething in unison. Whilst Bernholz’s unique vision was brought vividly to life on her original record Pastoral, with the aid of the NYX drone choir her vitriol is able to take its fullest, most nerve-shredding form. Deep England is a phenomenal artistic accomplishment and a jarring reminder that our dark 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