A grotty bathroom and a faded blue shower curtain which ripples from the touch of an unseen entity. Prolonged close-ups of plugholes, with water slowly being sucked down them. These were the visuals my brother & I were confronted with on Wednesday night at The Barbican Centre. We’d come to see Fleshed Out – a collaboration between film-maker Esther Springett, and eerie electronic music expert Gazelle Twin.
We almost missed the event – it sold out immediately – but scored two of the final eight tickets released a week before the show. In April, we had seen Gazelle Twin (aka Elizabeth Bernholz) live for the first time at London’s Electrowerkz. Amidst the grimy, smoky insides of this venue, we watched her perform her raw, neurotic sound. Her unique, haunting set remained embedded in our memories – so our anticipation for what we were about to see was palpable.
We sat in darkness in Cinema 1 of The Barbican quietly observing Springett’s short-film, which featured glimpses of Bernholz amongst concrete underpasses and isolated urban areas. The closing image was of Gazelle Twin on the ground, her back to the lens, in the recovery position. As the lights gradually came up to ‘dim’, there was an audible scuffling below the cinema screen. Five hooded figures emerged from a fire exit, and assumed different positions. Bernholz was laying on stage, cocooned in her trademark attire; blue hoodie, white socks, brunette wavy locks; and her face concealed by a thin, flesh coloured mask. It’s this anti-style and her “tasting in nerves” on second album Unflesh which brought her to The Barbican. Each red seat in the cinema was filled with a spectator, ravenous for Bernholz’s blend of festering discomfort and odd reassurance.
Through squinted eyes, we deciphered three imposter Gazelle Twins littering seats in the front row, and a red hooded figure, stage-right, hunched over a Midi-controller. Throughout the performance, these Gazelle Triplets infiltrated the stage, writhing and crawling like Bernholz’s original beast. When we saw Bernholz perform at Electrowerkz, her solo status acutely articulated the themes of isolation within her songs. Her personal choreography – which included swaying like a possessed pendulum – was replicated by her dancers at The Barbican, and whilst it suited the space and context of the performance, occasionally it lacked the original rawness of Bernholz’s solo moves. To avoid feeling conflicted, we had to remind ourselves that Fleshed Out was not the same beast we’d seen at Electrowerkz. For many people sitting in the audience, this was their first sighting of Gazelle Twin – and what a cripplingly intense sighting it must have been.
Her sound was dangerously sharp. Despite the muffling nature of the cinema’s walls, ‘Phobia’ – a track from the Antibody EP – spread like an electric, aural virus through the crowd; preparing them for the hell-raising nature of eponymous track ‘Unflesh’. Bernholz’s lungs are an instrument in their own right. Her measured, yet erratic breathing in to the microphone proved she had her finger firmly on the audience’s pulse. Stand out tracks were Unflesh singles ‘Belly Of The Beast’ and ‘Anti Body’ – but the live vocal layering on ‘Premonition’ resonated long after Bernholz stopped triggering the audio. Set against the all-consuming, deep red velvet of the stage curtains; ‘I Feel Blood’ and ‘Human Touch’ were also given new life in the weird, womb-like surroundings of the cinema.
By bringing her sound to The Barbican Centre, Gazelle Twin has intentionally unleashed her subconscious on to a bigger, eager and more anxious audience. Bernholz’s mantra-like lyric on ‘Anti Body’ – “I can’t let you in, it takes too much to get out” – was betrayed by the end of her performance; but nothing was lost in the translation. She remains electronically and physiologically switched on – adrenaline incarnate.