Live Music + Gig Reviews

Gazelle Twin: Fleshed Out @ Barbican, London

25 November 2015

Barbican Centre

Barbican Centre (Photo: Max Colson)

We came to watch the funeral. The last rites. To see Gazelle Twin, or at least this manifestation of Gazelle Twin, put out to seed. This was to be the last performance from the blue-clad, face masked figurine first sighted in 2013 and which has become the visual motif upon which Elizabeth Bernholtz’s last album, 2014’s Unflesh, has been carried.

As motifs go, it’s a memorable one. Frightening, yes. But, and this probably explains why it resonates, also strangely relatable. There’s something in there, some distant echo of PE classes and freezing cold cross-country runs which causes something to spark in a larger proportion of brains than you’d initially think. But all good things must end and Bernoltz has decided to hang up the tracksuit, after this final hurrah. Denoted as Gazelle Twin: Fleshed Out, it’s a combination of things – a film, directed by Esther Springett, and a performance of the songs from Unflesh.

The film starts us off. Composed like a nature documentary, it offers calm, unblinking views of urban surroundings upon which an audience can strain to catch a view of a lesser spotted Twin. It’s extremely effective, done with a horror-movie knowledge of tension building, the expertise that indicates something unseen for the longest time, then glimpsed for a second, is the most frightening thing of all.

But the main event is the album. Slightly recast and slightly re-imagined, but it’s no less brilliant. So following the film, on creeps the band. A red hooded figure in charge of the electronics whose hoodie all but matches the curtain at the back of the cinema and no less than four Gazelle Twins. Three of them take up residence on the front row and in the wings. One lies in the foetal position in the centre of the stage (mimicking the last image seen in Springett’s earlier film). There’s a deep pulsing wave of electronic noise hits, before Bernholtz’s distorted scream shatters the calm.

Into the skeletal, bleak title track from Unflesh we rush. Throbbing and pulsating, anxious and tense. Bernholtz sways and rocks and it has a primal, unstoppable urgency behind it. But there are moments of calmness on display too. Oddly, and it may have a lot to do with the staging – the deep red walls and cosy surroundings do offer an environment which suits being bundled up like a small kitten – but the calmer moments are wonderfully soothing. Good Death is gentle and warm, fluttering like a post-industrial Kate Bush.

The loops and dives of Premonition remind you of the androids-need-love-too endorphin rush of Björk’s All Is Full Of Love. However, there’s no doubt that Bernholtz is even better at setting you on edge, and in the best way imaginable. Anti Body is as jittery and as anxious as a pre-coffee prison snitch on the way to the courtroom, while the set closing Exorcise, during which the other Twins climb on stage to dance in one of the oddest choreographed routines you’ll see, is a thumping, pounding workout. Then it’s over. No waves, no thank yous, no shattering of the atmosphere created. It is a stunning way to exit and a fitting end to this stage of Gazelle Twin.

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