New Noise, By Stephen Hill
“We dance, to all the wrong songs, We enjoy, all the wrong moves, We need new noise” – Refused, New Noise, 1997.
I think it’s important to admit your strengths and weaknesses as a human being, be aware of your limitations. I, by my own admission, don’t know anything about dance. That’s true. It would seem then that I would be the last person you’d expect to be able to write a blog (that’s this) about a dance show. After all, what do I know? This Thursday just gone I was dragged kicking and screaming against my will to Sadler’s Wells to watch Hofesh Shechter’s Political Mother. A dance show. Great. “He uses rock music in his shows.” Does he now? To say I was sceptical about the idea of a popular theatre practitioner using “rock” music would be an extreme understatement. Rock and roll, I mused, belongs in sweaty clubs and on muddy festival stages. It doesn’t belong in clinical, sterile theatres populated by chin stroking thespians. I was really, very, seriously wrong.
The first thing that struck me and made me realise this may be different to the usual theatre experience was the fact that the front rows had been removed and it now resembled a standing area, the same as you would see at The Forum or Astoria or any other music venue. Oh so familiar, but unnervingly different. Would they come down amongst us? Would we be expected to join in at some point? I stood in the corner and waited for the curtain. At 7.30 the show started. An empty stage, orchestral music, played live by musicians on a raised platform along the back. Rock music? Nowhere to be seen or heard. I’d been duped into attending, the carrot to give me some sort of vague interest in live dance had been a red herring. Then it stopped. A man walked out onto the empty space dressed as a Samurai and stabbed himself in the stomach with a sword. “Someone else hates ballet” I thought to myself. Blackout. Some sort of electrical fuzz. Then it happened. From a third raised platform at the very back of the performance space an explosion. Lights. Sound. Movement. Two drum kits. Three more on percussion. One Bass. Three guitars. Between fifteen and twenty (they never stopped moving long enough for me to count them all) dancers burst into the naked space, filling it with hyper-kinetic, jerking movements, seemingly random but telepathically in time. Like one entity rather than fifteen (twenty) individuals. It quite literally took my breath away. It was impossible to take in everything that was in front of me. It was an assault on the senses. I didn’t know what to think but I noticed I was smiling. Grinning actually.
As one who is uneducated in the medium of dance, I’m unable to give you a detailed and specific breakdown of the style or steps of the dance. What I can say is that I understood the story that was being played out in front of me, I could see artists who were able to articulate their entire emotional make up solely using their physicality and could not be failed to be impressed (and I doubt anyone could) by their ability and dedication to be able to perform such a gruelling piece of work. They are as much athletes as they are artists and some of the passages of musically unaccompanied pieces were dizzyingly transfixing. What I can relay to you with some degree of authority is the musical score. As we left a woman behind me remarked of how it reminded her of Radiohead. There was nothing of Radiohead in the show. Let me be gumby for a minute, it was HEAVY. I’d expected Bon Jovi and got Cult of Luna. What impressed me most was the lack of compromise or concession in the show, that appeared to be the case in the dance. It was definitely true of the music. It wasn’t the MTV ready rock you might have expected, it was thick, discordant, brutal noise. It wasn’t just loud, it pinned you down by the chest and restricted your breathing. It was born from frustration and seethed with danger. In the mix were the likes of alt rock titans The Melvins or Sonic Youth, Noise-core bands like Neurosis, Isis or Fantomas and genre defining acts such as Converge and System Of A Down. All of these bands are valid reference points without dominating the sound which was uniquely its own, adding a traditional eastern European flavour in certain sections.
At the centre of it all was Shechter himself. A British resident since arriving from Israel in 2002, his upbringing in that country has obviously affected his work as Political Mother features powerful imagery of the oppressed and dictatorial leaders. He himself vocally and physically representing a Hitler/Castro hybrid in the show. He is the man that wrote the music, choreographed the moves and designed the stage set and lighting. He thinks in cinema rather than in theatre, he taps his foot to a different rhythm to you and I. He is a visionary. A genius even. I’ve been won over.
As I left the theatre a group of teenage girls were exiting behind me. Every one of them expressed their displeasure at the show they had just seen. “Too loud!” “Not enough backflips” “Just shouting”. I can’t give the show any higher recommendation. Those young ladies are free to go and watch Ghost: The Musical. They are aware of their own limitations, as am I. Hofesh Shechter’s limitations, though, do not appear to be so obvious.