Whatever the opposite to the nausea-inducing pacifier of a genre ‘easy listening’ is called, that’s the word I want to use to describe Rated X. This… performance (seems such a mealy word for this) from word spitting, possible literal-demon Chris Brett Bailey and visual artist Tomas Jefanovas feels like all the things your mum said might happen if you stood too near the speaker, but in a good way.
Bailey’s face is split like a satanic Ziggy Stardust, it isn’t clear whether the lizard or human side is the mask with his blue eye as frighteningly intense as the reptilian contact lens. He’s not a man who typically, as seen in This is How We Die, requires set dressing and for the first 5-minutes I was worried that Jefanovas’ chromatic waves were so much unnecessary projection. But then we shift gear, Bailey interacts with the onstage camera, his face manipulated by Jefanovas into the surrounding screens. It is to Katie Mitchell what enemas are to detox: Nastier, messier, faster.
The intersection of the neon lines and shapes against Bailey’s face, his hand, his teeth, his spats pull you deeper into this videodrome of a gig. The background switching to the void of space further enforcing this as an alien experience that (I won’t lie) is very hard to put into words. There’s a brutal energy between the two performers, in no way is Jefanovas providing background to Bailey. They are both very present, sometimes seeming to be in fluid collaboration and sometimes in conflict. It’s a fine line between sparring and dancing.
It would be wrong to characterize the words that machine-gun from Bailey as ‘a stream of consciousness’. The fastidious curation of his speech is clearly heard, even when impossible to understand. To paraphrase Mile Davis, as in Jazz there’s no wrong words/notes for Bailey and he knows the right order. There’s a violence to his music: his saxophone forcibly deep throating the microphone, every fucking jagged rift leaving him looking like he’s about to orgasm or vomit or both.
There’s an apparently mythical note, that if played will have disastrous bodily consequences for those that hear it. I’m not saying that’s what Rated X is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you found it on the same scale, maybe under ‘spontaneous shock and awe, the Kantian sublime of looking upon an approaching tidal wave’.
What if the Chuckle brothers were stuck in some terrifying echo chamber, desperate for human connection?
Ok, and what if that was a radio show?
Rosana Cade and Eilidh MacAskill are the Barry and Barry show, identical radio hosts locked in some isolated hell, waiting for you to phone in. ‘It’s all about you and your opinion!’ they repeat sounding like sunshine and desperation. They just want to hear from you, they implore, what matters to you matters to them. Otherwise it’s just Barry and Barry, and they aren’t allowed to deviate too much. It feels like biting into an ice cream, something recognisable being consumed in a way that is wrong and sets your teeth on edge.
They face you down, seemingly trapped in their booth for all time, rolling their Sisyphusian boulder back up the hill every morning show. Cade and MacAskill say a lot without much variation in actual words. The dialogue purposefully monotonous, our upbeat hosts keep being pinged back to the start like human swing-balls doomed to pull the elastic round the same circuit eternally. The repetition of the same phrases has the effect of concrete poetry – saying ‘Am I good?’ over and over changes and twists the meaning. It’s like when you’ve been staring at a page too long and you manage to convince yourself that no, that’s not actually how you spell Wednesday. Without giving too much away, a musical departure from this is framed as comic but also speaks to a truth about human relationships; I can never embody your experience of the world, what I know of you can only ever be what I know.
They are continually interrupted by jingles, and you realise why those snippets of music are called that. Their catchy, light-heartedness feels like someone is shaking hand bells over our Barrys who are growing increasingly frantic, hysterically trying to conceal their distress that no one has called in. Never were two office chairs so exploited as Cade and MacAskill underscore their strange twin act by wheeling them from presenter formality to childish wildness.
Cade and MacAskill describe Barry and Barry as only able ‘to tune into the white noise at the edges of their outer space echo chamber’. That’s how I imagine Barry and Barry, cosmonauts turning over and over in their pod, forever beaming out their signal ‘Is there anybody out there?’ At least, I hope, they have each other.
Week 2 of NOW18 is on at The Yard until 27 January 2018. Click here for more details, and the rest of the programme that continues until 17 February 2018.