Hopelessness, an uneasy feeling  transformed to an artistically attractive spectacle…or how I made up my mind about ANOHNI’s album

I have never felt so tormentingly undecided about an album before. Despite the fact that the powerful album’s title attempted to set my mood before I even had the chance to listen to it properly for the first time, this title was not the reason for my indecisiveness. After the album’s title, it was the cover with its distorted image of ANOHNI and the titles of the songs which, like the many heads of a hydra, attempted to monopolize my attention. Both the cover and the titles of the songs are in agreement with the album’s subjects and especially the titles of the songs are evidently R-8469589-1462215565-8684.jpegdarker than all the titles of songs that Antony Hegharty a.k.a ANOHNI had previously released. Finally it was the lyrics of the songs which tried to capture my undivided attention as they are filled with ideas and thoughts with most of which I could not agree more. The album’s essence was not hidden amongst these different aspects and this only became crystal clear after I had finished listening to this album for the fourth time. It was by then, that individual verses from the lyrics of some songs were imprinted on my mind and that my favourite song from the album ‘Obama’ had a very strong impact on my mood, not only because it feels like a mantra but because its overall atmosphere has elements that surpass its subject in so many ways! Somehow it had become obvious from the delivery of the lyrics, that ANOHNI’s voice was one more instrument and the aim was to articulate both the lyrics and the emotional awe that was provoked by the subjects of these lyrics. This album is so much more than a passionate performance of a few verses and the more I listened to it the more I realized that even though ANOHNI was actually singing, she was at the same time conveying a message at its purest possible form…Nevertheless, I still could not determine whether I actually liked the music. Indeed, the music in ‘Hopelessness is miles away from that of ‘I Am A Bird Now’ and ‘The Crying Light’ but the voice is still the same except this time, the stories she sings about, are much more sinister. If Antony’s voice in You Are My Sister, Cripple And The Starfish and Twilight had the qualities of a caress, we could confidently say that in ‘Hopelessness’ this voice and its mood incorporate the violence of a whip.

‘Hopelessness’ is the soundtrack of our time, it represents the melody of everything that is bad in the world, its aim is to raise awareness and possibly appeal to a hypothetical morally pure idea about right and wrong. The gentleness of emotions in Antony’s past albums as Antony & The Johnsons (named after Marsha P. Johnson, a drag queen and transgender rights activist) and the soothness of the melodies directly contrast the electric, almost ominous ambient sounds that weave a dark veil through which Hopelessness unfolds. Cynicism, bitterness, sadness and sometimes an uneasy abruptness, have replaced the calmer more comforting (yet still melancholic) emotions of older songs such as Swanlights, Flétta and ‘Violetta’. It wasn’t the melodies that remained from this album, but an eerie feeling coming from a deconstructive, almost cubist approach to melody and a few scattered verses from some songs…

I was scared singing a lot of these songs.The words aren’t necessarily that savory — they’re obviously unsavory and scary. And that was also weird: to appropriate my own voice, which is something that people typically trust. People trust me to bring them to a safe place. This is the first record where I’ve not really done that. I’m using my voice to express more conflicted, multifaceted kinds of problems and perspectives that are less settled and less comforting. (extract from an interview. ANOHNI about ‘Hopelessness’)

Hopelessness-The performance!!

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The time was 20.10, the lights were dimmed but not turned off. A sample that replicated the sound of the waves, created a fragile and ominous atmosphere inside the auditorium. A big screen was 1bturned on and Naomi Campbell in what seemed like an abandoned industrial facility, moving like a gazelle, began to dance in front of us in slow motion, as a heroine in a David Lynch setting… An indeterminate distorted noise, accompanied this lengthy (approximately 15’ long) video, as the lights continued to dim in an almost unnoticeable manner. I often found myself half hypnotized but I kept trying to imagine how would ANOHNI make an entrance after this video. ‘Hopelessness’ the homonymous song of this album was the first in the set list and was lip sang by Johanna Constantine (who also starred in Antony’s movie entitled ‘Turning‘ ) on video and ANOHNI on the background off stage. This video showed Johanna’s face in close up so that every minute emotion that was recorded on it would be immediately visible and transmitted to the audience. The visual impact of the mock battlefield make up of this character on video, was strong as it replicated the image of a wounded soldier, possibly alluring 2bto all the ‘battles’ in all the settings that the contemporary organism is giving. It soon became obvious to me that all the videos and especially the characters on them, played a primary role to the quality and the message of this performance. The songs of the set list, succeeded one another in almost the same order that they have on the album. The videos that accompanied each song, obtained stronger and more sad emotional tones as time passed. Figures and faces that strongly challenge the accepted ideals of beauty and norm, alternated between the songs and directly charged the words of the lyrics with additional emotions, concepts and dimensions. Among the characters that appeared on video, were people with whom ANOHNI has collaborated in the past such as, Kendra Pfahler (who also appeared in the movie ‘Turning’ ) a cult performer and artist, Lorraine O’ Grady a New York based artist, the American actress Vanessa Aspillaga, the New York based performer and choreographer Leslie Cuyet  (who also starred in Antony’s movie entitled ‘Turning’). ANOHNI, an always humble yet extremely artistically strong performer, was at times standing in front of us like a statue in a remarkable stillness and at other times faced these faces on the videos as if she was trying to establish some sort of conversation with them.  ANOHNI also tried to interact with the 6characters on the videos through movement. From all the videos, those that accompanied my favourite song from the album ‘Obama’, ‘Why Did You Separate Me’ ( feat. Kendra Pfahler)and ‘Crisis’ (feat. Leslie Cuyet) had the strongest visual and emotional impact on me. The lyrics of ‘Crisis’ that talk about the consequences of war, resonated with me very strongly and felt additionally grave taking into account the revelations of the Chilcot report and Tony Blair’s unapologetic behaviour about the Iraq war.

…If I killed your father with a drone bomb, How would you feel?… (lyrics from the song: ‘Crisis’)

Towards the end of the show ANOHNI was seen to almost bow to the character in the video that accompanied the song ‘Jesus Will Kill You’. During7 the last video which showed an elder member of what seemed to be an indigenous tribe, ANOHNI gave her undivided attention to the words that this character was saying in a reclined position on the stepped platform that dominated the stage.

My fantasy is that it’s kind of a dance record. (extract from an interview. ANOHNI about ‘Hopelessness’)

ANOHNI- One of the many incarnations of the multifarious Antony Hegharty

10Wearing an all white garment that covered her whole body, ANOHNI moved with the easiness of a ghost and the subtlety of a geisha. Her head was covered entirely by a densely weaved black net, with a white hood over it. Two male figures, the co-producers of this album,Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke dressed in matching black clothes were  manipulating electronic dub-infused sounds on synths on either side of the stepped stage at its highest level. For as long as I have lived in London I have never missed a performance by Antony Hegharty and I have followed her work throughout the years. The artistic transformation that has been in the epic9entre of ‘Hopelessness’ and which I experienced during this performance at the Barbican, exceeded every personal expectation! The delivery of the whole album in the way that it was done, clearly defined the point of view of ANOHNI towards the subjects of the lyrics and it has also clarified the logic which traverses this piece of work. It was obvious from the electronic music and the strong messages in the lyrics, that this is not your average music album and that this is not a piece of work that will serve as a soundtrack when reading your favourite book. This is not an album that you should have in your collection, it is a performance, a theatrical piece with music that you MUST see!

‘Hopelessness’ is about ideas and feelings that only become animated and make sense when presented on stage. The videos seemed to evoke our emotional response and empathy with the characters and with the way that the lyrics were being registered on them. At the same time ANOHNI’s movements and gestures were communicating to us, her strictest criticism against the causes of all the things that the lyrics described on another 4level. I honestly think that the cynicism and bitterness before the verse ‘Jesus will kill you’ in the homonymous song and at the end of ‘Crisis’, could not have been communicated more strongly than through the playful hand gestures and the subtly/discreetly/ slightly mocking dancing figures that ANOHNI made. Being able to absorb all the elements of this spectacle, seemed at times to be a challenging task but the result was rewarding and rich in emotional and conceptual stimuli despite the fact that, very soon, all the characters in all the videos were on the verge of tears…

ANOHNI has received strict criticism for this album and it has been admirable that she has spent the time to provide exceptionally detailed responses to people who might have been put off by the exceptional difference in the music and style of this album compared with the previous work by this artist.

The audience at times applauded with excitement and at other times with pure admiration. The show ended as it started, with a video that accompanied ‘Drone Bomb Me’ in which ANOHNI appeared briefly just before Naomi Campbell , now evidently crying, in juxtaposition with her video at the beginning where she was seen smiling. This video was the ideal way to close the show as it was short and provoked many questions about its purpose.

There was no intermission and no second part and the applause stopped almost immediately as quickly as all the lights had been turned on, signifying that there would be no encore. ANOHNI left without ever addressing the audience and I immediately dismissed as invalid and irrelevant any thoughts that I had about a potential second part with old songs…This show was ANOHNI’s not Antony’s.

The only time when we saw ANOHNI’s face was through a video which was cropped so that we could only see her eyes and her hairline (we already had a hint from the press release of the Barbican which read as follows: “…The unusual staging for these events will feature joyous dancing and Anohni performing embodied within a live avatar…”).For the rest of the show a figure resembling an oracle, 5moved on stage like a ghost. We actually saw ANOHNI as she was physically on stage, yet somehow she also managed to evade attention and was perceived almost as a hologram. This was one of the weirdest and most artistically interesting performances I have seen this year. Even though a lot of work needs to be done at so many levels in order to tackle all the issues that the songs of this album have raised, their artistic deconstruction must be recognized as an important first step.  I can now listen to the whole album shivering with every single note! I have finally made up my mind about this album! I love it! Thank you ANOHNI !

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I tried to keep a focus on myself in terms of addressing my complicity in so many of these issues — as a taxpayer, as a consumer, as a passive participant. I got to thinking perhaps as an artist, even as an artist with the best of intentions, that I was kind of a microcosm of the brokenness of the whole system. That within my body I contained the whole conflict. (extract from an interview ANOHNI about ‘Hopelessness’)

 

You can see more pictures from this gig by following this link: http://blaue-rosen.com/anohni-hopelessness-live-at-barbican-2016/

 

Blaue Rosen box

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