The Demented Goddess (DG): Elizabeth, your album Pastoral, a menacing satire on our Brexit times sounds, to us, like gothic techno. You break and mesh classical, folk and techno genres, while voicing the bombast of Little Englanders (“Just look at these kids now / No respect / No proper job / Much better in my day / No foreigners”). You’re unafraid to clatter us round an ugly, fairground Waltzer of cowbells, car alarms and bloodied beats, as in the addictively tribal Little Lambs.
When you create this kind of work, do you feel there’s any pressure on female artists to make music that is pretty and comforting?
ABSOLUTELY. I often get into conversations with people or read comments saying they prefer my prettier music, which is of course, fair enough, but it only drives me further to defy the overused cliché of the fragile, beautiful female voice, as if that type of purity and innocence is somehow exclusively characterful of femininity, and anything contrary to that is deemed masculine and unbecoming. It’s such an archaic and outmoded, yet strongly prevailing archetype, at least in the mainstream media.
As a species we have so much more to express and represent than this. I offer zero respite if I feel necessary. That’s how I experience life at times, so I naturally need to vocalise that too.
I do understand the power of the voice to move people, both in beauty and in anger. Both are useful and relevant, but it is always best, in my opinion, when done sparingly and in contrast to other emotions and ideas.
DG: What was the biggest risk you took, creating this album?
I think the themes I’m tackling in ‘Pastoral’, which is largely being dubbed as “The Brexit Album”, was always something that I expected would invite criticism and lots of eye-rolling etc. I don’t profess to know everything about politics or history, I’m certainly no scholar or sociologist, but there were things I simply needed to say and get out of my system in this record, and a large part of that was making fun of my own culture and my own identity to some extent.
I always seek to take risks in terms of production style because it usually always pays off to do things differently. I pushed things to be as manic and unpredictable as they could be, as intense, honest and as uncompromising as I could muster. I guess we’ll see how that pans out in terms of how the album continues to be received in the world. I have already been pleasantly surprised, but I daren’t look too closely.
DG: Pastoral is a rewarding, if disturbing, descent for rave-heads. In some of your artwork and performances, you appear as a version of that British figure, the fool, masked, in red tassels and Adidas . The jester, in King Lear or Hamlet, is a figure who satirises and sympathises but has no power. Who is your jester? What place does s/he occupy, between the plebians and the authorities? What is his/her power?
The primary goal for using the Jester get-up was to enable me to have the freedom to mock and simultaneously inhabit a range of voices and impersonations. It fit the bill in every way for the project (most importantly the live performance), both in reference to the historical roles that Jesters played, as well as the contemporary parallels as an entertainer in 2018 Britain.
For me, the Fool or the Jester is a vessel to reflect the dirty truth of human nature, of conscience, of a deep instinct, an unfiltered brashness. They can imitate the Everyman, or the royal, men or women, demon or angel. So I use the red imp as a means of narrating all those various parts and characters that range from the obvious tabloid loud-mouth, to a ghostly English post-war lament, to a godly, King James Bible voice of conscience and righteousness.
DG: Is it true that the video for ‘Glory’ is the first in which you’ve shown your rather beautiful and haunting face? Why is that?
I suppose it is, yes. My reasons for removing my face (rather than hiding – I think it’s important to note) from imagery and performance, have become more and more relevant to me over time. The longer I have done this, and the stronger the themes driving each mask, have become more and more meaningful and powerful to me. The outward facing statement of “covering” myself, of course, means that “uncovering” my face then becomes a statement of equal measure. In this instance, that gesture (which I tried to keep subtle), felt integral to ‘Glory’ because it’s partly about how women have been and still are victims to patriarchal crusades, – crusades both in the literal, historical sense, as well as the a wider socio-political context of how the world is generally structured to empower men.
DG: In the video for ‘Glory’, a knight appears to return from his battles to a poisoned English forest. You appear as a nun, a nightmarish jester and a slain damsel in virginal white.
The film reminded us a little of The Virgin Spring, Bergman’s medieval allegory in which goat-herds rape and murder a young pilgrim girl and are punished by her parents. Your nun is wonderfully creepy – and the Knights Templar, of course, developed into the Freemasons, who continue to secretly operate a fraternity across business and politics.
What is the vengeance sought in Glory? Are you making a point by not embodying a maturely sexual archetype among the figures you played?
The wonderful director, Tash Tung and I discussed the idea of ‘Medieval Neon’ as a starting point for the film. Then she wrote a treatment for a period film after researching the Knight’s Templar and all kinds of wonderful offshoots. The characters I play represent those archetypal themes, the history of the religious crusade and notions of purity and humility as a means to justify violence and rape.
Gazelle Twin is Elizabeth Bernholz, Twitter @gazelletwin