It didn’t get much coverage in the States, but last month Pussy Riot’s Pyotr Verzilov was arrested in Moscow, and charged with “petty hooliganism”—though it’s doubtful that the incident was anything but politically motivated.
It landed in the middle of the explosion of protests in America following the surely racially motivated murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis—the aftermath of which the Trump administration is now dealing with by veritably starting the next American civil war.
So, no surprise, Pussy Riot are pissed. And, well, they are about to start their own “RIOT.” Indeed, that is precisely the title of their new single and video, released today. Of course, it totally rips; but naturally, it also has a lyrical message that should have the bad guys turning tail and running away as fast as they can.
“yeah sex is great
but have you ever fucked the system
hate to hate
and my religion is resistance
the only thing they water plants with
fuck the state
men love when women only whisper”
The last line decisively reminds of their relentless message of female empowerment, especially poignant following their recent single “HANGERZ,” which was a fearless meditation on women’s reproductive rights.
If it even need be said, sometimes only a “RIOT” will do.
As the new Psychedelic Furs single opens with the lyrical couplet, “Come all ye faithful / And shine a light on, shine a light on me,” it’s hard not to imagine a metaphorical line drawn to the “God will protect us” anti-masker agitators. Though surely the song was written before the publicly acknowledged onset of the coronavirus sometime earlier this year.
The track is titled, appropriately, “Come All Ye Faithful,” and is taken from Made of Rain (out July 31 via Cooking Vinyl), the first Furs album in 29 years. And some things indeed never change, as all the way back to 1980’s “Imitation of Christ,” frontman and symboliste post-punk poet Richard Butler has been getting up the backside of organized religion—something which seems especially exigent at this particular moment. Hardly surprising, faith has again gotten mixed up with the mission of science to protect us from our own apocalyptic catastrophes—the most recent of which has claimed nearly 150,000 American lives.
The words drip with Butler’s familiar and sneering brand of sardonicism, as he intones in his unmistakable aplomb-and-cigarette-stained but sensual snarl, “When I said I needed you I lied / I never needed anyone I laughed until I cried.” And it’s all set to a backdrop of grinding guitars, ghostly sax blasts and jittery, march-like beats. The singer recently told Rolling Stone the song was about, “looking for redemption in faith and riches”—and we certainly know how that mostly turns out.
The accompanying Imogen Harrison directed video shows an androgynous figure wandering lost in the woods, and racing towards a mysteriously flashing light. Which is not unlike what life has pretty much been like since our pandemic-motivated lockdown this past March.
For many, of course, The Furs were veritably a religion unto themselves. So at such a time as this, it’s just comforting to know that the church doors have been re-opened…and that in Made of Rain, there is a profound new book of hymns to guide us through yet another crisis of our own making.
If there is an artist for this moment, certainly it is Jenny Saville. As one of the early ’90s YBA (Young British Artists), her riveting, Ruben-esque portraits of nude women vividly challenged the accepted stereotypes of the female artistic muse. As further confirmation of her cultural cred, the Manic Street Preachers would go on to choose works of hers for two separate album covers; and her Stare gracing the front of their 2005 release Journal For Plague Lovers caused what was a certainly unnecessary scandal amongst nervous retailers.
Her place in the art world pantheon was certainly certified (as if it needed to be) when her 1992 painting Propped was sold by Sotheby’s London recently for £9.5 million, a record amount for a living female artist. But her work is especially poignant as we continue to struggle through our various coronavirus quarantines, as many have been left alone to face down their own body images, having been freed from so many workaday distractions. And in the psychological turbulence of her striking new self-portrait, fittingly titled Virtual, we may indeed find parallels to our own COVID-generated turmoil.
It was executed specifically for Gagosian’s new weekly Artist Spotlight, launched during the quarantine as a way to generate art world energy while physical galleries remained closed. Some Gagosian European galleries have since re-opened.
“It’s as much about painting as about portraiture,” Saville explains. “Realism is what concerns me most. I’ve been trying to find ways to stretch a feeling of time by layering realities. After working on an image for a while, building up different poses, bodies or limbs start to intertwine and unexpected forms emerge.—what can reality look like in twenty-first-century painting? I once read a quote by Georges Bataille about an upside-down head in which the mouth exists where the eyes should be—and how violent and disconcerting it is to see gleaming teeth and lips at the top of a head.”
It is, in fact, the last in the Artist Spotlight series, and also commemorates the artist recently turning 50—perhaps a particularly poignant milestone for someone who first became successful as part of a confrontational youth movement, of sorts.
“I’ve been trying to find ways to stretch a feeling of time by layering realities,” she reflects. “After working on an image for a while, building up different poses, bodies or limbs start to intertwine and unexpected forms emerge.”
And nothing could be more relevant right now, than that which is unexpected.
With all the talk of America, China, Japan, Korea, Brazil…it’s perhaps easy to forget that so many smaller countries have been going through just what everyone else has during the coronavirus pandemic—but without any of the column inches in international outlets.
So this story coming out of Vilnius addresses just that, and confirms that creativity all over the world was not brought low, but instead was inspired to thrive during these months of uncertainty. Indeed the work of 100 Lithuanian artists now form an exhibition decisively titled Art Needs No Roof, winding through the center of the city. Partnering with outdoor advertising operator JCDecaux Lietuva, the city’s mayor Remigijus Šimašius conceived the idea to replace commercial billboards with works of contemporary art, perhaps a metaphor for how, during times of crisis, culture should be prioritized over commerce, as one is clearly better than the other at assisting in the process of healing.
“Although art galleries are already open, the restrictions for social gatherings remain in place,” Šimašius explains. “Therefore, Vilnius ‘takes its roof off.’ We have turned the city centre into a huge open-air gallery. We hope that the project will stimulate creativity and some works will find their way into people’s homes.”
Citizens and visitors can use a specially created virtual map to navigate the exhibition. And amongst the lesser knowns, they will ultimately discover the works of such internationally venerated Lithuanian talents as Vilmantas Marcinkevičius, Vytenis Jankūnas, Laisvydė Šalčiūtė, Algis Kriščiūnas and Živilė Žvėrūna, and Svajonė & Paulius Stanikas (SetP Stanikas). Selection was based on both the visual qualities of the works, and their ability to integrate within the landscape of the city.
“The quarantine was a special time for me as an artist,” offers Ms. Žvėrūna. “It was a time of reflection, when you can stop to think deeper about our society and the role that art plays in it. The pandemic made us find new ways to experience culture. That’s why this project is so interesting: for several weeks billboards are filled with works of art. I can now clearly see that curiosity and new experiences is replacing the universal fear of the first days of the pandemic.”
Through the twin tragedies of a global pandemic and the racial injustices brought to light by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others, Senegalese-American songstress Marieme has been one of the genuine voices of hope in our little corner of the world. To be sure, between her always empowering music, and her poignant words in an essay recently penned for BlackBook, she has reminded us that surely we can come together to overcome whatever and whomever stands against us.
And now comes the exhilarating news that she will be releasing a string of ideologically connected singles throughout the remainder of summer, under the unambiguous banner Songs For The Revolution. The first of these is an impassioned, stirringly soulful update of the Sam Cooke classic “A Change is Gonna Come.” With its inspiring passages like, “There been times that I thought I wouldn’t last for long / Now I think I’m able to carry on / It’s been a long, a long time coming,” it is poignant and relevant right now in more ways than one could reasonably count—even 56 years after its initial release.
“It’s hard to wrap my head around that,” she says, “the fact that not much progress has been made, and that oppression was just rebranded, over and over again. I’ve been profoundly moved by the Black Lives Matter movement in a way that I’m sure many have been moved to take actions, to end racism once and for all for the remainder of our lives.”
Most importantly, she comes at the challenges that lie ahead from a position of optimism, at a time when surely unprecedented levels of pessimism and cynicism hang over our nation like a threatening storm cloud.
“I believe that things will change for the better,” Marieme insists, “because of the visibility and broader understanding that has taken place; and we see things changing already at the core. The reimagining of a better world is going to take Radical untamed love! And self awareness! 2020 has been truly a year of consciousness already, and I’m looking forward to the healing it’ll bring for people who’s lives depend on it! A change is here! You are the Change!”
Since its debut in 2018, Hulu’s Into The Dark has been a less preeningly conceptual answer to American Horror Story, with two seasons of 12-episode features that do not, in fact, refer back to one another. It’s drawn acting talent the likes of Suki Waterhouse, Matt Lauria and Judy Greer.
Episode 10 of the second season premieres July 17. And while the series mostly steers clear of AHS‘ confusing surrealism, Into the Dark: The Current Occupant is very keen to mess with our psychological grasp of reality. Indeed, it stars Barry Watson as a man who may or may not be the President of these (not so) United States, but definitely believes himself to be so. He’s also trapped in a terrifying but inscrutable psych ward—and the situation is definitely not looking good for him.
In the first trailer, one can readily decipher the language of cruel mind experiments within the ward (“I am running a new study, it’s highly experimental,” explains one emotionless, lab-coated operative). And with a horrified stare, Watson’s Henry Cameron (President Henry Cameron?) worriedly queries one of his “keepers,” “Am I the President of the United States?” A fellow patient then informs him, “They’re all out to get you,” before letting out a hideous cackle. Oh dear.
The episode is directed by Julius Ramsay, a respected film editor who also helmed a couple of episodes of The Walking Dead; and fittingly, screenwriter Alston Ramsay was once a DC speechwriter for the likes of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General David Petraeus. So expect the script to be shot full of insidery details.
Of course, we don’t need to elaborate on the surely intentional zeitgeistyness of the dramatic depiction of an American president being held in an insane asylum—except to say, “yes, that definitely could happen.”
No matter how striking the production on any of our past fave Nadine Shah tracks, she very much possesses one of those voices, haunted, seductive, world weary, that always made us wish she were singing just for us, in our own living room, sans instrumentation. But BlackBook has managed to get the next best thing: this exclusive studio clip, recorded for Radio 5 Live in the UK, of the slyly sensual but introspective title track from her latest album Kitchen Sink, just released June 26.
The enigmatic Norwegian-Pakistani Brit from South Tyneside is deftly backed by her band, each playing from their own personal quarantine position. And over a raw but visceral accompaniment (minimal piano, handclaps, Zep-like guitar squawks), she gets incisively philosophical, her throaty delivery as smoky as it is silvery.
“I wasted time with paranoia
Don’t let unorderly thought destroy you
Don’t pick a fight just for the sake of it
But let it lie and they will grow tired of it”
She even allows herself a few wry and sly smiles for the camera, as if she’s thinking of a really good off-color joke as she’s singing. But it may be because she just perfectly well realizes that any amount of pandemic is no match for the sheer force of her musical puissance.
The new album itself speaks very much to the sort of self-reflection that comes with women reaching an age where they’re expected to give serious consideration to the question of having children or not. Though Shah insists that despite so many of her closest friends having brought new life into the world, she is nevertheless comfortable in her own choices—though putting it all into words surely helped to get her there.
“There’s that panic that so many of us have that we are running out of time,” she explains, “when it comes to having children. If you were to tell 14 year old me I’d be 34, unmarried and have no children, I’d have never believed it. Essentially I’m writing about so many women that I just love. The new mothers, the rock stars, the ones doubting themselves who need our support.”
And of course, the song “Kitchen Sink” in any form is an essential capsule of wisdom, no matter what your age, gender, or your grand plan for life.
One of the many gifts bestowed upon us by his magnificence Nick Cave, has been that his music and words have made us feel somehow more comfortable in our aloneness and isolation—he has helped to elevate our outsiderness when it was most deeply felt. So nothing could be more apt than for the Bard of Melbourne (or Warracknabeal?) to be performing in complete isolation, as we struggle in and out of the pandemic-imposed lockdowns, which have become worryingly political.
But Nick has never wanted to moderate between ideologies. Rather, he and his songs always manage to shine a light so that we may better see ourselves, especially at such a time when quarantine has often put us at odds with those very selves.
And so he valiantly took to the stage of the exalted Alexandra Palace, near Muswell Hill in far North London, this past June. The Grade II listed Victorian venue dates back to 1875, when it was built upon the site of Tottenham Wood; and within one of its spectacular halls, Cave and his piano let fly with the raw, stark grace of his still chill-inducing music. Captured on film by cinematographer Ronnie Ryan (The Favourite), the result is Idiot Prayer – Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace, which will be streamed around the world this July 23, at 90 minutes running time.
“Idiot Prayer’ evolved from my ‘Conversations With…’ events” he explains, “performed over the last year or so. I loved playing deconstructed versions of my songs at these shows, distilling them to their essential forms—with an emphasis on the delivery of the words. I felt I was rediscovering the songs all over again, and started to think about going into a studio and recording these reimagined versions at some stage—whenever I could find the time.
Then, of course, the world went into lockdown. The Bad Seeds’ global 2020 tour was postponed. Studios shut down. Venues shut down. And the world fell into an eerie, self-reflective silence.
It was within this silence that I began to think about the idea of not only recording the songs, but also filming them.
Meanwhile, I sat at home working out how to play more songs in the ‘Conversations’ format—new songs and songs from the Ghosteen album, Grinderman songs and early Bad Seeds stuff, and everything in between.
We worked with the team at Alexandra Palace—a venue I have played and love. We had an amazing production team and crew, and what they did within this extraordinary situation was a marvel. Surrounded by COVID officers with tape measures and thermometers, masked-up gaffers and camera operators, nervous looking technicians and buckets of hand gel, together we created something very strange and very beautiful that spoke into this uncertain moment, but was in no way bowed by it.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it.”
Here we have the first, and fittingly, enigmatically poetic trailer. Advance tickets can be purchased here.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that venal politicians and assorted C-suite types manipulated the COVID-19 crisis for their own benefit and gain. But if there is anyone who can save us now, it’s one Björk Guðmundsdóttir, the Icelandic angel who always manages to operate far above the quotidian pettiness of our tiresome humanity.
And so it is that she has joined forces with Iceland Airwaves to present what is sure to be a magical, nay ethereal series of performances at Harpa Hall in Reykjavik, this August 9, 15 and 23. Notably, all will be in front of a live audience, as Iceland, like most of Europe, has decisively beat back the virus. Proceeds from the shows will benefit Kvennaathvarfid, a organization dedicated to providing shelter and improving the lives of abused women and children in Iceland.
The performances will all be matinees, and will be livestreamed to the rest of the planet. It’s worth considering a ticket for all three, as each will be utterly unique, promising to perhaps invent the genre of acoustic-orchestral, with specific lineups as follows:
Sunday August 9 – 17:00 GMT
conductor Þorgerður Ingólfsdóttir,
Bergur Þórisson, organ
Saturday August 15 – 17:00 GMT
strings from Icelandic Symphony Orchestra,
conductor Bjarni Frímann Bjarnason
Sunday August 23 – 17:00 GMT
brass from the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra,
flute septet Viibra,
harpist Katie Buckley,
pianist Jónas Sen
“dear friends, i would like to invite you to some concerts,” Björk says in a charmingly stylized but earnest statement, “to honour folks who got hit hardest in the coronavirus and the black lives matter movement…and to honour how many icelandic musicians i have worked with through the years. and we are going to celebrate that we are all healthily exiting quarantine.”
Then she takes it a little further ideologically—as if we would have expected anything less of her.
“i feel we are going through extraordinary times. horrifying but also an opportunity to truly change. it is demanded of us that we finally confront all racism, that we learn that lives are more important that profit, and look inside us and finecomb out all our hidden prejudices and privileges. let’s all humbly learn together.”
Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a better plan for moving forward.