welcome to the church of arca and jesse kanda
An audio-visual journey through the surreal, hyperreal, bodily and sublime at Manchester International Festival.
Arca might just be the most important performer on the Manchester International Festival schedule. A collaborator of both Björk and FKA Twigs -- the two other highlights of the season, as well as a producer for Kanye West, he is certainly one of the most important, relevant and vital artists in the world right now. The 25-year old Venezuelan devours musical styles and performative genders omnivorously to create a genre-defying live show that is surprising and electrifying.
Arca opens his set at Manchester International Festival with the sound of screaming monkeys, followed by pulsing industrial machine noises that blend seamlessly with Jesse Kanda's visuals; are we inside of a beer glass as it fills? Or in the fat-catching bag of a liposuction machine perhaps? No; as the visuals expand for greater perspective, it is revealed that we are progressing through a carwash, being powerwashed from all sides and licked clean by rows of flailing pink tongues. It's a perfect metaphor for the set, which flows through intense periods of dense digital forestry into tender, sensual and cleansing sonic clearings.
In the Hallé St Peter's, a Grade 2 listed Church, more often used for Orchestral rehearsals, Arca's classical keyboard work sounds epic, reverent even; and we are worshipping in the church of the body, both human and alien, genderless and gyrating. At points, Arca steps away from the decks to mirror Jesse Kanda's visual of a dark figure facing away and dancing; in a high-waisted girdle, suspenders, thigh-high, laced-up black glitter boots and a Hood By Air padlock neck chain, Arca winds his body in a sensuous mirror image.
What comes next is mind blowing. To a slamming, industrial gabber beat, Arca storms to the end of the runway-shaped stage to deliver a vocal that chops between heavy metal and hip hop, rapping seemingly in Spanish, though it is so loud and staccato that it's difficult to make out. Standing around 7 feet tall in his platforms, punching his arms in the air like a hip hop star and dropping to the ground like a gogo dancer, Arca is a powerful, imposing figure; so when he jumps down off the stage to rap directly into our faces we stand there in awe, somewhere between terror and ecstasy.
The music reels through distorted deep house beats and machine-like bleeps, into breathy soundscapes, electric crackles and stabbing synths, via steel drums, jazz horns and a multitude of evocative noises that are difficult to place or name. Jesse Kanda's fleshy distortions, their Predator-like faces sitting atop writhing mercury bodies, are captivating and strange, seeming to play with ideas of gaze, objectification and subversion.
It would be easy to label the performance as something like "an apocalyptic rave in the depths of a digital world," but it is so much more. It's something genuinely new.
Text Charlotte Gush
Visual Jesse Kanda