THE BEGINNING

Her first UK show following the release of ‘Hopelessness’ is nothing less than breathtaking.

anohni-ant-adams-07072016-2

ANOHNI @ Barbican, London, 07 July 2016

There’s something about the resonance in ANOHNI’s album ‘Hopelessness’ that, especially at the moment, grows by the day.

Tonight’s show, her first in the UK since the LP’s May release, ends with a film of aboriginal artist Ngalangka Nola Taylor saying, “We are wondering what is happening to the world, everything is changing… everything is going upside down.” ANOHNI is crouching on the floor, gazing at the video screen, before the lights blackout. It’s the final poignant moment in a performance full of them.

‘Hopelessness’, Antony Hegarty’s first now as ANOHNI, is an album that attempts to take on the world’s big political, cultural and commercial issues. There are songs about personal data collection, the innocent casualties of war, American foreign policy and humanity’s collective inaction when it comes to the environment. The music is danceable, euphoric even, often at odds with the seething messages of protest. And right now, to many, with a backdrop of political uncertainty, economic frailty and cultural division, the disillusionment, anger and indignation boiling in the tracks feels increasingly relatable, relevant and profound.

anohni-ant-adams-07072016-1

ANOHNI starts out by creating her own atmosphere of unease. Tides of droning synths lap over a looped black and white video of Naomi Campbell dancing in a bikini (from the ‘Drone Bomb Me’ video). Over the course of a deliberately uncomfortable 20 minute introduction, the house lights slowly dim before the trio arrive on stage. Album producers Hudson Mohawke and OneOhTrix Point Never, in black hooded shawls, stand behind laptops, synths and samplers set up either side of a dominant video projection. ANOHNI, in a hooded gown, her face covered by a veil, stands in front on the top of a short staircase.

The production is simple and powerful. The visual emphasis of the performance is not on the singer’s presence, but on a series of stark, video portraits displayed on the stage-high backdrop. It makes for compelling viewing as each subject, some tearfully, mouth along to songs like opener ‘Hopelessness’, and then ‘Watch Me’, ‘Crisis’ and ‘4 Degrees’. All female, they’re from all backgrounds, ages and ethnicities.

That presentation puts the focus purely on the Antony And The Johnsons’ singer’s pitch-perfect voice. There’s none of the fragile warbling so familiar with her style, and no Antony And The Johnsons material. These songs are sung, hands aloft, with volume and venom.

anohni-ant-adams-07072016-3

From ANOHNI, there’s no in-between song utterances, no thank you – it’s an uncompromising, electrifying, loud hour of performance art. She appears just twice on the screen herself, her deep, large blue eyes surveying the audience, as the evening comes to a close with a bombastic performance of ‘Drone Bomb Me’.

The album’s not an enjoyable listen as such, and neither really is the live experience – it’s tough, provocative, full of hard-hitting questions about our own culpabilities. It’s as enthralling, scary and life-affirming as that sounds. Even outside the record, the place ANOHNI creates is not one to escape from the world’s uncomfortable realities, but a place to confront and embrace them.

dot