"Where do we live? Are we safe? What are the next ten years going to be like?"
The black-clad figure ambling through the halls of the National Gallery wouldn’t draw many furtive glances. The closest she comes to provoking any side-eye is when a slightly nonplussed attendant overhears her comparing the dramatic, doomy skies of a 19th-century painting to a scene from Ghostbusters 2 (for the record, Elizabeth Bernholz, better known as Gazelle Twin, is absolutely on the money: it really, really does).
You wouldn’t suspect that, only a couple of days previously, she’d been skulking around Walthamstow Village while dressed as ‘the jester’: a half-menacing, half-mischievous… thing. Even for someone with Bernholz’s knack for stomach-knotting theatricality, it’s an unnerving sight. It has red Adidas trainers on its feet and football socks pulled all the way up to its knees; it wears a red tracksuit with white piping, and red tassels draping from its elbows. There’s a pair of tights, red again, stretched over its face, a white star-shaped collar around its neck, and its disturbing near-blank head is sandwiched between a white hat and chin-strap. The only visible flesh is its mouth, which is permanently fixed in aleering, tooth-flashing smile. It looks like a creature from Pan’s Labyrinth that’s gone on a trolley dash in Sports Direct. As she prowled past the well-kept lawns while posing for Loud And Quiet’s photographer, Jenna, passers-by tended to either look at her askance or avoid eye contact altogether. Some youngsters, though, were more curious. “I was trying very hard to stay away from children, but we did bump into a few kids. A lot of them thought I was Spider-Man,” she laughs.
Every time Bernholz brings those tights down over her face, she says, she starts to feel physically different. “Pulling that red veil down is really scary. The first time I did it, I just felt like I needed to grin. It totally transforms me… I felt like I instantly needed to get up to mischief.”
Bernholz has fun making mischief on ‘Pastoral’, too. It’s her third official album as Gazelle Twin, following 2011’s debut ‘The Entire City’ and 2014’s ‘Unflesh’, and it might be her most startling record to date – which is pretty impressive, seeing as she only really makes startling records as a general rule. Her vision of the pastoral, unsurprisingly, is very different from its roots. Traditionally, pastoral artists would mythologise the countryside as a place of peace and purity, rhapsodising the delights of bucolic havens where good-natured shepherds and meek maidens could flourish away from the decadent rot of the city.
But Bernholz, who moved from Brighton to Leicestershire in 2014, found that the simple life actually wasn’t very simple at all – especially after her new neighbours voted in their droves to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum. And so, in the same way David Lynch delved beneath the well-manicured lawns of white-picket-fence America to show the slime and ooze underneath, on ‘Pastoral’ she exposes the bizarre bitterness lurking beneath Middle England’s chocolate-box facade.