A drag king punk gig about architecture and idealism? Bring it on! Cuncrete sees Rachael Clerke assume the identity of Archie ‘I invented the Barbican’ Tactful, architect, who becomes the vessel for her exploration of the domination of our built environment by Great White Males. She is aided and abetted by a posse of performance artists turned punk rockers – Eleanor Fogg aka johnsmith the banker on guitar; Anna Smith as Little Keith the landlord on drums; and Josephine Joy as Johnny Jove on bass. Johnsmith is his usual elegant and restrained self, even when Archie tries to embroil him in the classic singer-and-lead-guitarist rock-out. Little Keith is a cartoon drummer – bashing the crash cymbal constantly, and breaking out into ludicrous piss-take drum solos. Johnny Jove is a bit of a Steve Jones – a cheeky chappie with an eye on the ladies.
None of them have ever been in a band before, and the sound is often reminiscent of the stage-2 tower block punk of Sham 69 or Eater. Names that’ll mean almost nothing to anyone under 50. Anyway, they sound the way people always imagine punk to be, fast and thrashy for the most part, and cheerfully chaotic – here’s three chords, form a band and all that. Brash, ballsy, macho. Occasionally, with their bass-led songs, they sound less like the boy thrashers and a bit more like one of the trailblazing female punk bands – Slits, Raincoats, Kleenex. That I like.
So the music and the punk-pop personae are there to serve a rant about the modern city. Its phallic towers, its brutalist estates, its overpriced housing… The lyrics are cut-ups of texts filched from a wide ranch of sources, from JG Ballard’s dystopian novel about city living, High Rise, to the writings of the Brutalism Appreciation Society. Grayson Perry, Hugh Hefner and George Bernard Shaw are also cited, apparently. At one point, the dulcet tones of Margaret Thatcher – one of her bone-chilling speeches on home ownership – ring out in the tawdry room. Archie opens his arms and welcomes her in.
Rachael Clerke has stated her intention to create work that is funny and political at the same time – which this is. I enjoy Archie’s words and the delivery of the text – crisp and clever satire, a damning indictment of our contemporary attitudes towards architecting our environment and providing enough homes for people to live in. I love a lot of the stage setting and the design: the beginning where the band’s lead singer bursts through a paper screen is fabulous; Archie’s costume in general, and ludicrous ‘wings’ in particular, fantastic; the dragging onstage of a concrete-mixer is a wonderfully surreal moment.
By creating a band that is a fictional construct, Rachael Clerke and the Great White Males are following in the footsteps of a succession of art-school bands and art projects using music as a medium, Throbbing Gristle started as a pretend band created by COUM Transmissions for the opening of their Prostitution exhibition; David Devant and His Spirit Wife first saw light of day as an MA degree show for the Narrative and Sequential Art course at University of Brighton. Die Rotten Punke are Australians playing a fictional German punk band, parodying the rock and roll lifestyle. These three very different forerunners all share aspects of their content and form with this project.
It’s a highly enjoyable experience although I feel that I want more – I want them to really be the drag king punk band they want to be – to hone the musical parody into something a little cleverer than jokey pseudo drum solos. In the way that the text is somehow both Archie, and Rachael’s parody of Archie, in one body – the thing itself and the commentary on the thing – the music could also function in this way. It could be a damn good girl punk band whilst parodying the bad boy punk bands. Sometimes it is close to being that, but it could go further.
But the foundations are strong… Cuncrete is a great (art) concept, executed with panache. Open the champagne, someone!