National Galleries of Scotland to celebrate Halloween by Night
The latest in the Galleries' By Night event series will feature Sheffield's Eccentronic Research Council
Sheffield's Eccentronic Research Council, featuring actress Maxine Peake, combine vintage electronics with spoken word to make a heady brew exploring the 1612 Pendle witch trials, and when better to perform it than on Halloween alongside the National Galleries Witches & Wicked Bodies exhibition.
In recent years, the term hauntology has emerged to describe the strand of music and art that recycles its own semi-recent history. Built on shared memories of a particularly British past, and the refusal of the present to resemble the future we were promised, it mines every ounce of eeriness it can from 1970s public information films, the BBC radiophonic workshop, abandoned military buildings and old sci-fi films.
If early proponents Coil, Boards of Canada, Broadcast and Burial helped set the blueprint, recent contributors The Outer Church, Ghost Box Records and Lancastrian duo Demdike Stare use the same approach to explore more literally haunted territory – the occult, witchcraft and paganism. Sheffield's Eccentronic Research Council swim in these same fertile waters, and their 1612 Underture album takes the Pendle witch trials as its subject matter. With a palette combining primitive electronic drums with wibbly synth lines, it's unmistakably the Sound of Sheffield (The Human League circa 1979), but with a drenching of reverb and field recordings to add to the moody atmosphere. Birdsong has never sounded so oppressive.
Helmed by Adrian Flanagan and Dean Honer (formerly of The All Seeing I), the third element is the thick Bolton burr of Maxine Peake, whose acting career includes roles in Silk, Dinnerladies, The Village and Shameless. Describing their sound as 'Post-1612 ghosts on pre-1977 analogue synthesisers', you'd think it would be a tall order using the latter to create the atmosphere of the former.
‘These synths have become the folk instruments of the electronic age.’ explains one-time Fall mucker Adrian Flanagan. ‘We see and hear things through the same naive futuristic eyes and ears of the first electronic pioneers of the 50s and 60s. Juxtapose that with the attitude of grumpy 17th century Northern English Outsiders and you’re getting close.’
If the punning name wasn't enough to state their tongue-in-cheek stance, there's Kraftwerk homage 'Autobahn 666', a hymn to the A666 that runs from Salford into darkest Lancashire. Later still, a track exploring herbalism rhymes 'carrot' with '16th century Holland and Barratt'. It might be playful, but it's not frivolous. Strong parallels are drawn between the persecution of the 'undesirables' in the Pendle witch families and the modern day demonisation of the working class.
‘This government are demonising the poor, the disabled, the sick and the unemployed.’ continues Flanagan. ‘I can see why Scotland wants independence. I think the whole nation wants it right now.’
It's been suggested that this Halloween show, among the paintings of the current National Galleries exhibition Witches & Wicked Bodies, could be one of the project's final live outings, so catch it before it goes the way of all flesh.
Halloween: By Night at National Galleries of Scotland, Thu 31 Oct, 7.15pm, £12 (includes entrance to the Witches & Wicked Bodies exhibition).