LIVE: Anohni at the End of the World (5/19/2016)

HOPELESSNESS comes to the Red Bull Music Academy Festival

May 19, 2016
Park Avenue Armory
New York, NY

So this, it turns out, is how the end of the world begins: inside the giant space of New York’s Park Avenue Armory, a scantily clad Naomi Campbell dancing joyfully and provocatively in black and white on a giant screen to the loud, discordant rumble of what sounds like a jet engine. The footage, appropriately enough, comes from outtakes of ANOHNI’s “Drone Bomb Me” video and its intention is clear: to disorient the audience, tense the nerves, and make minds uncomfortable before Anohni herself takes to the stage. It works, to some extent, though at over twenty minutes long, it is too long, assuming the air of a pretentious yet somewhat meretricious undergraduate art show. It seems unnecessary.

Of course, it isn’t. It could—and probably should—have been shorter, but as the unsettling, unnerving prelude to Anohni’s dystopian vision of the world, it makes sense once that vision concludes some ninety minutes later: Campbell’s face, this time in color, streams tears as Anohni, wearing something akin to a monk’s robe and flanked by Oneohtrix Point Never and Christopher Elms, sings the song for which that footage was shot. It’s the last in a series of arresting visuals that accompany each song, and it brings everything full circle—life, death, joy, sadness, fragility, humanity, devastation.

The second of two performances that are part of the Red Bull Music Academy Festival, the evening’s set is more of an art installation than an actual gig, an audio-visual interpretation of Anohni’s unapologetically political album, HOPELESSNESS. Made with Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mowhawke, its tracks mix dark, cold electronic beats with the deep, sad, soulful voice that ran through the work of Antony and The Johnsons, and they’re rendered tonight in fully immersive, stereoscopic, technicolor surround sound. Not only do these live renditions open up the bruised, broken, bleeding, and angry heart that created these songs, but they add extra dimensions and raise new questions, too.

The entire time she’s onstage, Anohni’s face is obscured by a black veil. Although her visage appears twice—her eyes during “I Don’t Love You Anymore” and her whole face for “In My Dreams”—it’s really up to an array of faces on the giant screen behind her to sing her songs, both with and for her. What this does is create one of many paradoxes that define her performance, which is a constant juxtaposition of emotion and stoicism, anonymity and identity, sadness and defiance, beauty and destruction, a strain of sheer terror (and terrorism) running all the way through all of them. It’s most powerful on the dark, rumbling strains of “Jesus Will Kill You,” “Crisis,” and “Indian Girls”—a triptych of deep bass, plaintive, disembodied vocals, and harrowing imagery that exposes the darkest parts of human inhumanity—but really, the night is one cohesive whole, a striking vision of a fucked-up planet on the verge of collapse, but one that’s all the more strong and beautiful for it. It’s the end of the world as we know it and it’s terrible and tragic, but as the music envelops you, it’s also impossible to not feel absolutely fine. FL


“4 Degrees”
“Watch Me”
“I Don’t Love You Anymore”
“Violent Men”
“Why Did You Separate Me From the Earth?”
“Jesus Will Kill You”
“Indian Girls”
“In My Dreams”
“Drone Bomb Me”


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