NAKED: ‘If the world no longer stands for us, we have to stand for ourselves’
NAKED are Agnes Gryczkowska and Alexander Johnston, a London-based duo engaging with noise, industrial, experimental and extreme forms of electronic music, best witnessed during their live performances. Their new EP— Total Power Exchange — released on Halcyon Veil, uses the sounds of sex, vomit and noise to create a heavy, spine-crushing noise hybrid with Salò-birthed vocals. They will perform at the upcoming CTM Festival – Turmoil in Berlin on 27 January 2018.
How did NAKED start and what does the name denote?
Alexander Johnston: The word “NAKED” is like a Rorschach test. People read in to what they want. For us, we like its instant knee-jerk reaction. Sex, disgust and the body are equally likely to come to mind as beauty, openness and fragility. Human nature, society and all of it’s extremities is what we are interested in, the word’s ambiguity sign posts this.
Agnes Gryczkowska: The name also relates to the raw and primordial element of our work which links to the music as well as its performative side. We have from the beginning been interested in the importance of the corporeal and sensuous experience of sound and live performance.
Performances are an important part of NAKED. Can you talk about them?
AG: We’ve been trying to focus on the idea of caressing and obliterating the senses from the very beginning of NAKED. It often is uncontrolled and unplanned as it’s about trying to create some form of an extreme connection with the audience, the space, the sound, as well as my own body. The deconstruction of boundaries between the audience and the performer is something that we find very important and my physical performance itself can vary from extreme and brutal, to highly emotional, fragile and submissive. We also try to differentiate between the shows: using different light effects, olfactory elements and props. Our shows are kind of animalistic and have to be experienced in a physical way – and in a sense have been seen by us as a commentary on the current state of art – looking at what constitutes the potency and intensity of live experience from the neuroscientific point of view and what differentiates it from work experienced within a digital realm.
AJ: We approach live performance in a Dionysian sense focusing on the sensual, spontaneous and emotional.
What are your inspirations – you mention Pasolini’s Saló, there also might be a reference to COUM Transmissions’ performances as well.
AG: Cosey Fanni Tutti’s performances as well as the film Salò have definitely had an impact on our EP (Total Power Exchange) because of the primordial and sexual nature of our work, but they also tap into a socio-political dialogue. That’s definitely something that we’re intentionally adding to our work as well. In Cosey Fanni Tutti’s early Prostitution performances and in Salò there is a dialogue on power which was the main focus of our Total Power Exchange EP. Our use of sex and BDSM is much more layered in this sense. In Fanni Tutti’s, case it is the power of the female body and utilising it in a subversive way, which can also be related to Baudrillard’s Agony of Power, and with Salò there is the idea of demolishing hierarchies – with its commentary on the bourgeoisie, political corruption and relentless sadism. This definitely enters our work as part of our critique of the current socio-political situation.
In your case, is there something concrete that you critique?
AJ: When we make music, we want people to feel alive. It comes from a sense of feeling disenfranchised, disempowered and out of control, feeling like anything we do or say having little to no impact or change in our lives.
AG: It’s definitely about critiquing the power structures that are in place at the moment. But we don’t want to address one single thing such as gender inequality, ill nationalism/racism, economical and political instability directly. We just want our music to be empowering for those who feel like they’re leashed in one way or another – it is about having the energy to do something, move forward and realise the potential.
These days things have become politicised a lot more than three, four years ago, even in the club scene.
AG: Yes, it has become more political and more conceptual, but ironically it seems more difficult than ever to create any movement – any type of a revolution, as people are becoming very individualistic. With our EP being called Total Power Exchange we wanted to refer to a sexual relationship where there is the submissive and the master. The control is obviously accepted and agreed upon, but this control is still in place – in a way it’s also reflective of the current state of the society as well. To some extent we are accepting it. With our music, we of course were aware of the political message we are putting out, but we also give people the opportunity to just not think about that and listen and go into the mosh pit. The idea of having this power embedded in our work can work in several ways – as a release, an energy or a critique.
What about the audience. How do people react to your performances?
AJ : People react in a lot of different ways. Nowadays we find most live electronic shows unengaging and boring. A flashing light while some music plays. When I go to a live show, I don’t just want to just hear the music, I want to see it. Is this not the difference between listening at home and live performance? When we perform live we offer the whites of our eyes, our bodies, a complete experience.
AG: I often try to remember some kind of choreography, but it never works. You become one with your work and literally almost fall into some trance – I’m really into rituals at the moment. If you believe in and become a part of what you’re doing to the point of performing out every single thing that you’ve created and meaning it, it becomes very magnetic to people.
There’s also the aspect of investing your energy in the people.
AG: Definitely. Towards the end, it always feels like your entire soul and body have been given out. It’s amazing, but sometimes it can be also really frightening, when in 30 mins you’ve given everything you’ve had.
Can you talk about your music production?
AJ: From the conceptual side, we analyse our position in the society and from there try to create sounds which we feel reflects that. For a while now, we’ve been using distorted sounds. Distortion feels like the right language for these times. On one side they reflect the distorted values of our society, on the other side distortion and noise mixed with the right rhythm can give you an incredible amount of energy and feeling of power.
AG: We’ve stripped down the melodic parts and kept the rhythm and the raw elements of the music to reflect that even further.
Can you talk about the alternative national anthem project that you were commissioned for by Dazed & Confused?
AJ : The basis of the commission was to create our own version of a national anthem. We took the Polish, Scottish and British National Anthems.
AG: We just felt like the idea of nationalism became a sickness and a cruel driving force for many irrational and inhuman actions. We simply felt like our national anthems no longer stand for what we want to stand for.
AJ: It was a crude symbol of the way we feel about nationalism. We then distorted the sounds of Aggie’s vomiting and turned those sounds into our own personal anthem of empowerment. Rejecting old values and building something of our own. We chose to use a rhythm akin to a march to symbolise forward movement in to our own future.
AG: Our own march of disgust, anger and relentless forward movement. If the world no longer stands for us, we have to stand for ourselves. United.
Photo: Oscar Lindqvist