Review by Elinor Morgan
On Thursday 31st May Longmeg played a set at one of MK Gallery’s Scratch Nights in a mock post-industrial space across the square from the Gallery. Longmeg describe themselves as ‘a band seemingly made up of people who met on the tube last night and haven’t made it home yet’ which works, apart from the fact that one of their long-standing members is a child of about 12 years. The inclusion of the boy is one of my favorite things about the joyous, raucous, anarchic performances given by Longmeg. Rather than the child’s involvement being an exploitative move, it seems perfectly sensible with the type of music, sounds and messages that Longmeg are making and he is as fully involved in the performance, and therefore the work, as any other member. Perhaps because he doesn’t speak or sing, or perhaps because he is the most costumed, or perhaps just because he is a child, at Milton Keynes he has the audiences’ attention from the start, and as he becomes more relaxed and involved so do we. He saunters on and off ‘stage’, popping behind the projection screen to change masks from wild-man to wolf and practice dance moves. He starts by playing maracas somewhat cautiously but by the last two tracks has broken line with Edwin Buris and Keiron Livingstone and moved out, in front of the projection, bezzing and jiggling and casting the shadow of a wolf’s head onto the face of the 80s news-reader occupying the screen.
Despite there being only a handful of people in the room and the Longmeg troupe being reduced to three of many members for this rendition, the performance is as carefree and confident as ever. Longmeg’s songs are good songs: well put together, catchy, complex and various. ‘Neolithic Lover’ begins with chit-chat about buying iphones and androids on Oxford Street, bursts into a dancey chorus with the lyrics ‘Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age’ and eventually segues into the next track with some bouncy Dubstep bass. Incorporating spoken word, operatic singing and electronic sounds Longmeg reference and take sounds from Grime, Dubstep, Punk, church music and film scores, building up layers of sound and slipping clever quotations into sing-along tracks.
The performance shares some themes with the show opposite, Rise Early, Be Industrious, by Olivier Plender: industry, economy, power, play and the city; but rather than working coolly with archival material to create new objects and constructions, Longmeg cut, splice and repeat footage, creating humorous juxtapositions and new circuits. This approach is more appropriate to a live performance and plays with associations of VJs, music videos and those huge TV screens that pump adverts out into public space. Using pop music, performance and visuals feels like a successful way of talking in a sincere and humorous way about consumerism, history and morality without producing a didactic lesson about the marketisation of society. The silly but controlled jubilance of the performance, with its props and dancing allows the band to play with irony and create open, generous work without fixed meanings.
They use a range of advertising footage, including a Blackberry advert where the phone becomes a super-sexy object with a CGI silk cloth being pulled from its body to reveal each of its corners and angles, alongside other found imagery that swoops over Big Ben in London, ancient standing stones, possibly in Carnac, and housing estates that could be somewhere in Scotland. At times Livingstone and Burdis sing full-pelt whilst at other times they stand almost reverently watching the footage they have selected (sometimes with Edwin covering his head with his chefs’ apron). From the way they collate lyrics and dance moves they appear to be as interested in the media clips they show as the more obscure visual snippets, as if this collage of material is a way of thinking about ideas in a non-hierarchical way.
All of Longmeg’s shouting, chatting, reading, warbling, bouncing and dancing comes together to form an appealing and uncynical comment on politics and society through good pop tunes and intelligently jubilant characters.