Text by Wade Wallerstein
Venezuelan electronic producer Alejandro Ghersi, known by his stage name Arca, is now touring the world with an experimental new collaboration with Jesse Kanda. The result: a personal, raw exploration of queer identity expressed through Arca’s extremely physical and vocal performance. DJ Freedom opened the show at Brooklyn Steel on July 6th, and Kanda’s sometimes serene, sometimes disturbing, always eerie visuals served as a backdrop for the whole performance.
Arca has rocketed to worldwide renown in recent years for his production prolificacy—his credits include work for Kanye West, Björk, and FKA Twigs. Surreal, industrial, and constantly mutating in almost imperceptible ways, Arca’s music has expanded the field of electronic music as well as introduced new sounds into the pop music audio lexicon. In 2014, Arca’s debut album Xen was named after his “effeminate spirit”, a part of him that expresses itself through his live performance. Arca’s new show with Jesse Kanda brings Xen to the forefront, breaking down gender barriers and serving as a profound exploration of self-identification.
The Arca/Kanda collaboration demarcates a powerful shift in Arca’s performance style. Rather than remaining behind the turntables, this new show brings Arca in front of them, where he sings, dances, and throws his body around the stage in a jarring fashion. His ethereal wails reverberated around Brooklyn Steel, white spotlights shining from his shimmering, make-up, glitter, and eventually fake blood-covered face.
The physicality of the performance was stunning—rather than telling the audience about his navigation of his own queer identity expression, Arca literally throws himself into it, taking the audience with him on the journey. Behind him, Kanda’s visuals cycle through various metaphoric and literal images, such as fireworks exploding underwater, snakes writhing over each other, and culminating in a brutal fisting video. These images ebb and flow in intensity, following and complementing Arca as he leads the audience along with him. The audience laughs, cries, and feels Arca’s pain right alongside him, through multiple costume changes, up until the very end of the performance.
An authentic expression of fearless queerness, Arca and Kanda’s show is a sight to behold, and feels true to the lived experience of the modern-day urban queer person. Arca and Kanda share living and work space in Dalston, London, UK.
Special thanks to Warren Wolfe, who provided invaluable insight for this piece.