The painter Edvard Munch once said that “art comes from joy and pain. But mostly from pain.” The fact that difficulty, struggle, adverse circumstances and pain can combine to allow for the truest forms of self-expression is a beautiful thing. Perhaps the reason behind the subversive and awe-inspiring quality of the music produced by Elysia Crampton is the baggage of pain that comes in its wake. She spent her early life as a nomadic transitioning woman. Born a male, but identifying as a female, Elysia travelled through America and Mexico while creating her record American Drift, before relocating to Bolivia to care for her grandmother. While she was living in Los Angeles, Elysia worked as an escort and was in and out of rehab for drug abuse issues. She was involved in Scientology briefly and discovered meditation through the religion.
Her chaotic, somewhat shambolic life seems to be quite distinctly reflected in her chaotic, shambolic sound collage art. Her music is a bizarre and eclectic cacophony of found and created sounds. On Sunday the 24th of June, Elysia Crampton brought her unique brand of noisy creations to Howler in Melbourne. With support from Various Asses, Kandere, TTKTLS and Makeda Waterhouse, the event curated by Liquid Architecture brought out a diverse mix of people, all of whom showed enormous respect and consideration of one another.
After humbly introducing herself with very few words to an attentive audience, Crampton stands stoically under pulsating red lights which bounce off her flowing brown hair, catching in the scattered curls. Her slight, slender frame appears even smaller thanks to the keytar she holds draped over her shoulders, which is at least half her size. Her off-kilter, abrasive music fills the room and bounces off every wall, resonating in each corner. She is hard to look away from – her immersion in her performance leaves viewers utterly transfixed. As she touches the keys of her keytar, her expression is that of someone lost in each note and relishing the space between. Her audience sways, seemingly unsure of what to do with themselves during the moments of chaotic noise which punctuate her performance, which rested strongly on material from her recent Demon City album.
At one point during the set, the lights dim and Crampton howls a demonic, blood-curdling scream atop her canvas of noise, resulting in a harsh and ungodly tapestry which ripples through the venue. If music is an exorcism of internal struggle, and if art is indeed the manifestation of pain, this is the clearest example I have ever encountered. The way that Crampton transitions between rough, aggressive noise music and patient dance music is perhaps the most outstanding element of her work, and her live performance. The two distinct musical styles filter through and around one another, begging the question, where do the noise elements end and the musical elements begin? She wrestles with the concept of discordance, inviting the audience to do the same. In this lies a certain beauty – her art actively challenges its listener, daring them to find enjoyment within something that is laced in so many bizarre tones and textures, challenging their assumptions of musical form and altering their perception of sound by pushing their understanding of it to its limits.
The result of such a strange combination of elements is something truly mesmerising, yet disorienting. The abrupt shifts and changes, the chaotic polyrhythms, and the fleeting insanity housed within each strange progression are utterly fascinating and all-encompassing. The imagery of thunder projected behind her perhaps is the best metaphor for the nature of her set. Thunder is otherworldly, violent, unpredictable and ferocious, a bizarre natural occurrence over which we have no control. Elysia’s music embodies each of these characteristics, but more importantly, it embodies chaos – which is arguably the defining feature of lighting. Her music plays host to an otherworldly violence, with a ferocious, yet infectious nature. Her sound is intersected by moments of lush, sweeping ambient beauty, all filtered through a somewhat demented, distorted musical viewpoint.
At the conclusion of what feels like a criminally short set, Crampton addresses her audience in a mouse’s voice, muttering “thank you” to the cheering, if somewhat bemused crowd.