Vicky Langan - ‘If I’m completely honest and raw it can’t go wrong’

“THERE ARE some musicians who entertain us, fine; some who stimulate us, better; and then some who immerse us in something so powerful that primal emotions surface instantly; making us ultra-defensive, or, finally open to illumination. One of the latter is Vicky Langan.”

The above quote comes from Bernard Clarke, presenter of Lyric FM’s cutting-edge contemporary/experimental music programme Nova, and his glowing encomium of Vicky Langan is a measure of the high regard in which she is held as an artist and performer.

Her performance in Galway Arts Centre this Saturday at 8pm is her first show here for seven years and promises a concentrated blast of the intensity that has made her an artistic force to be reckoned with.

Judas Steer

Langan is a Galway-born, Cork-based, performer and curator hailed as one of the most challenging and unsettling presences on the Irish scene today. Her work is multifaceted, embracing not only various types of performance but also filmmaking and organising experimental music events.

Her arts centre performance, titled Judas Steer, brings these three strands together and features Langan as performer, filmmaker, and curator. Her solo performance project, Wölflinge, uses flesh, fluid, and self-built instruments to envelop audiences in an aura of dark intimacy. In opening herself emotionally, she creates warm yet discomforting rituals that at once embrace the viewers and remain resolutely private.

Judas Steer will also feature exhibits taken from previous Langan performances and four of the films she has made in partnership with experimental filmmaker Maximilian Le Cain, including the premiere of a new work.

No account of Langan’s accomplishments is complete without mention of Black Sun, Cork’s legendary weirdo/outer limits music event which she founded in 2009 and has curated ever since. The arts centre event concludes with a DJ set from Langan that will give a powerful taste of the sort of strange sounds that have earned Black Sun its international reputation.

Ahead of her Galway performance, Langan took some time out to talk about her work, beginning with why she chose the title Judas Steer (in Wild West parlance the ‘Judas steer’ was an animal chosen to lead the rest of the herd to the slaughterhouse ).

“I always fondly refer to Galway as ‘the ould West’ and I’m ferociously fond of westerns,” Langan replies. “In thinking of a title for the show I let myself wander down that path.

“I remembered coming across the term ‘Judas steer’ and the idea of this very calm creature endlessly leading a group toward something that might be the end of themselves or complete dissolution I found quite fitting. Mind you, I’m actually a vegan so I don’t think it’s a completely romantic image, it’s a sad one too!”

Langan declares of Judas Steer: “I hope people will savour it. What’s been so important to me about it is the idea that people who may not be very familiar with experimental music that it’s presented as it is, it’s very welcoming, and all you need is have an open mind or a curious spirit and just embrace the weirdness!”

Music

Langan has been a frequent collaborator with groups like United Bible Studies and offshoots of Irish underground collective The Deserted Village, with her solo performances being presented under the Wölflinge banner. She expands on that facet of her work.

“It wasn’t until 2007 when I had my daughter that I started to get brave enough to give solo performances and came up with the name Wölflinge for my solo project,” she says. “The Wölflinge performances are different every time but there’s a thread that seems to run through all of them; they’re always very bare, raw and vulnerable.

“I don’t do solo performances that often, it’s a little bit scary sometimes leaving yourself that bare in front of a room of people. The performances seem to elicit emotional reactions from audiences – last year I performed at the Tuam Arts Festival to a roomful of people above Canavan’s Pub. I think they hadn’t heard the kind of music I do but a lot of people came up to me afterward and said they were very moved by it but had no idea why.

“My aim is always to put as much of myself emotionally into the barest and simplest of materials and if I’m completely honest and raw it can’t go wrong, it’ll hit home to somebody.”

Mind you, something did go wrong in Langan’s last Galway performance, at the 2005 Galway Arts Festival, as she wryly recalls.

“I was playing with the art collective ENSO on the fourth floor of Hynes’s Car Park. In the middle of the performance a jar I was hitting against the skin of the drum smashed and severed my artery and nerves in my right hand. I was spraying blood everywhere and the audience burst into applause!”

Film

While her injury required reconstructive and plastic surgery on her hand, luckily she made a full recovery and it has not hindered her subsequent performing career. In recent years that has seen her diversify into film with a series of collaborations with Maximilian Le Cain. Since 2010 the duo have made seven films together (including the as-yet-untitled new work which will be premiered at the arts centre ). Langan describes their partnership.

“When I started putting on shows I always saw Max around and was very curious about him and his work but the different scenes were a little fragmented,” she says. “I wouldn’t meet film-makers, I’d just be hanging round with sound people. Then when I started up Black Sun in 2009 he was a regular. So we were introduced and I asked him if he’d like to join Black Sun as film curator. He’d source all these experimental, radical, films and make contact with the film makers and we’d screen them, a lot of them were Irish premieres.

“We were completely on each other’s wavelength and it didn’t take long before we decided to work together and we’ve been making films now for a while and they’ve been very well received they’ve been screened here and in the Philippines and the US. I think there’s nothing quite like it being made in Ireland at the moment.”

Langan details the four films which will be screened on Saturday.

“There’s one we made on Super 8 called Contact. There’s another called Desk 13 which was a film that’s partly a documentation of a performance I did in the abandoned Cork Airport, It’s quite graphic and probably the most extreme of the films.

“Another one is Hereunder and there’s a lot of Galway and Tuam in that. We’re also premiering a brand new work, we haven’t decided on the title for that yet but I’m very proud of it and am looking forward to showing it.”

One audience member Langan is especially looking forward to seeing at the arts centre is her mother, Niamh.

“I was a really lucky kid, I had this inspirational mother who would be in the Macnas parade and take me into sessions in Taylor’s Bar,” she enthuses. “I remember learning how to walk on stilts when I was seven. My mum is based out in Headford now; she’s started up a regular women’s music session in Campbell’s Tavern and last Christmas she wrote and directed Headford’s first community panto. She’s my hero!”

Judas Steer is at Galway Arts Centre, 47 Dominick Street, at 8pm this Saturday. Admission is €5.

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