Nightclubbing @ Camden People's Theatre

10th May 2018

Posted 13th May 2018

Written by Maggie Kuzan



The dense drone of the bass swells through the air, chalked by the outpourings of the smoke machine emitting its familiar synthetic sweetness, wafts rising and seeping into the audience. A monitor screen glitches and jerks to the monosyllabic beat. Midi keyboards, interfaces, pad controllers and laptop monitors are splayed across a surface to the left of the stage, their lights rippling and darting in ritual. Two figures operate this spectacle of light and sound, one of them sometimes tugs the strings of a bass guitar, its sonorous hum throbbing and embracing the room and its guests into a sonic trance. We are teleported into a nightclub, the underbelly of the city sprawl.


At the centre of the dance floor a foil structure lays dormant, its crinkled surface resembling the gnarly, yawning cavities of the moon. A peculiar sight, as if it had just dropped from space, its presence uninvited and unexpected. The foil begins to rustle and from its core emerges first a hand, then an arm clawing and reaching, extending further into space, before retreating back into its metallic shell. The structure erupts and cascades into a shield, a dress, and we are confronted with the main performer, who will guide us throughout the evening's journey.


Rachael Young is an artist interrogating questions of identity in the socio-political landscape. In Nightclubbing, she time travels between 1981, the year legendary pop cultural icon Grace Jones released her seminal record Nightclubbing, to 2015, when three Black girls were refused entry to DSTRKT nightclub in London. She strives to challenge how Black bodies are denied space, and wishes to carve out space for an alternative dialogue, through the transformative potential of dance, science fiction and Afrofuturism.


Dressed in a glittery one-shoulder top with high waisted pants, Rachael steers us on her intergalactic quest, drawing parallels between thesse two polarising moments of Black female experience. She doesn’t speak from a distance as a passive bystander; rather, she employs sonic and material cues to become her various transgenerational incarnations. Elaborate props are kept to a minimum; we are invited to think of the meaning objects and repeated actions contain. One such object is the hula-hoop. An instrument of power. The act of hula-hooping demands energy and enthusiasm. Rachael begins hula hooping on stage to express the difficulties of embodying a queer Black female identity, hinting at the thought patterns of the women refused entry to the club. This visual language grows into her proclaiming the turbulent feelings she has about her queer Black identity into the mic. We discern faint murmurs and mumbles; products of Rachael’s live looping, progressively becoming a cacophony of voices. Visual and sonic mirror one another, as the artist’s circular hip thrusting imitates her revolving speech. The action of hula-hooping eventually leads to a breaking point - Rachael snaps and drops the hoop. This visual trope signals the difficulty in moving through space as a marginalised body. Rachael shows us that to move through space is a privilege.

Rachael constantly employs materials in an experimental way throughout her performance. She recreates Grace Jones’ signature hooded outfit out of stringy rubber hoops, progressively layering the gummy ropes over her torso to form a DIY hood. Once again the repeated use of materials becomes a form of ritual, the rubber hoops becoming armour. They also recall braided hair; hair is highly political for women of colour. For Rachael to adorn herself in her hooded outfit, she reclaims her hair as her property and nobody else's. 

She moves onto moisturising her skin with oil, the repeated act drawing attention to her dark skin tone, luminescent and radiant. I am reminded of Jones' iconic image taken by Jean-Paul Goude on her Island Life record (1985).This is a pivotal moment in the show.


Rachael rising from beneath the crater. Photo by Lizzie Masterton

Rachael dressed in her layered rope outfit. Photo by Lizzie Masterton

The liquid has transformative properties – through highlighting the markers of her identity, Rachael reclaims her body for herself. She moulds a space for herself, not only visually, but sonically. A remix of Jones’ eponymous song thunders through the speakers, with the fuzzy strums of a live guitar. Rachael roars into the mic; she is spunky and fearless. 

The conclusion is equally epic, campy and glorious. Rachael returns to her foil skin, ascending to the sun. Nightclubbing is a celebration of movement and defiance in the face of rejection. There are nods to Afrofuturism throughout the performance, of space voyages, timetravel, esoteric and magical powers. As she states in her interview with Cuntemporary, Afrofuturism, “allows us to harness the power of sci-fi and the existence of black people within the genre so that we might imagine melanin as super power.”

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