Nonobject(ive): SOPHIE / Elysia Crampton / Julianna Barwick
The Broad; Los Angeles, CA

Photo by Ben Gibbs, courtesy of The Broad

It’s been exactly one year since The Broad first opened its doors to the modern art-starved masses of Los Angeles, and to prove they haven’t just been hanging out in their dorm room getting high this whole time, the museum’s curators went all in this summer with a concert series entitled Nonobject(ive): Summer Happenings At The Broad. They rode on some solid lineups for the first few months, featuring appearances from Jlin, Richard Hell, Rostam Batmanglij, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Perfume Genius, and Lotic, among others, but for us craven souls here at TMT, the real annihilator came in the final night of the series, Shifting Horizon Exploding Star, Underground and Rave Cultures.

Scope any of our reviews of the three headlining artists above and you’ll get an idea what a bananas melting pot this event was fated to be, and in one of L.A.’s slickest new art spots no less. I’ve been burned before on hype events at museums in this city (Oneohtrix Point Never at LACMA two Halloweens ago, I’m looking at you buddy), but that night, everyone brought their absolute A-game, painting a haunting and colorful image of our current cultural landscape both underground and in the spotlight.

Before getting the musical shenanigans underway, I joined my TMT compatriot (the slender and untamable Chris Kissel) in admiring some of the exhibits on display. The Broad’s collection packed serious heat — along with the requisite Warhol, we caught some impressive works from classics like Cy Twombly, Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring, and perhaps the figurehead of everything that was about to come, the much-disputed Jeff Koons. The central display that The Broad had been advertising around the city this summer was a career-long survey on the master of uncanny self-portraiture, Cindy Sherman, and along with the massive human landscape photography of Andreas Gursky, we had a solid thematic foundation to carry forth throughout the evening: the elastic power of commercialism to both inflate, shrink, and subjugate our identities, and the possibility of art to provide us with a true means of building the self.

Elysia Crampton (Photo: Sam Goldner)

Tunneling through The Broad’s cavernous stairways, we plopped down just in time for Elysia Crampton’s brutal and graceful opening performance. More than just a standard live set, Crampton had prepared an audio-visual play of sorts entitled “Dissolution of the Sovereign: A Time Slide Into The Future,” complete with passionately delivered spoken word sections, punishing video segments, and of course some masterfully spliced sample assault from Crampton. The music was relentlessly rhythmic and yet the audience couldn’t help but sit down to take it all in, the barrage of smashing prison gates and cumbia radio sign-offs both playfully malleable and rife with consequential prophecy.

Weaving together a phantasmic, fractalizing narrative of the final destruction of the prison industrial complex, following the severed entrails of Aymara revolutionary Bartolina Sisa into an apocalyptic future inhabited by an advanced species of spider-humans, Crampton screamed and guided the audience through a beautiful and violent vision of a world in transformation. At one point amid the chaos, I caught a sliver of a sample from the chorus of 2 Low Key’s savage Memphis rap obscurity “Test My Nutz,” and like the underground mixtape culture of 90s Memphis hip-hop, Crampton’s set felt like a transcendent metamorphosis of the barbaric, forgotten annals of our culture into a state that, in its multiplicity, achieves a desperate kind of harmony. Crampton opened her set with a monologue declaring, “The love that they denied us will be our impulse to change the world,” and one could feel that impulse fueling every second of her performance.

Feeling disoriented and disjointed, we quickly scurried out to the front lawn to see that SOPHIE had already begun shaking things up. Even with the courtyard stage as tiny as you’d expect it to be at a museum concert, SOPHIE amassed an impressive crowd, with a fine line drawn between the observers sipping wine in the back and the kids losing their shit up at the front. Having been completely ready for the museum setting to kill any chance at actually dancing at this show, I excitedly scooched on up to the front to get a full view of SOPHIE’s marvelously meshed top and blood-red lipstick.

Though I’m far from the first writer to make this comparison, the experience of seeing SOPHIE perform his blunt-impact pop was a seamless follow-up to taking in the gratifyingly gaudy balloon animals of Jeff Koons, as if the imposing metallic structures had begun to cave in and scrape against themselves in a horrifying yet titillating fantasia. As SOPHIE veered back and forth between chopping up slappers like “Vroom Vroom” and delving into drooled out Barbie drones (I was positioned just as such so that the blinding stage lights pierced directly into my eyes, a painfully magnificent sensation that could serve as a metaphor for SOPHIE’s music in general), I patiently waited for what I knew was going to be a crowning moment of the night. When SOPHIE finally dropped “Just Like We Never Said Goodbye,” it came as beatless and effervescent as it does on record, still somehow achieving 10/10 banger status without even messing with anything as predictable as a drop. As I teared up thinking about all the heavy shit that song gets into (the passage of time, the opportunities we’ve missed, “when you hold my hand that way”), I thought that the night had already hit its peak.

SOPHIE (Photo: Sam Goldner)

Little did I know that Julianna Barwick had no intention of serving as the evening’s comedown. Making our way into the tiny, packed room, I managed to lock down a place to sit and try to settle my endorphins after the obliteration that was SOPHIE. Barwick’s set began surprisingly bassy, with pulses of synthesizer and piano accompanying her usual looping vocal patterns, and on top of the bizarrely demonic visuals plucked from Altered States and The Wizard of Oz, I found myself having a bit of a hard time really getting settled into what was going on. The moment I saw the woman in front of me finally take the plunge and be the first person in the room to lie down completely, I readily closed my eyes and followed suit.

I have no idea how much time passed lying down in that room, but eventually after XX minutes of drifting along with Barwick’s shifting sonics, all of her sounds began to give way to a stunning silence. I opened my eyes to see the entire room was now on the floor, and all of the surrounding social chatter had come to a palpable halt, leaving room for nothing but Barwick’s trailing, ghostly voice. This silence slowly gave way to a gentle, ceremonious crescendo as Barwick layered one sighing motif on top of another, eventually building to such a powerful swell of feeling that I can only describe as holy. I don’t know what the source of it was, but at the peak of this section I actually began to feel a breeze coursing through the room. By the time it was over I felt like I had taken a bath.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s no shortage of seemingly crazy events getting booked in Los Angeles, but sometimes it can be hard to cut through all the hype and find those nights that truly capture a genuine expression, that leave one in awe of the possibility alive in music today. That final night of The Broad’s Nonobject(ive) series felt like one of those nights, its barrage of voices both metaphorical and, in Barwick’s case, literal, serving as a meeting point between different faces of our culture, a clashing of perspectives in the ultimate pursuit of illumination. It was an experience at turns gentle yet forceful, sweet and sometimes bitter, but above all, it felt like being caught in a brief moment of movement and change. As a capsule of 21st century music, it left me excited for the future.

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