Revolutionary Arts Ensemble

Jamie opens with the by now familiar refrain that in the event of an earthquake we should sit back and enjoy the ride, but if things get gnarly be sure to protect our heads and necks. Wise advice also applicable to the seismic sensory experience that is a Revolutionary Arts Ensemble show. Seven of the bay’s greatest creative musical minds unite to produce immersive, diverse, singular happenings, laden with thought, attention to aesthetic, and a generous sprinkling of anarchic humour. Founded under the principles of the Russian avant garde, to dismantle art as we know it and remould it outside its own boundaries; feats as ambitiously experimental as what Revolutionary Arts create run the danger of leaving their audience behind, disappearing into the esoteric ether. Happily, they are masters at dropping hooks throughout the work, handrails of familiarity for the unsuspecting observer to grasp at and cling to while the band cheerfully deconstruct and crumble around their ears.

The premise of tonight’s performance is the humble music box. The boys have built up quite a collection, each with a signature tune used as the jumping off point for their numbers. Intimately recognisable melodies rendered in plinky plonky chimes act as an inspiration for pastiche, even before they have their tempos messed with and their tunes picked up and distorted by the band. In their hands, Beethoven’s Für Elise is reimagined as an intense kaleidoscope of rock out sound; Teddy Bear’s Picnic rendered in deranged electro; a Star Wars medley becomes funked up lounge music; My Little Pony turned up to eleven with the addition of Fane Flaws’ grinding guitar; Send in the Clowns gloriously inarticulately roared by Anton Wuts; Love Story made a spaghetti western soundtrack augmented by masculine whoops and hollers; and a surprisingly straight show band version of The Impossible Dream held tight by Will Darbyshire's velvety crooning. The Ensemble’s commitment to aural satiation is palpable. What other band has two drum kits, a beefed up brass section, synths and heavy guitars, bird calls and a wind up monkey banging a drum and Anton Wuts bashing the keys like they owe him money. Passion and glee run through the music. The boys are clearly having a good time and their ebullience is infectious as they fill the room with joyful noise.

As awe inspiring as it is, the music is only one facet to a Revolutionary Arts gig. The set is impeccable as ever. Flanked by larger than life sized ying yang skeletons and paper umbrellas that inflate and deflate like jellyfish meandering through the ocean; a carpeted seventies style lounge houses the music boxes as well as nods to their previous shows. We Travel the Space Ways’ space suited skeleton rockets overhead; Monster Music’s Godzilla skulks the set, and Garden of Earthly Delights’ fan streamers are back. All Easter eggs for the initiated disciples of this motley crew’s strange creations. Twin projectors reflect visuals thoughtfully articulated and in tune with what’s going on on the stage. Numbers are announced with stop motions of refrigerator alphabet letters and legos and stencils, interspersed with images of riots, ecstatic religious zealotry, vintage city scapes, seventies cartoons and the music boxes themselves. Guest performers add an element of pageantry, bringing the music box characters to life. Amy Dobson totters on stage in geisha regalia to lend her wonderfully operatic voice in a sombre lament. A ballet dancer pops out of a gigantic clam shell to stiffly turn in circles before donning a Bacchanalian mask and getting weird. Queen of burlesque, Cherry Boomb pops out of a box as a sassy clown before changing it up as a gold tassled flapper. We’ve come to expect such a feast for eyes and ears and heart and soul from the Revolutionary Arts Ensemble. And yet with every feat they managed to exceed expectations, push boundaries further and have more fun. One can’t help but wonder what they will do next.

Review by Rosheen FitzGerald

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