Gigwise speaks to Elizabeth Bernholz of Gazelle Twin about the haunting new album Pastoral and making men weep
Ben Willmott
12:12 10th September 2018

Elizabeth Bernholz, the woman behind the enigmatic experimental electronic project Gazelle Twin, laughs out loud. “It's just me taking the piss basically,” she says. “At the end of the day that's what I do with everything.”

Elizabeth, chatting to us down the line from the isolated East Midlands farmhouse that is her current home, is talking about the track 'Better In My Day', one of the many idiosyncratic highlights of her imminent second album Pastoral. The track is a typically provocative affair which takes various well worn clichés and blinkered complaints from the older generation, stitching them into a sinister sounding, muttered mantra hammered home by a wall of thundering drums. Funny, certainly, but funny in a pretty terrifying kind of way.

A state of affairs which sums up quite a lot of Pastoral in fact. The theme which runs through it, in fact, is a desire to turn the idyllic 'chocolate box' image of the English countryside on its head and expose a bit of its darker side. The catalyst for the idea was Elizabeth's move from bustling Brighton to the remote farmhouse somewhere between Leicester and Grantham, Kent, that she'd lived in as a teenager. “I'd lived there for a year when I was 19 and it was really weird being back there again, because nothing there had changed at all.

“Going from living in Brighton to sitting in the same room and driving around these barren country roads and the eeriness of it all. I had to force myself to go out and take on another role, go to these mothers' groups. It was a very, very tense time, the referendum and Trump all colliding together. That is pure reality and I'm always drawn to that in whatever form. For me it cuts through the boredom, it's refreshing and odd and magical.”

The sheer brutality of nature is never far away, of course, once you're embedded in the countryside, and being there with her newborn child made that all the more intense. “I've had to stop eating lamb,” Elizabeth confesses. “There's a farm opposite us and the lamb's cries sound just like a baby's cries. Living quite close to farms, death is all around. You hear disturbing noises. You find severed animal limbs in your back yard.”

But the vivid terror of nature is only one part of the not so quaint jigsaw that Elizabeth pieces together on Pastoral. There are the backward, warped perspectives of its inhabitants to consider, as evidenced on 'Better In My Day'. Then there's the often hidden poverty and isolation of living in rural Britain. “I don't know what I'm doing here,” a desperate and bewildered vocal declares over a backdrop of idle chattering and clinking china on 'Tea Rooms', for instance.

Elizabeth chose to dispense with the traditional convention of simply expressing the album's lyrics through her own voice. Instead, using pitchshifting vocal effects and samples, she creates a whole host of female and male voices that bring the album's themes to life. “It's more like a cast really,” she says, adding that the performance element of the album was never far from her mind while making it. The list of characters includes everyone from that wife beating villain of seaside children's shows Mr Punch and his infamous “that's the way to do it” catchphrase, to an ancient folk singer whose centuries old song closes the album on 'Over The Hills'. “Although he doesn't know he's on it,” she laughs again.

It's as Punch, however, or an Adidas-clad, red terrorist balaclava-clad version of him that she'll be materialising as when she takes to the road to present Pastoral live. A sort of ancient jester character, she expands, present, in the Shakespearean sense of the word, prepared to point out our hypocrisies and delusions with a caustic wit.

The video to 'Hobby Horse', the first track to be released from the album, should give you an idea of what to expect.

As the track builds in momentum and its chorus – “Get on your hobby horse and get out of here” – takes hold, our heroine finds herself being urged to get out by a very angry and menacing looking member of the far right.

While she admits this is her own very particular window on the subject, “seen through the eyes of a painfully middle class white woman,” the elephant in the room – or perhaps in the field might be more appropriate – is the vicious cultural divide England has been suffering since the EU referendum two years ago. It's definitely an unspoken backdrop to this re-examination of 'typical' Englishness.

“Growing up in England the countryside is seen as something very gentle and fruitful and beautiful. All that post-war stuff is wrapped up in the culture and the landscape and the idea that everything's fine. But there's a lot of grim stuff and there always has been, shades of that. It's not even real, it's a weird reproduction of Englishness that's all very surface. It seems too historical and too nice to consider actually being real.”

Born in Kent but growing up in North Yorkshire before moving to Brighton then Leicestershire, Bernholz's marriage to her husband of Polish Jewish extraction led her to examine notions of the supposedly indigenous English people more closely.

“There are no English people,” she declares, “we're a mongrel nation. It's so bizarre where that idea comes, the madness of it all/ I had my DNA tested and I was very, very happy when I discovered that I'm only about 1 percent English, my genetic makeup was very generic with genes from all over the place and lots of different places in central Europe.”

Bernholz is the old family name of her husband Jez, an integral part of the Gazelle Twin live show as well as an artist in his own right. “He's from a Jewish family from Poland who had re-appropriated it a couple of generations back, so we took it back to make it seem less British.”

Elizabeth is gearing up to take to take Gazelle Twin on the road again, something that remains close to her heart. Her move to her sister's house in Leicestershire four years ago happened because it gave her and husband Jez the financial freedom to take up tempting offers to play live that commitments in Brighton simply wouldn't allow.

“We had this opportunity to tour but we couldn't afford to do it if we'd stayed in Brighton,” she says, “So we upped and left, packed in our day jobs. It was originally only supposed to be for six months but we ended up travelling all over the world because all the amazing opportunities were coming in.”

After touring with Tricky in support of her debut album Unflesh, they then became part of an A/V show which brought dystopian science fiction writer JG Ballard's Kingdom Come novel to life. There are clear parallels between Kingdom Come and Pastoral, even though their frames of reference are a little different.

“He (Balllard) was fascinated with the idea of consumer culture mixed up with tribalism, all in this English suburban setting, very specific to North West London.”

Undoubtedly the most high profile show of the run is an appearance at the Station Narva Festival in Narva, Estonia on the day after the album's release, September 22.

“We were interested in doing it because it seemed well suited to our general ethos being a wider arts festival. We've never been to Estonia before either so I'm looking forward to that.”

Gazelle Twin shows in Poland and Romania with Tricky have been well received, and the chance to take her vision and present it in different cultures and contexts that really appeals to Elizabeth.

Thinking back to a show they played in Missouri, one of the deeply religious southern states of the US, she recalls meeting a promoter who told them he'd been disowned by his family because any attempts to veer from the path of evangelical Christianity are totally unacceptable. “It's those kind of places where we seem to have the biggest impact,” she says, “places where people find it hard to access any kind of alternative voice.”

Remembering that when the lights came up at the end of the show, there were people - “mainly men” - so moved by the experience they were openly weeping. Summing up, and evidently looking forward to presenting her view of the world to more culturally underserved corners of the globe soon, she says: “I think that what we were doing was a big relief for them.”

'Pastoral' is released on Anti-Ghost Moon Ray on September 21. Check for a full list of UK and European live dates.

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