slow motion existential catastrophe (set to music)
Very Meadows, very Edinburgh: Edinburgh Leisure in corporate mindfulness workshop mode (image: Peter Boggon)
“Bastards, bastards, Dada’s boys are bastards,” chants Keith Farquhar of new avant garde musical partnership Edinburgh Leisure. The Ambassador and I nod to the beat. This is good, we think to ourselves. We glance around the packed basement to gauge audience reaction. There is consensus among the overwhelmingly likely to be Dada-loving crowd. Everyone is digging it, serious faces completely absorbed in the spectacle as the profane mantra unspools relentlessly around them. “Bastards, bastards…” sing-song Farquhar and guitarist John Lewis, a defiant playground insult. This is almost too good. We grin to ourselves, internally shaking our head in amused disbelief. “Dada’s boys are bastards!”
The joke is on us of course. Which is exactly as it should be. Mockery was always central to the original artistic movement’s tactical playbook. Edinburgh Leisure, as the sly yet wistful text that accompanies the show declares, are performing at the opening of the Touch My Ego (please) exhibition at The Embassy gallery. The John Lewis and Royal Bank of Scotland logos are fed through computer software which fractures and distorts them into a Vorticist-style dazzle painting on the wall behind them. There is a sensible, hybrid bike with on-brand child seat concealing car stereo speakers playing Edinburgh Leisure music and sound effects leant against the gallery wall. This is about as close to the Cabaret Voltaire as you can get outside of Zurich in 1916. And Edinburgh Leisure are laughing: at us, themselves, Edinburgh’s polite yoga class, hiking boot bohemia, progressive parenting, the bourgeoise… everything really. Naturally, in our art gallery circumstance everyone gets it.
Paradoxically, this knowing, Dada playfulness is quite sincere. Edinburgh Leisure frontman Keith Farquhar is a conceptual artist and sculptor of note. The song Dada’s Boys is actually an affectionate tribute to his influences and references a 2006 show at Edinburgh’s Fruit Market gallery which featured Farquhar’s work alongside such Neo-Dada luminaries as Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst as well as pioneers such as Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia. He is also the former singer of notorious nineties band The Male Nurse which imploded in a febrile atmosphere of death, hard drugs and generally bad ju-ju after recording a handful of classic singles and a couple of Peel sessions, allegedly inspiring Blur to rip them off as they searched for a new direction after their false start as a baggy band. Arguably, Male Nurse set staple My Own Two Foot High Patrick Swayze does sound similar to Blur smash Park Life . Certainly, Blur’s bassist Alex James was a near contemporary of Farquhar’s at Goldsmith’s and the Nurse had been assiduously courting Dave Balfe and Andy Ross of Blur’s label Food Records at the time. A demo tape of the song found its way to the Essex minstrels and the rest, as they say, is history. Food eventually decided to stick with Albarn and co’s less threatening brand of mock-cockney chirpiness rather than back the Nurse’s spiky rhythmics and surreal lyricism. It’s interesting to speculate what might have been if Food had got behind them but it’s difficult to feature a comparably stellar trajectory. The Male Nurse were just too obscure, too deliberately oblique to be really famous, their angular sonic poetry that recalled The Fall at their most hex-enductingly cryptic or the deadpan absurdism of The Velvet Underground’s The Gift say, tragically halted at some curious and beautiful evolutionary deadend between Britpop and Bruce Nauman. Ultimately more U-Bahn than Park Life, The Male Nurse exemplified a wiry subcultural resistance to the prevailing flabby zeitgeist of mod retreads and block-rocking beatz.
So much for then. Now, an older and probably wiser Farquhar is partnered by the talented John Lewis on guitar and vocals. Guesting for this show, Psychic Soviet James Stark completes the line-up on bass. Lewis’ scratchy, meandering guitar motifs compliment Farquhar’s corner-of-the-eye observations while woozy electronics, understated beats and found sounds such as bank machines and swing bins play out insistently through an I Pod. Farquhar operates miked-up props such as a staple gun and a struck guitar live. Alongside the obvious Fluxus and Musique Concrete comparisons, it is rather like The Raincoats jamming with This Heat, fronted by Farquhar-favourite Martin Kippenberger. It is also brilliant.
It’s early days for Edinburgh Leisure, this is only their third gig in Edinburgh. But Farquhar’s performance is precise and self-assured, looking happy underneath his trademark aloof charisma. Lewis is studious, attending to his guitar and vocal duties with a low key charm. On the Macbook start-up sound-sampling Start Up, Farquhar and Lewis sing “I had my MacBook broken, I had my Iphone stolen, I had my bankcard frozen, I left my Facebook open”, deftly skewering our modern day, socially-mediated anxiety while reminding us that Farquhar hasn’t lost his gift for penning snappy lyrics. It’s a promising beginning. As temporary stakeholders in Edinburgh’s newest lifestyle partnership, The Ambassador and I certainly look forward to working with them again. On Edinburgh Dungeon, he rips masking tape rhythmically into the microphone, pausing to advise us that “Edinburgh dungeon, tourists attraction made into sex dungeon… Boswell now!” Edinburgh Leisure may be laughing but they are laughing with us.
The Male Nurse compilation is available in a vinyl-only, limited edition LP at Decemberism