Credit Julia Bauer

Buzzcut’s Double Thrills: A masterclass in experimental performance art

By Jeevan Farthing

Culture Editor Jeevan heads down to the CCA for a night of queer experimental theatre, and interviews its administrative director.

“This week he moppin’ floors, next week it’s the fries”. “That bitch knew her cheeses”.

Both lines emanate from the theatre on display at the CCA on Wednesday 19 October. This is par the course for Double Thrills; a recurring night of experimental art. It’s put on by Glasgow’s Buzzcut, who describe themselves as an “internationally recognised organisation, supporting radical performance practises from all over the world”. Karl Taylor is their administrative director, and he spoke to The Glasgow Guardian before we attended October’s event.

“I just really really miss it”. Karl sounded almost exasperated when I asked why Buzzcut decided to resurrect Double Thrills. He went on to explain that it was brought back after a covid-related hiatus because “it is still really needed”. “The arches were the welcoming home for shows like these touring around the UK, so when they closed down there was no easy natural home to pick up the slack.”

Double Thrills’ new home is the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA), and Karl praised its “real focus on visual art and film”. “It’s the best space to work in for those in-between practices”, which sounds ideal for an event as multidisciplinary as Double Thrills. While their September event was based on “ritual, with a whole sci-fi slimy world around the building”, October’s contained “more grotesque and beautiful queer-trans cabaret”.

Held in collaboration with Canada’s Rhubarb Festival, October’s performance opened with a life size (Scottish) vagina. This is Hairy Beast, the work of Scotland-based comedian Theo Seddon, whose camp performances champion his experience living as a transgender man. Wrapped up in the cheap horror of some Macbeth-like “double trouble” chants is the show’s propensity to engage in gender bending: the figure haunting our protagonist around their small town is, in fact, a man with a vagina. “Only I understand you, I love you”, they assert (think: BBC’s Red Rose but pre social media), before conveying the genius expression: “Men can be whoever they want; isn’t that the point of misogyny?”. Seddon explores and intertwines intersections of hatred through subtlety and humour, and before long the two characters become lovers, engaging in the mildly unedifying spectacle of undressing in a de facto dance routine.

The show then shifted focus abruptly to two different characters – it is only an extract of Seddon’s work, after all. While lacking the satisfaction of a neatly wrapped up and coherent storyline, it further attests to Buzzcut’s raison d’être, which Karl described as “making space for Scotland based artists to develop performance practises, bringing in new inspiration points or building pathways so Scottish artists can travel.” Their stringent focus on providing opportunities for artists is admirable, and made the overzealous American straight couple on stage unexpectedly likeable as they spoke to us in their half-developed form. While the previous characters exuded queer joy at its fullest, these two were the living embodiment of heteronormativity, with cringe-inducing (“fuck I forgot my toolbox!” “how does my make up look!”) and somewhat disturbing (“let’s fuck on top of a grave”) statements side by side. To see gender essentialism portrayed so plainly highlighted its emptiness.

The man’s characterisation was as insightful as it was hilarious. The casting of these characters as American within a proudly Scottish space seemed deliberate, while the inclusion of a toolbox exuded undertones of class, perhaps rendering his relationship with masculinity more complex. The audience were cackling regardless. Seddon excelled in his radical deconstruction of homophobia, transphobia and misogyny, as well as the quality of his entertainment: I could not tell whether I should have been laughing at or laughing with the characters. Some of the attempts at horror – a casual reference to the “final girl”, or an occasional “curl your blood” – felt slightly out of place (you are a queer artist at a progressive festival, not Stephen King in 1974), but they did not take away from some hilarious writing. 

Karl was the perfect host, engaging with the audience in endearing and semi-chaotic bursts of energy. “Spooky spooooky”, he would hail with the gravitas of former Blue Peter host Yvette Fielding conducting a séance in Plas Teg, Wales. His transitions between acts were not seamless in the literal sense of the word, but were perfectly light-hearted and sufficiently lengthy to make us crave more. As Shrek 666 entered the stage it became clear that their rendition was experimentally rather than politically radical – indeed, they describe their art as “non-human/human embodiment through transpecious, transdisciplinary, hybridisation.” Such was the abundance of smoke and strobe lighting that Shrek 666’s (presumably) feral undertakings were barely visible, leaving it to our imagination to accompany the thumping techno. The performance was enthralling, and the vibes were cold. It felt as if there was a terrestrial boundary between us and the stage, so as the ending revealed scattered remnants of the performer, you felt confused, mesmerised, and yet still satisfied.

Femme castracise, meanwhile, provided us with the most intellectually stimulating performance of the night. Their work specialises in body image and misogynistic censorship, having worked at the “most prestigious strip clubs in Edinburgh and London”, and so their choice of setup song was Gold Digger (obviously). As “she went to doctor got lipo with your money” broadcast from a portable telly, a truly horrifying spectacle emerged on stage (think of the drag artist Charity Kase but in a hoodie and tracksuit). This performance was less about the art presented – ritualistic dancing followed by the deconstruction of a cake in the near-nude – than its conception. There is perfect symmetry; the six masks on her face were positioned such that those on opposite sides were identical, while two phones on either side of her broadcasted the performance to an Instagram livestream. They can see us, we can see them, and the performer can always see two of themselves. Femme castracise tears apart the concept of a spectator, because everybody can only see half of what is actually happening. A nod to the inherent duality of digital platforms, perhaps? Mark Zuckerberg was at least mentioned by Karl afterwards.

And yet the relationship between the arts and online is all the more complex post-Covid. I asked Karl how Buzzcut had dealt with Covid, and they were indeed meant to put on a festival in March 2020: “It was all programmed and everything, so then we just ended up being on this big pile of money without a way to use it. We kept delaying and delaying and people (artists, producers, technicians) were really struggling. So we invited everyone we previously programmed to create experiments with what digital or remote performance looks like in May 2021. It ended with all of these unexpected amazing works which we would never have found otherwise. With one performance you got given all the ingredients to make panipuri, in the other you’d have a zoom call with someone talking about identity and relationships to the land, and how you create those live and tangible experiences when we can’t be around each other. It was a really interesting provocation and ended up with some beautiful works”. The ability of the arts to adapt only emphasises their necessity. While shuffling out of the theatre for an hour-long interval affirmed my preference for seeing things in person, the opportunities afforded by social media cannot be dismissed.

Back, then, to “gays and BPD art hoes” Esther Splett and Brawk Ward, who play “alien rat bastards with yeast infections” as they “burrow and scavenge deep into the darkest crevasses of humanity”. The smell of onions was pungently effective, and before long the two rats were wheeled out in a trolley. You half expected a Martin Brenner-like figure to emerge (instead we got the BSL interpreter wearing elaborate goggles on her head; as she should). Rituals, moaning and truly horrendous noises were present as the rats were impregnated, yet a sense of radicalism persists: the idea of birth without gender is a very interesting concept. The baby rat had googly eyes and sounded like Peaches on Lovertits. Manic is perhaps the best way to describe this performance: it is here, there and everywhere, with certain themes (pissing in a saucepan) popping up again and others not. You really do get lost in it all, just like you never actually know where you are when listening to a Prelude and Fugue. 

“Athlete’s foot” “toenails” “fungus” “intense itching” “diarrhoea” “indigestion”. The vibes were crusty. Perhaps these lexical choices are mere tools to revile and repulse the audience, or alternatively they dissect the component parts of the human body that we take for granted but are really quite grim. This is all supposedly an attempt by the rats to consume what humans throw away, but there’s no need for much critical thinking if you simply revel in the chaos as they roll and jump around on stage.

What makes this work brilliant is that you can engage with it intellectually, but you do not have to. It almost devolves to the audience how much meaning they would like to extract, and Karl emphasised to me that the way they encourage people to come to Double Thrills is “selling the experience of throwing yourself in and not taking it too seriously. As opposed to really focusing on individual work, Double Thrills is more about the experience of encountering unusual or experimental work.” And so it’s the absurdity of The Rats of Woolpit that makes it tick. You could question what aliens creatures think of humans on the BBC, but it’s only in the CCA where someone can do this as a rat giving birth, and face no social stigma.

The end of the performance involved us all scribbling down our good wishes as part of a collective eulogy. It brought all of us together, mourning that thing, and there was a low-tech sweetness to it all, such as Karl not being able to reach the post-it notes of those beyond six rows up. But what was most beautiful about the way the audience engaged with Double Thrills was its naturality. As previously mentioned, Buzzcut exists chiefly for artists and not us. For those wanting to get involved, Karl described that they do “various open calls” (the festival is programmed by one), but they also have an “emerging artists award (which mentor an artist for a year), and club residencies, which supports three artists to make new performances for club nights, all programmed by open call. Everything else is by developing relationships”. The commitment to open call demonstrates a democratic ethos to the organisation; the help they provide to artists is tangible.

To Suella Braverman’s dismay it is probably true that the audience was both guardian-reading and tofu-eating (I’m sure she would consider the £6 daal deal on offer during the interval just as threatening). But far from Buzzcut merely engaging with an out of touch liberal elite, Karl told The Glasgow Guardian that “there are always new people coming along… a lot of the audience is students or recent graduates, or people just finding their feet in the creative scene in the city”. Double Thrills is as inclusive as can be, with tickets on a sliding scale from £0. It’s a selfless and risky decision, and while Karl emphasised that Buzzcut has a “really good relationship with Creative Scotland”, the revenues from tickets that night were not as high as they had expected. One can only hope that the high praise from the audience on the night translates into donations aplenty. 

I wonder if being situated so far away from the Westminster culture warriors made the sense of optimism among the audience more palpable. Perhaps Glasgow’s relative compactness compared with other cultural centres fosters a greater sense of community. If anything, Double Thrills proves that the best way to fight a culture war is to be even more radical, even more queer and even more outlandish, because out of that comes greater joy and stronger solidarity. Buzzcut’s programmes are meticulously nonsensical and urgently meaningful, offering escape and reflection in equal measure. They enrich Glasgow’s burgeoning culture scene and support its talented artists; it shouldn’t just be progressives anticipating what they get up to next. 

Find out more about what Buzzcut does here.


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