Friday night saw me stroll down Berlin’s infamous ‘walk back home’, sidestep the dealers and ticketless unfortunates, and skip up to a full Berghain main-room, where tonight’s gig having been (somewhat obviously – well done PR department) upgraded from the Kantine next door.
2014 seems to have been littered with similar upgrades-to-fortune backed with slamming 808’s – yes, Alejandro Ghersi’s year, under his ARCA, moniker at least, has been a somewhat unstoppable ascent. 2014 saw him rally off KANYE,’s Yeezus, and retaliate with &&&&& his twisted trap tape straight into the arms of FKA TWIGS, and the helm of her stunning LP1. Naturally to cap it off, with BJÖRK and MOMA, New York gave him a nod, an album and an exhibition with his visual collaborator Jesse Kanda, and Mute records decided to release his debut Xen.
All stunning, and worthy of the Kantine upgrade, yet bringing with it a wealth of acne on increasingly young fans and not a single memory of the EP’s Stretch 1 or 2 – naturally ARCA, is already beyond the hype.
The show itself started small and somewhat musically confused, yet with each lisping ‘thank you,’ the somewhat bashful Ghersi became more pronounced, paralleling the heaving amorphous feminine (Xen, the album name and protagonist of Jesse Kanda’s visual styling’s for the record) projected behind him. It was in this parallel, visual side of ARCA, that an unexpected reflection of Ghersi’s aesthetics became so obvious. Alejandro’s topless torso, his cocked hips and leather skirt item (I’m sure they have a name – manskirt?) all founded this sense of a toyed or twisted heteronormativity, each beat taking its route in drawling monosyllabic hip hop and with a wry-squeeze becoming this re-pitched slide of familiarity yet pushed into a completely unfamiliar space (like a camped and thunderous version of ONEOHTRIX’s aesthetic). This was all supported by the gyrating hips and folding sometimes-chrome-sometimes-fireworks skin of Xen who’s CGI bulges are slowly but surely becoming the penis you didn’t know you were staring at. It was the reciprocal, common queering which became so fascinating – after all, we know ARCA can produce or else we wouldn’t be there.
We also know he can’t play live completely professionally yet since it’s been 6 months since he started doing it; to judge him on those grounds would be premature. Yet to stand bare chested at this Friday night spectacle became a somewhat curious experience. To watch Ghersi MCing in Spanish and spanking his own ass, playing speed-metal as an encore and sliding into the crowd became a perfect questioning of the tired, black capped, flat-peaked Berghain bro who has become so indicative of the club’s own conflictions. ARCA, asked the questions, Kanda provided the show and one and a half hours later, we all left feeling a little sore, not quite sure who’s hand to hold. How rare for hip-hop to do that to anybody.