Growing up, I always thought of San Jose as the place where you went for plumbing supplies or muffler repair, not as the spawning ground of a drone & doom & dissonance art-music band that would produce 15 albums (so far) of terrifying explorations into a deeply wounded subconscious. But that’s Xiu Xiu for you, an ensemble led by Jamie Stewart (at left in the photo above) and named after a Chinese film whose protagonist suffers an endless series of tragedies and then dies.
Not surprisingly, the band’s music is suffused with fear, evil, terror, despair, and murder.
It’s also not surprising that the pain and anguish on display in Stewart’s music draws the attention and admiration of listeners who’ve accumulated plenty of trauma in their own lives; this 2009 essay from Pitchfork reveals one listener’s obsession and catharsis in extraordinary detail.
Xiu Xiu’s latest release is Angel Guts: Red Classroom, and they’ve just released a video for the song “Cinthya’s Unisex” that manipulates children’s drawings in such a terrifying way that despite being not explicit in the slightest, it should come labeled with every trigger warning in the book. So consider yourself forewarned.
Later this month, the band will appear in two art exhibits in New York City. The first, which opens September 27 at The Kitchen, is titled Metal:
Wielding massive hammers, two Thai gold leaf pounders will work for three hours while Xiu Xiu (Shayna Dunkelman, Ches Smith, Jamie Stewart) plays 36 out 52 randomly selected 5 minute pieces for metal percussion. Changes will be signaled by a fire alarm bell and a new piece will begin. The sound and poly rhythms of the hammering gold against marble will be juxtaposed with gongs, vibraphones, cymbals, bells, crotales, bowls and rocar.
Then, on September 28, they’ll perform Kling Klang as part of the Dumbo Arts Festival at Brooklyn Bridge Park:
Using 999 pink vibrating eggs neon duct taped one at a time to the enormous copper sculpture, We the People, a clanging and sonorous chord will emerge. As the batteries in the eggs die the pitch of the chord will slowly get lower and quieter until it is silent again.
(Both performance descriptions are from Xiu Xiu’s website.)
On a lighter note, it seems entirely possible that Xiu Xiu (Jamie Stewart particularly) was the inspiration for Tim & Eric’s always-tortured character Casey Tatum.