“It’s such a privilege to be able to smoke and do this,” Elysia Crampton remarked into the mic. A cigarette extended elegantly from between her fingers and she had slung a keytar over her shoulder, to the crowd’s evident delight. The audience gathered around the small stage at Good Room in Brooklyn Thursday night, as attentive as a group of children at story time.
In reality, they had committed to an onslaught of pulverizing sound by the electronic composer, whose work is supercharged at once with politics and fantasy, and blends disparate influences from South American metal to cumbia to ratchet. The show was presented by Northside Festival, AdHoc and The Tinnitus Music Series, and the lineup included Total Freedom and Moor Mother, aka Camae Ayewa.
Moor Mother primed the crowd for Elysia’s transporting set. The Philadelphia-based artist found a broader audience after the 2016 release of her LP, Fetish Bones, an experimental telling of black history in America. Tonight, she delivered a performance that was at once assaulted and assaulting (her music has often been called “combative” or “confrontational”), with sounds that grew from punk, hip-hop, free jazz, noise and industrial music.
The set embodied trauma: At one point a beat unfolded in staccato bursts like bullets, Ayewa staggered as if hit and released a vital yell. Yet in the end, she marched toward the future in a blanket of melodic synth and a strong statement: “No fear!”
In a few more words, Elysia Crampton picked up this theme. “Having a white name like Elysia Crampton gives me agency,” she explained, emphasizing her Native American Aymara heritage and the stage she has found to give voice to that history. Then she stubbed her cigarette out on the floor and launched into a set that began with the cries of human suffering, before quickly dissipating into more legible territory. Cumbia and huayño influences were in evidence, as well as pleasing MIDI horns and the sparse piano lines that beguile on her 2017 album Spots y Escupitajo.
This swell and ebb of control and the threat of chaos repeated itself throughout the performance, climaxing in thick walls of sound.
“Am I done?” Elysia asked, after an unexpectedly atmospheric piece. “I’m gonna be messy and do one more.” And so she did, laying down a thrash metal background from which emerged—hilarious, ironic and triumphant—the keytar-rendered strains of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”