An introduction into the chaotic but wonderful live performance given by Cocorosie.
Last Monday I went down to Oval Space, Hackney, to see the wonderfully eclectic Cocorosie, pioneers of ‘freak folk’. A converted warehouse overlooking stunning gas-holders to the rear, Oval Space opened just last year as a venue dedicated to live music and performance art. The fan demographic for Cocorosie was hard to pin down, but I finally decided that there was an almost hippy-but-not-quite-hipster vibe to it all.
The thing I like about Cocorosie is that they put energy into their performances as an art form, rather than just music. The stage was riddled with various items, as if a dress-up box had exploded. On top of a chest of drawers was a rickety old mirror (oddly facing the audience), to the side a washing line of mismatched clothes, and on the floor indiscernible exotic instruments: organized chaos.
After much anticipation, the band entered wearing prison convict outfits. From a visual point of view, we see four figures. There was Takuya, wearing a sun hat and a green face, who plays keys and trumpet. Beatbox Tez, fluorescent tears falling down his face, creating guttural noises and busy hip-hop beats. Sierra, the elder of the Cassady sisters and trained as an opera singer at Paris Conservatoire, resembles an ethereal witch with long raven hair falling to the floor. And finally Bianca, sporting a heavily exaggerated chola face-paint (angry eyebrows, dark lip liner) whose presence is intense and penetrative.
They opened with End of Time, comprising of a polarized texture: low drum machine bass contrast with high blaring synths. The lyrics give you an insight into the sisters’ secret world: “The Babes/ The Guns/ The Waste/ The Punks/ I don’t need no human friends”. The sisters believe in ‘Mother Earth’ and, although not at all Christian, sing “God, She speaks to me” in R.I.P. Appropriately, Sierra’s soaring melodies combined with her hand gestures towards the sky make out as though she is speaking to a higher being.
As with many great artists, Cocorosie make their songs continuous in live performances, which allows the atmosphere to be retained. Takuya plays spacey keyboard scales whilst both Sierra and Bianca get changed in front of the mirror. Now wearing flowing white wedding dresses, they change their make-up to accommodate for the red lighting: Sierra looks like a ‘rainbow warrior’, her face enshrouded in neon colours, and Bianca has two simple war stripes across her cheeks.
Behind the sisters are psychedelic visual tessellations as they sing After the Afterlife. Bianca’s infantile but haunting voice draws us in, with odd lyrics like “wet snails get wetter”. Her eyes are closed as if no one is watching her, but her face is in fact projected onto a screen behind in kaleidoscopic visions.
Beatbox Tez finally comes out of the shadows and shows off his unbelievable talents. A cacophony of sound comes from just his throat, with high clicks superimposed and thudding basslines down below.
As the room blackens, the crowd is surrounded by darkness. Fragments of an old tape play a horse neighing – it’s the only noise piercing the silence. Sierra emerges with an Arabian-inspired jeweled veil on her face; both visually and musically it is evident that Cocorosie are heavily influenced by oriental melodies and Middle-Eastern fashions. In Far Away, Sierra demonstrates her staggering vocal range and uses a looping device to record her effortless legato lines on top of one another- separated by the smallest of intervals, they all clash to form hauntingly beautiful harmonies. Finally, she is joined by Bianca whispering “R.I.P. Humans”. This is classic Cocorosie: juxtaposing evocative hip-hop beats with ominous, hard-hitting truths about the society they live in,which is “ruled by the patriarchy”, as they say in a recent interview on feminism
The two sisters are polar opposites on stage. Separated at an early age, Sierra is full of positive energy and bounces around with a child-like innocence, whereas Bianca is an introverted creative. However, when they come together, an unusual ensemble of sound is created, always heartfelt and thought provoking.
Cocorosie finish with Werewolf, a longstanding favourite of mine. For the first time, Bianca and Sierra interact with one another, singing “Ride into the sunset/Look back with no remorse”. Cocorosie’s energy is hard to pinpoint in descriptive terms: otherworldly, emotionally raw and darkly spiritual. As I have experienced, the only way to truly grasp the weird world in which their minds work is to see them live. Only then can we understand the ‘secret garden’ in which their musical world grows and flourishes.