I happen to be friends with the people at Hexus Press.
Hexus Press, if you don't know, is a small publisher of avant-garde, literary horror. They've previously released two anthologies of short fiction, which contain some extremely impressive and disquieting work (Hexus II contains a story by my pal Lucy Brady).
Gary J Shipley has some short, nasty, cruel, brilliant work in Hexus I. Being rather thrilled with them, I looked up Shipley and bought one of his novels, Dreams of Amputation, which is one of the most disturbing and unpleasant books I've ever read.
So, naturally, I was delighted to learn that Hexus Press were publishing his new novel, WAREWOLFF!. And, last night, I had the pleasure of attending the book launch.
What can I say about Shipley? Reportedly, he's a perfectly affable chap in real life (an academic philosopher, no less). It's difficult to correlate that with the work he's produced. Dreams is a cyberpunk nightmare, the fun of the endless neon night such fiction tends to promise distinctly absent. It presents the future of the Anthropocene as one where the most despicable of desires finds technological expression (there's a disturbingly memorable scene in a harem of artificial, chimeric concubines). In Dreams, Shipley presents a world where celebrity is something easy to come by, if one equates it with fetishising being watched, with being on the other side of the voyeur's lens.
The launch place in a pleasant little book shop in Haggerston, with the unlikely name 'Burley Fisher Books'. One of the lovely people at Hexus had sent me on a mission to find a woodblock for the performance, which had proven to be far more difficult a task than it had any right to be, so I'd arrived early with it. After some chatting, and helping them set-up, I took myself off to a bar down the road as they did their final sound checks (I wasn't allowed to attend, so as to preserve the mystery surrounding the performance that was to come). The bar was sharply minimal, the only seating indoors being a cushioned bench that ran along the wall opposite the bar. Table service was welcome, and I settled in to have a drink and do some research.
The aforementioned Lucy turned up, and we had a few drinks as we waited for the performance to start. When the time came, we filed down into the basement theatre under the book shop. Virtually everyone, including myself, was dressed in black.
One of the guys from Hexus read a short speech, introducing the evening's events. In a nod to the original Dadaists, (vegetarian) sausages, beer, and sauerkraut were to be served afterwards. He said he suspects that Cabaret Voltaire would not have approved. He also thoughtfully included a trigger warning for 'literally everything'.
There were four people on the stage; two reading from the novel, another reading from it and working the synths and other instruments, and the fourth be assisting with the synths, etc.
The performance began with the clunk of a woodblock.
Shipley's words were cast over us, with the synths growling, initially quietly, underneath. The speakers took it in turns, beginning each vignette from the text with a thwack on a woodblock. The language and imagery was everything I expected it to be -- vicious, grotesque, transgressive, obscene, and darkly comic (assuming your sense of humour is as strangely calibrated as mine). As the performance went on, the vignettes became more graphic, the noise from the synths became more violent, though the tone from the speakers was, if anything, ever-more Radio 4.
The wall of sound increased, almost to an uncomfortable level. The lights flickered during a particularly lurid piece likening Palestine to... well, that would be telling.
Someone towards the back laughed throughout.
About 45 minutes later, the performance terminated. The apprehension someone at Hexus had felt that, maybe, the content was going just a little too far, and a Twitter hate-mob would manifest in our presence, appeared unfounded, at least for now. The atmosphere was genuinely convivial. Sausages were had (I had mine mustard). I bough a copy of WAREWOLFF!.
Shipley was nowhere to be seen.