With no opener, Alejandro Ghersi’s solo project Arca sold out Bowery Ballroom, joined only by his roommate and frequent visual arts collaborator Jesse Kanda. A large projector screen occupied most of the stage, featuring several music videos from last year’s Xen as well at least four unreleased visuals for tracks like “Sad Bitch” and “Lonely Thugg.” Two visuals were each paired with two really great unreleased songs. A peculiar tension existed between Jesse Kanda’s otherworldly on-screen imaginings and the allure of Alejandro’s physical performance. It was interesting to see among the crowd which seized more attention, where heads turned when Arca began to remove layers of a revealing BDSM-style leather outfit while perched upon an elaborate pair of ten-inch platform shoes. Half the time, the producer remained behind his table of gear, programming sounds live (like on “Bullet Chained” or “Thievery”). The other half was something else entirely.
Arca‘s debut album title Xen is understood to represent the producer’s feminine alter-ego, a radical inversion of the artist’s persona that might enable an unprecedented degree of depth and meaning to his already challenging music. During his live performance, Arca directly channeled this energy, performing live vocals (both English and Spanish, sung and spoken word) over his productions. The first track featuring live vocals was soft and unassuming, but two tracks later and he was in the crowd hollering violent Latina hysterics like a deranged, devilish MC. Those three minutes were absolutely overwhelming: assless chaps, erratic strobe visuals, a mind-blowing unreleased track, and more assless chaps.
“I need more from you,” he said after vaulting himself back onto the stage, “Or I can’t do it.” He said this sincerely, offering a genuine sense of vulnerability that complicated the inherent campiness of his performance. You couldn’t help but give a little more. Watching him posture and pose during “Empath” (the first segment of Xen bonus track “????? A”) as he rapped “I can’t fake this” over the propulsive beat was both endearing and empowering. And the performance was provocative and sexual, sure, but it was also definitively unnerving and slightly discomforting. It’s easy to see as a parallel to the music he makes, which expresses similar dynamics of sublime and unrest.
Watch the music video for Xen‘s opening track “Now You Know” below.