On the 6th of November, BCMG presents Illusions, a concert filled with uncompromising compositions, live electronics, and reflection on desire and loss. When creating the messaging around this concert, the piece that drew me in was one that encapsulated the intense highs and lows of nightlife, with a subtle and quiet reflection on queer history. 

The soundscape of the nightclub is complex, from the shuffling of bodies, the deep bass of the music, and the unavoidable yelling into friends' ears repeatedly trying to get a drink. How we experience live music is inherently animalistic, and what Richard Baker does with his piece The Tyranny of Fun, is bottle up that exciting and hedonistic environment, with a sprinkling of harsh reality. 

For composer Richard Baker his experience of nightlife samples the sounds of late 70s and early 80s disco – the sound of the great super-clubs of New York in their decadent heyday, just before the first wave of the Aids epidemic hit.

Originally inspired by another creator's experience of nightlife and its performative joy, Richard Baker writes;

'In 1994, as a student in Amsterdam, I read an interview in The Observer with theatre director Richard Eyre, in which he described his childhood as ‘a tyranny of fun’ – in particular, the way in which his parents tyrannised their friends and family with a ceaseless round of parties and amusements, as a distraction from their own ennui and desperation'.

The Tyranny of Fun shares the emotion of the dancefloor from its soaring highs and sexuality, to the inevitable crashing comedown. As the composer states, there is a very close relationship between desire and death.

One of the most poignant pop culture representations of living life as a queer person during the 80s is the tv show It's a Sin, which, as Richard Bakers' piece does, shows the heartbreaking reality of an environment where you feel untouchable. In The Tyranny of Fun, this feeling, and its darker undertones come through as heavy breathing and piercing trumpet sounds, and you feel the threat that Baker speaks of.

Excerpt of The Tyranny of Fun

The music is at the heart of a night out, you are with people you love (or people you want to love), and the intoxicants are flowing, but at the core of the night is the music. In an interview with Talking Writing Music Richard Baker talks more about his inspiration for the sounds you hear in the piece, and how he created such an accurate representation of a hazy night out:

'Nye Parry, who helped me make the electronics, thought I was crazy. It’s my breathing, and we worked together on how to get it sounding sick. It’s a slippage between something erotic and sensual on the dancefloor, and a kind of drug-infused disco moment, and also a zeitgeist notion of encroaching menace – this thing in the Edgar Allen Poe, the notion of the Red Death being somehow present all along, and the notion of HIV/AIDS being present at these moments of jouissance – someone’s high as a kite on whatever, but they are probably dying, unknown to them…

And that cultural moment, which I’m old enough to remember, was dominated by Star Wars! We find out at the end of the trilogy that Darth Vader makes this sound because he’s profoundly unwell. So this is two things: it’s Darth Vader, and it’s also the sound of a drug-infused moment on a dancefloor at five in the morning, maybe that’s also sexual in some way...'

Illusions coincidently sits comfortably with one of Birmingham Museum and Art Galleries' pop-up exhibitions just around the corner. Their current exhibition In The Que is a shrine to the live music venue the Que Club, which through the 90s became the home of rave and dance culture, in Birmingham and beyond. 

So, if you fancy really immersing yourself in nightlife and its underground scenes throughout November, take a look (closing on 13th Nov 22). Where In The Que shares nostalgia and the positive memories of some of the best nights of your life, its documentation still shares an honesty with our upcoming concert Illusions.

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, 2022. Photo © Birmingham Museums Trust

In keeping with the bittersweet, Richard Baker’s second piece to be played, Hwyl fawr Ffrindiau, meaning goodbye friends in Welsh, injects this incredibly touching collection of music with sentimentality, and once again, loss. During this afternoon (I'm aware it would fit the vibe more if we said night, but it will be dark by 2 pm so it's fine) concert, you will hear composer Edmund Hunt's pieces, though not expressing a hedonistic night out, fittingly discuss otherworldly visions, fear, and mystery.

Our artistic expression of the intangible concepts of loss, desire, and desperation through art, is our human way of processing it. We hope that this concert, as bleak as it may initially sound, fills you with feeling, whether it be shock, awe, joy, or introspection, and you never know, you might actually enjoy it. 

Book Tickets to Illusions


Cover Photo © Alex Walker for BCMG