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Lingua Ignota’s Musical Performance is Sheer Performance Art (Philly Live Report)

Lingua Ignota 4
Lingua Ignota. Photo credit: Tashina Byrd

Everything went black. Opening act Void Vision had left the stage a while ago, their retro synth-pop already a distant memory. The venue suddenly was completely devoid of light save for some cantina fixtures over the Underground Arts bar.

That’s when the screaming started.

We still couldn’t see anything in the darkness. All we could hear were her tortured voice and a single piano. The cracking vocals of “Do You Doubt Me Traitor” came out from the lightless stage.

I don’t eat, I don’t sleep.
I don’t eat, I don’t sleep.
I don’t eat, I don’t sleep.
I don’t eat, I don’t sleep.
I don’t eat.
I let it consume me.

And everyone was consumed along with her. And the show has yet to really begin. You wonder of the darkness will ever end.

And then it does. Kind of.

She’s not on the stage. Too easy. In the middle of the room, a haggard frock of clear plastic sheeting hangs from the exposed pipes in the ceiling. She is near that, off the stage, in the crowd. Then, like an apparition, she seems to float among the crowd.

How can you doubt me now?
Satan, get beside me.

Decades of seeing bands live in concert does not prepare for this. One song in, she is yelping, gasping, questioning. “How do I break you?”

I. Do. Not. Know.

When all this is ended
As cruel as I am
Remember how I loved you
But that nothing, nothing can stand.

One song in, Lingua Ignota project mastermind Kristin Hayter (bonus: check out our interview from earlier this year) hasn’t even set foot on the stage and it’s possible she never will. There’s nothing up there, no band, nothing. The music is prerecorded. It doesn’t matter. She owns it. She owns it all.

She actually does go on the stage, the front of it. She is flanked by audience members who just wound up there with nobody to stop them. She has her microphone in one hand and in the other, a clamp light, the industrial kind that might be used for auto repair, which she shines on herself and on the audience and onto the plastic.

She leaves the stage, and proceeds to spend the entire time in front of it. She uses the frayed, hanging sheet as her anchor, twisting around in it, shining the light through it, while other industrial lights illuminate it from the floor.

To test a theory, I jumped on the stage. No resistance. I’m standing among the bank of keyboards leftover from the support act. She resides on the other side of her makeshift curtain, behind it so I cannot see her, but it doesn’t matter. I can hear her as she plaintively wails while piped-in piano plays.

Who will love you if I don’t?
Who will fuck you if I won’t?

The crowd around her stares. I can’t see her, but I can hear her and feel her presence and it’s as real as the muted keys that accompany her. She would do this without an audience, I think. This ritual is personal. We’re lucky to be allowed to watch as she purges everything and everything and everything. “If the poison won’t take you, my dogs will.”

On Caligula, Lingua Ignota’s visceral latest album, this line from the song of the same title is sung angrily, a menacing growl that shows she means business, or at least needs to convince someone she does, and maybe it’s her that needs convincing. On the floor of Underground Arts, it’s different. It’s somber, resigned to whatever fate it’s due. She sings how she wants to. Lines that were recorded to sound measured come off manic here, and sometimes screams become whispers. Your own Lingua Ignota show will be different. It has to be.

“All I know is violence,” Hayter exclaims.

She thrashed throughout the song, against the sheet, tangled within it, seemingly unable to escape. She screams, she screams, over and over. She throws the light to the floor and it crashes and then goes dark. Then she darkens every other light. She quickly escapes under the cover of her darkness.

She whisked by me, far faster than she had any right to do so with the darkness and the monitors and the equipment on the stage I shouldn’t have been on. I felt her air, the breeze she made more than her actually, and before I could react she was gone.

And it was over.

Lingua Ignota is unlike any other artist performing in heavy music today; her show is unlike any other show I’ve seen before. It’s more performance art than musical performance, and all cathartic release. It’s way more Diamanda Galas than whatever definition of metal might be employed, but in these times, we can have her too. In these times, this can be metal, an artist shrieking to pre-recorded piano, a woman defiantly reclaiming herself from those who would try and take her.

And she performs for the benefit of all of us, mouths agape, and it matters not what band shirt we wear or what patches we don as we bear slack-jawed witness to the raw power Lingua Ignota can unleash.

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