Les Modernes – an evening of music, film and art

By August 18, 2014

Art & Photography. Leeds.


On the evening of September 6th 2014, Leeds’ Left Bank will play host to an ambitious, eclectic but carefully selected mix of music, art and moving image – Les Modernes. It promises to be a truly unique event to propel you back to the world as it was between 1910 and 1920. The State of the Arts was lucky enough to catch up with Laura, the creator of the event, to discuss her inspiration behind the idea.

On 2nd February 1916, the Zurich Press announced the formation of The Cabaret Voltaire. Inspired by the Parisian Cabaret tradition (born with Chat Noir in 1881), German poet and playwright Hugo Ball, together with his partner Emmy Hennings, founded The Cabaret Voltaire in the back room of the Holländische Meierei, a popular tavern located in a seedy section of Zurich.


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Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich 1916

“The idea for doing a night of music, art and moving image came from reading about Hugo Ball and the Cabaret Voltaire – which was essentially a kind of performance-meets-nightclub founded in neutral Switzerland in 1916. It was a reaction to the war in Europe and a way to embrace revolutionary politics and some of the emergent, anarchic ideas in art.”

With the First World War Centenary dominating cultural programming for some time, Laura wanted to consider some of the other things happening in this period.

In the USA, music was being pressed onto records and broadcast on radio stations for the first time. There were silent cowboy films of American filmstar Tom Mix in the movie theatres. “In Europe, the beginnings of abstraction in art, Picasso collages, Kandinsky, Dada and early expressionism were emerging; Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka in Vienna, and the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. Anthropological gazes, suffragettes, anarchist ideas and dangerous political theories – how were these things expressed in art?”

It is these ideas and themes that have inspired the promotion artwork for the event (see featured image) and will also be mixed into the projections.

“I gather from what I have read, that Zurich at this time attracted deserters from many parts of Europe; rebels with a shared hatred of the social order and a desire to challenge what were described as ‘outdated bourgeouis values’.

Hugo was known as the originator of Dada. He drew on Russian anarchy theorist Mikhail Bakunin, who had also spent time in Zurich a few decades earlier in the 1870s. Dada was an invented aesthetic term and movement, with a manifesto that declared it was purposely devoid of meaning. However, the basic spiritualism that writers like Herbert Read have found valuable in primitive art, can be seen in many of the artforms that appeared around that time.”

Back to 2014, and on September 6th, Left Bank will play host to this highly anticipated event. The stunning Grade 2 listed church will act as a perfectly dramatic backdrop for the evening. There will be live music from three artists on the night: Tom Attah, Patrick Duff and Das Pain.


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Ian McArdle, Das Pain

Leeds-based band Das Pain have been described as “lurching rock ‘n’ roll that takes in the rainy, booze-soaked atmosphere of Crime & the City Solution and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds.” As so eloquently put by songwriter Ian McArdle, “the thread that runs through every song is an indefinable yearning. The Portugese have a word for it – saudade – which we have no equivalent of in English. When I sit down to write a Das Pain song, I take that yearning and ham it right up.”

“The bands and musicians won’t be specifically responding to the period – they will be doing their regular thing, although Tom Attah reflects the gospel roots of blues originals like Son House, who was emerging in the early ‘30s. I chose these artists because of their authentic and emotional styles. Their work is thoughtful and personal and I think this echoes a sense of what Kandinsky called ‘the spiritual in art’, something written about in 1912 (the logo I’m using is based on a Kandinsky woodcut from the book ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’). They are each carving their own timeless niches against fashion or trends.”


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‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’, Kandinsky

I am told that the book above was translated from German in 1914 by Michael T.H.Sadler – son of one of the earliest collectors of Kandinsky in the UK, Sir Michael Ernest Sadler who was vice-chancellor of University of Leeds. “He was very radical in his tastes in art for the times and he and Kandinsky communicated a lot.” Laura took inspiration from the above logo and combined it with her love of Hungarian painter and photographer Lazlo Maholy-Nagy’s work to create the artwork for the September event.

On the night, long time film collaborator Empty as Church will be projecting original film mixes along with short films and animations. “I have worked with the film editor for many years; he has matched film clips to music at a number of events I’ve organised. I’m intrigued to see what he will produce around these themes!”

Laura can usually be found organising films and related content for Leeds Film Festival and has recently started hosting ‘pop-up cinema’ events at The Reliance. What is it that inspired Laura to put the wheels in motion on this particular project? “It is the combination of a rebellious rejection of reason and dominant political ideologies and a desire to bring people together to be moved by art and music.” With no budget, she explains that she had to shelve some of her more ‘ambitious plans’ for the event, but is fascinated to see what emerges from the experience.

Laura is curious to see if people will dress up or respond to the theme to come artfully attired for the evening!


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Hugo Ball’s appearance at Cabaret Voltaire

“Hugo Ball appeared at the Cabaret Voltaire in a crazy paper suit and hat (above). I’m going to put out some materials for people to make masks with on the night…if they want to… so that could be interesting…”

Kate Matthews


Les Modernes’ will run from 7pm – midnight on 6th September at Left Bank, Cardigan Road, LS6 1LJ.

Tickets are £5 (£4 concession) and are available from Jumbo, Crash, Hyde Park Picture House and  www.wegottickets.com

For more information, visit www.leftbankleeds.org.uk and follow @6thSeptLeftBank





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