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Chicks on Speed: Don’t Art, Fashion Music

Speed-freak Alex Murray-Leslie on the high-heel shoe guitars, electric hats and cigar box synths blurring the lines between art, music, fashion and technology.

The DIY ethic at the core of the art, performance, music and fashion of the multi-disciplinary performance art group Chicks On Speed will take centre stage this summer at the outfit’s first UK solo show. Having already performed and shown their work at Pompidou and MoMA, Chicks On Speed will take residency at Dundee Contemporary Arts from June 5 – August 8. To coincide with the exhibition, DCA are co-producing a book with Booth-Clibborn Editions that will be launched in September 2010. Dazed Digital talk to Chicks On Speed’s Alex Murray-Leslie ahead of the exhibition opening to talk about the band’s first UK solo exhibition and their innovative genre-bending ‘Objekt Instruments’ which merge art, fashion, music and technology.

Dazed Digital: What pieces will be on show at the exhibition?
Alex Murray-Leslie: The Objekt Instruments. These are the instruments that we have developed over the last five years because we got bored of traditional instruments and we wanted to find an alternative. That’s why we started making things like the high-heeled shoe guitars and hats that have self contained entertainment systems in them with microphones, pitch control, gain, echo and different effects. There are some cigar boxes that we recycled and we put synthesizer nodules inside which we have been making with some guys from Barcelona.

It’s really just about welding little bits and pieces together and replicating these boards that you get in synthesizers, so copying already existing synth nodules and putting them inside cigar boxes. We are going to create an orchestra live on stage with the cigar boxes, the high-heeled shoe guitars, the hats, and the super suits that have sensors that trigger different sounds and videos. Each one explores a different area, so we are investigating the wireless triggering of video or audio samples – the high heeled shoe guitar, for example, is a wireless trigger of guitar samples so you can wear the shoe and play it and not have any cables connected.

DD: Who have you worked with who specialises in this type of technology?
Alex Murray-Leslie: We’ve been working with a production space in Barcelona called Hangar. We collaborated with them on the pieces. Some of the hardware units for the synthesisers we learned to make ourselves.

DD: What are your reasons for creating these object instrument hybrids as opposed to using normal existing instruments?
Alex Murray-Leslie: I think that a lot of instruments that are available in the stores are a bit limiting. It’s all about you having to read a manual and then use programmed or preset sounds, but we wanted to do something that didn’t exist. The high-heel guitar is about performance, it’s a visual thing as well and a lot of instruments just don’t have that strong visual element. For us, it’s all about performing and also researching into how to make different sounds. For our last album and the album that we’re working on now, we wanted to create new sounds.

DD: Technology has always played an important role in your art and your music, why is technology so interesting and important to you?
Alex Murray-Leslie: I think it’s very freeing in a way. It allows for a certain spontaneity and allows you to do really wild and ambitious stuff on stage. It’s just another tool or language that we can use to express ourselves. We use Modul8 for our videos and that allows us to quickly film something backstage and then program it in and show it. That’s the same with out Objekt Instruments, it allows us to quickly make changes or create new sounds and program them in or create new choreography, so it just really goes hand in hand with the nature in which we work.

DD: Art, fashion and music have been referenced together for decades now but increasingly technology is being included alongside fashion and art. You were ahead of the curve in that sense. What does the relationship between art, fashion, music and technology mean to you?
Alex Murray-Leslie: For us it’s taking that extra step further. People about five or ten years ago were talking about blurring the boundaries between art and fashion and music, and now it’s going further than that, it’s actually combining them and using technology to take them to another level. I just think it’s this other place that you can take all of these mediums to together; it’s almost like the glue between them.

DD: Is there a difference in the way people appreciate your work in the context of an art gallery as opposed to a live gig type of performance?
Alex Murray-Leslie: We get a lot more satisfaction from doing our art performances in museums because you have a lot more time to set up and rehearse and create a stage that you’re really happy with. At DCA we’ve been able to build our own stage and paint the stage and create very special projections. We have created a special light system and there is just a lot more room for experimentation. I think people appreciate that a lot more because they get so much more than just a two-dimensional thing. It’s really multi-dimensional and for us it’s really rewarding and we hope to move more and more in this way in the future.

Chicks on Speed: Don’t Art, Fashion Music. June 5 – August 8. Dundee Contemporary Arts, 152 Nethergate, Dundee, DD1 4DY. Gallery opening Times: Tuesday – Saturday 10.30am – 5.30pm, Sunday noon – 5.30pm. Closed Monday except Dundee public holidays.

Photo: E-shoe in collaboration with Max Kibardin and and cigar boxes in collaboration with Diego del Lion and Jano.