Julian Assange Guest-stars on Chicks on Speed’s Artstravaganza

Watch out, the Chicks are back.

Chicks on Speed © Steven Aaron Hughes

Electroclash queens and art world darlings Chicks on Speed (Melissa Logan and Alex Murray-Leslie) are in London this week to release UTOPIA, the first track from their latest album Artstravaganza. An eclectic aural odyssey filled with acid beats and conceptual jokes, this seventh album mingles pointed references to Shakespeare, Buckminster Fuller, and Yoko Ono with musings on desire, consumerism, and data overload.

Artstravaganza is the latest addition to SCREAM, a Gesamtkunstwerk described by the Chicks as a “new media, audio, visual spectacle,” which has just finished a tour of Australia, showing in venues such as Artspace in Sydney and Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art. It features six iPad apps, transformed each time SCREAM is presented. “The digital world is the frontier of our age,” enthuses Logan, speaking to artnet News. “It’s where we can do whatever we want, and [where] we can build our worlds, our utopias, dystopias, or Metopias!”

Even in 2014, when the digital world has permeated every aspect of our lives and collaborations of all kinds have never been so easily realized, true transdisciplinarity is difficult to come by. The old systems die hard. And for all the current genre-defying art experiments, the figure of the individual creator operating in a single field remains the norm.

Chicks on Speed have joyously cracked open the mold, gaining a cult following with their free and rhizomatic take on creativity in the lineage of Dada’s Cabaret Voltaire. There’s no distinction between music, visual art, fashion, poetry, politics. In a world where the music industry is almost fully-corporatized and the art market dominated by brand names, their approach feels particularly fresh­—just as did back in the late 1990s, when they started to tinker with sound and performance after meeting at art school in Munich.

This cross-pollinating strategy is more than a modus operandi for the duo: it’s a fundamental principle that has spurred them to work with kindred creative spirits as varied as Peaches and Turner Prize winner Douglas Gordon. Artstravaganza is no exception. Perhaps the most intriguing inclusion is a voice recording of Wikileaks’ controversial founder Julian Assange, on a track called God. His voice slips in and out, in turns, crystal clear and barely discernible—not unlike the “truth” of which he’s the self-appointed champion.


Chicks on Speed.
Photo: © Beda Mulzer.

“By working on this song, we realized truth could be a parallel to God, or a sort of a religious experience,” Logan says. “Truth is also about belief and about finding the truth. What [Assange] talks about in the song God is the power of information, and also the power of people who put themselves in a position between individuals and the truth, placing themselves there as a gatekeeper to the truth.”

After the London launch of UTOPIA, the Chicks will release further tracks in a series of live-art, performance events, starting at Witte de With in Rotterdam with a gig starring flamboyant mega-patron Francesca von Habsburg. Then it’ll be MoMA PS1. For the art-educated musicians, the umbilical connection to the museum is a difficult one to let go. “Art is our home,” says Logan, “but we don’t get along with our stepfather.”

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