It’s close to midnight inside a tarted-up metal box outside Edinburgh University’s library, where a Venezuelan DJ called Juan Vesuvius has just gotten naked and is jingle-jangling his junk all over the shop.
Actually the man behind the tracksuit and towelling is a character comic from New Zealand called Barnie Duncan, who spends much of his show Juan Vesuvius, I am Your DJ doing some pretty impressive vinyl mixing. The mixing soundtracks Vesuvius’ knowledgeable history of house music, which includes serious socio-political bits plus a lengthy takedown of David Guetta. Well, who wouldn’t want to see that?
Yes, the World’s Biggest Arts Festival has again thrown up a weird bunch of Clash-friendly shows this year, alongside the usual trillion or so comedians and a ton of creative mavericks in silly costumes. Sometimes, those worlds also collide.
One of the more unlikely transformations in recent years is that by Paul Vickers, formerly the main man with John Peel favourites Dawn of the Replicants. Since 2010 he’s been performing at the Fringe as Mr Twonkey, a prop-based loon who wanders through surreal worlds while also indulging in a fair bit of singing; plus there’s a rolling soundtrack of background effects burbling away that suggest that this is an eccentric who knows exactly what he’s doing.
Well, maybe. On the evening that Clash saw this year’s effort – Mr Twonkey’s Christmas in the Jungle – he got a big red rope and the mic lead caught round his neck and caused absolute bedlam. Peel would have loved it.
Also getting into the spirit of the Fringe are the returning rappers Sage Francis and B Dolan, who made a surprise debut last year with a fairly straightforward spoken word show. They must have gotten out to see some more eclectic festival business though, as this year they’re back with a proper Fringe show. Tricknology is a high-concept affair in which the two bearded wordsmiths create a sort of self-help seminar, including live trampolining and rapped psychic readings. Who saw that coming?
Elsewhere, over in the theatre section there’s a live onstage punk-rock band in Derailed. This is a post-Brexit leaving party hosted by two perturbed Spanish performers, and worth seeing for the disco-ball helmet alone. Back in comedy but pretending to be pretentious theatre, a bizarre techno show waits in the wings during Joseph Morpurgo’s epic new creation, Hammerhead.
This annoyingly gifted actor/comic is the former features editor at one of our esteemed competitors, and did a fabulous show based on vinyl LP covers a few years back. This year his set-up is a mock Q&A after a vast vanity-project book adaptation, an idea so high-concept that he’s also come up with the show that’s supposedly on afterwards, Samuel Beckett: the DJ Experience, which features the esteemed playwright’s works interspersed with banging beats. Godot is a DJ.
Now, that might sound a suitably daft crossover, but check out the recently-announced Edinburgh Comedy Awards Best Newcomer nominations and you’ll find one of this year’s hottest tickets: The Elvis Dead. Here an otherwise well-balanced chap called Rob Ford recreates the movie Evil Dead 2 - big chunks of which are screened behind him - via the hits of Elvis Presley. It is absolutely tremendous.
Vying with The Elvis Dead as the most memorable music-related show this year is a very different production, Letters to Morrissey, by the playwright/performer Gary McNair. And yep, that’s a big part of what it’s about, although the ominous reason the young Gary felt the need to write to the controversial former Smiths frontman is the main crux really. This is a moving testament to the power of charismatic pop stars on impressionable minds, and probably the most positive thing about Moz that’s happened for about a decade. He should send McNair a letter to thank him.
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Words: Si Hawkins
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