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Live Review: PREMIERE: NUN embody horror on the visuals for new single 'Turning Out'

18 October 2018 | 8:59 am | Kyle Fensom

On 'Turning Out' the second single from their forthcoming new album, Melbourne four piece NUN embody the horror of modernism

It’s instructive that Melbourne post-punk four piece NUN once released a single named after David Cronenberg, one of the chief film-making architects behind the body horror genre. Their industrial synth compositions are suffused with an underlying sense of horror, an unplaceable, inescapable overture of dread: it’s the sensation of an invisible breath against goosebumps, the anticipation of a bump in the night.

Often touching on intellectual themes, their music draws on the physicality of analogue instrumentation to not only lend a sense of anachronistic authenticity to their aesthetic, a sense of NUN almost being out of time, but also to transform such high falutin themes as the inherently self-destructive nature of modernism into deeply embodied, felt experiences.

Their latest single, ‘Turning Out’ - the second to be lifted from their forthcoming sophomore LP The Dome - opens with a propulsive analogue bass synth and a razor-thin vintage synth melody that sounds like it could’ve been lifted from a John Carpenter soundtrack. Piercing drum machines and a portentous use of atmosphere that conjures up comparisons to Joy Division combine with this relentless, pummelling bed of sound to lead ‘Turning Out’ into a rapidly swirling psychosis.

According to vocalist Jenny Branagan, ‘Turning Out’ plays on the quality of “disturbance and reward… we wanted the chorus to feel like a release from the frantic tension of the verse. Musically, it sounds triumphant but lyrically it’s a negative outline of those formative experiences that leave you altered and filled with rage”.

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Directed by Branagan herself, the visuals for ‘Turning Out’, which Purple Sneakers is premiering today, meditate on different versions of the self and the relationship between violent and gentle shapes, taking inspirational cues from, among other sources, published news editorial photos from the Enfield Poltergeist hauntings of 1977. Moody lighting, long shadows and odd, disconcerting camera angles frame a faceless body that contorts and convulses as if possessed, clutching at bedsheets on a lone mattress in the middle of a dilapidated asylum. It’s the trick of NUN’s music to take an everyday object - a bed - and infuse it with a disruptive sense of horror lurking just beneath the surface.

Ahead of the release of their new album and their tour later this year, we got to know Branagan a little better to talk the origins of NUN, influences and the new video for 'Turning Out'.

For those unfamiliar, can you give us a little insight into how NUN came to be?

Nun started out a recording project. Tom, Steve and Hugh were all doing a sound course at RMIT. I worked with Tom at the time in Missing Link Records in the city. I had no musical projects on the go as I had recently moved back from Dublin. Tom kindly asked me to come to RMIT and help with a sound recording project. Steve and Hugh I also knew as customers from Missing Link as we had chatted about records they were buying so I knew that shared interests were there. We met up and made some songs and recordings, one of Tom’s university people heard it and we were asked to play a show. It was all quite accidental.

I think knowing we were all listening to the same music at the time the likes of Chrome, Christian Death, Iron Curtin, Gary Newman, Snowy Red and Ministry was how we all bonded. In our own ways we are all a little shy and that common ground was an ice breaker to make music together.

The aesthetic and conceptual side of things, we all really bonded on 1970s and 80s science fiction, books and movies like, High Rise, Videodrome, Solyent Green, Kenneth Anger films and kids tv shows from childhood Moondial, The Box of Delights, Children of Stones and Artemis 81. I had also just finished a thesis on Victorian Spiritualism and the modern occult aesthetic so I was very much absorbed in hauntology, the idea of re-enchantment and pseudo-science as counterpoint to reason at the time of NUN's beginning. 

You’re now getting ready to release the long awaited follow up to your 2014 record, can you tell us a bit about what’s been happening in the last four years with this record?

Wow four years, we are slow! Ha, Ha Nun definitely are a band that takes time to make things. Four years seems madness though doesn’t it?

Some of the songs from The Dome took quite a long time to make and we usually play 70% of new songs live to test them and get to know them and what they are before even thinking about recording them. 

Like all things some of the songs slotted together straight away and others took time. When we were ready to record we booked an airbnb for a week with no houses around it, Tom dragged his recording gear and Hugh, Steve and I pilled cars with synths and gear and set up a makeshift studio. We then had further recording sessions after this for a few months on and off in Tom's spare room, doing other vocal takes, re-recording synth lines. Tom mixed this album I think for a good part of a year – the artwork for the album, design and theory also took quite a long time to be where we wanted it. All of Nun are fulltime workers and have other bands on the go as well – Steve has moved to Adelaide. The album has been ready to go and complete for over a year now – so we are all excited to release it and play shows again. Rich and Jake from Aarght Records have been very patient and put a lot of work into helping us get this out.

You’ve spoken about how integral the concept of desire is to THE DOME, how it’s both cruel and necessary. Sometimes desire can take such a toll that it makes things feel sinister in a way or it can be totally draining on your mind and body, Was this the kind of angle you were aiming towards when creating THE DOME - the unsettling nature of intense desire? Why were you drawn to this aspect of desire?

The Dome is a universe – its half sci-fi and reality. It was inspired by Bucky Fullers Geodesic Domes and I used this as the visual tool for writing the narrative for this record.

I was thinking about what the force is that keeps humans wanting to exist – I am personally surprised that more people do not just lie down on the ground and just give up –  we are a resilient species in many ways albeit not the smartest tools in the shed.

In the Dome universe I was really breaking this down to a simplistic state and attributing life force as desire – that is the key human state of being, it is like the carrot dangling in front of us, the hope that the next thing will happen. It is a hegemonic thing to expect life to give us something great– so much expectation. It’s absurd in many ways. As you say it is a draining state and for some more than others dependent on so many factors internal and external to the individual. However that’s not to say when desire receives reward it can be a joyous fulfilling experience but it’s that reliance that I find disturbing and a key narrative lyrically for this record.

 The video for Turning Out is “a visual exploration of versions of self, gentle and violent shapes” and was inspired by Marshall Berman's 1982 book ‘All That is Solid Melts into Air’. Can you tell us about how you got to this concept?

There is a line in the song which references Berman’s book – I wanted the video to be a depiction and capture the atmosphere of the song as I saw and heard it. I really loved that book, I went to university as a mature age student so I had never had that time when I was younger to get to read this stuff – this book really helped me get a grip on modernism and that duality of self – the uncanny has been key for me in visual output and in a way I think my relationship with performing live. Further influence for the aesthetic of this clip was the news editorial photos of the Enfield Poltergeist haunting in England back in 1977 photos. I had them in a ‘Stories Of The Unknown Readers Digest Book’ I had acquired at a school fete as a child. I would stare at those photos, obsessed with the idea of possession and the violent movement of the children falling/ jumping through the air. 

Apologies if this all sounds like the ramblings of an idiot…

The video was filmed in a storage unit and features five of my longhaired friends and I jumping from a ladder on to a mattress after eating pizza and wine – which looking back was not the best move. Bryce and I looked up how to fall on YouTube stunt videos and practiced before the longhairs got there so we could make sure no one hurt themselves. We all did stretches before which must have been a ridiculous sight. I gave examples of each type of fall and where to hit on the mattress - each person added their individual self and movement when they jumped and fell. I admire each of the women greatly who are in this video, so it was a really a special thing to have them as part of this clip. 

Why is it so important to NUN to be able to bring “uncomfortable” concepts to life through your art?

I am not sure how else to do things? That is just how they come out. Tom, Hugh and Steve often view NUN songs in a different light, they may not find them as uncomfortable and relate them in their own individual ways.

Personally I find NUN a place of unconscious pouring, particularly when we get to play live - but I do honestly think that is all art is; individuals just splatting out their unconscious dribble onto a medium. It is cathartic and uncomfortable. But everyone has their own outlet for that disturbance. Some people scream in the streets or into their pillows, some people paint watercolour landscapes – in a way it is all disturbance.   

Jenny, you directed this video with your new productions company - do you think having this kind of key involvement allowed you to really begin to completely bring your ideas to life?

Company sounds intense… ha ha - yes, it’s called Sagan Productions. It is a labor of love DIY team, just myself and my partner, Bryce Maher, who is an extremely talented videographer and editor. We decided just to give music videos a go ourselves. The first few videos have been for our own projects and a few friends’ bands but we have a few other projects lined up now too. We both work full time in day jobs so it’s just squeezing in time on weekends and late nights. 

Executing the images in your brain through your own means is really rewarding. I am quite awful with technology so working with Bryce’s technical skills I am learning more on how to art direct, setting up images and lighting things to look a certain way on camera. I feel that both NUN clips ‘Pick up the Phone’ and ‘Turning Out’ look like the way the songs sound – with the moving image I would say The Dome world is complete.  

 Looking forward now, what does the future hold for NUN?

We are playing some shows to launch The Dome in November and December – very excited with all of the lineups!! Then another record, although it will be an interstate project for us with Steve being Adelaide – a new way of working for NUN.

The Dome is out November 2nd via Aarght Records.

NUN will be touring behind The Dome across November and December.

Friday, November 16

Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne

Saturday, November 17

Theatre Royal, Castlemaine

Friday, November 23

The Gaelic Club, Sydney

Saturday, December 1

The Metro, Adelaide

Saturday, December 15

The Foundry, Brisbane

IMAGE: Kalindy Williams