By Alina Young, Arts Editor
Epigram Speaks to Elliot Brett, third year student and self-decribed "producer" of Lynks Afrikka - an uncategorizable creature of queer performance art.
For those unfamiliar with Lynks Afrikka, it’s most likely impossible to promise that in reading this your understanding of this act/creature will be much better defined. If you’re already familiar with Lynks, you’ll know this to be true. I catch up with Elliot Brett, Lynks Afrikka’s “producer”, to discuss the act’s evolution so far, and illuminate – if only partially – the creature that first disgraced Bristol’s stages in 2018.
Elliot Brett as Lynks Afrikka
By way of introduction, Elliot explains that ‘the beauty of Lynks is that it cannot be categorised. I think that’s what draws people to come back each time: when you go to a show, you never really know what you're going to get. One set may be light and frothy and everyone will be having a giggle, other times you might go along and be terrified, that's what's so fun about it.’ Concept and mind-set aside, in layman’s terms ‘the closest way to describe it is somewhere between music, comedy, performance art, and drag.’
It’s an understatement – and we’ve all been told it enough – that 2018 was a year of confusion and uncertainty, as 2019 promises to be. ‘It’s just the time when you need something to poke a finger at all of that, and say f*** you to it. To really try and put a mirror up to 2018 show it how ridiculous it's gotten.’ For that, Lynks captures something of a larger contemporary mood through its lyrics, which ‘blend the surreal and the absolute mundane.’ To Lynks, as ‘this thing that doesn't live in the human world, it all seems so ridiculous and bizarre, and almost comical.’
So far, Lynks Afrikka has appeared in London gigs and the Edinburgh Fringe, as well as its Bristol birthplace. ‘The audience in Bristol is very receptive and gets what Lynks is going for’, Elliot adds. While the act is unlike Bristol’s other performance art, Elliot has likewise found the community of artists and those behind the scenes as ‘a beautiful, amazing network of people’. He recommends aspiring performers to branch out into the friendly scene: ‘the daunting part is putting yourself out there, and being able to deal with rejection. But in Bristol for example there are so many great people; I want to shout out to Spinny Nights who are amazing. But, if you send people music of a decent quality, they will put you on. Go to the gigs, everyone is so nice; just go talk to them.’
Lynks Afrikka deliberately tries to break away from the grain in Bristol’s performance scene: both musically, and in the queer art that is most prevalent amongst Bristol’s clubs. Explaining his experience with Bristol’s queer art scene, Elliot notes how ‘In London if you just search “Queer nights in London” you get a million responses, but queer spaces in Bristol are way fewer and further between - you’ve got to really search for them’
While Lynks Afrikka may have been angled towards drag earlier in its evolution, the focus now is ‘more performance and music’. From a musical perspective, the driving force is fun: perhaps it’s ‘not massively ground-breaking on a technical level, but it's great dance music that works as a backdrop for conceptual songs.’ In his production, Elliot tries ‘to avoid genre, which is fun. I try to not, for example, just do a “house song” and a “techno song”. I try to make them mush around and just do whatever.’ Aside from feeding into Lynks’ genre-bending ways, the music’s resistance to specific rules also partially stems from Elliot’s self-taught background.
"The beauty of Lynks is that it cannot be categorised, perhaps it's more of a mind set"
‘As I taught myself how to use the software, I don't have a background rooted in that knowledge; perhaps I'm making mistakes, but I think that contributes to making it sound a bit weird completely unintentionally, which I like.’ He also appreciates how unique this possibility is to our time, considering the widespread availability of learning music production. ‘It's the incredible world we live in now that I can make music literally just with my laptop. We can make music with any time signature, any instruments, you can sample anything.’
Similar to how it experiments with queer art forms, Lynks Afrikka’s music makes the most of what, it could be said, many acts do not take full opportunity of: how ‘you can get on stage and literally do anything. It makes me wonder why we so often play songs with such similar vibes. It can be great music, but when there's so much we can do now, why are we not pushing further?’
Elliot Brett as Lynks Afrikka
October 2018 saw a milestone for Lynks Afrikka, with the release of its first single “Don’t Take It Personal”. ‘The single came about from Lynks observing all the anger, frustration, and the weird ways people seem to treat each other’, Elliot explains. The lyrics show Lynks’ perspective, how ‘It tries to get into the head of a person on a day when everything seems to be going wrong. That feeling of knowing that you're feeling terrible because of what's happened, but wanting others to realise that it's not their fault.’ Accompanied with a music video, the single is very much a ‘Lynks production’ – it blurs bizarre, engrossing visuals with a catchy yet unusual sound.
With a great reception to this initial single, there are plans for the release of more of Lynks Afrikka’s songs digitally. Don’t get complacent, however, in assuming these will continue to be in the same format: ‘In terms of music videos, Lynks wants to avoid staying in one box. The first product Lynks released was a fragrance in July 2018, for which there was a fragrance launch party in London. Who knows what might be next? A series of vlogs or a disposable rain mac... I don’t know. It could be anything. But there will definitely be more songs.’ But, in true Lynks style, that can’t be announced yet.
Elliot Brett as Lynks Afrikka
Elliot presents a need to keep Lynks Afrikka as an act separate from himself, giving it a life of its own during performance. The nature of the act – what Elliot describes as ‘this thing comes out, gives an incredible performance, and leaves everyone going “What the f*** was that?”’ – would lose something if there was too much a sense that ‘there’s a person underneath it.’ It marks a change from Elliot’s previous music performances. ‘In every part of life, even if we don't realise it, we've created a bit of an identity for ourselves. And that holds on stage 100%. You can see people thinking how to not seem too happy or cool or anything that's seen as not being "in". That always bothered me, I'd feel uncomfortable. Lynks Afrikka creates a complete divide between Elliot and Lynks; to the point that Lynks can do whatever on stage and I'm not even thinking about how people are looking at me, because it's not me. That's why I've stopped doing the full make up that I used to, and now I'm doing these masks that I've cut holes in. Which has fully done it. Before there was still an element of exposure, but now the face is covered I feel no connection between me and Lynks. It's now fully an escape on stage.’
This is a part of Lynks Afrikka’s shift away from drag, which Elliot believes needs a specific skill set: ‘part of the skill of being a drag queen is being able to stay in that character. It's creating a personality as well as a performance.’ For Elliot, he ‘could never do that really. Once Lynks gets off the stage, Lynks is gone from me. But that's what I like about it too.’
I’m keen to hear from Elliot – as Lynks Afrikka’s producer, of course – what might be next. ‘There's so much talent in Bristol, but so many club nights are so similar. I’d love to do a night celebrating interesting music that's just fun to dance to, as well as some live performance, hopefully getting some drag involved. Just a really good queer, fun space.’ A more distant dream is festival performance: ‘I think that would be just brilliant. I can imagine maybe one day having a take-over tent, getting queer dance music and performers and drag and DJs; combining those things that Lynks tries to combine, but actually doing it by getting different people in. I think it will really resonate with how late-night at a festival everyone's really mad, and going to see this would be like "WHAT is that?!"’
While larger live gigs are on the horizon, it seems there will never be a way of knowing Lynks Afrikka's next mode of medium. Watch this space, but leave your expectations at home.
(Featured image credits: Elliot Brett as Lynks Afrikka)
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