One does not have to pick up a newspaper to know that times are tough. We’re besieged by crises from the prevalence of pestilence to our limping economy, from social divisiveness to a shocking war.
We could respond to our modern dystopia in myriad ways. Scream and set fire to things in the street, succumb to the depths of depression … or we could make art.
For those like composer and performer Anton Wuts, the drive to create trumps all other urges. Come listen to his creative response at the Common Room on April 1st.
With the current trend for reds-under-the-beds hand wringing from some more vocal online commentators, there is something of a lingering aura of Soviet era austerity clinging to the air like the memory of cold cabbage soup. It turns out the Balkans also produce some suitably mournful tunes.
Thus was Wuts inspired to produce NIE!, a suite of sad songs to soothe the Slavic soul. Penned from the perspective of a dissident voice from behind the iron curtain, transposed to modern New Zealand, Wuts’ Balkan alter ego bemoans everything from the housing crisis to the price of cheese with his signature humour. Though his process was in progress before the current conflict dominated our headlines, Wuts couldn’t pass up the opportunity for political commentary. The show includes an anthemic rap entitled ‘Ukraine for the Ukrainians’, a gesture of support for the oppressed and war torn.
As those in the know will know, Wuts’ range is expansive straddling genres from folk opera to cringe rap with the elasticity of a viral TikTok gymnast. Expect accomplished composition and a full ration book of beefed up sound, with Anthony Flake on bass, Arahi on guitar, Joe Dobson on drums and not one but two clarinets, from Ella Polczyk and Wuts himself.
The show’s title and design, also by Arahi, comes from Polish artist, Tadeusz Trepkowski’s famous poster, which once towered three stories high over Warsaw’s bombed out skyline, a sparse Eastern Bloc Guernica protesting the horror of war. Ostensibly translated from the Polish as ‘NO!’, Trepkowski’s piece holds subversive meaning. Not only did he consciously choose the colloquial nie over nyet in the language of the occupier, but nie is also an abbreviation of niepodlegość, meaning independence, and was the moniker of the failed Polish anti-Soviet resistance movement. In a culture where dissident thought was frequently extinguished with a one way ticket to Siberia, it was an astonishingly bold move.
It is within this realm of subversion that Wuts works. He reads the zeitgeist and responds in kind, with sharp eyes, consummate originality and acerbic wit. We all need artists to perceive our suffering and transmute it into something beautiful. If it can be done with humour all the better. When faced with a bleak future, it’s alway better to laugh, lest we cry.
NIE! premiers at Common Room on Friday 1 April at 8pm. Tickets $10 from Eventfinda.