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Uncanny Valley
Published on Thursday, 13 May 2010

An electronic bell-tower, a theremin-playing robot and a possessed ventriloquist’s doll.  It can mean only one thing: Jenny and Sarah Angliss, the gadget-mad musical sisters otherwise known as Spacedog, have taken over the stage.

Spacedog’s nerve-jangling music isn’t to everyone’s taste – the man sitting next to me left at half-time – but if you resonate at their frequency, they put on a deliciously spine-shaking show.  They have a talent for building a song around an image or a phrase which, though completely normal, they somehow make creepy and bizarre.  The lankin, a child-stealing golem of folklore, also featured this year; it’s just a legend, I kept telling myself, but the sound of a baby’s cry replicated on the theremin will still stay with me for days to come.

Partnering the Angliss sisters for this show, another local act – Professor Elemental – was more up-tempo, but still offered some darkly surreal tunes.  It took me a while to warm to his gentleman-rapper persona but I soon found myself joining the rest of the audience, shouting back the lyrics to his YouTube sensation Cup Of Brown Joy.  The professor’s own twisted tales included a quietly horrific tale about a child’s toybox turning on its owner – and a slideshow of his taxidermy “experiments”, a kind of foretelling of generic engineering gone mad.

In contrast to 2009’s straightforward set, this year’s show was woven around a theme: the uncanny valley, a theoretical chasm in everyone’s brain where the cutely humanoid becomes just too real.  Spacedog had brought along a collection of children’s toys to illustrate the point (and a PowerPoint presentation too), and the professor, it turned out, had an unhealthy relationship with his ventriloquist’s doll – part Dead of Night, part Dorian Gray.

It's great to see them experiment with a proper storyline; but like all mad-scientist endeavours, it hasn't quite worked first time.  Having whiled away a pleasant hour in a coffee shop with half of Spacedog, I knew enough of the back-story complete the jigsaw.  But to the uninitiated, I think, it must have felt as crazily stitched-together as the animals in the professor’s stuffed menagerie.

To develop further, what this show needs is the input of a good director – to point out that the dummy's head was often in the way, or that Jenny Angliss's subtly freaky outfit will be wasted if she skulks at the back of the stage.  Still, a geekily ramshackle ambiance is a mark of a true enthusiast, and it all contributed to this show's twisted and subtle charm.  The Angliss sisters are appearing again, sans professor, at Bom-Bane's on Thursday; if a spot of spine-tingling is your kind of thing, do your best to call along.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.