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Damsel Elysium at the Southbank Centre: Why They Are the Blueprint for Decolonising Music

Photo by Michelle Mentu

On Wednesday 1st March, Damsel Elysium made an appearance in the Southbank Centre's Purcell Room, adorned with a beautiful green headpiece and Victorian-esque gown, and accompanied by the London Contemporary Orchestra. Damsel formed part of the experimental lineup which makes up the Southbank Centre's ‘Purcell Sessions’. Held in the intimate Purcell Room, the series spotlights pioneering creatives who push and break the boundaries of art.

Damsel displayed their experimental music in a hypnotic soundscape that had the Purcell Room mesmerised from beginning to end. Whispers from Ancient Vessels, their debut EP, was premiered during the night. The EP calls us to heal our relationships with both our inner selves, and with nature. The artist’s performance demonstrated the unique experimentation with the double bass and violin which they are best known for; but additionally, Damsel demonstrated skilful artistry vocally, on the piano and on the harpsichord. Accompanied by their regular collaborators, Alistair Welsh (trombone) and Amirah de Bourg (viola), they combined original sounds from everyday life with those from nature to provide a truly unique and captivating soundscape.

Photos by Michelle Mentu

This performance was revolutionary in terms of pushing the boundaries of music - especially the stereotypically white orchestral music. The performance highlighted how colonial classical music typically sounds and was a refreshing breath of air. Damsel has been described in Vogue as “London’s Most Stylish Experimental Sound Artist” and this night certainly proved it. The curation of sounds that perfectly matched the scenic outfits and beautiful set design proves Damsel’s artistic mind extends in incomprehensible ways.

As a neurodivergent artist, Damsel prioritises making their music and art accessible to everyone. Their choice of instrumentation, styling and sounds allowed them to perfectly stimulate all of the audience's senses. Damsel and the orchestra did not limit the music to just the conventional playing of their instruments; as they played, they would subtly tap on the other objects making up the environment around them. The frequent tapping on the floor, and the sharp sounds produced by the microphones, created a subtle ambience that aided the music.

Photo by Michelle Mentu

This performance also featured several visual collaborations, especially with regards to the set design, and the props used to guide the audience as they listened. Notable mentions are due to Polina Osipova, who designed the tree; Hazel Gardiner, for set design; Elza White for jewellery; and India Ayles, for the costuming and styling which continued to develop over the show.

To conclude, Damsel is a shining light in experimental music and someone to keep a keen eye out for. Their powerfully evocative performance moved me, and encouraged me to heal any lost connections within myself which I think we all should aim for.

Photos by Michelle Mentu

To keep up with Damsel Elysium, you can find them on Instagram and Twitter.


Edited by Talia Andrea, Music Editor


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