In Depth: Findlay; The Cockpit, Leeds, 28/11/13
Last Thursday, Findlay’s show at Leeds’ Cockpit amassed what can only be described (as she eloquently did so) as a sausage fest. Seemingly as much to her surprise as mine, the venue that evening actually was a cock pit.
I climbed the stairs up to Room 3 to find the space packed with men, mostly middle-aged, and mostly very normal-looking. I think the ratio was, including Findlay herself, five women to about fifty men. And I don’t know why, but it’s preoccupied my thoughts ever since.
On seeing the situation, my thoughts immediately go to that much warned against hetero-male-gaze. Yes, due to the nature of the activity that we’re all here for, the males and I are gazing at Findlay, but her show has been perpetuated by a couple of music videos that arguably fall in to the realms of the theory. Last year, she released ‘Your Sister’, where we find herself and other women in lacy underwear, grappling on a bed, sometimes tied up or gagged, sometimes spanking each other:
A few months later, she released ‘Off & On’ – more underwear, more suggestive facial expressions from her and her female accompaniment:
As I watch Findlay’s show – one stop on her first headline UK tour – I wonder how these videos have been received by the hundreds of thousands that have watched them before coming to watch her in the flesh. Has Findlay created an act that’s just for ogling, hoping that if the video shoots her suspenders in black and white then it’s a more acceptable form of leering?
I would say no. Findlay’s always one step ahead of whoever’s watching her video. In ‘Off & On’, the woman begins to part her legs enticingly, but the shot cuts to someone thrusting their thumb in to a pomegranate, not unlike the ‘heart [that] spills its guts’ that she’s just been singing about. In ‘Your Sister’, she perches scantily clad on a stool at her dressing table, but proceeds to powder her armpit. The song itself was inspired by a film where a wronged wife must distinguish whether her husband has committed an act of infidelity, or mere incest. There is taxidermy nestled in a woman’s crotch, (what looks like) sausage meat and hot wax dropped on women’s stomachs. If you were starting to get off on all the spanking and Findlay’s ‘oohhing’ vocals in the last twenty seconds, then tough, because a dog just stared you right in the eye and (hopefully) put you right off.
Findlay knows we’re watching, and she’s not putting on a straightforward peep show for us. Yes, it’s lascivious, but it’s Findlay embracing sexuality, not offering hers up on a velvet cushion. She simultaneously confronts and negates the hetero-male-gaze. This couldn’t be clearer than in ‘Off & On’, cutting from the woman’s flesh to a man shoving his hands down his pants, staring at the camera, back at the supposed voyeur. She’s one up on us if we’re trying to knock one out over her.
The same goes for her live show. She’s witty and flippant in retort to the crowd’s crows of ‘oi oi’ when she takes off her leather jacket after a vigorous rendition of (new and unreleased) ‘Wolfpack’, and to their offerings of threesomes – cackling about an unfortunate choice of set list before breaking in to ‘I Had To Try It Once’.
Whatever has brought these hoards of men here, it’s not the simple promise of a pretty lady singing and dancing a bit. Her voice is quite formidable, and her stage presence is compelling – her residency at Manchester’s Castle Hotel and her support slot on the Jake Bugg tour have really honed her craft. Opener ‘Sweetheart’ is immediately arresting for its simplicity – Findlay taps on the microphone head with one finger and stares out in to the crowd, but elsewhere new song ‘Greasy Love’ sees her stomping and flinging herself between two microphones to achieve the desired vocal effects. Themes of a sexual nature pervade throughout of course – Findlay is all about sex, but sex as it relates to being weird, funny, murky.
Perhaps most importantly, Findlay’s sex is most definitely carnal. It is not that commercial, idealised fornication, but entirely visceral, reveling in the realities of the human body, and of sexuality. ‘Off & On’’s returning pivotal line is a call to ‘separate the scabs from the bruises’, with the opening line, ‘the blood is thick’, and subsequent talk of the ‘taste of tears’ and ‘thoughts turned sick’. ‘Greasy Love’, from the EP of the same name (which came out November 25th) is indeed about a ‘greasy kind of love’, where ‘as he sweats he makes me sweat’, where ‘I know he feels good when he sucks on my blood’. Her tumblr expresses thoughts in a similar vein – full of eyes, teeth and bodies.
On the train home, I read a chapter of Wetlands by Charlotte Roche, which discusses more explicitly the ideas that Findlay alludes to in her music. Roche says of her protagonist, ‘I wanted to present the whole package: women aren’t just a sexy presentation space’. Now, though I don’t quite understand the gender disproportion in the audience, far from judging or suspecting Findlay’s male fans, I realise that it is exactly the kind of show, the kind of artist that I want men to be watching, in their crowds and in their homes. Roche wanted to (and felt that society needed to) talk about the body in a way that is honest, ‘funny and entertaining, but also sexy’; Findlay does this, very, very well.