In Haunt

By Emily Oldfield

Channelling the sound of hauntronica, intense atmospherics and plenty of synth, Zirkus are a Manchester-based instrumental duo who delve into strange sonic realms. Now they are gearing up to give audiences something which has never been heard before. Armed with a mix of machines, electronic experimentation a-plenty and warped identities... anything could happen.

Zirkus will be in performance at an evening of ‘Hauntology’ - as part of Not Quite Light Weekend 2019 in collaboration with HAUNT Manchester– which will take place at The White Hotel, Salford on Thursday 28 March. That much is assured. As for the specifics of the band themselves… they are a much more mysterious and evasive outfit.


Dabbling in disguises, serving up pseudonyms, the members ABB and Pierre describe themselves as an ‘offshoot of Manchester experimental rock and hauntronica band Flange Circus’ - a group which was somewhat covered during a previous interview with member Julian Holloway, who co-ordinated the HAUNT Manchester panel discussion at Manchester’s Folk Horror Festival 2 (at The Peer Hat).

Although evasive in one sense, the music of Zirkus is also exploratory, combining unusual sounds, textures and rhythms to create a resonant listening experience. With previous track titles including the likes of ‘Sieve of Eratosthenes’, ‘When I Listen With My Third Ear’ and ‘The Man Who Puts The Kybosh On The Spirits’ – all recorded live and in one take – the improvisational and eclectic approach is underlined too.

HAUNT Manchester was lucky to speak to the mysterious duo ahead of their performance to find out more, taking in themes of haunted sound, the importance of place and a certain ‘crepuscular impact’ along the way….

Hello! How does it feel to be taking part in a Hauntology event and why do you think an event like this is important?

ABB: “Simon’s photography is incredible. To be asked to add something musical (if you can call what we do that!) to these visions is something of an honour. The whole NQL festival is so diverse and fascinating that we hope we can do justice to our invitation.”

Pierre: “I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of this, alongside such an inspiring line up. As Hauntology is such an important part of the music we make as Zirkus and in Flange Circus it’s fantastic.”

How do Hauntology and music connect, in your view?

ABB:  “For us Hauntology is about half-remembering and not fully recognising something that appears in our midst. We hope to render this feeling musically through glimpses of sounds that an audience can recognise, but not fully. So a sample might be something that you vaguely hear or know, but not in its entirety and you can’t quite remember where it might be from. This can be, hopefully, if we do it well, unsettling.

“But hauntology and music also connect through the sound of lost futures - the sounds of utopic dreams and bright shiny horizons somehow lost to time and never realised. Obviously, this is associated with the label Ghost Box most famously, in both its music and the design aesthetic. We hope to draw on that, but rather than falling into a pit of nostalgia through the now almost cliché sounds of wobbly synths recorded onto VHS tapes, we want Zirkus to be the sound of memories that dislocate and unsettle. And we want to soundtrack futures that never were imagined in the first place - ghosts in the present whose origins are even more uncertain. At the end of the day, if it doesn’t spook you out then we need to think again.”

Zirkus EP Cover

Zirkus is self-described as a 'two headed offshoot beast' of Flange Circus. How do you vary?

Pierre:  “With Flange Circus, particularly in the live environment, it’s much more straightforward to see what each member of the band are doing in terms of instrumentation. Zirkus is completely synth and machines based, it’s not clear who’s playing what and much of the music is improvised. The sense of creeping unease people can feel when listening to our music is only exacerbated by having no ‘ownership’ of being aware of who is creating each layer. And unease for me is key to creating the darkness in our sound.”

ABB: “As Pierre says it’s about the darkness or the crepuscular, something both Flange Circus and Zirkus share. With Zirkus we’re exploring the even weirder things we think up and then often discard when writing with Flange Circus. Plus it’s much more improvisational, atonal and less obviously beat-driven.”

It has been declared that at Hauntology 'Zirkus will be playing a brand new improvisational piece that seeks maximum crepuscular impact' - can you give us any more clues? And why do you think it is important for music to 'impact' people?

ABB:  “For me, music is mostly about affect – it’s about sensations that have different potentials and possibilities. Some music has the potential to affect you and then there’s some that doesn’t move or affect you in any way. Exactly why that does or does not happen is difficult to say - again, it’s about uncertain origins. With the piece we’re performing the emphasis is on atmosphere, a hauntological atmosphere, whose origins is uncertain. The origins of atmospheres is always uncertain, but they affect you and, may or may, not register certain sensations or impacts. I guess we won’t know until we speak to people after to see if we’ve had some impact, but the key motif of the piece is hauntological and very Not Quite Light…”

Pierre: “We thought it important that to ensure the greatest impact at the Hauntology event we should present something previously unheard, and which relates to the theme of the whole Not Quite Light festival. While even we don’t know for sure the direction the piece is going to take, I’m certain that the event and the surroundings in which we are performing will influence what comes out.”

How has the darker side of Salford, Manchester and the wider North influenced your work?

ABB: “Like all spaces, all cities, Salford and Manchester are a palimpsest of memories and ghosts. Unfortunately, it seems that some of those ghosts, certain musical spectres, come back to haunt us year on year to the extent that their impact becomes dulled. In Flange Circus we call it Zerodom Heritage - the constant remembrance and celebration of certain parts of both city’s histories that haunt you until you're bored senseless – ghosts whose potential amounts to nothing.

Bus Stop

“Furthermore, it seems that these ghosts have become dark and sinister controlling forces over how we remember in these cities – certain key figures seem to be necromancers with dark powers who constantly and forever reanimate the (literally) dead. Salford and Manchester need to exorcise and banish those ghosts, and circumvent the powers of those control the zombies shuffling out of its past, so that a new future can be sensed in the present. And hopefully that new future will only be at best half-remembered when we come to memorialise it.”

Pierre: “There’s a part of the Mancunian Way at the Cambridge Street junction roundabout where there's an underpass. The image of the entrance to that underpass, at the point where it’s dark enough for the orange streetlights to just about illuminate the concrete archway, has influenced huge amounts of music I’ve written - if it's good enough to soundtrack that image then I’m happy! See also: the underpass that allows pedestrians on Brook Street to get to Sackville Street.”

Come along to Hauntology and catch the magic for yourself…

Images thanks to Zirkus - (in order displayed) Band Image, EP Cover and Bus Stop




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