Xiu Xiu: Hope and Despair, Live at the Holocene

Xiu Xiu live at the Holocene in Portland, Oregon.

Joshua Isaac Finch (of Entresol)

Xiu Xiu live at the Holocene in Portland, Oregon.

March 20th marked an ambient night at the Holocene, an intimate venue in Portland, Oregon, where the experimental synthpop group Xiu Xiu filled the air with the haunting stylings of their new album, FORGET. While more accessible than anterior albums, FORGET brings the same level of dark matter and untangled themes that Xiu Xiu is known for.

Opening was the one-man industrial lounge trick, Mattress, followed by Force Publique, a fluorescent witch-house duo who played an acidic video alongside their Crystal Castle-influenced set.

Xiu Xiu has taken many forms throughout the years, the only consistent member being the band’s founder, Jamie Stewart. Shayna Dunkelman was present as well, the two of them forming the entirety of the band.

Testing the mics, Stewart whispered “meow meow,” in homage to his notorious cat obsession. He brought with him two cups filled with an ambiguous yellow liquid.

Crowd Member: “What are you drinking Jamie!”

Jamie: *Softly* “Pee.”

Crowd: *Laughter*

Crowd Member: “He said tea guys!”

Jamie: *Blows a kiss*

The set began with a song from the new album, “Petite,” a spacey and gloaming confession. The chorus whispers “It was, oh, not my aim to be a slave//What God wants She does//Duchess of Blood and//Murderess of Fools//What God wants She does.”

Shayna Dunkelman was a beautiful force of the underworld on the drums and brought equal energy to the stage as Stewart. Fixated on her cymbals like a snake, Dunkelman displayed a vampish little red-lipped smile and a stone cold stare, the whites of her eyes penetrating her target.

Taking a deep breath between every song, Dunkelman gauged her mood in variance to what song would be played next; she ranged from displaying a sly smile and half-controlled giggles to wide angel eyes coated in sheets of tears. This was to accommodate for a polarized set list that ranged from tear-jerking numbers, such as Sad Pony Guerilla Girl and Fabulous Muscles, to triumphant songs like “Wondering.” As one youtube commenter remarked, “To hear [Wondering] near the end of this horrifying year is really touching for some reason.” Dunkelman’s authentic transitions were another factor that accounted for the simultaneous hope and despair felt by all at the show.

Xiu Xiu was two people creating a thick heavy mood and allowing it to settle over and seep into every body in a packed room.

The energy zenith of the night was when Jamie Stewart engaged in a flamboyant back-arching seizure on stage to “I Luv Abortion” off of their 2012 album, Always. Jamie moved like a gay mosquito in a raw display of innermost emotion. Sweat streamed off his face as he screamed into the microphone, kicked cymbals, and blew small pipe instruments. The mantra of “When I look at my thighs I see death/There are too many important things I cannot be for you” echoed itself.

After the demonstration, complete silence ensued, only to be broken by two flannels behind me, who simultaneously commented “That was amazing,” and “That was f***** up.”

The two comments summed up the night: Xiu Xiu is only real if one allows oneself to become lost in the energy the duo so intentionally creates. Their pop lyrics are laced with an acknowledged darkness and the delivery makes them become less of a tangible message and more of a feeling; Xiu Xiu is the Harmony Korine of music.