For the theme of gender violence, I intend to analyse and explore Veronica Gago’s “Violence: Is There a War on and against Women’s Bodies?” (2020) through a live performance by Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul. I will be speculating about the musicians’ experiences, but I neither have the lived experience of their pasts, nor the lived experience of making and performing their songs. Hence, the following will be speculative and explorative. It is not about them but about an interpretation of their performance that makes possible an engagement with Gago, specifically her reflections on war and traversing fear.
The song I have chosen is Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul’s ’It Hit Me’ (2022) played live. Hence, this contribution constitutes part of a mixtape, but at the same time I ask the reader to use their imagination and hear the song as a live performance. To aid the reader in this, I will provide some context. The themes of the song, roughly, revolve around (trans)gendered violence. The live setting of the specific performance I am referring to is the OFF Festival (2022) in Katowice, Poland. Poland is currently a place of regressive politics, with anti-women’s and anti-LGBTQ legislation being rolled in many parts of the country. This to the extent that some have even created an Atlas of Hate to map out the policies of hate that are being enacted throughout Poland (“Atlas Nienawiści (Atlas of Hate)” n.d.). It is not hard to imagine one feeling fear, when going on stage in Poland to perform a live set about the themes mentioned earlier. Fortunately, Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul were met with an attentive, listening audience, full of movement and responsiveness.
The song has two verses that each tell stories of intimately detailed pasts. These pasts are made manifest to the audience in the chorus with a pounding kick drum and them singing ‘It hit me’, a powerful, performative version of realizing that they have been violated. In the moment of the chorus, Gago’s notion of war is declared, understood as a move that makes violence visible (Gago 2020, 80). Furthermore, Gago states that this way of declaring war means ”taking on an array of forces […] finding another way of living in our bodies.” (Gago 2020, 80). Their performance could be seen as a vital instantiation of this ‘taking on’. To name a few examples, ‘forces’ could here be both the audience, the context that the audience experiences the performance in, the performers’ own lived experience and various recombinations of these. Hence, the declaration of war is clearly not only something that happens on the personal, but in this case also on the community level. In that sense, the audience could be seen as embodying the role of compañeras (Gago 2020, 67), as those who actually help you out, as opposed to the transphobic and misogynist Polish authorities. The process of naming ‘war’ thus happens along an axis of performer-audience, situated between the stories of the verses and the intensity of the choruses. The performance calls attention to and makes violence visible through the ‘it hit me’ of the chorus, while founding itself on the familiarity of lived experience.
This emancipatory act of familiarization could help disarm the fear, as Gago might put it (Gago 2020, 83), of playing and listening to music that centres on themes being violated by the country they play out in. To Gago, one way forward is to “traverse” and “coexist with” fear (Gago 2020, 83). A live performance of a song is a traversal in a very physical (through sound waves extending themselves across distance, enveloping the ear membranes they touch) and historical way (through the multiple becomings told by the embodied lyrics). At the same time, “It Hit Me” never claims that ‘everything will be alright’. It ends with a distorted, intense beat, and a sampled catcall. It does not eliminate but rather co-exists with fear.
By shouting ‘It Hit Me’, Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul carve out a space in an Atlas of Hate. They enable multiple ways of co-existing with, moving bodies along to and traversing ‘fear’, potentially taking away the fear’s pacifying power. The live performance of ‘It Hit Me’ also asks us as listeners how we might approach and engage with live concerts as a type of social practice that makes violence visible.
Lukas Hjulmann Seidler