I’m screaming at the audience. I’ve been struggling with my voice since Monday, and I’ve decided that, as this performance is nearing its end, I’m going to give it all I’ve got. “What do you do when you reach the top?”, I scream at the audience again and feel the threads on my vocal cords unravel like a cartoon rope that’s just barely holding the weight of Wiley Coyote. I can feel the adrenaline surging through me. I’ve been on stage for fifty-minutes, and I know there’s just this section and the final film to go.
“Never stop!”, the audience shouts back.
I’ve been working towards this moment for about six years, working on The Passing Trilogy for two years and working on FLEX for since autumn of last year. I’d done nothing else but live in the FLEX universe for the last three weeks straight: no breaks, no days off just Tyler X and FLEX from six in the morning until late at night. I’m moments away from completing it. It feels weird.
The Passing Trilogy.
The Passing Trilogy revolves around one simple idea: what would happen if a corporation rebuilds the world in its own image? A society based on it’s corporate and marketing values. A world that feeds off of our fears and egos.
The first part of the Trilogy, The Passing, is the end of the story — we see the completed version of a world “made great again”. In the second part of the Trilogy, The Sensorium Process, we go right back to the start of the story and witness the strategy kick-off, a corporate all-hands, where the new talent strategy “From Human to Resource” is presented to 300.000 employees by the Director of Human resources, a man called Tyler Xavier. The challenge with the third and final part, which chronologically sits in the middle of the three, was to show how we get from the mundane evilness of the Coalition Strategy Day 2020 to The Passing grounds of 2059.
The key was Tyler Xavier. Tyler is driven: driven by his vision of a total influencer resource state, driven by the need to hustle and driven by the power of fame. He is a corporate man who becomes a corporate God.
I’d been playing around with versions of what he would eventually become and finalised a beta version of Tyler X and the photo-shoot with Raimund Verspohl. I knew that Tyler had to change physically, the weight of his own nastiness had taken its toll on him physically, much like the ring’s effect on Gollum and I worked with Alexandra to create the make-up and become Tyler X.
I wanted him to be disgusting. I wanted to create a visual representation of all that I think is wrong with the world: casting culture, influencer culture, surveillance capitalism, plastic personalities, KPIs, false Gods, fail culture, tech-subservience, right-wing politics and sovereign individualism, I wanted to take that all and pour it into one character.
In The Passing Trilogy, Tyler is the cancer that destroys all that I love, and I wanted him to look like a cultural tumour: flabby, pale, dead and deadly.
I wanted him to be a mix of the worst bits of Gary Vaynerchuk, of preachers, gurus and inspirational speakers. WWE meets WPP. He thinks he’s cool but his love of the eighties and his WWE promo style drags his swag down and what we’re left with is the sad evil clown who turns the Fremdschämen up to eleven. He’s that corporate guy we all know who doesn’t quite pull cool off, but he’s far too powerful for anybody to tell him he’s an arsehole. He’s Voldemort with a LinkedIn account. He’s a fascist David Brent.
I want you to hate what he’s done to the world.
I want you to hate him.
Welcome to the Soundtrack.
I wanted to write a 12-inch single. That’s how I approached writing FLEX. I’d been toying with introducing music into my performances but was never quite sure how. Tyler’s (and my own) love for cold-war 1980s nuclear armageddon soundtrack pretty much set the tone for the piece and our passion for Frankie Goes To Hollywood pivotal. I was lucky enough to get Momotempo (Timo Peach) to agree to work with me on FLEX, and after putting together a 7-hour playlist, a rough technical script and a shopping/wishlist with requests such as “Stations Remix: Stripped — Gay Disco vibe” he created the incredible music that you hear in the piece. It was a remarkable experience working with Timo, and I think we both agree that, in terms of FLEX music, this is just the beginning.
I wanted to make FLEX the biggest performance of the piece, one befitting of the stage it would premiere on, and I worked closely with Raimund, Alexandra and Timo to create what was eventually performed in Berlin. But this also brought layers of project management to the creation of the piece that I’d never experienced before because I usually do everything on my own. I’d had some help from Michael Praetorius with a few of the film sequences too. It was an exciting experience that led to a crisis — I had focused on the bits that the others needed, but with three weeks to go, I didn’t have a piece that made any sense. It looked good, and it sounded terrific, but it wasn’t a piece.
Keep it corporate silly.
I’d been driving my poor wife up the walls for nights. I couldn’t sleep properly because I couldn’t work out what was missing or what was wrong with FLEX. I had this incredible character to play with, fantastic music, and what I think is a strong middle section, but it wasn’t working.
I woke up one morning and knew exactly what was missing. It was a Monday. Eight days away from the premiere.
Everything in The Passing universe is corporate: the world was based on a company structure and the people living in it are its corporate citizens. FLEX, up until that morning, felt like a church service (I’d always thought of Tyler as the high priest of hustle) but what was missing was the corporate aspect. The FLEX deck needed an agenda, executive summary and a BCG “5 things to remember” at the end. Everything fell into place. FLEX had become a thing.
The sheer white-knuckle, full-on panic of writing, producing and performing these things is utterly addictive. You know the answers will come, it’s just sometimes I wish that they’d come a little sooner.
I’m standing in the dark now. The lighting technician has dimmed the lights and the final thirty seconds of FLEX are flickering across the vast screen: Tyler’s face massive, his eyes black. I’d startled Cory Doctorow an hour earlier as he’d come off of the stage. “What are you doing?” he asked. “Oh, It’s a Brexit punk performance that I’ve written”, I answered.
I’m standing in the dark and watching the audience watching Tyler. I can see Timo sitting in the front row. He’s come all the way to Berlin to support me. I can see others, too: people who have supported my work for years. It means so much to me that they’ve come and I get a bit emotional. There are strangers there, as well. Lots of them. People I don’t know, people who don’t know me, people who have stumbled into the session. Some of them are smiling; some of them are deeply confused; some of them are horrified by what they’ve just seen.
The word “RESIST” appears on the screen. The lights go up. We can hear Timo’s music, and I take a bow. It’s over, done, finished. An hour ago I’d never performed FLEX, but now it was out in the open. A life changed.
The Trilogy is complete.
It was done.
The end had come.
Do not be alarmed.