Review: The Duke St Workshop Featuring Laurence R. Harvey – Mayhem Film Festival 2016

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It initially seemed a bit of a risky move to open up a film festival with something that isn’t a film. In retrospect, it seems a very smart move that every event should emulate – kicking off with a spectacular that no movie, no matter how anticipated, could match.

The Duke St Workshop are a pair of electro musicians who seem to take their influence from the Euro horror and John Carpenter soundtracks circa 1978 – 1985 (or thereabouts). In that, they are not unique – there are several people out there making pastiche soundtracks for movies that don’t exist (and, on occasion, alternative soundtracks for actual films). But they do it better than most. Maybe it’s because they seem more influenced by Carpenter than Goblin that gives them a freshness, or maybe they just have a better feel for this sort of thing than some others, but their opening three instrumental tracks here are pulsating, sometimes menacing and atmospheric, backed with intriguing visuals – old-fashioned computer-enhanced imagery from vintage giallo movies, and footage of the New York underground in the 1970s, which is much scarier and gives a sense of grittiness.

After these three tracks, they are joined by actor Laurence R. Harvey – forever doomed (or fortunate, depending on your opinion) to be identified as the star of the Human Centipede films, and now carving out quite a niche in the horror genre – something that, given he is a fan, I imagine he’s quite content with. Harvey is here to provide the narration for two H.P. Lovecraft stories – From Beyond and The Hound – as per their latest LP, Tales of H.P. Lovecraft, in which each story takes up one side of vinyl. As a conceptual piece, it wrks very well on stage, the trio backed with trippy, unsettling visuals and Harvey knowing when to show restraint and when to cut loose on his narration, while the music alternates between soundtracky atmospherics and full blown, doom laden, pulsating numbers.

It works beautifully – a hypnotic performance that starts to send the listener / viewer into their own little world, a hallucinatory world as the sound pulsates around you and Harvey’s sometimes echoey and distorted vocals become the very stuff of nightmares. The audience sit in rapt silence – a little too silent perhaps, as there are there is no applause after the first story has finished. Perhaps everyone was conscious of not disturbing the delicately created atmosphere.

Transferring something like this from LP to live performance is always going to be fraught with difficulty, but here it is pulled off brilliantly. I don’t have the album to compare the two versions (and rather regret not snapping up the vinyl while I had the chance), but I fully recommend checking out this live show, should you get the chance.

DAVID FLINT