Interview: Dan Davies takes a trip into Interzone with Guerilla Zoo’s Creative Director and William Burroughs nut James Elphick
On Friday (7 Feb 2014) an undisclosed part of London will slide into the realms of Interzone. You’re invited to join the “misfits, terrorists, traffickers of delusion, tribes, deviants, delinquents, corrupt officials, Beatniks, Mugwumps, government agents, re-occurring dream characters, lady boys, drag kings, cannibals, merchants of sex, time travellers, practitioners of the Dark Arts, people who aren’t allowed on planes, gypsies, Egyptian Gods, Arabian royalty, Sufi dervishes and Moroccan hawkers” for a night inside the lucid and fully realised mind of William S Burroughs. This promenade performance and party of excess will mark what would be the writer’s 100th birthday.
Burroughs merged with the infinite in 1997 but his literary legacy and cultural prominence still stands firm and proud. As one of key inquisitors of the Beat movement, Old Bull Lee (a pseudonym that he and his peers used) presided over the Beatniks with a bloodshot but steel-eyed stare. He was both brutally honest about his “junk” dependency yet took fantastical cut up creative kicks. Interzone was the netherworld which he conjured and inhabited - partly 1950s Tangier in Morocco and partly the world that he slipped into when he was dreaming or hallucinating.
Guerilla Zoo have incited Interzone before, the immersive performance with music, film and art thrown together to create an exploded Burroughs bubble, that has the blessing of his estate. After listening to Burroughs’ distinctive hardboiled drawl in spoken word readings all morning, I interviewed James Elphick. Apologies if some of Bull Lee has worked its way into the interrogation, it’s a habit that’s near impossible to kick…
Dan Davies: People tend to come to Burroughs through the back channels how did you become acquainted with him?
James Elphick: My first taste of Burroughs was reading Naked Lunch. I'd never read anything quite like it before; a nightmarish world of lucid precision taking the lurid and profane with a sprinkling of dark comedy. A bustling, whirling, unwinding, universe of previously un-uttered perversions and stark naked realities hit me off centre, knocked my thoughts off their feet and into uncharted territories. I explored his Naropa Lectures and the many mind machines he mentioned (such as the Dreamachine) and found a man who somehow through all of the events his life brought, really knew what was going on.
Dan Davies: What first appealed to you about the way he flipped the script?
James Elphick: Burroughs saw the world with a highly educated un-nerving lucidity. His experiences across his long life had many highs and lows, despite this he remained on top of his game and even into his last years was highly productive and creative. His books, his collaborations (especially with Brion Gysin), his artworks, his methods, really broke down the walls of freedom and expression and manifested new ways of creating.
Dan Davies: Why do you think he was such a supreme hit for people yet remained a permanent fix through time and space?
James Elphick: Burroughs' writings are a right of passage for many younger readers. He's talent for routing out the relevant and making it stand strong with the parallels of today, which make his work extremely relevant now. He touched on subjects way back that have only now been making headlines such as Julian Assange's Wikileaks and Edward Snowden's NSA revelations.
He was very well read, looked deep into historical, religious, political references, current press media and trends, and his own minds eye. He was informed by a lifetime of dialogue with provocative and penetrating thinkers. Often these interactions sparked new directions in writing, film, sound, and visual art. Notable collaborators include Antony Balch, Ian Sommerville, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Keith Haring, Robert Wilson, Tom Waits, Kurt Cobain, John Giorno and Terry Southern. His works have inspired countless people especially musicians including, David Bowie, The Beatles, Thurston Moore and The Klaxons, to name but a few.
Dan Davies: You've ventured to Interzone before, what's happening? What gives?
James Elphick: Here's a quote - "Hipsters with smooth copper-colored faces lounge in doorways twisting shrunk heads on gold chains, their faces blank with an insect's unseeing calm. Behind them, through open doors, tables and booths and bars, and kitchens and baths, copulating couples on rows of brass beds, crisscross of a thousand hammocks, junkies tying up for a shot, opium smokers, hashish smokers, people eating talking bathing back into a haze of smoke and steam. The City is visited by epidemics of violence, and the untended dead are eaten by vultures in the streets... A place where the unknown past and the emergent future meet in a vibrating soundless hum. Larval entities waiting for a Live One ." - Edited extract from Naked Lunch.
Burroughs' stateless city of Interzone is a vast visual realm of inspiration. It was a perfect opportunity to bring something very special together. In 2008 Guerrilla Zoo did our previous Interzone event, which was picked up by the papers and was a great success. I'm not kidding, it has been cited by many as "best night out in London ever. Ever!" So with this being Burroughs' centenary year I thought for one night only, to open the doors to the city once more. This is an experiential event on many levels but also a party to celebrate Burroughs 100th birthday. Buy your ticket to travel. Pack your Passport. Step into a microcosm of all the world by moonlight.
Dan Davies: How do you get your audience to loosen up and lose themselves and their minds?
James Elphick: They have free reign to move through the space, they can engage and discover moments to get lost in or they can be passive observers, it depends how far down the rabbit hole they are willing to go.
Dan Davies: Will Old Bull Lee be your guide through Interzone or is it every man woman and child for themselves in there?
James Elphick: There will be some recognisable characters from his books to engage with, but Interzone is for you to explore, there are no guides here, it is all about your own self discovery.
Dan Davies: How do you induce the atmosphere of Interzone?
James Elphick: One example would be working with Gorilla Perfume, who are providing special scents, which is a powerful play on the audience's subconscious to pick up on. One in particular is a sort of paranoid inducing smell called 'The Bug' for some of the more tense scenarios.
Dan Davies: Burroughs work can often be filmic in written delivery and dialogue yet impossible to fully realise off the page how do you approach this contradiction?
James Elphick: I'm not adapting word for word like a play, Interzone is an interpretation, inspired by the many universes of Burroughs writings. Much like how David Cronenberg's adaptation of Naked Lunch was part novel, part biographical, part Cronenbergian dreamworld!
Dan Davies: What do you think interested the executors of his estate in your general demeanour?
James Elphick: I want to introduce Burroughs works to a new generation and bring his legacy to new eyes. Interzone is just one way of connecting people to hear about him and to encourage them to pick up one of his brilliant books. I also co run www.burroughs100.com, which is the official Burroughs website, full of articles, exclusive features, rare material and listings for many events happening around the world.
Dan Davies: Can you give us an insight into the musical accompaniment for the evening?
James Elphick: We have an eclectic varied line up of genres from Sufi trance inducing sounds, jazz music of the era, to cut-up inspired performances, busking musicians, to underground dance music to get the party going.
Dan Davies: Do you have any words of advice for young people?
James Elphick: I think Burroughs put's it best in this Youtube clip:
07 Feb 2014
20:00 - 03:00
Buy your ticket to travel here