Down on her uppers: The 'posh electro poet' who's Britain’s most exciting new talent
George Pringle is a very well-spoken 'electro poet' – and she doesn't give a fig that the music media think she's too middle-class. Hugh Montgomery meets her, and two more stars lighting up our autumn arts guide
Sunday 06 September 2009
George Pringle, electro poet
Don't judge a musician by MySpace: that's the first lesson to be learnt from meeting George Pringle. Scouring her page, I've looked at job-rejection letters and blood-test forms, seen her frolicking in Russian furs, and read about anxiety attacks and hungover vomiting. Yet offline, this shameless exhibitionist is nowhere to be seen. Rather, posing for photographs down a Covent Garden alleyway, eyes glazed with self-consciousness, she appears a frightened ingénue, caught in the flashlight.
This episode encapsulates the alluringly contradictory nature of Pringle and her music. Perhaps best described as a beat poet, she scatters arch reflections on her twentysomething, middle-class existence over low-fi electronica, the effect both pointedly amateurish and ironically sophisticated, while her persona veers from nonchalant indie-disco diva to fragile bedroom recluse. "I think I'm quite cat-like," she says. "They want attention and then you start stroking them and they're like, 'Get off me...'"
The 24-year-old started out in a punk band at boarding school before penning "dreary emo acoustic music". It was at university that she located her creative mojo, via the recording software GarageBand. "I got into making my own loops, and they can be so irregular, you'll never be able to play them again. I liked the idea of [creating] something fleeting."
Released on to MySpace in 2006, her first track "Carte Postale" – a heart-stopping treatise on growing pains, which talks of drainpipe jeans, the video game Street Fighter 2, and being gripped by "the fear" at 4am – landed her the attention of the NME. Various one-to-watch predictions followed, but Pringle ignored the hype and spent the next three years forging a resolutely idiosyncratic path. This has included a limited-edition EP, each containing one of her own collages, appearances at Fabric and on poetry radio shows, and a horrendous tour with electro-rockers Does It Offend You, Yeah?, during which she was pelted with condoms by 14-year-old boys.
Indeed, acclaim has come with an equal serving of vitriol: "pouting", "pretentious" and "talentless" are among the less complimentary descriptions. "[My work] is quite tongue in cheek. It's such a tragedy when people don't get that," she says. Her ire is stoked by the subject of her apparent poshness, which she admits to hamming up as an act of provocation. "I'm middle-class, but that's no different to half the people slagging me off. I meet so many bands who are like, 'Hi, my name's Chaaaarles,' and then go on stage and are like, 'Alrite, yeah...'" One critic had it right when they said, "She is almost punk rock in her refusal to be anything other than herself."
This uncompromising attitude has caused trouble with the industry. In the post-Winehouse rush to sign up female solo talent, A&R men came a-knocking, only to decide she was too challenging to market. In April, one label reneged on a record contract at the 11th hour. "They were like, 'You've got to write more pop hits.' They were pushing me to hurry up so the album could come out at the same time as all the other girls' and get into the Mercury [Prize]." Her satirical response, "Pop Hit", can be found on her debut album Salon Des Refusés. Fittingly, it's the most gloriously poppy thing she's yet produced.
Everything has worked out for the best, creatively if not financially. For Pringle's most appealing quality is her outsiderness. Having set up her own label, she is now releasing – and has produced – Salon Des Refusés herself. "I wanted to be one of the first girls to make a big point about being DIY. [Girls] don't challenge themselves enough. It's like being a damsel in distress – waiting for a knight in armour to sweep you up and take you to a recording studio."
But her sights are set far beyond music: indeed, she views her life as an ongoing piece of art. "The more you keep at it, the more you figure out what you're good at, which is why I keep scrapbooks, take photos, draw. Being the pop star is the job; being the artist is what I really want to do."
Listen to George Pringle's new single, 'Physical Education'
'Salon des Refusés' is available to download via Amazon, Tunecore and 7Digital from tomorrow
Daniel Kramer. theatre, dance and opera director
In Britain, we're all too used to losing creative talent to the US, but Daniel Kramer is a thankful reminder that the transatlantic exchange cuts both ways. Having decamped to London in 2000, the 32-year old Ohioan has become one of this country's most exciting younger directors, applying an iconoclastic imagination to theatre, dance and opera. He's already caused a stir this year with Pictures from an Exhibition, his nightmarish piece about the composer Modest Mussorgsky, and has overseen the spectacle that was Rufus Wainwright's debut opera Prima Donna.
Now, his latest production, Prick Up Your Ears, is about to hit the West End. Starring comedian Matt Lucas in his first dramatic stage role, it examines playwright Joe Orton's tragic relationship with lover Kenneth Halliwell, who grew resentful of Orton's success and ended up bludgeoning him to death. Following Kramer's nine-year, recently ended relationship with the actor Simon Callow, its theme of creative jealousy struck a chord. "My relationship was nothing like Ken and Joe's... but I found that every time he was doing well, I wasn't and every time I was doing well, he wasn't."
When rehearsals end, Kramer will move straight on to directing Bartok's Duke Bluebeard's Castle for the ENO, working with a concept he wryly describes as "terrifying – just imagine Joseph Fritzl meets Sound of Music". If it's an exhausting schedule, he's not about to complain. "It has been the greatest year of my life in terms of learning, going from a dance piece to a new opera to a West End play. I feel like I'm doing the acrobatics of art and I hope it continues."
'Prick Up Your Ears' is at the Comedy Theatre, London SW1, from 17 September (www.prickupyourearstheplay.com)
Peter Strickland, English teacher-cum-film director
At the Berlin Film Festival this year, much excitement revolved around a new Eastern European discovery, a film named Katalin Varga. It was shot in Romania, with dialogue largely in Hungarian – and directed by an Englishman from Reading. What's more, the film-maker is a self-confessed amateur, who insists that cinema is his hobby, while his real job is teaching English as a foreign language.
Based in Budapest, the 36-year-old Peter Strickland made this debut feature – a dark fable about a woman's quest for revenge – in his time off from teaching at the language school Berlitz, financing it himself from his share in a house inherited from an uncle. The film was shot over the course of 17 days with a small, 11-strong crew in "the Székelyföld, a very Hungarian part of Transylvania", he explains. "It's a very specific culture; they have a very strong, almost pantheistic relationship with nature."
Hence the eerie, anachronistic feel of a film that could easily be set in the distant past – except that, while the characters travel in horse-drawn carts, they also use mobile phones. But, says Strickland, "Since Romania joined the EU, they have passed a law that horsecarts can't travel on main roads. The way of life is disintegrating and what's on offer now is pretty brutal."
A sometime member of the Sonic Catering Band – who generate musique concrète-style sounds from cookery utensils – Strickland now hopes to spend more time filming, but he has no plans to give up the day job. "I get more self-esteem from teaching," he says. "It's a really healthy thing to do. The trouble now is that I'm getting too tired to come into class." Jonathan Romney
'Katalin Varga' (15) is released on 9 October
Don't miss it: Autumn highlights
'Away We Go'
Sam Mendes heads indie-wards with this quirky road comedy about a couple in search of the perfect place to start a family. Out 18 Sep
'The White Ribbon'
Austrian auteur Michael Haneke finally bagged the Palme d'Or for this coolly unnerving period drama about incipient Fascism in a German village in 1913. Out 13 Nov
Oscar bait doesn't come more starry than this musical remake of Fellini's 81/2, with Daniel Day-Lewis as a philandering film director and Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz and Dame Judi Dench among the women in his life.
Out 25 Nov
'Breakfast at Tiffany's'
Anna Friel gamely attempts to live up to Audrey Hepburn's iconic performance in a stage adaptation of Truman Capote's novella. Theatre Royal Haymarket, London SW1 (tel: 0845 481 1870), Wednesday to 9 Jan
'Life is A Dream'
The Wire's Dominic West swaps Baltimore realism for Spanish surrealism in Pedro Calderó*de la Barca's morality play. Donmar, London WC2 (tel: 0870 060 6624), 8 Oct-28 Nov
'The Habit of Art'
Alan Bennett's new play about the tempestuous friendship between WH Auden and Benjamin Britten, stars theatrical titans Michael Gambon and Alex Jennings. Lyttelton Theatre, London SE1 (tel: 020 7452 3000), 17 Nov-24 Jan
Its version of Emma will likely grab the ratings, but the BBC's more interesting period drama looks to be this adaptation of Andrea Levy's novel about Jamaican immigrants in post-war London.
This innovative, five-nights-a-week therapy drama finally crosses the Atlantic. Gabriel Byrne counsels patients from Monday to Thursday, then takes to the couch on Fridays.
Sky Arts, October
HRH Elizabeth II gets the docu-drama treatment in this five-parter detailing the trials and tribulations of her 57-year reign. Emilia Fox and Samantha Bond are among the actresses playing her.
Channel 4, November
Florence and the Machine
Following the release of Mercury-nominated debut album Lungs, the kookiest of this year's female talents sets off on tour. 02 Academy, Bristol (tel: 0117 927 9227) 17 Sep, then touring
The soft-rock supremos hit the UK leg of Unleashed, their first concert tour in five years, focusing on their 1970s-era hits. SECC, Glasgow (tel: 0870 040 4000) 22 Oct, then touring
The psych-pop showmen will be promoting their upcoming 12th LP Embryonic, hopefully with the usual array of inflatable aliens and animal costumes in tow. The Troxy, London E1 (tel: 020 7734 3922), 10 Nov, then touring
Pop Life: Art in a Material World
Exploration of the legacy of Andy Warhol and his provocative declaration that, "Good business is the best art", including modern-day commodifiers such as Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst.
Tate Modern, London SE1, 1 Oct-17 Jan
Maharaja: the Splendour of India's Royal Courts
Never an institution to shy away from decadence, the V&A offers a cultural survey of princely India, whose myriad treasures include gem-encrusted weapons and a Rolls-Royce. V&A, London SW7, 10 Oct-17 Jan
The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture 1600-1700
The National eschews blockbusting to reappraise religious art from the Spanish Golden Age, including a collection of hyper-realistic sculptures rarely seen outside of Spain. National Gallery, London WC2, 21 Oct-24 Jan
'In the Spirit of Diaghilev'
Four choreographers – Wayne McGregor, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Russell Maliphant and Javier De Frutos – commemorate the centenary of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes with new works channelling the company's revolutionary zeal. Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (tel: 0844 412 4300), 13-17 Oct
The Royal Ballet's new season opens with this haunting three-act ballet about the degenerate life of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary. Royal Opera House, London WC2 (tel: 020 7304 4000), 8 Oct-10 Nov
The contemporary-dance festival returns with appearances from the Michael Clark Company and Taiwan's Cloud Gate Dance Theatre alongside a strand celebrating new African work. Various venues, ( www.dance umbrella.co.uk), 6 Oct- 7 Nov
'Tristan und Isolde'
Renowned German director Christof Loy takes on Wagner's most progressive opera. Nina Stemme and Ben Heppner sing the title roles. Royal Opera House, London WC2 (tel: 020 7304 4000), 29 Sep-18 Oct
'Take the Risk. Why?'
Curated by lute player Paula Chateauneuf, this mini-festival will explore improvisation in early music, with talks, workshops and open rehearsals. Southbank Centre, London SE1 (tel: 0871 663 2500), 2-4 Oct
Following her success with Bach's St John Passion, Deborah Warner returns to the ENO in a production marking the 250th anniversary of Handel's death. Coliseum, London WC2 (0870 145 0200), 27 Nov- 10 Dec HM
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