Arca and Jesse Kanda in London

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  • Around the middle of his live performance at London's ICA in 2014, Alejandro Ghersi, or Arca, emerged from behind his table of gear and started rapping. Some of the audience was a little taken aback. At that point, Ghersi was known mostly as a producer of futuristic sound design. He seemed comfortable with a mic in his hand, but you wouldn't have called him a natural. I mention this to emphasise why Ghersi and Jesse Kanda's show at London's Roundhouse this past Friday night was one of the best performances I've seen recently. Not only did Ghersi seem truly comfortable on stage, he owned the 1,700 capacity venue with the sort of presence and charisma you'd expect from a pop star. This pop association extended to other areas of the show, namely Ghersi's frequent costume changes and the audience's response to his music. Since releasing his self-titled third album in April, Ghersi now has songs in his repertoire. I'm sure many people who'd heard the album were wondering, "When's he gonna do 'Desafío'?" (He did it around the middle of the set, it got one of the biggest responses of the evening.) The opening notes of "Piel," a much more reflective track and the album's opener, got a similar reaction. But it was the balance between these moments and the often confrontational tone of Arca's instrumental music that set the show apart. The affecting vocal numbers were offset by jet-engine blasts of an instrumental track like "Xen," set to Jesse Kanda's distinctive visuals—at several points in the show it was if Kanda was performing a visual "solo," illustrating just how integral his visual direction is to the Arca project. It was the sort of show you wanted to immediately tell someone about afterwards. Among many talking points, there was the bit where Ghersi mirrored the movements of the alien body on the screen during "Sad Bitch." The bit where the stage lit up and steam rose skywards during his arresting performance of "Anoche." There were the stomach-churning visuals showing what looked like a snake pit, and the bit where Ghersi collapsed at the end of the catwalk stage and lay in a heap for several minutes. But most memorably, there was "Sinner" and the fisting. Ghersi and Kanda have worked with extreme images in the past (I heard that shows have featured a goat giving birth) but they here topped themselves by pairing the track "Whip" with a close-up of a guy being fisted. "Don't panic!" Ghersi screamed, as he reappeared at the side of the crowd. He was wearing the stilts from the "Reverie" video and had fake blood dripping down his head. He snaked his way through the audience, maintaining his balance on the stilts, as he rapped ferociously over his 2015 track "Sinner." "I promised myself I wouldn't lose my voice," he said as he returned for the encore, what could have been a Latin American folk song that he performed on an acoustic guitar. Ghersi was clearly emotional. Like many of us in the audience, he'd probably realised that he'd taken his artistry to a next level. Photo credit / Chloe Newman