December 2, 2017


by Simon Brigden

Walking into the enclosed space which is the stage of the fictitious rock band The Sphinxters is to behold a world which neither ironically pastiches nor idolizes the tropes of stadium and glam rock and roll. Sure, The Sphinxters' are humorous and light-hearted, but are they so different to a band such as Kiss and their proclivity for oversized tongues?

SHATRICK, i.e. Shannon Tonkin and Patrick Zaia, have developed a practice surrounding themes of sexuality, intimacy, history, popular culture, birth and nature. They have a handmade aesthetic made evident through sets and costumes which they so intricately devise for each show to form a new and isolated environment and narrative. The Sphinxters Anus End of Rock World Tour is no different. The intimacy of the space compounds the effect that what the audience is walking into is a microcosm and condensed snapshot of an entire musical and performative genre. The Sphinxters are almost photographic (or video-esque). They re-present, in a simultaneously fun and straight-faced manner, the performances of stadium rock through their own visual and musical prism. They are a doubling of this genre, a Rocky Horror time warp from the 1970s and 1980s.

The confined space is populated by floating sets of hands which are shaped into the devil's horns. The busts of audience members converse with each other through hidden speaker boxes. The Sphinxters themselves are a panache of handmade, glam rock costume. An oversized crotch, flamboyant rings, glittering footwear, sparkling diamantes, ornamental instruments, and provocatively placed pairs of extra legs craft a setting which aesthetically recalls its sources.

In the words of SHATRICK, The Sphinxters are the "cultural walking dead"1 of a genre whose heyday has firmly passed. The work is akin to a memory.

The music is secondary to the visual performance too, as it could said to be in any pop show, and the work accomplishes this by drowning its score out with the sounds of a cheering crowd. The aping actions and visual persona of the band are more central to the work than the music that is actually being mimicked. The highly performative and structured nature of the genre the work represents is mirrored in the way that the work itself is a performance of this performance. The Sphinxters are re-performing the tableaux and style of the master performers of arena rock and roll.

The accomplishment of the work is to show that the core of such musical performances is hollow, an endless feedback loop between different acts. From Queen to the Skyhooks, musical acts attempt to encapsulate the genre through their own performance of an idea. The bands which precede The Sphinxters are all placeholders in a tradition which uses them for performative value and drains them of relevance before moving onto the next occupiers of the zeitgeist, the next creators of ultra-hits (that is why the additional humour in the piece is centred in how outdated glam, stadium rock can appear to a 2017 audience).

The Sphinxters, then, are an idea of rock and roll, just as rock and roll is an idea of rock and roll. The particulars of the music and the title of the band are secondary. What is primary is the insertion of theaudio-visual performance into a certain canon. Between adulation and irony, then, sits the hollowness of the idea.

1. Conversation between the artists and the author. Fairfield, Melbourne. Friday November 17th, 2017.