Live Sleuth: Xiu Xiu WSG New Castrati & Noveller - Union Pool - Brooklyn NY - 9/23/17

Xiu Xiu is not easily categorizable; genre-wise they straddle, fuck with, vomit all over and reinvent so many different kinds of music, which makes a live performance of theirs an experience worth documenting. Few artists can take the avant-garde and beat the shit out of it quite the way they can – and it isn’t uncommon to leave a Xiu Xiu gig both completely invigorated and utterly exhausted, with the emotions dangling bloody by thin threads of half-sanity.

I was fortunate enough to find myself in Brooklyn, New York on the evening of September 23, when Jamie Stewart and birthday girl Shayna Dunkelman took to the Union Pool stage not once, but twice; passionate, energetic and dynamic, they tore a hole through all of my expectations and far exceeded my hopes.

The evening began with January Hunt’s musical project New Castrati, a harshly droning onslaught of synthetic sounds and samples, a truly deranged and dreamlike performance conducted in near-darkness.

Xiu Xiu threw themselves into their first performance with ardent aplomb, combining and converging timelines and moods. The setlist represented the span of their canon, showcasing tracks from their newest album, Forget, while paying respects to their past musical ventures and peppering their performance with a strangely harmonious disarray as a result.

Shayna Dunkelman’s mastery is matched only by her gusto; watching her whirlwind through rhythm and settle into the gentility of the keys, one senses the sheer joy tempered by a peaceable spirit which wraps an eclectic, vibrant powerhouse of a musician. At the other end of the stage, Jamie Stewart’s frenetic energies wreak havoc on the senses – he is at once unassuming and unabashedly unhinged, a walking, flailing, trembling contradiction twisting through the most emotionally honest material composed, and as he lays waste to his own psyche before a crowd, the catharsis is obvious, and infectious.

Xiu Xiu played a second full set a mere two hours later on the same stage, following New York native Sarah Lipstate, better known as Noveller. Noveller’s music is colored with rich melodies, ambient veins and subtle trickeries with bow and pedals. She served as a comforting bridge between the spillages of poignancy that were Xiu Xiu’s presences.

If anything, the second set felt like a denouement; something crucial hovered and vibrated even as the night began to wind down. In such an intimate venue, quietly dramatic tracks like “Dear God, I Hate Myself” and “Tonite and Today (What Chu’ Talkin’ ‘Bout)” take on a weighted significance, while the bombastic “I Luv Abortion” and pop-sensible newer songs like “Jenny GoGo” and “Wondering” glow with their danceable delightfulness like the friendly embraces of kindred spirits.

They are not for everyone. They are not like anybody else touring right now. Their myriad talents and the intensity of their performances will, guaranteed, blow the walls of the mind wide – and, having been stage-side for both of these incredible sets, I for one will be affected for some time. I look forward to seeing Xiu Xiu again, and encourage anyone seeking the dichotomy and the intense, psychotic beauty in the unnamed corner of musical expression to find them on their current tour.

Visit for information and upcoming tour dates.

-Dana Culling