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The art of the extradimensional

Brooke Olsen: interview, Alex Murray-Leslie & Melissa Logan, Chicks on Speed

Chicks on Speed, UTOPIA Chicks on Speed, UTOPIA
Since the late 90s art-music-political-punk ensemble Chicks on Speed—Alex Murray-Leslie (US) and Melissa Logan (Aus)—have produced an extensive catalogue of records, performances, exhibitions, fashion, film projects and, most recently, iPad apps. Now in their 17th year the uncompromising duo continues to engineer exciting multidisciplinary work including a new interactive album, UTOPIA, and a major exhibition at Fremantle Arts Centre, Perth.

Forming in Munich in 1997 after meeting at an Academy of Fine Arts party, Murray-Leslie and Logan began Chicks on Speed as part of a location-specific survival strategy. Murray-Leslie describes 90s Munich as being a bourgeois town with little in the way of creative entertainment to satisfy the pair. In this climate she set up an illegal bar that doubled as a venue for Chicks on Speed to create and present “radical entertainment” in the form of live art performances.

One such performance titled I Wanna Be A DJ…Baby! involved smashing records from behind a DJ desk while playing sound collage through the PA. Beyond onstage antics they also distributed a ‘box set’ featuring a T-shirt, cassette, paper record and fake ‘band’ interview.’ Murray-Leslie says, “It was never just the idea of the song but always the idea of the mixtape, the song, performing the song, making the merchandise, doing some text over the performance and then breaking something. Always the influence of Fluxus there—instructional performance.”

Beyond Fluxus, the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk, a German word translated as ‘the all encompassing artwork’ involving construction across many mediums, connects closely to the aesthetic of Chicks on Speed. Gesamtkunstwerk originated in the opera world, predominantly via Richard Wagner in the late 19th century but was adopted by Bauhaus architects in the early 20th century and is still relevant to many multi-disciplinary artists today. “We’ve never been able to just think in one medium,” says Murray-Leslie, “whether it’s art, fashion or music they all have a complementary trajectory.”

Chicks on Speed Band and Chicks on Speed Art Collective have always co-existed comfortably but with so many creative disciplines demanding attention, Murray-Leslie and Logan deliberately shift focus, navigating their way between the music world to the art world and back again. “In the beginning Chicks on Speed were never recognised as a real band,” Murray-Leslie explains. “When we became a functioning band people never saw our art. We changed the focus. Suddenly we go to release the new album, UTOPIA, and it’s swung back the other way.”

Chicks on Speed Chicks on Speed
UTOPIA is the product of years of sonic experimentation stretching beyond the conventional three-stage process of writing, recording and releasing to include new technologies, collaborations and audience participation. It comes complete with six iPad apps designed to be played and modified in co-authorship and co-creation with the band. During live shows apps are used as audio-visual instruments for interactive stage performance, for example allowing an audience member to contribute text to be displayed on a projected backdrop located behind the band. According to Murray-Leslie, during this process “the audience completes the artwork.” Despite the addition of iPad apps, UTOPIA remains sonically in keeping with the Chicks on Speed sound—energetic electro-pop songs with prominent lyrical content linking complex ideas about art, culture, idealism and creation to the broader concept of Utopia.

The apps are part of a much bigger body of creative work undertaken by Chicks on Speed which blurs the line between music, art, technology and laboratory. Objektinstruments (self-made instruments) were initially developed by the ensemble in 2005 for studio and stage implementation and showcased as part of a performative installation at Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre (UK) in 2010. During 2011 and 2013, as artist residents at ZKM Centre for Art and Media (Germany), they produced UTOPIA along with the six interconnected iPad apps. Collaborations from a diverse range of modern thinkers and creators such as Julian Assange, Yoko Ono and Francesca Thyssen provided extra dimensions to the music project.

For Melissa Logan new interactive technologies such as iPad apps enable Chicks on Speed “to remain close to the audience and to build up platforms.” In the early 2000s she felt distanced from fans due to the emergence of iTunes and other online retailers. She says that it was as if a conversation was lost because of third party involvement. The pair are conscious of maintaining a closeness with audiences. Alex Murray-Leslie notes, “Once you deliver something in the digital medium it is dead unless you change it.”

In 2014 Chicks on Speed show no signs of slowing down. The boundaries between art and music become blurrier as their catalogue of work encompasses even more creative disciplines.

Chicks on Speed, SCREAM, Fremantle Arts Centre (Perth), 4 April-25 May

Chicks on Speed, UTOPIA is available soon:,

RealTime issue #119 Feb-March 2014 pg. web

© Brooke Olsen; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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