High Fives 2020 (19) – Lunatraktors

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Photo – Emma Falconer

After a bit of a break for a festive lockdown, we still have a few 2020 High Fives for you. The first is from Margate-based alt-folk duo Lunatraktors, who are choreographer, performance artist, percussionist and tap-dancer Carli Jefferson and singer and researcher Clair Le Couteur. The two bonded in Prague over a conversation about the possibilities for folk music after the apocalypse (obviously) and formed Lunatraktors in 2017. Here are some of Carli and Claire’s favourite moments from 2020:

Photo – Andrew Hastings

Number one has to be Moonfest, a big show we put on back in March as part of Margate Festival. We designed and made the set, curated a lineup of amazing Margate acts we know, and arranged a new version of ‘Moonstruck’ (from an Edwardian musical). It was an incredible turn out, with hundreds of people of all sorts, really bringing the Theatre Royal to life. Lockdown happened almost immediately after, so this was just in the nick of time. We still meet people on the beach who say it was the only big show they saw in 2020!

Photo Dana Goodburn-Brown

Two has to be our heritage commissions. It’s great that we can still do this kind of project even when we can’t perform to live audiences. We absolutely love working between fields – folk music, fiction, history, museum and gallery shows, etc. Researchers found that bones hidden in the wall in Folkestone church are over a thousand years old and almost certainly of Eanswyth, Britain’s first female saint. We were asked to make a piece about her life and death, which we performed at the museum. That’s led to another song-and-dance we’re working on now about a household god from Roman Britain (part of Ten Songs for a Lar). There’s also exciting things coming next year about a huge hoard of ancient bronze discovered on the Kent Downs, and Merlin’s sleeping army in Wales…

We’ve had a lot of cancelled bookings, of course, but the silver lining was much more time and energy to spend in Space Sequoia (aka The Preservation Room), a recording studio in the ancient countryside near Canterbury. It was amazing to find Julian Whitfield at Space Sequoia. He really understood what we were trying to do, so we decided to co-produce the record with him. He put up with our obsessional approach, sitting in on every mixing and mastering session to get the exact sounds and textures we were searching for! We’ve been working on a lot of new material and new sounds for our second album, and decided to release a taste of that on our Bonefires EP, which came out in October. We even got to have a socially-distanced release gig at Elsewhere in Margate.

Photo – Screaming Alley

We got to make our first proper music video this year, produced by Screaming Alley, a mad cabaret night in Ramsgate we perform at a lot. They hired a camera crew for us to make a film for ’16,000 Miles’. We had this vision that being a settler turns everyone into a tool of colonialism, so it made sense the protagonist of the story was Jack Hammer. We’re both really into animism, that all objects have spirit and agency in the world. We’ve loved Jim Henson’s work all our lives, and are really inspired by artists like Jan Švankmajer. We drew the storyboard, art directed the shoot, made and animated the puppets, and co-edited it too. It’s gone down really well with some of our smallest fans, and has inspired us to continue making more of our own video work in-house. It’s proved we are capable of producing that kind of work for ourselves.

The big one for us has to be finishing The Missing Star, our new album coming out on May Day, 2021. It’s felt really satisfying to complete something when so much else is up in the air, especially because the record is so connected to Brexit and COVID and the mess the UK is in. The music processes a lot of rage and grief about national identity, transforming some dark experiences into something very different. It’s a concept album in a way – a psychic road trip through British and Irish heritage – and we’ve done all the artwork and design, as well as recording all the instrumentation, arranging everything, writing the lyrics. We lost some tours in France this year, but we think this record will resonate with our listeners in the UK, in Europe, and further afield: it’s a record about apocalyptic change, about re-thinking who we are, and that seems like the right thing to share with people now.