Oliver Sim, best known for his work with the xx, has released a very personal solo album this year. Inspired by his love of horror movies, Sim decided to illustrate the album “Hideous Bastard” with a short film, “Hideous,” directed by acclaimed French director Yann Gonzalez. Selected for a special screening during the Semaine de la Critique at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the screening of “Hideous” was at the center of an intimate event at Brain Dead Studios on Monday night. Before the film, the audience had the chance to spend an entire “evening with Oliver Sim,” and see him perform stripped-down versions of three of his new songs.
He immediately admitted having a repulsion for artists who overtalk about their craft, “It’s really not sexy!” he said, “I made an album and that’s it!” it’s a big part of the seduction, Oliver Sim surrounds himself with a certain dose of mystery. He is also a seductive man who speaks with a scratchy deep voice and smiles abundantly. He was nevertheless ready to talk between songs.
Just accompanied by a pianist, his voice was a stunning instrument, a powerful thing filling the small theater while conveying strength, vulnerability, and a large range of emotions at the same time. Without its instrumental layers, “Hideous” was even rawer and simply striking. It’s probably my favorite song of the album, and one of the most personal, honest, and cathartic songs, for the simple reason that he shares his HIV status in the heartbreaking line “Been living with HIV / Since seventeen.” The recorded version (also heard in the movie) features gay music pioneer, Bronski Beat’s Jimmy Somerville whose high falsetto deliciously contrasts with Oliver’s deep voice. The two men connected during the pandemic lockdown (Sim was obviously a big fan). “His voice was so pure, so loud, so incredible,” he said in awe. Their connection rapidly grew into a nurturing relationship. “He was so gentle with me,” Oliver said when alluding to the confessional lyrics, “Don’t be a martyr for the cause, do it for yourself,” advised Somerville.
“It’s quite hard to perform with a piano, it’s just scary,” Oliver admitted a bit later between soaring renditions of “Fruit,” “Hideous,” and “Run the Credits.” “I feel that I made a record that is honest, and quite raw,” he acknowledged. “But I just have such a repulsion toward things that are overly honest”… “When something is shouting at me ‘this is raw, this is honest,’ automatically my head is saying ‘bullshit!’” he added explaining that he needs a certain level of fantasy and surrealism to digest an honest message. This is an interesting concept and a very seductive one.
But why horror? “Horror doesn’t scare me,” he admitted while revealing that his fears are not monsters, serial killers, or blood since his real fears are much closer to home: they are rejections, and personal relationships (including the one with his mother). Oliver Sim recorded an album about fear and shame, and the horror outfit allowed him to explore his own terrors. This is the theme of most of the songs: In “Run the Credits,” an homage to his childhood movie experience, he expresses his desire to identify with psycho-killers and other anti-heroes, rejecting the classic teenage dream with the very funny line “Disney princes, my God, I hate them.” Championing the villains and the monsters was an empowering thing for young Oliver, but the women, these horror movies’ female characters – Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy The Vampire Slayer), Sigourney Weaver (Alien), Sissy Spacek (Carrie), Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween) were even better models. “Those women were feminine, beautiful, and sexy but also angry, strong, and pissed off”… ”Being different but coming back and seeking revenge!” he passionately said with a flame in his eyes. It’s easy to understand the appeal and why Sim identified himself with these horror heroines when growing up.
The short movie “Hideous” is an homage to old horror movies, a collage of queer fantasies between fear, shame, and grotesque monster, switching between color and black and white, vintage film, and low-quality VHS tape. Starring Fehinti Balogun, Jimmy Somerville (as the guardian angel), Jamie xx, and Drag Queen Bimini (as the queen of doom), the film stages Sim as a talk show guest and soon becomes a surrealist and strange exploration of fear, shame, and queer love while featuring songs from Sim’s album: ‘Hideous’, ‘Fruit’, ‘Romance With A Memory’ and ‘GMT.” It sounds like a liberation, but it never takes itself seriously, as Oliver seems to say “make me the monster but give me that kiss.”
On a side note, Oliver also disclosed he is currently working on new music “with two of my very good old friends” (should we expect a new XX album soon?). As for people who were disappointed when Oliver canceled his fall tour, he also revealed he will soon come back to play a full band show.
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