Brighton’s The Zap is most remembered for the raucous club nights at its long-term venue at 189-192 Kings Road Arches, where some of Britain’s most finger-on-the-pulse DJs championed acid house and other late 80s/early 90s music trends in front of those punters who looked the part enough to get past the discerning bouncers.
But there was much more to The Zap than just rave music. The club was founded as early as 1982, by Neil and Patricia Butler and Amanda Scott, as a showcase for cutting-edge performance art, and it has been running, in one form or another, in many different venues, ever since. Which is why the last-ever Zap show – at The Old Market on the 22nd June – is such a big deal, as you might expect from its grandiose title: The Final Programme and the Future of Art. Organised by Neil Butler, it features a cast of artists and performers who have been Zap regulars over the years, including Marisa Carnesky, Liz Aggiss and Stella Starr.
I catch up with Olivier Award-winner Carnesky in her Kemp Town flat, as she digs through early 90s Zap flyers and remembers the days when the club was pioneering, among other genres, the ‘new cabaret’ scene and the very early days of British burlesque.
Carnesky, then performing as Marisa Carr, was introduced to the club in 1991 by her teacher and mentor Liz Aggiss, of Wild Wigglers fame. For several years she became a regular. “I presented my first ever full-length show there,” she remembers. “I showed the piece Duchess V Dentata, in the 1991 Brighton Festival. It was quite a big stepping-stone for my burgeoning career.” And a fairly radical feminist performance, by the sound of things. “The ceiling was draped with pairs of knickers, through which boiled strawberry jam was dripped onto the heads of the crowd.” She also performed for the late Roger Ely, in The Devil’s Chauffeur “wearing multiple latex breasts, in my early work Enter the Dragon Lady.”
“Everything at The Zap felt very exciting and forbidden,” she says. “I used to go there once or twice a week. It was a great place to meet and watch other artists. A lot of collaborations were hatched. A lot of careers, too. In the days before the internet it was an important physical hub for building artistic communities and networking.”
Carnesky’s career has since seen her performing as a resident of New York, LA, Mexico City and London, before moving back to Brighton two years ago. Having over the last three years toured her show Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman over three continents, she’s delighted to be able to join a number of old friends and colleagues at the Old Market, all performing a short set. “I’m looking forward to showcasing part of my work in progress,” she says, “called Showwoman. Ritual. Action, where spectacular entertainment traditions, women, and esoteric activism collide.” Which all sounds aptly cutting edge.
The Old Market, June 22, £10/12.50