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Roddy Bottum - Sasquatch, The Opera

Scary monsters and super creeps may have been in abundance on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe over the last month, but few looked like Sasquatch, the mythical man-beast brought to life as part of Summerhall's programme by Faith No More keyboardist Roddy Bottum in Sasquatch, The Opera. In what looked like a scaled down hour-long chamber version of Bottum's vision, the now completed run of Ahmed Ibrahim's production cast the forest-dwelling creature as a would-be tourist attraction exploited by a family of drug-addicted hillbillies who dress up their son as a cut-price version who never quite cuts it.

When the family fall out and go their separate ways, the daughter of the family encounters the real thing, only for their budding amour to be nipped in the bud by a crazed pack of meth lab workers. While the daughter is reinstated into the so-called normal world once more, Sasquatch is left to run wild, free and ever so slightly sad.

If the narrative sounds crazed, be sure that this is serious opera, with Bottum's music and libretto pulsed by industrial synth and martial brass and timpani by a six piece ensemble that includes Bottum himself. Faith No More fans may not be ready for it, but, given Bottum was classically trained before he joined the band in 1981, such a move isn't as out there as it sounds. Bottum has had two stints with the band to date, as well as recently reconvening Imperial Teen, the more indie inclined band he formed in the mid 1990s.

Outside of the two bands, Bottum has scored the soundtracks for films such as gay romantic comedy Adam and Steve and the Zooey Deschanel starring Gigantic. It is Sasquatch, however, which has become a labour of love.

“Every element of the production is in my hands,” he says. “Lighting, sound, the band, everything. It's a lot of work, but it's something I really wanted to do, and it's a story I wanted to tell.”

Bottum's version of Sasquatch as played and sung by Mari Moriarty remains as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster, and remains as much an outcast from regular society as the backwoods family who in different ways feed off him.

“Calling them hillbillies sounds derogatory,” says Bottum, “but it doesn't mean to be. It's a culture, or a sub-culture, that fascinates me, and the people in my story are free. They don't need the rest of the world, and there's something empowering and beautiful about that. Having said that, my five characters are an abusive and dysfunctional family. There is drugs, and there is bondage, not in a fetishistic way, but in a more utilitarian way. People are kept on chains, and there is a meths lab in the house.

“I've always been attracted to characters who are very vulnerable, and who are a lot more than they seem from their physical appearance. It's about where the intellect lies, and where beauty and genius lie. For me, beauty lies in the ugly, and that often gets overlooked.”

Bottum cites The Elephant Man and King Kong as reference points.

“That always touches me,” he says of the now classic Hollywood yard of the giant gorilla who is taken out of the jungle and brought to New York. “Even watching the cheesy recent version of King Kong, I always cry.”

As a gay man who has worked in a deeply macho music industry, Bottum can relate to some of the othering his new show attempts to deal with.

“Growing up in the era I did, things were so repressed,” he says, “and being gay was so shrouded. Coming out in that realm that I'd moved into was an interesting experience.”

After that, moving into opera doesn't seem such a leap.

“I like telling stories,” says Bottum, “and at some point I felt that I wanted to do something that was about more than just telling things through quips, and do something more for myself. Film scores can be fascinating and fun if the chemistry's right, but at the end of the day you're enhancing someone else's vision rather than your own. I took a moment, and decided I had more to offer than this, and to do something with my own vision.”

“I was attracted to opera because of the huge emotional sweeps it has in a way that theatre doesn't, and that always blew me away, that suspension of disbelief, and the willingness of people in the audience to go with it and let themselves go. People expect that from opera, and that's really fun for me, to go really high and really low. I like the big whopping operas, but for what really pushes my buttons, my real go to is Philip Glass' Einstein on the Beach.”

This year, Bottum has also presented another short opera, The Ride, which is based around the 500 mile LifeCycle charity motorbike ride to raise funds for AIDS research.

“We have two bikers onstage,” says Bottum, “one an older man who's watched his friends die, and the other a younger man, who is from a background where he and his friends are protected from coming in touch with the disease. It's about how those two generations understand each other.”

Bottum is taking his new outlet very seriously indeed, and has ambitions for Sasquatch to take on a world beyond Edinburgh.

“I always have high goals with what I do,” he says. “My goals are always bombastic and a little ridiculous, but I would like to gear Sasquatch towards Broadway. That sounds ridiculous, but it's a beautiful thing to take out into the world, so why not?”

The Herald, August 28th 2017

ends

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