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Who is this strange figure that stands before me, nonsense words pouring from his mouth? The year is 1916, the photo captures a performance by Hugo Ball at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. The new century is just getting up a head of steam, WW1 underway, the worlds of art theatre and music are all finding new ways to express belief in the future promise or ways to protest at the injustices of the modern world.
Hugo tried to enlist at the start of WW1 but was denied his chance on health grounds. He later would protest against the war saying it was founded on one glaring mistake, men have been confused with machines. Anarchism and the revolutionary thoughts of Bakunin would shape Hugo’s thoughts and the ideas behind his performances yet to come. After relocating from Berlin to Zurich with Emma Hemmings, later to be his wife, Hugo would take his political interests and theatrical leanings and combine them in a new cabaret and art movement. 1916 is the year and Hugo is set to start the Dada movement, throwing out all previous philosophies and artistic thinking in favour of confrontational performances, anti art creations and raucous stupidity. The focus for all this activity was the club Cabaret Voltaire, started by Ball and Hemmings. The club attracted radically experimental artists and performers from outside of Dada, Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Max Ernst even Marinetti of the futurists. Using spoken word, sound poetry, dance and music, brutal and chaotic. Years later Malcolm Mclaren and Jamie Reid would pick up on the vision set forth here with the birth of Punk Rock. Hugo’s very own poem ‘Gadji beri bimba’ would be adapted in 1979 by Talking Heads.