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‘UnTyMe’ is a startlingly unique folk anti-horror project exploring Anglo-Celtic ritual

The UnTyMe team discusses their project, the universe and explores its ritualistic folklore-inspired bedrock.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Jul 01, 2023

UnTyMe is one of those particularly engaging video pieces that one may view for the first time but once: it is a blip on the internet, and yet a blip that stays within the viewer’s memory, resonating long after the viewing experience has concluded. It is gritty, haunting and even spiritual, to a frenzied degree that may feel alienating for many. Helming the UnTyMe project is HforSpirit; an Anglo-Irish multi-instrumentalist composer, who has performed at the Roundhouse, Royal Albert Hall and Kraftwerk Berlin, Germany. He has also written music for Dior, Sadler's Wells and the Dakar Biennale. HforSpirit produces a “catharsis in sound”; breathing new life into traditional practices, and through that, even revitalising them. Some of his recent collaborations include Space Afrika, Blackhaine and the Hastings Philharmonic Orchestra. He is joined by director Nick Hadfield from London, the United Kingdom, who is a photographer and filmmaker whose work explores magic and meaning through ritual and spiritual practice in Britain and beyond. His craft also reflects on processes of mythmaking, storytelling and the construction of reality through the mediums of photography and film.

Zine scan #5, 2023, digital scan, HforSpirit, Nick Hadfield, Toothgrinder Press |UnTyMe | STIRworld
Zine scan #5, 2023, digital scan Image: HforSpirit, Nick Hadfield, Toothgrinder Press

UnTyMe is much more than a short film. In fact, it is a multi-faceted, continually evolving world, with its mere foundation set as the music-led film audiences will likely engage with first. This piece follows a group of friends on a rave-escape to the hills, documented around the time of the pandemic. Their pilgrimage to the post-industrial landmark and infamous “rave cave” of the ‘90s Skull Quarry, invites a ritualistic rebirth and a reunion with nature. The project has been brought together by Toothgrinder Press, which is headed by William and Edward Green. William Green joins HforSpirit and Hadfield in discussing the work with STIR, and explains that UnTyMe is an observational folk-anti-horror piece, which challenges stereotypes around ancient pagan beliefs and their links to the occult - exploring their increasing relevance today. An exploration of stories, symbols and devotional song and dance connected to Anglo-Celtic folklore lays the path for a participatory film where the line between performance art and reality is blurred. Spurred on by the prospect of filming a road trip to escape the increasingly banal reality closing in, the group undergo an unhinged awakening amongst the relics of rural rave culture.

A still from the film, focusing on one of the celebrants’ face, 2023, digital still, HforSpirit, Nick Hadfield, Toothgrinder Press | UnTyMe | STIRworld
A still from the film, focusing on one of the celebrants’ face, 2023, digital still Image: HforSpirit, Nick Hadfield, Toothgrinder Press

Coming to Toothginder Press, Toothgrinder is a Liverpool-founded publisher specialising in literature, poetry and music, with an emphasis on experimental release formats by musician, designer and performance artist alike. Since 2018, there has been a focus on releasing limited volumes of works with a focus on the physicality of their contents. It seems that they are one to go off the beaten path in this regard, and Green addresses this, saying “The construction of our artefacts often utilises experimental production methods, developed by us to produce pieces with a high degree of craftsmanship and value. Overall, our releases share very little of their themes in common, with us widely championing experimental and contemporary poetry, prose, literature, music, photography, clothing and art from a wide variety of backgrounds. We also occasionally run poetry nights at The Social in London and host live music events around Europe.”

A teaser for the film, 2023, video Video: HforSpirit, Nick Hadfield, Toothgrinder Press

Going beyond the film, the UnTyMe project has enabled its slew of collaborators to draw upon themes of social liberation, myth exploration, spiritualism and craftsmanship through the art performance, in order to launch events, create products and form creative bridges between individual members of the team. UnTyMe spurred an event series titled ‘Thee Birth at The White Hotel’, and has been exhibited twice at the ICA. Additionally, there is also the ‘Relic Edition’ of the project, which includes articles such as an amulet and a hairpin, created through cross-media collaborations with the designers Jonathan Castro, Delphine Lejeune and Olubiyi Thomas. 

Contents of the Relic Edition, 2023, photo, HforSpirit, Nick Hadfield, Toothgrinder Press | UnTyMe | STIRworld
Contents of the Relic Edition, 2023, photo Image: HforSpirit, Nick Hadfield, Toothgrinder Press
The team explores this edition, telling STIR “Each artefact explores a different perspective within the project. They are all unique in their design and yet share the collective purpose of both form and function, the inner contents of the Relic Edition being a laser inscribed transparent lathe cut record, containing the soundtrack to UnTyMe, and a zine, printed on recycled stock featuring images and narrative text surrounding the project. These are housed in a hand-treated, waxed wool pouch, folded to envelop the artefacts, which is designed by Olubiyi Thomas. This pouch is also able to be worn as a satchel, which is meant to explore the ideas of discovery alluded to within the film. Together, the package is bound by a cotton strap, used for wearability, and is secured with a cast metal hairpin, and amulet that moonlights as a symbolic tool of worship and protective weapon, designed by Jonathan Castro and Delphine Lejeune.”

One of the Relic Edition’s artefacts, 2023,digital still, HforSpirit, Nick Hadfield, Toothgrinder Press | UnTyMe | STIRworld
One of the Relic Edition’s artefacts, 2023, digital still Image: HforSpirit, Nick Hadfield, Toothgrinder Press

The hairpin collaboration is of particular interest, even among the fascinating contents of the Relic Edition: it was created as a response to an 18th Century lament, following the death of HforSpirit's ancestor Art O'Leary, who was a member of the Irish nobility. At the time, the Irish were forbidden to wear their hair long by the ruling classes. The hairpin is both a countercultural totem and a tool for empowerment.

Participants of the rave-escape, 2023, digital still, HforSpirit, Nick Hadfield, Toothgrinder Press | UnTyMe | STIRworld
Participants of the rave-escape , 2023, digital still Image: HforSpirit, Nick Hadfield, Toothgrinder Press

The Relic Edition is the result of a continually developing project that has been in the works for over three years and counting. It will be sure to catch the eye of any collector of experimental art, music and media, with the fascinating contents of its package acting as a link between the old and the new; the familiar and the strange. It is an eventful time for the team behind The UnTyMe film: it is currently poised to be exhibited at the Dundee V&A as part of the Tartan exhibition in summer 2023. The project continues expanding outward, looking to explore new disciplines and themes with an ambitious follow-up film in the works, along with the further development of its narrative, which will soon shift to Scotland. Apart from UntyMe, HforSpirit is currently scoring a feature film set in the Reformation era of Christendom and compiling a flipbook of songs for release in 2023. Nick continues his film and photography work, and is currently working on an experimental film exploring postcolonial tourism in Jamaica. It will be rewarding to wait and see where the creative call will take UnTyMe’s members next, and what enthralling works will be birthed as a result.    

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