The cover version holds an ambiguous standing in the firmament of pop, existing between the poles of veneration and desecration, dilution and amplification, imitation and reclamation.

Rowland Hill‘s solo show at Castlefield Gallery, presumably taking the umbrella of its title from Scooter’s breakneck Eurodance ride over the more pedestrian pace of the Supertramp original, cleaves closest to the last. Informed by the associations of her Loughborough adolescence, its pieces draw upon its particulars to suggest something more universal.

That this is a labour of love, the product of thought and feeling, is attested to by the booklet of essays which accompanies the exhibition. With lucid concision, it sets out in both poetry and prose the nuance of Hill’s stance towards the 90s genres she grew along with; serious, but not humourless, star-struck but not blindsided. Previous works have examined the music from a variety of complementary angles, including Do You Think You’re Better Off Alone? which teases apart the connective tissue binding the bodies of Eurodance, the European Union, and white nationalism.

Rowland Hill, Holy Prototype (2024). Image courtesy of the artist.

Fluchtpunkt, itself an adaptation of a piece originally commissioned as an installation at Margate’s Dreamland, captures the concision of her words in a gestalt whose separate elements come together in an atmospheric manifestation of their conceptual elegance. Taking the viewer into the heart of its storm, in spite of its cues to dance – strobes, dry ice and a rhythmic soundtrack – it rewards a certain stillness. Static, the gallery-goer can give way to the experiences it offers; the dramatic approximations of thunder claps and running water, digitally contrived in a recording studio.

Read from another perspective, its tumult acts as a reminder of the inescapability of the climate crisis. Caught up in the smoke of its urgency, somehow humanity does its best to ignore the fire, dancing  all the while to its oblivion. Above all, it fits the bill of being immersive.

For me, however, the component parts of Holy Prototype, in not quite forming a compelling whole, keep the viewer at one remove; looking in, rather than being drawn in. Its soundscape is well realised, integrating the carillon chimes of Elgar with the snatch and waltz of fairground Eurotrance backdrops in a way that is persuasive. Close your eyes and you could be there.

Open your eyes, however, and you’re confronted by the visuals, appropriated from the rides of the touring fair that takes in Loughborough on its peregrinations. These constitute a range of airbrushed likenesses of female celebrities, set down at the height of their renown. Adorned with fairground lights, they are presented as devotional images, as though from the lives of the Catholic saints, but the perfunctory inexactitude of the originals contrives instead to root them in the secular. They evoke a day trip to Blackpool Illuminations rather more than a pilgrimage to Lourdes.

Rowland Hill, Priority! (2022). Image Courtesy of the artist.

Such everyday bathos may be part of Hill’s intent, but here the clarity of her conceit seems to falter at the precipice of a whole. Perhaps it’s more useful, then, to consider Holy Prototype in the context of Hill’s ongoing fascination with the musical forms that formed her, more album track than single.

In the tracks of her originals, Hill invites the viewer to listen deeply for connections of their own, and, through the filter of their personal experiences, make unique interpretations; a cover version of the mind, on the cusp between theory and practice.

Make of them what you will.

By Desmond Bullen

Main image: Rowland Hill, Fluchtpunkt at Castlefield Gallery (2024). Courtesy of Castlefield Gallery.


Logical Song is at Castlefield Gallery in Manchester until March 3, 2024. For more information, click here.