‘A work of furious ambition that feels deeply in tune with our present moment’ – The New York Times

Real Enemies

Darcy James Argue, Isaac Butler, Peter Nigrini, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society

You are looking at a performance from our archive

Canadian born and Brooklyn based composer and band leader Darcy James Argue has made big band jazz cool again. After his success with Brooklyn Babylon at the 2013 festival, he is back with Real Enemies.

This time, Argue and his 18-piece big band Secret Society, together with filmmaker Peter Nigrini and writer/director Isaac Butler, dive into contemporary conspiracy theory. On top of a doomsday clock running the width of the stage, Argue leads his band through his dazzling score: wild, raw, with clockwork precision and of a pervading beauty. Peter Nigrini and Isaac Butler drew on literature, films, computer games and the media for their texts and imagery. Real Enemies offers an unsettling glimpse into the shadowy history of the modern age. 


Background information

Normally, conspiracy theories are the preserve of the deluded and the paranoid, but every once in a while a story will emerge which makes you wonder whether our governments really do want what’s best for us. Whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange have made it plausible that there are goings-on behind the scenes that do not stand up to scrutiny. What should and should we not believe? How do these conspiracy theories emerge? These are the questions which Real Enemies sets out to explore.

The music in Real Enemies will be performed by big-band collective Secret Society, whose Brooklyn Babylon made a big impression at the 2013 Holland Festival. Real Enemies combines an exhilarating score by Secret Society’s band leader Darcy James Argue with impressive projections, designed by Peter Nigrini. The script and direction connecting music and video are by Isaac Butler. 

Butler's script comprises twelve chapters, dealing with various conspiracy theories in post-war American history, ranging from JFK's murder to the theory that Clinton, Bush and Obama are aliens. Nigrini's projections are a virtuoso 'polyphony' of video and sound footage cast onto fifteen screens, spinning a web of suspicion and paranoia. In the middle of the stage sits a giant clock, counting down to doomsday. As time elapses, the audience is sucked into increasingly bizarre but nonetheless gripping conspiracy theories. 

Argue's music plays an important part in this process. Inspired by the 12 numbers on the clock's dial, he has created a twelve-tone series which he employs in horror movie style. Besides the ‘film score’ sections, Argue introduces elements from a range of musical styles, from big-band jazz to South-American music, hiphop and minimalism. Characterised by the hypnotic, ominous effect of the pulsating repetitions, the music gradually becomes more forceful and intense. In perfect tandem with the imagery, the audience is seduced to go along with the increasingly bizarre conspiracy theories. 

The makers of Real Enemies are all perfectly rational, somewhat sceptical human beings. So is the average audience at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where the piece premiered in 2015. And so are the people visiting the Holland Festival. In a blog, Butler points out that it's not his or any of the other makers' intention to expose all conspiracy theorists as ridiculous, half-witted freaks from the tinfoil hat brigade. Rather, they've set out to explore and demonstrate the psychology behind conspiracy thinking. During the creative process, they found that they themselves were getting increasingly receptive to conspiracy theories. Moreover, some past conspiracy theories proved to be true. Staging their multimedia performance, Butler, Argue and Nigrini hope to encourage the audience to think for themselves about what is true and what is not – which is only possible if you do not dismiss conspiracy theorists out of hand. 

All in all, Real Enemies offers not only some very topical political and psychological ideas, but also an innovative multimedia experiment, performed by one of the best and most adventurous big bands in the world. 



Darcy James Argue (1975) is a Canadian jazz composer and band leader. Argue studied in Boston with legendary composer/arranger Bob Brookmeyer. In 2003 he moved to New York. In 2009, Argue and his big-band Secret Society caused a sensation in jazz with the release of their debut album Infernal Machines, mixing old-school big-band music with new, post big-band era instrumentations, effects and technologies.

 Time Out New York wrote that Argue had 'almost single-handedly made the big band cool again'.

Infernal Machines was nominated for a Grammy and won many other prizes. Argue's awards include the BMI's Charlie Parker Composition Prize and the SOCAN/CAJE Phil Nimmons Emerging Composer Award. He was the composer and conductor of his Brooklyn Babylon project, which premiered at Brooklyn Academy of Music's New Wave Festival and was staged at the Holland Festival in 2013.


Isaac Butler is a New York stage director and writer. Recently, Butler directed Reunion and Notes on a Disappearance at the Playwrights Center, Minneapolis. His comedy MilkMilkLemonade at 45 Below theatre was voted Best Off-Off Broadway Show by NY Press. He was a creative direction consultant for Darcy James Argue's show Brooklyn Babylon at Brooklyn Academy of Music's New Wave Festival and at the 2013 Holland Festival. As well as a stage director, Butler is also a writer and a literary performer. He has written for leading American and British newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time Out New York, Time Out Chicago, The Guardian, American Theater, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, The Fiddleback and The Hooded Utilitarian. Butler is currently writing his debut novel The Thousand Natural Shocks: A Father, A Family, A Crisis of Faith

Projection designer Peter Nigrini (1971) was born in Toronto and currently lives in New York, where he has made most of his work. Nigrini started his career in small venues and it was in this context that he first began experimenting with projection. Since, he has been working in various forms of (music) theatre, ranging from Broadway musicals, dance and opera to experimental performance. His designs have included projections for Kris Diaz' The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity and Arthur Kopit's Wings, both at Second Stage Theater New York, as well as Robert Woodruff's version of Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground, which toured several theatres in the United States. Nigrini has also worked in music theatre, designing projections for Robert Woodruff and Maya Beiser's Elsewhere and Peter Eötvös’ opera Angels in America at Fort Worth Opera. He also designed projections for Grace Jones' Hurricane Tour. At the 2011 Holland Festival, he was projection designer for the successful musical Fela!.



Darcy James Argue
text, direction
Isaac Butler
Peter Nigrini
with additional design by:
set, light
Maruti Evans
Sydney Maresca
co-commissioned by
The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), The Fromm Music Foundation and Beth Morrison Projects
Beth Morrison Projects