December 17, 2021 12:30:23 pm
Drummond Money-Coutts isn’t your run-of-the-mill magician. Artiste extraordinaire, Money-Coutts, despite claiming to be blessed with superpowers, is careful to not establish a larger than life persona. Nuanced on his take of the supernatural, the 35-year-old Westminster native is determined to get magic it’s due. Based out of London, Mumbai and UAE, this modern-day Harry Houdini starred in the Netflix special Death by Magic, and has since caught the attention of audiences across the globe.
After wrapping up a performance in New Delhi, Money-Coutts spoke to indianexpress.com about his inspirations, what magic means to him, how his profession is perceived, and more.
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What got you interested in magic and illusion? Was it from a very young age?
Yes. As a child, I was always fascinated by magic, but particularly by anything enigmatic and mysterious. When I was eight years old, my father took me to a very old magic shop in London — it was 100 years old– and I suddenly realised that you could learn magic, and recreate the experience for other people. I instantly fell in love with studying, practising and reading about magic. Since then, it’s just never gone away.
At what age did you start performing for an audience? How was the experience?
When I first began to develop an interest in magic and tricks, I must have been around 10. But, it did take me a while to get used to the idea of performance. For myself, it was almost this private obsession — I would study, practice, watch my heroes on television. And then, very slowly, I began to get more comfortable with performing for people and kept getting better and better. By the time I was probably 13-14, I was much more comfortable, and loving every aspect of a public performance.
Could you tell us about the time that you visited Kenya and your work there?
After university, I wanted to go to London, so I started performing private shows around the city. Then, I realised I wanted to move onto television one day, so I would have to start developing ideas and made about four or five homemade videos. I would take a little video camera, and I would travel to India and Africa, and try to find a story that would be interesting. Then I would fill magic around that (laughs). But when I went to Kenya and Tanzania in 2011, I was researching witchcraft, black magic and voodoo. It’s a very uncomfortable subject. There are a lot of terrible things that happen when people abuse the idea of magic. People take magic not to entertain people, but instead to fool them and gain influence or maybe exploit for money.
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As you mentioned, certain people use magic for negative reasons. Would you say that it perpetuates a bad image around the profession and magic?
I think it’s like other industries, and magic is no different. It attracts many different people for many different reasons. It’s a very easy way to get attention, it’s a very easy way to gain influence over other people. And of course, if you’ve travelled to parts of the world, where people perhaps haven’t seen magic before, they don’t know what magic is, then you can sometimes exert influence over those people. Maybe you can make them believe that you have special powers. And then, of course, they’ll begin to believe that you can do almost anything.
What does magic mean to you?
It’s very difficult for me to capture magic in a phrase. I always say that I love magic, and in that sense, love will mean so many different things to so many different people. And for each of us, our own interpretation of love could change all the way through our life, and magic has the same potential. When we’re young, magic is perhaps more in line with Disney films. And then, of course, we go through life and learn more about the world and we know better than to believe that. For me, a moment of magic is a moment of suspension, it’s that moment you get when you hear a beautiful piece of music, or you’re lost within a movie, or when you see something impossible. It just suspends you in midair for a moment and your brain is focused only on exactly what is happening right in front of you. I think magic can provide that just as similarly as poetry, literature, food, music, falling in love. The magic of the human spirit, the human soul is that there are so many dimensions to it. And, I always say that in the West, the word ‘magic’ has become a very watered-down version of itself. If you ask anyone in America about magic, they’ll probably point you to Las Vegas or some magician showing tricks whereas when you come to India, magic means so much more than that, it’s so much richer, so much deeper, so much more multi-dimensional.
Can you elucidate on the difference in appreciation of your art in the West and in India?
The dichotomy is not just between the East and West. It’s amazing how different countries will have their own interpretation of magic. It will vary greatly between regions. For example, between central Africa and East Africa, there aren’t that many practising magicians and so, when people think of magic, they associate it with black magic and voodoo and everything negative. There’s much more hesitation about magic. I’ve also taken note of this in the Middle East, where the word magic in Arabic is loosely translated as sorcery. Whereas in India, because of a rich history of performing magicians, it’s free of preconceived notions. People here are much less hesitant to learn more and much less reluctant to watch it. That’s why, coming to India for me is so special because there’s a beautiful appetite for magic among Indian people that I can’t get enough of.
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Do you receive flak for perpetrating the supernatural?
Yes. It’s one of those things that one has to be very careful about and I’ve tried to be mindful of the same. I’m culturally very sensitive as well. Some magicians claim that they have very special powers and you could probably get away with that in some parts of the world. It’s reckless and irresponsible. I always try to make it very clear that I am a forger of the impossible: I am forging moments that look like impossible things, but they have extremely rational explanations. On some occasions, people might not understand those explanations, but theoretically, within our practices, anybody in the world could recreate what I’m doing. It just takes a lot of training and practice. I make it a point to ensure that my audience is comfortable with my act.
How would you describe your act?
It depends, really, if it’s close up magic, my favourite thing in the world is a smaller audience, 10-20 people maybe extending to 50-100. The experience is up close and personal, and that way, you can really interact with people. The tricks I include in my act depend on where I am in the world. I love card magic, illusions and mind-reading. There’s a cultural aspect to this difference, for example, in Russia, the women don’t care about card tricks or anything of that nature. They would come up to me and plead, ”Will you read my palm? What does it say?” People’s interests play a major role in deciding as well.