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Lyndon Blue: Review

ABORTED TORTOISE - AN BEACH (LP)

Andrew Ryan

ABORTED TORTOISE’s debut album, An Beach, is just about everything you’d hope for from a Western Australian punk record: 15 tracks, half-hour run time, lots of sun-struck goon-flecked thrashing and a salty scintilla of uncynical surf rock. 

The very words “An Beach,” while basically meaningless, give you an idea of the attitude at hand. If these ratbags won’t even abide by standard English grammar in the album title then what hope do we have of them making palatable, good old fashioned songs? And of course the answer is none: these are spurting jets of festering scuzz, too many guitars crossing swords over blistering corroded drums, threatening to burn up like a space capsule on re-entry.

There’s a difference, mind you, between ignoring the musical proclivities of polite society and making lazy nonsense songs for the soliloquistic thrill of it. While An Beach brandishes plenty of nonsense and thrills, you can’t accuse Aborted Tortoise of being lazy. The songs are performed with diligence and gusto; recorded perfectly with clarity of scum by Brod Madden-Scott (Spaceman). The result is a carefully crafted entity. Its tempo and mood fluctuations (fast/faster/fasterer; loud, louder, loudest) are tactfully sequenced. The riffs and interlocking rhythms sound effortless in a way that requires a lot of effort… a lot of practice and musical telepathy, to reach a point where the whole thing hurtles along like a single rabid beast. Never dragging its heels, but coming close to somersaulting from sheer momentum. 

With the lo-fi immediacy of The Sonics, the faux-dumbass sensibilities of the Ramones and the sly musical inventiveness of Dead Kennedys, Aborted Tortoise definitely recall a lot of crucial punk touchstones. Meanwhile I’m also reminded of Melbourne brat-boys Ausmuteants, and more specifically, ‘90s Perth band The Feends - bonkers treble-heavy riffing with post-Ventures noodling and snotty sandgroper vocals. Plus, tongues balanced delicately in cheeks. 

Enough pontificating: what about these SONGS? ‘Goodbye Beach’ rides the barrel, both oceanic and vinous; ‘Cheese Supreme’ chronicles pizza fever dreams, messy cooking and existential revelations, complete with bass lead breaks and candy-pop handclaps. There are two very short songs about bees: ‘Bees 1’ and…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..………………………………………………………. ‘Bees 2.’ 

‘Spewin McGregor’ is an archetypal surf instrumental, as enjoyable to listen to as it is hilarious as a prop for a stupid (great) song title. ‘Get Mum’ is a convulsive freakout: parental supervision required. ‘Wasted Goods’ is vintage self-loathing of the embodied variety. ‘Bab’ sounds like it was written and recorded in real-time and is also the world’s best love song aimed at a kebab. Coming up the rear, ‘Crumple Zone’ is the LONG SONG but it makes its basic blues riff and tambourine backbone sound fresh, and after 6 or so minutes it’s still over too soon.

Aborted Tortoise might make most sense in the live setting: the visceral impact of a band going ballistic is most logically received there-and-then, with the sweat beads landing in your eyeballs. But like that recent winning album from Boat Show, An Beach does a stellar job of bottling the mayhem. Take it home, uncork it, let it breathe and then scull it like the filthy little demon you are. 

Cover art: Jessica Cockerill. And ain't it something!   

    

PERTH SINGLES ROUNDUP: MID-MARCH '17

Andrew Ryan

Owing to my inability to settle on just one thing to write about, here's a whole handful of short-form releases out of Perth that caught my ear this week. Some of these tracks have been kicking around for a month already, while others (like the JCAL number) are hot off the press. Either way, I hope you find something to tickle your tympanic.

1. Diger Rokwell - We Can Ride

Diger Rokwell is etched into the Perth psyche for his psych-ey, sample-driven instrumental hip-hop - and he’s found plenty of room to spread out within that niche. But recent years have seen the Community Records labelhead explore even further afield, and ‘We Can Ride’ is the latest case in point. It’s spritely funk laden with airy vocoder, interstellar synth and pumped forward with rubbery boogie-bass. Probably Rokwell’s most gleefully retrofuturistic effort to date, its vivid palette bodes well as a new facet of the Diger sound.

 

2. Bahasa Malay - Inmates 

Inmates is framed as a “mini-EP” - comprising two tracks and a total of seven a half minutes. Despite its brevity, this Bandcamp release exemplifies many of Nora Zion’s musical strong suits and condenses them into two of her most resolved tunes yet. ‘Trust’ begins as pulsating synthwave pop, strewn with eastern string samples and Zion’s ever-understated vocals. By its end, the tune has twisted itself into a toothy dancehall experiment, bristling with joyous hi-hats and painting concentric circles of synth melody. 

‘Getback’ launches with the semi-dissonant chord shapes endemic to underground house and techno, and a tooth-chattering percussion line. We fall into a sanguine dance floor groove, helped along by spring-loaded bass, 808 claps and a playful spoken sample (“what is this?”) In between denser interludes, Zion’s voice gets plenty of space, and everything rushes to a conclusion with a teasingly fun synth-horn.

Experimental yet focused, atmospheric yet consistently dance-inducing, this is Bahasa Malay at her best.  

Listen: https://bahasamalay.bandcamp.com/album/inmates

 

3. JCAL - Come up (ft. Chiseko & Toyotomi Hideyoshi) 

There’s a new wave of Perth-based hip hop on the rise and I feel like any minute now it’s gonna blow up and freak everyone out in the best way possible. Groups like Boogie Nights Media and Four AM Collective are flying the flag; JCAL’s latest, ‘Come Up,’ is a perfect example of why it’s so exciting. This is hip-hop borne of the internet age, of an open and globally-minded movement that’s got little to do with the predictable and parochial Oz-hop of yore. Admittedly, it’s a bit disheartening hearing Australian rappers deliver their lines with American accents, as if cultural cringe finally won. But the net result is a worldly and moody track with neither MCs nor producer missing a beat; something recalling the likes of Clams Casino and Kendrick.  

Listen: https://jcal666.bandcamp.com/track/come-up-ft-chiseko-toyotomi-hideyoshi

 

4. Senate - Filibuster 12”

 

The impatient kick in the eponymous A1 track billows like a big black parachute. The synth chords come at you fast like jagged knives. But it’s not as sinister as the similes would have you believe; each emphatic musical gesture carries a penumbra of jazzy warmth and funk generosity. Archetypal canned claps and clipped snares guide you through the flickering dark. You feel good.

‘Fumble in the goal square’ reveals the duo’s football sympathies but more importantly gives a slew of thick, cross-hatched hats a big sweaty workout - occasionally bringing in warped vocal and modded-out bass for additional inspo. ‘Glimmer’ is somewhat deceptively named, ‘cause it focuses on the squelch, although there’s a healthy modicum of high-altitude mist. Aggressively panned tintinnabulations and bold breakbeat detours. Very cool. ‘Straight from the Islands’ might be my favourite Senate track to date: it feels truly original to me. Violent syncopated kicks… melodic chord swells gliding over jacking degradations and a contemplative bass vamp, plus really special see-sawing, jacket-zipper percussion. All arranged in a way that feels both surprising and necessary. 

 

5. Yomi Ship - Subi’s Voyage 

I’ve yet to see instrumental rock band Yomi Ship live, which I want to remedy soon, but their one-take live-in-the-studio records are sick. This latest one to hit Youtube (with some fun found footage collaged by Imogen Lau) is a real beauty, striking up a satisfying balance between math-rock austerity and emotive, empathic melodics. A few years ago it seems there were more bands doing this kind of stuff, especially in Perth, but few were doing it as well - or with as much admirable restraint - as Yomi Ship. 

 

6. Demon Days - Lost In Translation

 

One of the most undeniably listenable singles to emerge from Perth in a while, I reckon - red-blooded bass and offbeat electric-piano semiquavers holding it down under Bella Nicholl’s velvet voice. There’s a bit of a braziliano lounge flavour under all the swagger, which isn’t my go-to sound, but it’s actually really refreshing to hear that infused convincingly into a local soul groove. In any case it’s just a hell of a good song, expertly arranged and delivered, clocking it at a humble 3:09, tempting you to flick on the repeat button. This Freo crew is young but already discernibly wheat among the global chaff - I wouldn’t be surprised if the next few years see them blow up big-time, like their (somewhat similar) East-coast elders Hiatus Kaiyote. 

KURT VILE (SOLO) @ CHEVRON FESTIVAL GARDENS, MONDAY FEB 27

Andrew Ryan

Elizabeth Quay looks like a cemetery during the day, but at night it's a pretty sight. Rows of carousel lights undulating alongside half-lit trees, shimmering water, glowing fencelines and temporary structures sprouting through the dark. In the middle is PIAF's "Chevron Festival Gardens" site - both a beacon of musical diversity, and a blunt reminder of the arts' dependence on oil multinationals and their ilk. 

In this ambivalent space we gather to hear and cheer Kurt Vile. Doc and I grab a pair of bleacher seats behind R__ and R___, letting gravity take our weight as we sip some beer in plastic tumblers. The stage is pretty flashy, maybe thirty feet tall. Dozens of moving light fixtures, massive drapes and a hefty PA. So it's pretty funny to watch the blithe, lanky, somewhat bumbling Vile emerge on stage, dwarfed by his surroundings yet looming large in everyone's field of attention.  

The house music dies off and the Philadelphia-based songman begins, lilting into action with the none-too-cheery 'Feel My Pain.' Like most of his tunes, its moribund mood is buoyed along by loveable melodies, artful bucolic fingerpicking and Vile's absorbing drawl. The set makes some early forays into not-quite-convincing loop pedal arrangements and unwieldy bluesy soloing, but soon gets back to basics with the great 'Pretty Pimpin' (a persistent lo-fi drum machine suffices as backing), 'Wild Imagination' and the pleasantly drifting 'Waking on a Pretty Day.' 

You'd think the awkwardness that heralded the set would have worn off by now, making way for the natural rhythm, flow and rapport of the intimate songwriter-and-audience routine. But not really. Vile seems nervous, underrehearsed, and subsequently a little sheepish - although this all gets filtered through his totally endearing presence, and contagious readiness to shrug off imperfections. 

So, resigning ourselves to the awkwardness, leaning in, we continue: a beautiful song on the banjo now (I can't find the name of it, but its main lyric is "much it is," and you can hear a somewhat muffled version on youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7G-fvXztxoA). We get a pair of melancholic songs about losing best friends ('Runner Ups,' and 'My Best Friends (Don't Even Pass This)') which give the impression of piercing through Vile's nonchalant veneer, into some of his most tender anxieties and trains of thought. There's the charming, poetic 'Blackberry Song.' There's an out-of-place, rather experimental track in which Vile intones over a cosmic loop, occasionally twanging a lone graceless guitar note, before ending in some truly absurd out-of-time riffing and power chord slop, bathed in digital stadium-rock fuzz, generally sounding like a strange (but giddily amusing) fever dream. In contrast, we get the gentle, smiling momentum of 'He's Alright'; it's a gorgeous track to end a Kurt Vile set, articulating a quiet positivity in spite of life's trials and discomforts: "The silhouette kid's swinging on a swing / scrapes his knee and bloodied brains / he shows his friends he's alive as he brags and he jives, hey / he's alright, he's alright, he's alright, he's alright. Yeeah."

Of course, as is the way with these things, the set's not really over: a stage hand swapping over guitars betrays the likelihood of an encore, and it does eventuate, bringing us Vile's collaboration with The Sadies - 'It's Easy (Like Walking)' - and his intricate, haunting 'Peeping Tomboy.' After the show, it's clear that our man's messy live aesthetic divided the crowd, with some taking it in their stride and others (understandably) expecting slicker delivery from a show that cost $80 upon second ticket release. 

If I'd paid through the nose, I might have felt a bit cheated too, but the critique a tricky one. Vile clearly knows he's somewhat out of place in this Chardy-scented amphitheatre, causing him to reminisce out loud about a performance at the Sydney Opera House: "It was a very unprofessional show." He's also at peace with taking the money and just playing whatever comes out, saying of PIAF that he doesn't normally perform solo but "they made me an offer I couldn't refuse." You can't entirely blame "Kurty" (as he's called within the crowd's jocular heckles) for being his typically rumpled self; it falls with the promoters to manage audience expectations, set appropriate ticket prices, and fly out the full band if it's felt they're truly required. 

For my part, I was pretty happy just to go along for the ride. A cool night under the stars; a talented but fallible soul, exposed in a slightly surreal setting, warts and all, but with charisma and creativity being the enduring impressions. 

Kurt Vile is a mystery. I don't exactly mean in the brooding enigmatic rock star sense, whereby he reads as the long-haired loner, a laconic weirdo-genius outsider on the road with his guitar and an obscure past. That image is there, perhaps self-styled, but he's also an artistic mystery - treading an unusual line between bone-bare earnestness and aesthetic self-effacement, canny crowd-pleasing songcraft and harebrained noodling that feels oblivious to the external world. Like many of our most beloved artists, Vile's appeal comes from the fact that his music is a vivid reflection - and a genuine extension - of himself. Polish away the flaws, and I suspect you'd lose much of the human charm. I mean, it wouldn't hurt to tighten up the loop pedal technique or tune the guitar a bit quicker. But when all's said and done… Kurty, we love you, keep doin' you. 

BOAT SHOW - GROUNDBREAKING MASTERPIECE (CS-LP, DRY GROUND RECORDS)

Andrew Ryan

BOAT SHOW are my new favourite Perth band, or favourite new Perth band - either way - the two things get entangled when you’re in the throes of enthusiasm for something unfamiliar and cool as heck. I saw them the other week at Mojo's, playing as part of "Shartfest #7," and got totally walloped by their nonchalant stage energy, power-saw riffs and unhinged sense of humour. It's no surprise, of course, that when you combine members of Dream Rimmy, Gunns, Moistoyster/Spaceman, Bells Rapids and more you're gonna get a pretty spesh brew. But still... while for the five-piece it was all in a day's work, for me it was a mini-revelation, a joyous half hour that's glued vivid to my memory.   

Singer Ali Flintoff describes Boat Show as "a garage band of four girls and a token boy,  with lyrics about the scum of the earth." This is as good a ten-word overview as any. They're a band that will appeal to fans of classic punk acts (especially feminist-leaning ones) like X-Ray Spex, Bikini Kill, X or The Germs - but likewise, you needn't be immersed in that kinda world to appreciate them. It's self-explanatory rock-n-roll fury delivered with a winning balance of melody and snarl, all super-direct, no pomp or fanfare. 

These qualities translate flawlessly from the live setting to their debut album, Groundbreaking Masterpiece (out on new local label Dry Ground) - a record which achieves the notable feat of capturing both the band's raw intensity, and the nuance and clarity these excellent songs deserve. 

'Serious' serves as a perfect induction, headbutting you with a snotty one-chord verse, three-chord chorus, and sick guitar solo that sounds like it’s been put through a blender. The more politically pointed 'Cis White Boy' drives on with a mid tempo motown chug, delivering an unrustled polemic against the arrogance that so often accompanies privileged viewpoints.

The frustrations of a social system that doles out arbitrary advantages to often oblivious and unhelpful parties becomes an ongoing fuel to the songwriting fire. In 'Staying Alive,' a central lyric caries a double valence, both as a parody of the ignorant, and genuine grievance of the exhausted and ignored: “I don’t wanna talk about basic human rights / with anything I say I’ll get fucking crucified. Can’t have an opinion, even if it’s right.” Songs like this speak to the origins of punk music, in which the wielders of power are called out on their bullshit, while those less often granted a platform scream their piece from the rooftops. Perhaps that's why this album feels so right and inevitable; it's capturing a contemporary moment, a contemporary frustration, via a timeless and aptly immediate form.

'Suss' barks a distinctly Oz-vernacular promise ("I'm gonna suss you out!") ahead of 'Running Away' - the latter slowing down to something more aligned with traditional Perth rock, sporting a bluesy motorik reminiscent of turn-of-the-millenium shoegazey jangle stuff.  It's a bit of a curveball in the context of this mile-a-minute record, but it works. 'I Can’t Win' cranks the pace back to an upbeat hurtle, its giddy momentum underpinning deceptively relatable lyrics (one gets the impression each song emerges from a fairly specific set of experiences). 'Stupid' is another melodic sprawler, more in the vein of singer Ali Flintoff’s other major project Dream Rimmy, but retains the straightforward drums-and-fuzz palette that allows this whole album to come at you as a single, spontaneous statement. 

It all careens to a halt with the totally daft but fun 'I Hate Work,' the not-quite-defeated 'Can’t Deal' and shade-throwing denoument stomper 'Transparent,' rounding out an album that never strays from its simple, crucial principles of loudness and unapologetic real talk.  

From the silly, self-deprecating title to the cunnilingus-focused cover illustration by Hannah Atcheson, Groundbreaking Masterpiece wants to be outrageous and irreverent. And it is. But it’s also smart, arresting and important. It's impassioned and wild enough to impress the most jaded punks, catchy enough to reel in the average punter, sociologically savvy yet good-humoured in a way that will win over skeptics of music with an "agenda." Not that it seems Boat Show care who they do or don't appease. They'll keep calling it like they see it, making banging tunes along the way, and it's up to you if you wanna pick up what they're putting down. I'd recommend you pick it up.  
 

AKI SWATI & ZIGGY @ CHEVRON FESTIVAL GARDENS, SATURDAY FEB 11

Andrew Ryan

I was all juiced up for Lady Leshurr and Ngaiire last night, a show at PIAF’s Chevron Festival Gardens which ultimately didn’t go ahead. It seems like the threat of rain in Perth is enough to bring all but the most tenacious events (see: Camp Doogs) to their knees. To be fair, I wouldn’t have been planning for Perth precipitation in February either. But still. We can put robots on Mars and not waterproof a venue? No doubt there is more to the story, a Faustian epic involving Puddles, Insurance and Grime to which I’ll never be privy.

In any case there’s a very shiny silver lining to the clouds. The next day, I notice that Mei (Mei Saraswati) and Tess (Tess Darcey, Akioka) are doing a collaborative set down in that very same bayside venue as AKI SWATI. What a combo! It’s not that these two haven’t teamed up before; they regularly appear on the same lineups, and together form Sibling Music - a project aimed at engaging and inspiring school kids through experimental and electronic music workshops. But I’ve never heard the like-minded sound sculptors perform as a duo, so this is an exciting thing.

I step out into the damp air, ride a bus down the Beaufort Street hill and wander through a gently vibrating CBD. 

Down where the river meets the land, there’s a gate leading into a corridor of bars, food stalls, tents, grass, occasional trees. And on a small stage opposite a particularly inviting knoll, there’s AKI SWATI. The set takes off with the Mei Saraswati ‘Swamp Gospel’ – an ode to the lost wetlands that now form much of Perth’s concrete laden CBD. While retaining the track’s memorable melodics and popping percussion, it’s reworked somewhat to accommodate the otherworldly, improvisational approach of Akioka - as well as the latter’s formidable vocals. The rest of the set follows a similar tack, launching from established songs, layering on harmonies and – between these more structured anchor points – exploring loose, painterly, often still very danceable interludes.

One gets the sense that this is a larval form of what AKI SWATI could be; a glimpse and the wild fireworks of creativity these two could produce if they put their heads together for an extended period. That being so, it’s nevertheless a wholly satisfying set - full of the integrity, light-hearted humility and adventurous musicality, we’ve come to expect from both of these local heroes.

During a short intermission I go check out KYNAN TAN and DEVON WARD’s unique sound installation, Co•–st•–l W•–ve Tr•–nsl•–tor. It’s emenating from two tall speakers, mounted on a floating raft in the quay. The stuttering, swooshing, fizzing and hissing sounds you hear are sonic translations of wave data gathered from buoys near Nauru, Manus and Christmas Islands. Natural phenomena, slowly becoming adulterated by climate change, encoded in a way to which our emotions are receptive - and standing in for the human distress signals we cannot, or will not, receive. It’s a great work.

Back up inside the Gardens, Ziggy Fatnowna (aka ZIGGY) is rearing to go. The local rapper is backed by a classic live combo: drums, bass, guitar and keys, all of which coalesce to create something impressively tight and tasteful yet thankfully, not too squeaky clean – tempering jazzy chops with a relaxed garage-band sensibility.

Anyway, the thing that grabs you first is Ziggy’s energy. He’s got charisma in spades, the presence of a consummate professional at a young age. The juggernaut of positive intensity bounces around the stage, never missing a beat across Kanye covers, freestyles over Kendrick grooves and his own instantly memorable originals.

His delivery is impeccable, his flow as rhythmically interesting as it is accessible. His rhymes – though occasionally predictible – are always convincing, and at their best they’re a grin-inducing treat. More important than any of these technical apsects though it’s Ziggy’s broader project: his songs are vessels for stories and experiences, historical truths and vivid polemics, from the voice of a young indigenous man. The tracks from the ‘Black Thoughts’ EP comprise a case in point, with title track rallying against indigenous youth incarceration. I wasn’t expecting to see a crowd both cheerfully boogying and chanting ‘Black Lives Matter’ in thespace of a few minutes today, but it’s happening. ‘Black Face,’ decries white Australia’s shrugging or defensive attitude towards a recent incident in which a child went in blackface (as Nic Naitanui) to school book week.

Overall, Ziggy’s set is a stunning balancing act – between political diatribe and party music, frustration and celebration. It’s deeply personal, often highly specific in its critiques, but draws everyone in, which is no mean feat. Ziggy’s undoubtedly one of the most exciting hip hop acts to emerge from Perth in a while.

Elizabeth Quay might feel like a bit of a fake cultural hub. A Colin Barnett trophy to show off to visiting politicans, diplomats, business moguls and tourists, a site that appeared out of nowhere and which represents little of Perth’s grassroots arts scene. But like plants grow through concrete, today’s shown me that our town’s most authentic and motivated creatives are prepared to make the most of any space. Even if – as is the case with Aki Swati, Kynan Tan, Devon Ward and Ziggy – their narrative threatens to rub the hegemonic space-makers up the wrong way. And that’s a far more exciting a takeaway as I could’ve hoped for on a meandering Saturday afternoon.

INCHING TOWARDS IDEALS: NOTES FROM AUROVILLE

Andrew Ryan

Silently, in single file, we walk towards the giant golden orb. To either side of us are neatly groomed lawns, trees and flower beds. Behind us are the stone benches where we were briefed; further back, the entrance gate to the Park of Unity, and the dirt road we took to get here. Up ahead, the looming, aureate disco-ball -  with its countless concave and convex dishes across its surface - glimmers against a vivid blue sky, while red-brick rooms protruding from its circumference funnel us into a subterranean amphitheatre.

Here, a gentle fountain flowing. The water runs down concentric circles of marble petals, arriving at a central glass sphere. We sit in a circle around the perimeter, still silent, and wait to enter the Matrimandir.

At last we’re led inside. The only words spoken inform us to put on a pair of fresh white socks. These are to be found folded neatly in a nearby tray. Socks on, we walk up ramps and through narrow corridors, bathed in a red glow that emenates from the domed surface of tesselating triangles around us.  Already this feels like an otherworldly space – a minimalistic, spheroid cathedral, barely ornamented, though occasionally punctuated by some hindi script, a neatly mounted candle, or a length of fountain. But this isn’t our main destination, not quite. That lies through a door up ahead.

***

Auroville is an experimental township on the South-Eastern coast of India. Its population comprises mostly Indian locals. It is not really an Indian place, though.

Auroville announces itself as a “universal town,” a place for people from all countries, of diverse beliefs and cultures, to co-exist and “realize human unity.”[i] It’s home to people from western Europe, the Middle East, Africa, China, USA, Australia and beyond. By law[ii] it belongs not to the Indian state but to the Auroville Foundation, and in turn, to “humanity in general.” In short - Auroville is intended as a kind of post-nationhood utopia, and was established as such in 1968 by a woman known as The Mother (born Mirra Alfassa in Paris, 1878) whose long-time spiritual and philosophical collaborator, Sri Aurobindo, gives the city its name.  

I first came to Auroville about a week ago, just planning to stick my head in and look around, over the course of a day. I did; I explored the gardens and neighbourhoods, watched the Visitor’s Video, viewed the Matrimandir (literally, “Mother’s Shrine”) from outside and chatted with some Auroville residents. The whole visit was fascinating… walking trails explaining The Mother’s flower-symbolism system; some of the most wonderful architecture I’ve seen, ever; a dense forest cultivated from once-barren plains. A heady collision of Indian and European visual vernacular, and of stern utopian functionality and new-age flamboyance. At the same time, for a supposedly radical and revolutionary society, it felt a lot more familiar and mundane than I’d have expected. In any case, it soon became clear that a day trip wasn’t going to be long enough to sink my teeth it.

***

 

The door is opened. We tread like cats into the white and circular Inner Chamber. This is the heart of the Matrimandir, set aside for Concentrations – sessions designed to focus the mind with a view to cultivating human unity, and oneness with Divinity. (These ideas emerge from The Mother and Sri Aurobindo’s teachings of “Integral Yoga,” but don’t belong to any spiritual doctrine per se – Auroville’s founding scriptures are intentionally vague, if abundant, and conceived as post-religious).

 

We seat ourselves on the floor, forming a ring around a crystal sphere in the middle of the room. It’s the largest optically-perfect glass globe in the world, I’m later told. My eyes don’t quite believe it but there’s a tight beam of light flowing in through an aperture in the ceiling and striking the globe, carrying on through its base and down towards the lower levels. But the most arresting thing is the quiet.

 

I’ve never heard quiet like this before. The shrine’s husk-like layers, the crisply carpeted floors, the clever acoustic design means there’s no discernable ambient sound at all. As we begin our concentration – closing our eyes, or gazing deep into the glass globe – you could literally hear a pin drop. The space is unforgiving if you do make a sound, too: those unfortunate enough to cough also have to hear sound reverberating at length throughout the geodesic structure. But provided you’re quiet, the stillness is overwhelming. I count my breaths and concentrate. After about fifteen minutes (but it feels like no time) the lights flash orange-red, twice. This means it’s time to go.

***

After my first brief visit, I knew had to return to Auroville and explore more. My second visit was also brief – just a few days - and to be fair, there is only so much one can grasp about any place in such a time, let alone an “experimental township.” But Auroville is small, and time moves slow here. So I unpack my bags in a small local villa-house (blue walls, geckos everywhere, garden bleeding into forest; papaya trees) and absorb as much as I can.

Certain things one reads about Auroville are revealed to be myths – or at least exagerrated – fairly quickly. The town assures you it’s not a tourist destination, but tour buses and autorickshaws roll in reliably each morning. This hardly seems discouraged: there are gift shops peddling Auroville-made wares, books, food and more to the tour-bus set. Auroville is also sometimes said to boast a cashless economy, instead operating on a principle of sharing, communal labour and (in some cases) earning credit on a site-specific “Auro Card.” Certainly all these practices exist, but Indian Rupees are also accepted at every Auroville shop or restaurant I visit. The cashless economy is at best a work in progress, at worst a delusion.

Cynically, one wonders how many of Auroville’s other aims are merely pipe dreams, or so foetal as to hardly warrant worldwide notoriety. There are clear initiatives for sharing – such as the ‘Pour Tous’ (‘For All’) food supply resource – but if these systems aren’t operating on a pure communist principle, how distinct are they from other hippy enclaves within neoliberal democracies? I also can’t help but notice that the ritzier corners of the township (where every house looks like a Frank Lloyd Wright), the population consists of mostly European expats, while the Indian village of Kottakarai, within Auroville’s boundary’s, doesn’t appear to benefit too much from its wealth. In fact, the distinction between what is and isn’t Auroville is rather hard to make – it’s not as simple as drawing a line around the edges. Auroville seems more to be a constellation of farms, buisinesses, institutes and neighbourhoods (with names like Sincerity, Aspiration, Miracle and Adventure) bound more by philosophy and routine than by geography; places within Auroville can be not Auroville, while places futher away (even overseas) can seemingly belong to the Auroville community. Auroville is more an idea than a physical site, though it clusters around the iconic and beautiful Matrimandir, and a majestic banyan tree adjacent (which constitutes the official epicentre of the city). 

 

Skepticism and bemusement aside, I try to soak up as much of Auroville as possible, taking stock of its myriad projects. There are countless sports and arts groups, a radio station, museums and spiritual programs. There are numerous schools, academic projects and research labs. For a population of just 2,500, the breadth of activity is astounding. Perhaps most impressive is the township’s foray into environmentally conscious infrastructure: solar arrays and food cookers, wind farms, electric vehicles, organic agriculture, water vortices and jaw-dropping reforestation efforts.

It’s important to note that these efforts are not necessarily parochial or separatist, and Auroville definitely doesn’t feel like a “preppers’” community. Outreach programs allow Aurovillians to share their genuinely innovative eco-techniques with other parts of India, and some of the wind power they harvest even gets put to use in other cities.

The big question, really, is whether Auroville’s central goal is on track: the quest for human unity, that is to say harmony, co-operation and tolerance. I can’t possibly say from my short stay. Certainly everyone I meet is lovely to me: offering free scooter/truck rides to wherever I’m humidly trudging, imparting small gifts or gestures of kindness. But India on the whole has extended similar benevolence in the month I’ve been here, so who knows how much is the influence of the Auroville lifestyle. If nothing else, it’s a phenomenal aesthetic project – the retrofuturistic architecture, actually being used for its intended purpose; the endearingly quixotic neighbourhood names, the gardens, the careful layout of the whole place, designed to resemble a kind of galactic spiral. The Mother was an artist, and Sri Aurobindo was a poet; together, they dreamed up Auroville and in time, it became a reality. Well, it’s still becoming one, slowly but resolutely. In a way, it’s a collaborative work of art, art on the largest scale I’ve ever seen. A town where art and life are so intertwined as to be indistinguishable – and unapologetic in its bright eyed, defiant sense of hope.

***


Auroville was a gas, and in the week that follows I do wonder if I might like to live there properly for a while, sometime. Returning to Perth at first the streets feel cold, corporate, ghostly. The uncanny feeling one often gets upon arriving back in Australia. But then Saturday night comes around and I’m watching New York’s DAI BURGER at The Bird and she’s rapping up a technicolour storm while we dance around like slinkies. And then I’m at the Budgie Smuggler and DJ WILLY SLADE rips his clothes off to reveal a red dress underneath is suddenly doing ‘Wuthering Heights’ karaoke atop the decks. And then it’s Sunday and I’m listening to friends and strangers play beautiful songs at Mojo’s, and the same again on Tuesday, for Shartfest, whereupon I see BOAT SHOW for the first time and discover they're the best band in the world, but with a brash irreverence that perhaps would not wash or be appreciated in slow-and-steady Auroville. And I’m reminded that “human unity” doesn’t need such a lofty designation, nor does it need to wear white robes, or even reflect upon itself a great deal. What's that meditation book? Wherever you go, there you are?

_________________

[i] Soliman, Lotfallah: Auroville, the Fulfillment of a Dream. https://www.questia.com/magazine/1G1-13796203/auroville-the-fulfillment-of-a-dream

[ii] Auroville Foundation Act, 1988. http://www.teindia.nic.in/mhrd/50yrsedu/x/7H/9D/Toc.htm

DIANAS, BODY TYPE & BELLS RAPIDS @ THE BIRD, MONDAY DEC 26

Andrew Ryan

The weekend was a blur of sultanas, wine, cricket, beer, dogs, champagne, cousins, naps, Netflix, journeys to the northern suburbs and hell good zucchini salad. These things mostly fell under the banner of “Christmas,” and I think at this point I’ve shed both my childlike wonder and Scroogelike cynicism around the festival, instead coming to appreciate it for what it is: a cool (usually hot) time to embrace awkward family conversation and the trepidatious exchange of largely inappropriate gifts. For most, it’s a rupturing of standard routines, and a moment to spend alongside those with whom we don’t necessarily have much in common – which is healthy, I think.

But it’s also healthy to spend time with people who are on your wavelength, and that’s what The Bird usually feels like, a gathering spot for like-minded crew who love original music and art and low-key partying and kindness. The passing through Boxing Day hangovers (metaphoric or literal) into The Bird’s unrelated Dec 26 concert feels like a transition between worlds.

Admittedly it’s a slightly stilted, bustling transition. There’s a line snaking out the door and into the surprisingly cool summer air. The Bird is packed to the ceiling, the queue for the bar is more like a swarm. I work through it and get near the stage to watch BELLS RAPIDS.

I’m stoked to finally see this band. They’ve been playing for at least a few months now and I keep managing to miss them. The sound is as tight and resolved as you’d expect from the likes of Tanaya Harper, Stella Donnelly, Talya Valenti and Sara Jane McPherson – all musical goal-kickers elsewhere and in their own right. What I didn’t necessarily expect was the variety and dynamic range that would characterize the set – having only heard the track ‘GF’ online, I guess I imagined half an hour of similarly rollicking, garage rocky stuff. As it turned out, Bells Rapids serve up everything from hushed harmonies over minimal arrangements, to big weighty riffs and dense grooves. For a band so new to have this kind of vision is pretty exciting: I think 2017 will be a big one for the BR crew.

The drinks pour and splash, expats and Perth-lifers mingle, BODY TYPE set up before an eager crowd. The band, comprising mostly former Perth-dwellers, is here in a weird mix of homecoming and first contact (it’s their debut Perth show). Despite an initially unfortunate mix (where’s the bass? I can’t hear the guitars but… I can only hear guitars?) they disappoint no-one, tearing through a concise set of equally fun and thoughtful rock songs. Redfern sharehouse anthem ‘264’ provides a dousing of mid-century pop melodics filtered through 2016 Sydney sunshine; sneakily heartbreaking lo-fi hit ‘Ludlow’ receives a rapturous response, and a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams,’ featuring the Dianas on bonus vocals and percussion, forms a fittingly joyous closer. There’s plenty of mileage to be had in Body Type’s sound – an energising but often melancholic mix of sweet tunefulness, gritty guitar, chugging drums and post-punky bass that floats dreamily above the instrument’s usual emphatic, foundational home-zone. I already cannae wait to hear more.

Finally completing the bill’s trifecta is Perth-forged, cross-country based power-duo/trio DIANAS. And while each set so far has sounded accomplished, there’s no denying the performative impact that comes with Dianas’ years of refining and experience. Bass/guitar/vocal front line Caitlin and Nat clearly know each other’s musical tactics inside out, and manage to move as a single, unstoppable force while maintaining their distinct personalities. Riffs weave, duck, dive and throttle while their voices shoot through like darts of oxygen.

All the while, the more recent addition of Anetta Nevin on drums gives everything a surge of electric intensity: nobody quite drums like Anetta, who smacks the skins with an implausibly controlled chaos. Sticks descending from on high, casually reeling off fierce fills in weird time signatures. The whole thing would feel like a Prog Epic if it wasn’t so breezy and unpretentious.

We disperse but with a kind of togetherness in our pockets. The interlacing of friends and musical energies at this time of year, surely as meaningful as any other kind of (re)union – tonight, the perfect sonic digestif after too many carols, the perfect circulation of goodwill to tide us over til the new year. 

LYNDON'S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2016

Andrew Ryan

G’day,

It’s 2016 - almost 2017 - and it's that time of year. End-of-year Top 10 List time. How old hat, I hear you squeal. Well ya know what’s more old hat than an end-of-year Top 10 list? Whingeing about end-of-year Top 10 lists and how it’s soooo hard to make a Top 10 list and how lists are not valid because you can’t rank music yadda yadda yadda.

It’s not that hard! Look, I’ll do one right now.

(Granted, I still haven't even listened to the Tribe album, or the Chance album, or the Frank Ocean album, or a billion other albums. But for what it's worth, here's a bunch that both sucked me in and kept me coming back).

10. Terry - HQ

Even though I knew I would love this album, I held off on listening to it until the tail end of the year. I guess maybe subconsciously I wanted to give myself something to look forward to?

Terry’s HQ brings together the most fun elements of two of Al Montford’s other bands - Total Control and Dick Diver - whether that be witty shambolic pop, wonky new wave or blistering punk. Terry also features Total Control’s Zephyr Pavey, Mick Harvey collaborator Xanthe Waite, and Amy Hill. This album is so much fun it’s easy to forget the searing social commentary that comes with it; you get lines like “what’s a war without the poor?” (Moscow on Thames) and “he won’t say sorry ‘cause They don’t say sorry, why would you say sorry for that?” (Don’t Say Sorry). The album’s concise, funny, charmingly nonchalant but also totally earnest - all up, pretty much perfect. 

9. Lucy Roleff - This Paradise

I’ve already written a lengthy review of this record over here. But suffice to say, I’m still drawn to it even at the year’s end - an understated but truly wonderful, inexhaustible release. 

8. Noname - Telefone

There’s no Youtube video I’ve watched more this year than the one that contains Noname’s album Telefone. I mean, it’s not really a video, it’s just a stream of the album with the nicely painted, lavender-hued cover art in the background. But that’s all I want. 

As with Anderson .Paak and Solange (below - spoilers!), Noname’s 2016 album leant into the smoother tendencies of contemporary hip-hop and R&B - but lost none of its oomph or gravitas in the process. From the warbling ‘Diddy Bop’ to the jazzy languor of ‘All I Need’ or the choppy doo-wop of ‘Sunny Duet,’ Noname sings and rapid-fire raps us through countless neighbourhood scenes, memories and exchanges, navigating sadness, pain and wistful optimism. Just a really, really good album that stands out in a bumper year for female MC output (see also: Kate Tempest, Princess Nokia, Nadia Rose, Little Simz, Kamaiyah).   

7. PJ Harvey - The Hope Six Demolition Project

Like several other records on this list, Polly Jean Harvey’s ninth studio album married thematic bleakness with instantly lovable songcraft: big guitar riffs, rattling drums, crisp clean vocal melodies and a healthy splash of horns, percussion and other flourishes. There’s plenty of careening voodoo-blues, svelte garage rock and tasteful sound collage. A spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down has been a favoured 2016 tactic, often yielding great results; in any case it seems many of us were already feeling too raw to embrace stuff that sounded truly ugly. PJ granted us an unabating treat for the ears. 

This album’s title references the razing of public housing to establish new, shinier communities, making gentrification its intriguing (if not very rock and roll) departure point. Elsewhere, the album is influenced by trips to Afghanistan, Kosovo and Washington DC - war, inequality and apathy being recurring ideas. It’s a record whose politics are ambiguous at best (it’s not clear what agenda PJ is pushing or resisting overall), and questionable at worst (“The Community of Hope” attracted scorn for describing homeless drug addicts as “zombies,” albeit with tongue arguably in cheek). But these same can be said of some of modern music’s most acclaimed records; here, I’m reminded of Radiohead’s Ok Computer. In both albums, lyrics comprise fragments of the confusing global discourse in which the song’s author moves and survives. Sometimes these are just “found objects”: echoes of disembodied jargon or unfinished thoughts. It’s not a manifesto, but it’s very real and familiar. It’s okay not to have the answers. Especially when your songs sound this good. 

6. Anderson .Paak - Malibu

Malibu might not quite be a masterpiece, but it’s about as masterly as you can get while retaining the quirks and flaws that frequently make the album format so interesting. 

Lovingly hewn by the drumming/rapping/singing Brandon Anderson himself, plus a team of impressive collaborators including Madlib, Schoolboy Q and Hi-Tek, this album enveloped you like a lush fantasy world you could wander around in all day. Heavily laden with earthly funk, cosmic psychedelia and carnal soul, it boasts a consistent audiophilic attention-to-detail: every single sound is rendered perfectly. 

Do you like smokey dance floor smoothness with handclaps, cowbell and a punchy half-time rap verse? Of course you do, and to scratch that itch you’ve got ‘Am I Wrong.’ Glistening bluesy slow jams? See: ‘The Bird.’ Propulsive wonky funk a la Flying Lotus x Thundercat? ‘Lite Weight’ will meet your needs.

Malibu didn’t necessarily connect with me on an emotional level as much as other records on this list. But as a polychrome jigsaw of performances, moods and sounds, it’s a joy to behold. 

5. Kate Tempest - Let Them Eat Chaos

Kate Tempest is the outrageous high achiever who still manages to exude the charisma, grit and steely determination of an underdog. She’s an acclaimed novelist and playwright, award-winning poet and prodigious rapper: it’s the latter that interests us here, though Let Them Eat Chaos nonchalantly dissolves the boundaries between novelistic prose, performance poetry and hip-hop. 

Thanks go out to CPN big banana Andrew for introducing me to Kate Tempest via his radio show. It only took one listen and I was hooked, and I’d venture you’ll feel the same if you lend your ears to huge tunes like ‘Ketamine For Breakfast,’ ‘Europe is Lost’ and ‘Don’t Fall In,’ which just as readily recall Yeats or TS Eliot as Jehst or the Wu-Tang Clan. The album’s mostly dark, polemical and dense - perhaps not one for daily listening. But its squelchy, shuddering, timeless beats and expertly delivered, vivid portraits of contemporary youth and working-class life make it totally indispensable. 

4. The Avalances - Wildflower

I’m not sure that there’s too much to say about The Avalanche’s fiendishly-anticipated return, except that I frothed on it. It’s as colourful and ornate as the title suggests, but that doesn’t even go part way to suggesting its rambunctious eccentricity.

The group re-emerged out of the blocks with a suitably bizarre offering: the still-puzzling ‘Frankie Sinatra,’ which set two freaky rap megastars (Danny Brown and MF Doom) against an arbitrary calypso sample and some kind of oompah-electro-swing beat, interrupted by ‘My Favourite Things’ from The Sound of Music of all things. Other gambits were more trendy and frictionless, like the Toro Y Moi-featuring ‘If I Was A Folkstar’; ‘Subways’ recalled the classic Avalanches plunderphonics boogie approach, and ‘Colours’ plumbed the popular aesthetic of modulated, retro, vaguely hushed lo-fi pop. But as soon as you thought you could follow a stylistic direction, the Avalanches flipped it on its head. There are literally hundreds of samples and therefore hundreds of tiny sound-worlds here - it’s a phantasmagorical trip of the most delightful variety. One of my favourite things about music (though this also applies to other media) is how it can only reveal itself in piecemeal, over time, and thus to listen is an experiential passage, an exponentially meaningful sequence of signs, not just an immanent perception. When you’re listening to a team of outrageous humans pack 16 years’ worth of creative energy into that listening sequence, you’re in for quite an adventure.   

3. Ermine Coat - Faulty Landscape

This one nearly snuck past me ‘cause in my head it was released last year. But no, March 2016! Incredible record (only Perth album on this list as it turns out). Once again, I’ve written about this one at length already, over here, but have since confirmed that Ermine Coat does not endorse Robin Thicke in any way.

2. Solange - A Seat at the Table

Despite immense achievements throughout the last decade or two, Solange Knowles’ work has long hinted at an unrealised potential. Her artistic ambition and individuality, evident in the musical and conceptual streaks of albums Solo Star, Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams and EP True, always felt somehow hindered.

Solo Star functioned (functionally) within the confines of the era’s pop R&B stylings; Sol-Angel repurposed motown and soul tropes. True did the same with ‘80s new wave and, don’t get me wrong, I listened to that EP a silly amount of times but it only had one truly great song (the brilliant ‘Losing You.’) 

So it was thrilling to finally hear Solange totally flex, and unleash an intricately artful, unapologetically political record. One which not only crystallised her various approaches to date, but improved upon every thread therein. It’s a unique listen, punctuated by spoken word interpolations reflecting on black rights and pride; it features contributions from members of Dirty Projectors, Vampire Weekend, Outkast and beyond. Its tunes are alternately bold and melodic, or gestural, skeletal, wispy. Across twenty compelling tracks, there are plenty of standouts - the sanguine gospel-funk of ‘Junie,’ the simmering soul of ‘Weary,’ and the muscular, defiant jazz-hop of ‘F.U.B.U.’ But nothing quite transcends the genius of lead single, ‘Cranes in the Sky,’ in which Solange stunningly croons a relatable confessional about escapism over a sparing palette of syncopated drums, slinky bass, inventive piano and elastic, undulating string quartet. I’m listening to it right now and, even on the hundredth listen, it gives me goosebumps. Those high vocal notes at the end! The hiss of that cymbal at the start of each bar! It’s probably my song of the year, the crowning achievement in a thoroughly resolved album that invites you to explore its details over and over again.

1. Anohni - Hopelessness

If the word of the year wasn’t “post-truth” or “democracy sausage” it could very well be “hopelessness.” Few terms so concisely encapsulate 2016, in which the dreaded unthinkable has just kept happening: the success of Trump, the ruin of Syria, Brexit, the point of no return for cataclysmic climate change. Closer to home: the return of Pauline Hanson, Cory Bernardi wears a MAGA red-cap, Don Dale Detention Centre torture, the effective demise of the Great Barrier Reef, etc etc. In times of chaos and despair we readily turn to the arts; this year, many cultural icons were snatched by death - often too soon - which felt like especially cruel salt in the wound.

Anohni knows all this, is perhaps more attuned to the world’s myriad ills than most, yet she perseveres. Not unlike The Knife’s Shaking The Habitual in 2013, Hopelessness seems to ask - what does it mean to persevere in the face of planetary death? What does it mean to make art while staring down the four horsemen?

In response, compellingly enough, Anohni chose neither an elegiac nor cathartically aggressive musical direction. She recruited inventive party-starter Ross Matthew Birchard (Hudson Mohawke) and postmodern electronic eccentric Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) as production collaborators. And she wrote conventionally brilliant pop songs that spring into vivid hyperreality through their vanguard electronic flourishes. It’s easy to imagine the album sounding like a forced mashup of each artist’s distinctive style, but it doesn’t: it’s a magically cohesive thing, each approach seamlessly enfolded into the other. 

Unlike PJ Harvey’s record, during which you can almost ignore the political motifs and simply enjoy the ride, Hopelessness hits hard, and often. The first song, and its first line, are ‘Drone Bomb Me’ - and things don’t get much brighter from there on in.

‘4 Degrees’ follows a similar logic of twisted, imagined violent desire: “I want to hear the dogs crying for water, I want to see the fish go belly up in the sea / and all those lemurs and all those tiny creatures, I want to see them burn / It’s only 4 degrees!” No song I’ve heard has launched such a savage attack on those who dismiss the perils of global warming, and certainly no such song has produced the uncanny awkwardness of being this damn enjoyable. 

‘Watch Me’ creepily personifies the surveillance state as a paternal figure: “Daddy, daddy, watch me in a hotel room / Watch my outline as I move from city to city / Watch me watching pornography / watch me talking to my friends and family.” Anohni invokes the supposed justifications for such invasions: to protect the surveilled from evil, “terrorism,” and “child molesters.” Yet it invites a reading of this popular narrative as artificial, and forces you to confront what the tenuous promise of safety is worth. 

The album continues in this vein: somehow forging songs that are simultaneously simple and complex, blunt yet poetic, devastating yet really fun to listen to. It’s not that the pop-song format refashions the apocalyptic vision as a kind of escapist horror movie. Rather, it creates a counterpoint, a kind of bittersweet joy on which to balance your distress. All the while, too, you’re marvelling at the creative prowess that’s gone into the record, which helps ease the discomfort entailed. But lines like “the rotten bodies threaded gold / the pitch of hair and sticky meat” or “now you’re cutting heads off innocent people on TV” were never exactly going to go down smooth. 

But what does Anohni tell us with Hopelessness that we didn’t already know? As eloquent as these songs are, most of them aren’t imparting fresh information; they’re refracting tragedies we’re all too aware of. There’s certainly something to be said for humanising stories that we usually receive as cold news reportage, but there’s more to it than that. It seems the message is that we can’t let culture become merely a place of fantasy and escape. If we feel hopeless, we should confront that, work through it, and mobilise art - in all its potency - to help us figure out what to do next. The label adorning the Hopelessness LP reads “Don’t Shy Away!” Because however blissful it might feel right now, ignorance is where hopelessness truly comes to roost. 

10 Honourable Mentions:

Beyoncé - Lemonade
No Zu - Afterlife
Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
Tourist Kid - A Circulation EP (could easily be in the top 10 but it’s not an “album” but then again who cares?)
Julia Jacklin - Don’t Let The Kids Win
David Bowie - Backstar
Tangents - Stateless
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani - Sunergy
Benjamin Witt - Future Reset
Wilson Tanner - 69

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TURA PRESENTS KEITH TIPPETT & “MUJICIAN MOSAIC” @ STATE THEATRE CENTRE, WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 7

Andrew Ryan

Until recently, I’d never heard of Keith Tippett, despite his being rather famous and – like the paella chef who’s yet to discover paprika – I had no idea that he was exactly what I needed. Especially this evening, on Wednesday the Seventh of December.

Of course, it’s not all about one man. Tonight is about the commingling of musical minds, the powerful connections forged through both chance and contrivance.

But who is our nominal man of the hour? The potted history states that KT was born in Bristol in 1947; studied piano, organ and choir; started a band at age 14 and moved to London in 1967 to further his musical adventures. Not much later he’d put together a sextet and a 50-piece big band called Centipede (who recorded a double album called Septober Energy) and had three studio excursions playing piano with King Crimson.

Between then and now he’s been suitably busy, recording dozens upon dozens of albums, playing literally countless concerts, completing innumerable commissions. Now in his sixties, he's in Perth for the first time. But none of that indicates exactly what I should expect as I walk into the well-manicured foyer, its ceiling festooned with dangling gold, and U-turn down the staircase into the Studio Underground.

The room is bustling. I search out a spare seat. The lights descend.

The WA Youth Jazz Orchestra is here in their concert blacks. Keith is here with his neo-Victorian waistcoast and sideburns. The first piece billows into the air.

The tune - an excerpt from late ‘90s composition ‘First Weaving’ - is a bundle of controlled but frantic energy.  Walking bass, giddy descending horns, strident pinball rhythms. It could almost pass as a mainstream type of big-band number but its formalistic qualities gradually reveal themselves as a kind of trojan horse for weirdness, leaving instead a raw energy, communal handclaps, and the unfettered shrieking of saxophones splattering paint in a blurry major-key corridor.

The second piece, which follows on seamlessly, takes us on a sharp left turn. With the opener implicitly promising a dense, rhythmic jazz journey, we’re suddenly thrown into a pool of quiet ambience: specifically, a selection of players running their fingers around wine-glass rims. Just one note at first, water distributed evenly, a pure synth-like tone ringing out through the underground chamber. Then more players join, with their own wine glasses, and new pitches enter the sonic field. It’s a mystifying, uncommon texture - almost alien in its thick, hovering simplicity. This is gradually pitted against phasing rhythms and hushed group vocal chants to create a tight but irregular interplay, reminiscent of Steve Reich or John Adams.

Soon we hear from a curated ensemble of musicians (or “mujicians”) who’ve been involved in Tura’s iMprov program, honing their improvisational skills both in sessions with Tippett and over the course of recent months and years. The large-scale gathering incorporates diverse players and instrumentation, including harp, piano, harmonica, saxophone, violin and heaps more. Pitter patter coalescing and swelling to something singular, sensitive, never to be repeated. What marks the performance as truly exceptional is the group’s ability to suddenly and smoothly transition into snippets of prepared material, giving a sense of shape and intentionality to the soundscape. Large ensemble free improv can often feel amorphous and meandering, so this is the perfect strategy - it also creates a sense of genuine magic,  as the transitions emerge inexplicably, white doves from handkerchiefs. Lana Rothnie’s vocal solo and Catherine Ashley’s harp are standouts here. 

There’s a short interval where we re-stock on wine and conversation, before returning for the titular Mujician Mosaic ensemble. 

Here, we get ‘Thoughts To Geoff,’ from Tippett’s classic ’71 album Dedicated to You But You Weren’t Listening - a potpourri of wiggly motifsthat convene into a beboppy toboggan slide. There’s the more obscure ‘Dedicated to Mingus,’ followed by the serpentine swing of ‘Sketch for Gary / Billy Goes to Town.’ Enigmatic piece ‘A May Day’ is tailed by the sparse, pastoral ‘A Song’ and the whole thing closes on the lavishly beautiful 6/4 burner ‘Cider Dance,’ its lush brass harmonies cascading over the performance’s final minutes.  Standing ovation. The mujician mosaic features too many wonderful performances to mention, but I was blown away by the solo double bass escapades of Djuna Lee: truly remarkable playing under pressure, nimble up and down the next, a satisfying jigsaw of wood-click and hefty low end resonance. 

Apart from a closing speech and a screen-projected interview, Tippett himself rarely dominates one’s attention. During pieces, he’s happily on the sidelines, contributing piano or a little music box, and otherwise delivering some sparse, expressive conducting. His is an approach that emphasises both extremes of a composer’s role: that is, either to present a fully-formed and intricately described vision to be realised, or else to set some vague parameters in which performers may improvise, experiment or explore. The relentless juxtaposition of these two approaches is perhaps the concert’s most striking feature, an instantly memorable and thrilling point of difference.

It’s a concert that makes me genuinely excited, not only for the composition of Keith Tippett but also for the musical present and future of Perth. Turn cleverly brought together a diverse and ever-shifting cast of performers here (thanks must go to Tristan Parr for co-ordinating), highlighting a range of wild talents from various “scenes.” To hear them intermingle and follow a considered, adventurous path set by a master bandleader is a treat. I wander home and wax lyrical to anyone who’ll listen. Tonight wasn’t just a great jazz concert or an accomplished recital of modern compositions. It was musical creativity and artistic interaction at its most vivid and inspiring.  

 

 

 

 

 

LUCY PEACH - SILVER TONGUE (EP)

Andrew Ryan

“Lucy Peach” is a name I’ve heard around Perth for years, only more recently delving properly into the music attached to it (I’m always late to the party). Lucy Farley’s stage name itself is kind of deceptively quaint, evoking the pastel fuzziness of that altogether agreeable stone fruit. The music that accompanies certainly isn’t abrasive - in fact, it’s very smooth on the ears - but it’s not music that pretends life is always peachy, either, as one discovers on the new EP Silver Tongue.  

Take lead single 'Bomb' - a strident, instantly memorable song in which Peach bellows defiantly in the face of an unspecified dread. The central metaphor is stressful: “and It hit me, and it hit me / like a bomb going off in my chest / And now I’m scared to breathe in case I burst whatever’s left,” which to me reads like a great summary of a panic attack but could probably refer to a great number of things. The lyrics throughout are open-ended enough to invite one’s own projections, although there are some enjoyable daydreams of poetic specificity: “i'll be riding down the mountain with wild flowers in my hair / baby beside me and new coins in my pocket / and six white horses to take me anywhere.” All of this sits atop a soulful arrangement of woody bass, 70s-pop piano, tidy snare paradiddle and lush handclaps. It’s a beautiful orchestration, each sound neatly occupying its own space, excelling at its clearly defined role.  We bounce around triplets, synchronised offbeats and gliding guitar as Peach’s voice flies around on the jet stream, “looking for a safe place to land.”

'Silver Tongue' (the track itself) draws on a similar palette and arrangement approach - which, depending on who you ask, is either a savvy strategy to court cohesion or an over-reliance on tropes that have already played out comfortably. Granted, the latter concern would never come to mind if the tracks weren’t back-to-back; ideas get sardined in the EP format. Anyway, all the sounds are round and crisp like the perfect apple: gloriously recorded and mixed. Lyrically, Peach her tackles the frustrations of songwriting, but with a self-assured centrepiece: “I’ve got a silver tongue in my mouth and I’m not afraid to use it.” She proclaims her aptitude matter-of-factly, a bit like Leonard Cohen’s profession that he had no choice; he was “born with the gift of a golden voice” in ’Tower of Song.’ And like ‘Tower of Song,’ the track spins a kind of mythic narrative around the songwriting process, but altogether obliquely, never mentioning the creation explicitly.  The best part to my ears is the bridge: arpeggiating, staccato guitar and crumbly kit building in a gentle crescendo towards the song’s earwormy riff, and a healthy plateau.

I’m kind of allergic to ukeleles these days, which is testament to the charm of 'Be So Good,' insofar as wins me over. The verse uke swiftly swells into something very atmospheric and poignant, a sort of orchestral folk melancholy - and the key centre modulates intriguingly in the chorus, lending the song a sense of singularity. Overall it’s minimal, faintly brittle, recalling Angel Olsen at moments. There’s nothing fruity or unusual about the lyrics here, in fact they seem wilfully straightforward, which has its own appeal. “I’m gonna be so good to you. Will you be so good to me?” 

Peach saves the best til last, in my opinion: ‘Girl, The World’ brings together all of the EP’s strong points and combines them into something buoyant and understated. The verses boast the record’s most gleefully “purple” lyrics, while the chorus is good old fashioned motivational pop - “wake up, go and get what you wanted / girl, the world is spinning around and you’re on it.” Lines like this could come of as cheesy and patronising over the wrong backdrop, but the subdued exultation here really works, like a quiet but heartfelt implication from one friend to another. The chamber pop arrangement would befit a Jens Lekman or Grizzly Bear track - slip sliding string section and dispersed percussion, nimble guitars, bass thump. The synchronised violin-sail and guitar-plink in the chorus is a treat to behold.

Lucy Peach has crafted something extremely resolved with Silver Tongue - consolidating a unified sound that while not unprecedented (it reminds me a bit of that last Sarah Blasko album, Eternal Return) is nevertheless distinctive, and provides a deeply satisfying listening experience. It’s superbly produced and the songs are brilliantly crafted. I’m hoping that with future efforts we’ll hear more experimentation, spurred on by the confidence that comes with having created something so solid; that’s when it’s ripe to be deconstructed and played with. And I hope we’ll hear lyrics that tap into more real-life detail or poetic curveballs, thereby moving beyond see-sawing from endearing generality to tried-and-true evocative imagery. But whatever Lucy Peach does next, I’ve little doubt it will be sonically vivid, lovingly hewn and brimming with assertive melodies. That’s the broad trajectory she’s on. And it’s a winner. 

FOUR GIGS AROUND PERTH, NOVEMBER 26-29

Andrew Ryan

1. “WANJOO BIRAK” FESTIVAL @ ABMUSIC COLLEGE, WATERFORD, SATURDAY

M____ asks on Facebook if anyone wants to come to Abmusic’s “Wanjoo Birak” festival. I say I do, and after a quick dash to the Spud Shed I return home and his car rolls up as I read Tristan's "VHS Tracking" zine of exciting movie recommendations.

“Wanjoo” means “welcome” in the Noongar language and Birak is the “first summer”… the “season of the young,” with warmer weather, afternoon sea breezes, fledgling birds. This particular “Wanjoo Birak” also happens to mark Abmusic’s 30th Birthday (happy birthday Abmusic). 

We make a detour to a costume shop closing-down sale, poring over WAFL jerseys, giant mosquito costumes and outlandish hats, so we’re a little late. When we arrive the warmth of Birak is in full effect, beating down brightness on the quadrangle. 

On the mural-decked stage we hear from DAN RICHES, spinning yarns and acoustic guitar tales. There’s the legendary PHIL WALLEY-STACK, singing across genres in both English and Noongar, joined by a tasteful shredder on lead guitar. BABY KOOL delivers a brief but incredible rap set as we fetch plates of kangaroo stew with damper and rice; DOREEN PENSIO brings a magical voice and top-end musical flavours; first-time performer BETHANY ROSE changes it up with a bundle of soulful renditions, including an adapted Tupac tune. Possibly the highlight for me is a trio called THE PICTURE GARDENS who bring a slew of melodic rock songs, plenty of grit and post-punky looseness but each track with a heartfelt, earnest core, not least ‘Hurt, Live, Heal’ which was featured on this year’s Kiss My WAMI compilation. Finally, HOT LIKWID tie it in a bow with a mix of pop and hard rock covers, alternately showcasing band member’s vocal and instrumental talents (so many nonchalant shredders today).

These performances are interspersed with speeches and reflections from Abmusic staff and alumni. It’s pretty fascinating and inspiring stuff, how a Perth musical training college specifically for First Nations people has survived for 30 years and counting despite plenty of unhelpful governments and funding crises. Alongside, a photo exhibition allowing you to visually trace this history, from sepia-tone Led Zep singlets to Y2K beats and beyond. Australia spends a fair bit of time documenting and discussing pre-colonial Indigenous history, with good reason - but all too often these remarkable modern narratives, these infinite contemporary tangents of Indigenous creativity, go unsung. 

2. ZIMBABWEAN CULTURAL NIGHT @ LITTLE OLIVE LEAF CAFÉ, WILLAGEE, SATURDAY NIGHT

Doc messages me about it, and, having no plans, I jump aboard. Our neighbour and good friend works at The Little Olive Leaf Café, which hosts occasional “cultural nights” exploring different cuisines, musics and experiences. The Little Olive Leaf Café is next to a hairdresser with a fluffy white dog in the window, a “moral uplifting society” and a senior citizens’ centre with a psychedelic mural nestled among its bright blue walls. Over the road is a nature park with maybe the best playground I’ve ever seen (it includes a hammock), and a terrazzo table with embedded chess board and flower decal.

Inside the café, I encounter a bevy of plants and trinkets, wooden shelves and enamel lamps, and a woman who I’ve never met but who’s as casual and friendly as if we were old mates. She even asks if I want to go collect soda water from the IGA up the road, in exchange for a discounted ticket, which I do.

Doc and S arrive just after sunset. We sip Zimbabwean cordial - “Mazoe” - and recline out the back, under the shade of a sprawling age-old grape vine. The musical guests tonight are Zim’s own GARIKAYI AND TINASHE TIRIKOTI, a father-son mbira (thumb piano) duo who both hand-craft and masterfully play their instruments. They’re joined by Fremantle’s SHANGARA JIVE, an “afro roots” band who turn the haunting mbira tesselations into a simmering dance party.

I absorb the tunes as we’re brought plates of spiced beans and tomatoes, wilted chomolia with peanut paste, sadza mash and bread. The band produces one of the most beautiful beds of sound I’ve heard in a while. Hypnotic repetition, delightfully dizzying polyrhythms, sparing vocal additions, shakers, twinkling guitar. Sangara Jive’s drums and bass keep things galloping along with a restrained momentum. Throughout, the mbira resonances spread across the space like liquid, gently shifting melodies and reverberating chords landing pillowy on your eardrums, the whole thing billowing into the night air like magic.   

(PS. Garikayi, Tinashe and Shangara Jive are playing this Saturday night at Clancy’s if you’re interested).

3. IL SESHO #1 @ LATE NIGHT VALENTINE, SUNDAY

A troupe of Rhythm Section boys are in town: Prequel from Australia, Bradley Zero from the UK and Chaos in the CBD from New Zealand. That’s as good a reason as I need to shake off the cobwebs and follow the hill slope down Beaufort Street, to the inaugural ‘Il Sesho’ presented by Good Company.

Late Night Valentine’s backyard floods with sun, cocktails, sneakers; from the very healthy PA ring rotund and shimmering beats. Upon first aperol it’s all very mellow, chats and floating cadences on the breeze. But as the daylight recedes the amphitheatre and its dance floor are heaving, surfaces pummelled by undulating bass and swivelling soles, eventually moving indoors post-curfew for a final power boogie in the dark.

The night ends with the track ‘Deep Forest’ by Deep Forest off their 1992 album Deep Forest. ‘90s nostalgia depth charge missile. 

LNV closes up so naturally we beeline for Hungry Jack’s; drive through only means jumping in a car with a kindly man who bemusedly tells us about the Giant Robot Flame-Throwing Spider at Elizabeth Quay and the grotesquely long lines at the Brass Monkey.

4. NOIZEMASCHIN #65 - UNPLUGGED @ THE ARTIFACTORY, OSBORNE PARK, TUESDAY

I don’t normally go to Osborne Park for cultural experiences, but when I do they’re often housed at the Artifcatory, a unique kind of DIY tech workshop meets weird music and art venue.

Tonight’s show is one of the more eclectic and exploratory gigs I’ve seen, comprising: Jaco Pastorius inspired fretless bass experimentation (JOSEPH DE KOCK); episodic aerophone drones and bellows-noise (this was me); fluxus-inspired lullaby song-o-grams via mobile phone to unsuspecting friends and family (LAURA STRØBECH); manifold saxophone noise experiments exploiting spittle-sound, overtones, vocal cords and pringles tubes (JOSTEN MYBURGH).

[intermission]

Dirty-minded limericks (GUTTER WORTHY); atonal piano-mashing as an accompaniment to live screaming, ranting, trembling, flailing and obscure muttering (SCYTHEY PSEUDOS); intense, volcanic drum dynamics and stormy free jazz-sax odyssey (BEHN GREEN + ALANA MACPHERSON); guitar, cello, glass bottles, flowers and ambient visual projections forming a brittle and beautiful audiovisual assemblage (DAISY’S NET).

If this Noizemaschin was a bewilderingly varied array, it was also a microcosm of the glimpse I got of the last few days in music in Perth. I marvel at the thought of seeing it all.  

ELA STILES, ERASERS & TOURIST KID @ THE BIRD, SAT NOVEMBER 19

Andrew Ryan

It’s Saturday and my day’s blank on the calendar so I explore my way through it: to a house in Westminster, to a market, to the Pride Parade (an enormous golden inflatable Chinese dragon careens past me), and eventually to The Bird. Local label and promo vehicle Pouring Dream have thrown sporadic but very special parties this year, for the likes of Akioka and Assad. Tonight’s is equally intriguing - a rare Perth appearance from Sydney-based artist ELA STILES, plus ERASERS and TOURIST KID. 

DJ Jack Dutrac is playing lots of different stuff, lots of minimal dancefloor thumpers but also lots of Kylie Minogue, which is perfect; 

then Tourist Kid, with a projector flashing block colour onto the screen behind him in response to musical frequencies. totally mesmeric, transforming not only yr perception of the sounds but also of the architecture itself. suddenly we’re inside a photocopier, or a computer monitor looking out. and tourist kid’s drones and arpeggios and hisses and throbs are the computer’s first self-aware thoughts, sentience humming into being, cognising awe and sadness but not yet able to articulate them with language. 

Erasers, who I wrote about very recently when they played with Pikelet and Rabbit Island at El Grotto. But then their sound is founded on repetition, both micro (repetitions within songs, sections, phrases) and macro (honing these songs, techniques and aesthetics over an extended period of time). and maybe I should take their cue more when it comes to writing about music. so what can be said that hasn’t been, or how can it be said better? One thing I notice is that Rebecca and Rupert seem to be more comfortable on stage than ever before, perhaps owing in part to the small and attentive crowd and the Bird’s characteristically good sound. But also, they are nicely ensconced in these new-ish songs and parts, having now spent a lot of quality time with them. Bec is singing free and pure like a wine glass resonance. Rupert’s gliding over the guitar like a pro figure skater. It’s a treat.

Ela Stiles is an artist I’ve followed on and off over the years, both via her solo work and contributions to the bands Songs and Bushwalking. I’ve always like the stuff she’s done but never felt like I’ve totally “got” it - which is probably part of the reason I keep coming back. Her sounds and visuals are ambiguous; they rarely fall into camps as strict or simple as “dark,” “warm,” “pop” or “experimental” - nor are they merely hybrids of these variables. Stiles’ work seems to sit to the side of these signifiers to some extent, its own sound-world, albeit one that sticks pretty faithfully to major/minor tonalities and familiar rhythmic patterns. 

The last Ela Stiles set I saw was at Camp Doogs and it was notably warped and amorphous: mingling liquid drones and obscure loops. Tonight feels more song-driven, and indeed, she’s focusing on material from the new LP ‘Molten Metal,’ initially released in September on Paradise Daily Records. These are percussion-driven compositions, often pumping at you with heavy, washed out drum machine loops before being doused in echoing vocal textures. 

Sometimes - as with album opener “Five A.M.” - it doesn’t really seem like the music’s been made with external listeners in mind. There’s more of a self-contained, spontaneous, almost shamanic quality, like it’s all smoke just rising up from a fire, and you’re gazing on by chance. Other tunes, like (in this respect, deceptively titled) “Fuck You” are coded more as approachable pop songs - you could almost sing along, and the transitions follow a conventional kind of logic. In both instances, Stiles’ voice and hefty percussion are the crucial forces, with occasional synths coming in to fill the space; every sound is both enjoyable and faintly uncanny, treated in such a way as to simultaneously attract and repel. This is maybe the most curious thing about Ela Stiles’ music - unlike metal, noise, or classic industrial stuff (all clearly intended to be abrasive), it’s unclear whether this music wants to be friendly or not. The spooky precipice it leaves you on is a fascinating place to be. 

TURA NEW MUSIC PRESENTS: IMPROV #2 @ 459 BAR, MONDAY NOVEMBER 14

Andrew Ryan

Garfield would be appalled: it's Monday and I'm elated. The weekend was bedlam but today is a calm flow. Pottering, beers, Total Recall (my first viewing of the Arnie classic… that I can remember). Somewhere under an excited horizon a Supermoon is brewing. As the sun recedes it pops up like iridescent toast, or a big fizzing white berocca. Its beams are fire-bright as I walk out into the street.

Down a balmy road, round a blue-grey corner. Here, an elderly couple on the front verge: "We're looking at the moon. It's beautiful, isn't it?" I concur. There, a happy cat rolling around in a sandy patch, bathing in the glow. It's Monday! (From the Old English Mōnandæg ‘day of the moon’). Garfield would be appalled.

Here, the Rosemount Hotel. Some familiar faces floating in. In the mood-lit 459 bar, a trio comprising ZAC GRAFTON (bass), LENNY JACOBS (drums) and ALANA MACPHERSON rise to the stage. These musicians are all forces to be reckoned with, so it's a promising moment.

The set begins tentatively, with each performer feeling around for their sonic space, sending out radar notes to build a communal architecture of mood. The fascinating thing about truly "free" improvisation in a group context is that it almost never produces a consistent, or resolved, aesthetic. No matter how experienced the musicians, there will generally be moments of uncertainty where they sound each other out, trial-and-error towards an unspoken mutual understanding. Even veteran free-improv acts like The Necks have moments like these, and it's not a bad thing, it's just a stark deviation from conventional musical presentation. Showing your brush strokes. Performing your eraser swipes.

After a brief foray into arrhythmic "fusion" type sounds (owing to the chorus-wah bass) Grafton/Jacobs/MacPherson find themselves amid a simmering, droney intensity. Zac's extracting long, grainy, synth-like timbres in the low end, Alana's offering spasmodic howls and Lenny's tendering his distinctive, whip-crack interjections. It all builds, grows stronger like a four-wheel drive gaining traction in the mud, and swells to a thunderous climax. Saxophone roar, bass boom. Lenny Jacob's drum sticks rain down on skins and cymbals like heavy hunks of hail. He slices at his high hat from a great height, like he's furiously swinging his axe to chop some stubborn, hissing, shimmering timber. This first improvisation collapses happily under its own tremendous weight. Their second excursion is a kind of smouldering denouement, understated bass polyphony anchoring sax twinkle, cymbal sigh, metal chain jangle. There's no need to explore too aggressively now. It's more of a languid wandering around.

Next is AKIOKA, who provides the perfect second instalment. The wild business of the previous trio is now handsomely counterposed against Tessa Darcey's measured, slow motion vocal extemporisations. What begins as a minimal, seemingly spiritual chant is soon layered to become an evocative swirl of melodies, noises and tones. But it happens so gradually it's almost imperceptible, like you're an ant walking along a Rothko. Things get a little more choppy and radical towards the set's close, with beat-repeat weirdness and loop channel crossfades creating a more dynamic landscape. But it all ends on a single, serene vocal note, which well summarises the tranquility of the performance.

Finally we hear from MARK CAIN, who's something of a local legend, performing across jazz, experimental and global folk genres since the '80s. He also an avid builder and inventor of instruments, creating musical tools out of PVC pipe and other commonplace materials. Tonight we get to hear some of these home-made innovations, as well as saxophone and other more conventional wind instruments. Mark performs short improvised bursts, swapping to a different weapon of choice between each. The music itself is less impassioned, or perhaps less embodied, than in the previous sets - it all feels very casual and nonchalant, almost more demonstrative of a process than expressive of a mood. In any case, the improvisations are expertly delivered and tastefully paced, oscillating between dense note-flurry and slow, expansive tones. Arguably the most compelling thing here is the quick switching between instruments and therefore timbres, the same breath running through ostensibly similar tubes to produce vastly different results. There's a kind of pseudo-oboe, and a rudimentary flute controlled by hand modulations over the tail end. Most whimsically, a set of bagpipes in which the bag is a rubber glove that inflates prior to each droning experiment. It's a wild parade of variables.  

The music wraps up but performers and peers linger, chatting about projects and ideas and possibilities. More than a recital, a night like this feels like an open-ended gathering of like-minded people, creating a node to punctuate mingling musical journeys. I begin the walk home, drinking in the moon again. Every sound I hear seems alive, brimming with potential.

PIKELET, ERASERS & RABBIT ISLAND @ EL GROTTO, THURSDAY NOV 3

Andrew Ryan

I don’t visit Scarborough much, and haven’t since I last went there to buy plants from Marjorie’s backyard (Marjorie sells plants from her backyard, and bric-a-brac from her garage, and sends the money to a school in Zimbabwe). Sometimes I pause, midway through a trip to or from some other destination northwards along the coast, and take a quick salty plunge. Certainly I’m not often here at night.

But a show at this new venue, El Grotto, has pulled me away from my cradle, on a Thursday night no less, and so I walk through the shadows of the Rendezous Hotel and the Giant Roundabout Clock, and into the Mexican-themed restaurant/bar.

Amber Fresh, aka RABBIT ISLAND slips onto stage as the grotto's patrons drink beer and chomp on gourmet hotdogs.

Moving between piano and guitar, she reanimates songs I've now heard dozens of times but never grow tired of. I think it's mainly because they're such good songs but also because the delivery is so honest every time, the music's core emotion so vividly rekindled. A pop song's lustre can dull if the hook is overplayed or the mood is wrong: Amber's songs seem to transcend such concerns. They're more like poems, they breathe and expand, their sensibilities shift with each iteration's emphasis and lilt, they shoot through their surroundings like soft lightning. It must be hard to deliver a tune like 'Adam's Song' in a boisterous beachside bar, singing a paean to human rights and equality, lamenting the injustices of the global economy and social subjugation. But Amber does it, serenely and fearlessly, transfixing whichever ears are prepared to pause their conversations listen. Joining in on drums is none other than Evelyn Morris - aka Pikelet - whose remarkable intuition and technical skill leads to a host of inventive, neatly interlocking accompaniments - despite being totally off the cuff.

Following in the wake of this dream team are another superlative duo, ERASERS. The pair originally hail from these Northern beachside communities so the setreads as a kind of peculiar homecoming, or at least a return to the landscape that must have partially informed their origins. It's not hard to imagine that their patient organ tones, misty vocals and undulating guitar lines are a kind of musical analogue for the long and sighing coastline or - equally - a kind of peaceful meditative salve to the antagonistic attitudes that peer-band Last Quokka sing about in their song 'Northern Suburbs.' In any case, their set is a characteristically beautiful commingling of warm synthetic and organic sounds, pushed ever-forward by polyrhythmic drum machine momentum, encouraging both dance energy and introspection.

As the night's unfurled, the dinner crowd has slowly waned and the attentive listener contingent seemingly swelled. It's amid a newfound atmosphere of anticipation that PIKELET moves to the stage although things are still pretty casual (what I failed to mention earlier is that the "stage" is styled as a comfortable bohemian lounge room, with lamps, old couches, pot plants and Persian-style carpets).

Pikelet begins by acknowledging the Noongar people as the traditional owners of the land on which the gig takes place, and that sovereignty was never ceded. The former point is well-known and can risk sounding trite without further elaboration, which is why the second clause is so potent: here we are, still on stolen land. It's a brief but crucial point of political context, of the sort which suffuses Pikelet's practice; everything is considered with regard to networks of representation and power, and creativity cannot (alas) occur in a vacuum.

The musical performance itself is a thrill to behold; a wild rube goldberg machine of synths, vocal and drum live-sampling, sequencers and sound-manipulation. There's 'One Structure Also Many,' whose rich arrangement emerges as if by magic, like a Mr Squiggle composition suddenly making sense - it's a very special jigsaw of a song. 'Dear Unimaginables' complements a kind of neo-Gershwin piano dream with ambiguous lyrics referencing ambiguity itself: "It is open, it is unwritten. It is always near, but never quite here." The high-pitched yearning towards the song's close is incredibly intense - "It feels so distant, what I want" - a vague universal given tremendous gravity by its brilliant delivery. The unsettling 5/8 of 'Interface Dystopia' is one of Pikelet's hardest-hitting polemics to date, offering the daunting question "can you remember the last time you had any fun without… interference from capitalist dystopia?" The feeling that the world is unavoidably tainted by failed and violent systems can be overwhelming, and is perfectly encapsulated in this singular track, which although devastating, ends on the comforting communality of the experience ("you're not the only one, you're not the only one who feels completely hopeless sometimes."). On a brighter note we get the Pikelet classic 'A Bunch,' offering heartfelt thanks and love to friends and fellow travellers in the weird adventure called life.

Rabbit Island, Erasers and Pikelet might make perfect sense as a lineup, but despite using some similar tools and effects, their respective musics aren't that similar. What really seems to bind them together is a shared, earnest belief in the positive power of music, and a vibrant empathetic streak to their craft: empathy with the landscape, empathy with other people. An openness to new ideas, and an aesthetic of warmth.

As I write, noted fear-mongering racist/misogynist/bad guy Donald J. Trump has just been elected President of the United States; "leader of the free world." Hate's got the popular vote, and we wait and pray and see where its tendrils extend. The world is an increasingly scary, mean place.

We need love, we need beauty. We need artists like Amber, Rupert, Rebecca and Evelyn more than ever.

EM BURROWS & THE BEARDED RAINBOW @ MOJO'S BAR, FRIDAY OCTOBER 21

Andrew Ryan

 

To start with the personal: I have a weird relationship with psychedelic rock these days. The genre was my gateway drug to "weird music," and to much of the stuff I love now. As a teenager I prayed at the altar of Syd Barrett, had my brain turned inside out by Mink Mussel Creek and their influences in turn. The genre's become increasingly prevalent in recent years - particularly in Perth and Freo, where the spectre of Tame Impala looms large- and inevitably I find myself critiquing whether its implementation is genuinely mind-expanding, or merely trading on bankable tropes. The latter means witnessing innately experimental music reduced to a "paint by numbers" approach that is the antithesis of the counterculture spirit it's indebted to, which is no fun. And then, there are other times when it's like you're hearing a delay pedal for the very first time again, and the whole world glows in technicolor. Returning to Mojo's after a spell away, I'm met with many shades of psychedelia, folk, rock and pop (often all at once). My brain and heart weave through, trying to unpick what does and doesn't inspire. 

I walk into the sounds of MAJUMBA. At once, the soundscape strikes me as classic dime-a-dozen Fremantle psych-rock: safe bluesy riffs with a bit of fuzz, chugging drums, post-Kevin Parker effects chains, but no apparent imagination. But actually, as their set goes on, it opens up into some cool tangents; rollicking punky codas, thick monotone passages, and there's one song with a particularly beautiful, high melodic bassline that perfectly cocoons its faintly jazzy chords. So no, Majumba aren't the epitome of my grumpy old man grievance, but I guess they're still honing a creative voice; I hope they hone it towards the road less travelled.

Out in the rear courtyard, EMILY GARLICK is gently capturing hearts with a serene, flawless voice and tinkling stratocaster. It's been a while since I heard anyone with such impeccable technique (vocal technique, mic technique, guitar technique) playing at a local pub, though Emily doesn't come off as supercilious in the context. Instead she peacefully works her song-loom, occasionally yielding results that sound a little too polished (in a commercial radio way) but frequently weaving gold, as with the final tune, a magical strain called "Fingernails" that pits unpredictable melody against quick-blooded, melancholic double guitar.

Inside is DIGER ROKWELL who's limbering up into a notably eclectic, joyous string of tunes. The man with the WA cap and t-shirt treats us to a nickelodeon of styles, ranging from vocoder-laden G-funk to space disco, moody house to dusty beat tourism, Hendrix-hop to jungle. While for some producers this might seem confused and cluttered, Diger somehow pulls it all into his motley aesthetic whirlpool and makes it blend, though the variety keeps its sense of reckless liberation. He looks like he's having plenty of fun too. This might be my favourite Diger Rokwell set I've seen. Unable to resist, I dance like a silly fruit tingle.

Out in the garden it's JOHNNY BURROW, the younger cousin of tonight's headliner, armed with just a mic and electric guitar. He uses both to great effect, dispatching wonderful slacker folk songs. They're personal, witty, deadpan without feeling aloof. Reference points come to mind: there's a hint of Malkmus here, as well as the wide-eyed, honest bedroom pop musings of Darren Hanlon etc. But Johnny doesn't specifically sound like anyone at all. Which is pretty remarkable.

Inside we meet MOONPUPPY, a bunch of fresh-faced fellers channelling substantial pop traditions. It's well-orchestrated guitar music that alternately recalls The Smiths, Orange Juice, Mac DeMarco and the languorous vocal croon of Julian Casablancas, among other things. Chords reach beyond standard pop/rock harmony and - thanks to the smooth, mellow delivery - often wander into west coast soft-rock territory. But none of this sounds like postmodern pastiche; it's been arrived at independently, with plenty of heart, and endearing roughness around the edges. A charming Haruomi Hosono cover ('Sports Men'), meanwhile, shows that their influences come from far and wide. They're a pleasure to behold, an earnest reminder of why you liked indie rock in the first place. Definitely "ones to watch," both in the hackneyed music-industry sense but also, just, a band one should go see.

MARLINSPIKE fire up and immediately my psych-rock bullshit radar is on high alert again; the first few minutes play out like generic space-rock jamming that hasn't been novel for forty years. But soon enough this bleeds into song forms, and we get a tune that sounds like a Celtic air channelled through Aussie blues-rock of the '70s. Like Led Zep's folky excursions, but steeped in dank lager. A large part of their appeal is the drums, which are delivered with a clipped accuracy worthy of a marching band (the drummer, in turn, looks incongruously well-groomed). The bass is punctual and plucky too. So, these things pin all the guitar swirl to a taut rhythm section, stretched over jagged edges. And despite their nods to the psych-rock canon, they're not married to it: songs just as readily spiral into passages recalling recent Radiohead, or the melodic post-punk of Television.

And they lob the shuttlecock to the band of the hour, that is, EM BURROWS AND THE BEARDED RAINBOW. The group's releasing an EP tonight, which is called Solitary Sounds although their aesthetic is actually all about big, layered, team-effort arrangements.

And what a sturdy team. Assured bass and effortless drums with a soul music kinda touch; juicy rotary organ, precise chiming guitar, crisp backing vocals and percussion. Of course, Em Burrows sits at the sonic centre: her confident vocal projections and emphatic piano drive these tightly-spun songs forward.

And they are unmistakably songs, not soundscapes or sketches or anything else. Each has a distinct self-contained identity, an instantly memorable hook, clear lyrics. Each boasts a decisive mood and musical lineage. The sanguine, bouncy hemiola feel of 'Weights and Measures' recalls Jethro Tull or early Yes, while 'Solitary Sounds' and 'Dreamers,' tempt comparison to The Zombies and Jefferson Airplane. 'Timeline' is a big bluesy burner, and 'Paces' spreads Doors/Beatles undulations over a funky backbeat.

There's no point pretending this isn't throwback music - right down to their fanciful flower power band name, the Bearded Rainbow wear their influences on their velveteen sleeves. What separates them from any number of retro-rock caricature bands is (firstly) their thrilling adeptness, and (secondly, moreover) the earnest and adventurous quality of the songs. Each feels like a genuine reflection on a contemporary moment, even if it's rendered in a period style, and this honesty is complimented by the pre-ironic optimism of the sound. Lines like "woah-oh, nothing really changes, ah-ah, we're going through our paces" might sound banal in the hands of a lesser artist, but Em Burrows shoots them through with anthemic melody and lively resolve, so the message feels universal and timeless rather than trite. It's a skill epitomised by Fleetwood Mac, who could make axioms hit home with euphoric immediacy - and Em Burrows is on a similar tip, while also peppering her lyrics with psychedelic whimsy (tigers howling at the moon, bubbles in outer space, and so on). In the end, the central and gravitational appeal of Em Burrows and the Bearded Rainbow isn't that they sound a bit like A and B '60s band or use X and Y instrument sound. It's that they're clearly playing the music they absolutely, desperately love, and they're doing it with full commitment and gusto. In moments of such clarity, all my anxiety around the use of psych-rock tropes seems laughably irrelevant. And if such pure musical moments aren't a joy to be cherished, then I don't know what is.  

 

 

CAMP DOOGS @ SOMEWHERE NEAR HARVEY, OCT 7 - 9

Andrew Ryan

Coffee pot whistling, we bundle clothes into bags, grab way more snacks than we will eat and
fewer warm articles than we will need.
The sun’s still naked and glowing as we buzz down the freeway in my plucky hatchback,
stopping in Jandakot with the small planes circling, here to pick up S___, and to load heavy boxes of wine and beer.

South and further south, crucial Miami Bakehouse pies by the mulberry tree and shetland pony (lots of dogs here today).
In Wokalup,

a boarded-up Witch-themed roadhouse

we buy bags of ice and a souvenir stubby holder in fluorescent peach -
before the final stretch of the drive.

Meadows yellowed by capeweed, cows lazing in dense groups,

‘Versaci Soils,’
disco blaring

And

bright pink signs pointing to CAMP DOOGS – they  jump out of the landscape like serendipity, when it collides you with an old friend in a distant city.

Roll down the window: tireless George wands us through. Sliding into the destination, it’s clear the rain of recent days has taken its toll on the earth underfoot.

The hatchback struggles, lurches and clangs down a swampy route to the carpark. But it prevails.

We receive our pink-threaded Doogs dog tags and begin the first muddy slog to the camping field with our ambitious cargo.

As we trudge we see the final touches being put on the main stage, just in time for GORSHA to jump in and sling us some of their slack-jawed, nasty-but-nice Darwin garage punk hootenanny.

The site is a sprawling figure-eight of fields with a lake in the middle, a creek and its capillaries running through, dense trees all around the perimeter. It’s a totally different vista and feeling to the old Doogs site in Nannup. But nevertheless beautiful, in a new, more open, more pastoral kind of way.

We’re setting up camp and getting our bearings for the next while, so I miss some bands that would’ve been good to hear, but such are the misadventures when you forget to bring a tent cover on a weekend promising thunderstorms, and have to improvise a solution (the solution is to have resourceful buddies).

[Sunset]

[dusk]

I’m back down in the lakeside viewing-pit for GWENNO, who blends gently funky, artful electro-pop with the Welsh language so seamslessly you’d think it was common practice.

CALE SEXTON keeps the synthetic ingredients bubbling and increases the pump-pressure,

then over to the ineffable MINK MUSSEL CREEK, my favourite Perth band ever.

Amber Fresh introduces the biggest MMC fan of all – Nick Odell of Cease and Alzabo – to introduce Mink – who blow every leaf off every tree with their fiercer than ever delivery of oddball psych/jazz/jive/sludge classics like ‘Meeting Waterboy,’ ‘They Dated Steadily,’ ‘Cat Love Power’ and ‘Doesn’t the Moon Look Good Tonight.’

The audience is less a group of people and more a big heaving cloud of sweat, mud, limbs and howls. Unreal.

Few could follow Mink Mussel Creek at this point without feeling sheepish, but Melbourne veterans BASEBALL are firecrackers with a comparable kind of feverish, imaginative intensity. They blaze through their set of violin-strewn post-punk, Ev Morris (aka Pikelet) nonchalantly hurling intricate, heavy drum lines while singing; frontfeller Thick Passage (Cam Potts) screeching his evocative lyrical tales inspired by middle eastern history, the whole thing a thunderous thrill.

Things can’t really get any wilder, so now, an alternate tack –

the smooth track –

the mellow, cratedigger-informed jazz of Melbourne’s KRAKATAU.

Bandleader James Tom’s keys glide like a magic carpet;

much-loved Perth expat Jack Doepel switches calmly between sax and keyboard duties, massaging brains deeply with both.

The night gushes on:

DEEP DOOGS, a flashing steamy gumbo cavity

the undulating selections of RIVER YARRA

and glow-sticks and rum

and the magnificent MORI RA

Eventually enough friends have succumbed to the night

And I slink out through the trees, over the creek

and I stomp through the dark with organiser doog Matt Acorn

who’s been valiantly MCing on the fly ‘coz Tristan got sick

and Matty gets stuck knee deep in the mud but we pry him out like a scarf from a car door

In my tent it is cold and damp and getting damper as the skies open up and the patter becomes a roar but I curl up in the driest patch and wrap the dry bits of sleeping bag and doona around me and give myself over to fate.

[Saturday Morning. Grey light, pre-dawn]

I’d said I’d do a sunrise performance on Sunday and maybe Saturday too, and heck I’ve woken up at 5am so why not. I slip out the zip, stomp through the frosty air to my car, fetch a guitar and an amp and a sampler. It starts raining, I dash for the nearest undercover area, which is the main stage. No-one is around save for one technician clambering around to keep things dry. I try to help and then I set up my stuff.

“Whaddya doing ya crazy dickhead? There’s no-one around! Go to bed.”

He’s right of course, but I’m here now and I feel like playing, so I strum a gentle drone into the foggy, wet, silvery sunrise as the man clambers into the back of a truck to sleep.

A few hours later, the sun a little higher -

it’s the BURUNDI PEACE BAND & CHOIR
I’m immediately smiling, overwhelmed by the life-affirming East African grooves and the group’s heartwarming community vibe. Keyboard drum machine keeps things pumping along, guitar pings, bass gambols, the choir’s voices ring out in a rich polyphony. At the end of the set, kids emerge from backstage - break dancing and doing backflips – I’m grinning my head off and my eyes are wet and it’s not from the rain.

Soon, HEARING – another Melbourne band; hard to google, with ridiculously good pop songs, well-balanced arrangements with beautiful clean-guitar lead lines, all buoyed by Liv’s flawless vocals. One of the weekend’s surprise highlights for sure.

A quick lap of the property, a visit/last repsects paid to the semi-submerged Mitsubishi Magna in the too-deep dip in the side road… RIP

And VERGE COLLECTION – undeniably fun, hummable guitar music embracing the “dolewave” fascination with suburban banality, personal narratives and jangly chords, but forgoing the fairly common affected sloppiness. The screws are screwed in tight and shiny in the comfort of a well-lit back shed.

ALL THE WEATHERS are willfully silly, wonderful and baffling; ADAM SAID GALORE are dark and jagged, tucked into a kind of niche tonality that sounds like nothing else this weekend. LALIC (pictured) bring emotive spacious prog-pop – hazy, layered, erratic, unshaken by the breeze of trends.

Reformed Perth unit MILE END sound impossibly tight and intense after so much time apart, and are a thrill to watch, as buddies drift by behind them on the lake on a dinghy. SARAH MARY CHADWICK soon after is a total u-turn, raw, bare, direct and at times clumsy; ultimately honest and great.

The afropop energy of SOUKOUSS INTERNATIONALE results in a big sexy muddy party in the rain, before Melbourne’s GREGOR brings us approachable yet arcane indie rock, expounding a kind of slow-burn harmonic science.

PIKELET jumps up solo and forges a set consisting of relatively few songs, but each one a masterpiece, delivered with Evelyn’s trademark casual virtuosity (on the synth, looper, floor tom, voice etc) and lo-fi sensibility. It’s a low-key but high-spirited performance imbued with a simmering political polemic (back to back anti-capitalism missives!) and lots of bright, earnest love (back to back songs about gratitude for friends).

CATE LE BON closes the main stage with joyously ragged melodic rock music, twang and pummel underscored by thoughtful songwriting and overlaid with some of the weekend’s standout vocals.

those were some musical things that happened

but have I even begun to communicate

the smiling soul of camp doogs?

have I told you about:

the ‘deep water greenhouse,’ (the cosy ambient tent jack and rory made and that countless beautiful people played in)?

ECOHOONS: bmx riding with magenta body armour and gabber blasting?

IRL body-marbling?

the magic drag of ash baroque?

naked swimmers?

quesadillas?

tarot readings by the campfire?

club mate?

blisters?

sunrise performance #2, the proper one, with L___ reading poems,
with people asleep on the trampoline and the couches,
someone sipping whisky as the sun comes up?

deep doogs #2, when it got moved to the Wild Doogs stage coz the original one was too munted by the rain, and Mori Ra powered through the morning with a blissful rainbow of japanese pop?

the cows?

the purple flowers?

the yellow raincoats?

shaved heads kissing in the half-light?

the ferns?

the creaking branches?

the ludicrous chats?

the bushwalks?

the ominous slate-coloured clouds?

the glorious, finally emerging sun?

have I really told you about camp doogs?

I cannot.
But if you were there, you know what it was – you feel it in your breath, in your blood, and in between your mud-stained toes.
And if you weren’t. I hope I’ll see you next year. 

Good doogs.

Photo credit: Eleni Battalis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

             

MYRIAD REFLECTOR #1 @ HIGHGATE CONTINENTAL & MYSTIC FORTUNES @ THE BIRD, WEDNESDAY SEPT 28

Andrew Ryan

This afternoon Amber sent me an email. It said: “just fyi, myriad reflector is what the first mirror balls were called. #generalknowledgeclub2016”

I thought this was one of the best facts I’d heard in ages. Another one of the best things I’ve heard in ages was the performance of Aarti Jadu & Matt Coldrick, not so coincidentally at an event called Myriad Reflector, held in one of the vacant rooms behind local store Highgate Continental.

This is going back to last Wednesday. I lace up my bootstraps and trot down Beaufort Street, into the glowing prism with the books and the plants and the records and the floorboards everywhere. And Mei (Saraswati) who organised this gathering, with Aarti, appears in an excellent coogi-style cardigan. Apparently she’s just jumped off a plane and launched straight into lighting candles, laying out cushions and chairs and candles and facilitating this unique event: a concert-cum-film-screening in an uncommonly cosy space. 

The film was going to happen first, but family members are here and rearing for the long-awaited tunes (Aarti is based in Melbourne, so this is a rare opportunity). I duck over the road to cop a cuppa, chat to some buddies on the footpath and get back inside to hear Aarti and Matt floating into the airwaves, on voice and acoustic guitar respectively. 

Their collaboration revolves around the adaptation of traditional Indian bhajans (devotional songs, which Aarti’s been singing her whole life) into new arrangements (the harmonic contours of which are traced out tonight by Matt’s chords and vocal additions).

The result is unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. Matt’s fingerpicking, gentle strumming and haunting modulations recall British and Celtic, folk and occasionally blues, while Aarti’s vocals are truer to the traditions of the subcontinent. She brings a distinct tonality, presumably informed by just intonation; chromatic explorations not common in western styles; and pseudo-glissando and improvisation which give the whole thing a fluid, mercurial quality. Moreover, she delivers it all with an unfaltering, crystalline voice, tangible focus and feeling. The result of these two approaches coming together could have been incoherent, but the pair have carefully sought the intersection of the venn diagram, or found ways to create one. Thus guitar chords weave into unexpected territory, creating a jazzy sensibility and moments of dissonance; meanwhile bhajan vocals recur in form and metre more associated with pop songs, or are joined by Matt’s major/minor vocal harmonies. The conjunction is most successful when neither style is overtly discernible, and instead a new, singular hybrid sound floods the sonic field. At moments like this, with the flickering of tea lights, the smell of lemongrass and friendly faces gathered round, the room is all magic.

Intermission: we sip beers and tea, snack on roti canai, thumb through records. Back in the back room, a screening of the 2015 film ‘The Java Spirit’ directed by Agus Purwanto and produced by Thomas Reuter, which explores religious diversity in Indonesia. It’s a fascinating, if roughly hewn, documentary - consisting mostly of candid interviews with Javanese locals that are alternately insightful, daunting and light-hearted. Daunting because of radical end-times predictions, or because of unfathomable recollections, as with one man who was trapped in a cave for ten days during a quest for God. Light-hearted because of the subjects’ good humour, especially in regard to lofty questions or taxing situations (“even rice tastes good when we’re hungry!”). And insightful all round, allowing for a meditation on heterogeneity, and airing voices that might typically be deemed too out of left field in Australian discourse.    

I continue down the road, procure an underwhelming felafel plate in Northbridge and end up at The Bird. Here, I watch a band called MYSTIC FORTUNES for the first time. Under moody purple lights, it’s Steven Bovenizer on laptop and guitar, Warsame Hassan on electronic drum pad (these two fellers also comprise the band Mudlark) and Solomon Amoabin on the mic. The set is thrilling for its originality, its sense of creative fun: the same spirit of experimentation, the dabbling in dissonance and rhythmic weirdness that suffuses Mudlark is at play here. Sol brings a humanising voice to the uncanny musical landscape though, offering patient rap verses describing nocturnal exploits and romantic dilemmas, all with a poetical spin and crisp delivery.

When people talk about “experimental” music it’s often as a euphemism for that which is relatively formless, nihilistic and challenging to the ear. At this point in the cultural conversation it doesn’t seem like the term is going to escape those connotations, but it’s a shame, because Aarti Jadu, Matt Coldrick and Mystic Fortunes have captivated ears on Wednesday night and exemplified the surprising, diverse, heartfelt and approachable results that can emerge from earnest experimentation with harmony, rhythm, form and genre. As dizzying and joyous as a mirror ball in your brain. 

(You can see and hear some Aarti and Matt here, and some Mystic Fortunes 

THE SONICS @ THE ROSEMOUNT HOTEL, TUESDAY SEPT 28

Andrew Ryan

(1)

The electric guitar crackled into existence with the experiments of George Beauchamp, Paul Barth and Adolph Rickenbacker around 1931. Technological innovations have usually heralded new approaches in composition and performance, so it’s tempting to see the early ‘30s as a subtle turning point in which the organic, age-old sounds of acoustic music began to transform into the unnatural and explosive tones which became rock and other modern genres. But is that how it went?

No doubt the early 20th century reconfigured what could constitute music in terms of timbre and sound-source. Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo had written his influential manifesto The Art of Noises in 1913, calling for an embrace of machine sounds in musical orchestration.  Synthesizers were already in production, with alien-sounding devices like the theremin emerging in the ‘20s. But the early electric guitars were mostly used to boost the instrument’s volume in a big band context, and the original synths were used as science-fair novelties, or to replace solo instruments in conservative genres like classical music (with some notable avant-garde exceptions). To my mind, the freakish idiosyncrasies of these musical inventions didn’t fully realize themselves as popular music styles until the ‘50s. By then, synths had proto-techno pioneers like Kid Baltan & Tom Dissevelt, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and more pushing the electronic sound in new directions (not least the direction of suburban lounge rooms). The electric guitar had mavericks such as Howlin’ Wolf, Pat Hare, Chuck Berry and Sister Rosetta Tharpe whose increasingly frenzied songs and playing styles developed alongside deliberate distortion of the guitar signal. Link Wray was toying with vacuum tubes and poking holes in speaker cones with pencils to get a dirtier, fuzzier sound.

And soon enough, in 1960, The Sonics formed, bringing electric guitar freak-out to a fever pitch. The name reads as a mission statement: they weren’t chasing any particular musical nuance, but rather the raw impact of sound itself. Their first single (‘The Witch’ in 1964) still sounds like a train hurtling towards you, threatening to fall apart - with its primal vocals, sandpaper guitar and spluttering drums. When it flips into an insane double-time tempo one minute in, it’s easy to hear why people often peg The Sonics as key progenitors of punk.

Who’d have guessed that such an immediate and incendiary band would still be touring in 2016? But the tunes have aged remarkably well. The Sonics’ recordings were a revelation for me in high school, and seeing that they were coming to Perth for the first time, I had to get along.

(2)

I meet D___ and F___ in the warm dining room that adjoins the Rosemount and 459 Bar. We listen to some of the mellow jazz billowing out of the latter, sipping dark ale before heading into the Rosie band room to the hectic sounds of THEE LOOSE HOUNDS. The band wears their garage punk influences on their well-tailored sleeves; the “Thee” is a kind of genre-signifier meme which probably emerged to differentiate garage bands with similar names, as with Sonics-era group Thee Midnighters. Later on you get Thee Headcoats, Thee Mighty Caesars, Thee Oh Sees etc. This band even has a song called ‘Painkillers’ which you’ve gotta suppose is at least a partial homage to the Perth duo. Anyway, as much as they belong to a tradition, Thee Loose Hounds also sound fresh and volatile: blurted vocals and squealing guitar thrashing about over weedy organ tones and spirited drums. The neurotic spasms of a song like ‘Diggin’ will appeal as much to fans of Eddy Current or Royal Headache as early Horrors: it hits you at a pre-intellectual level, like a spank, and balances aural nostalgia carefully against modern punk flavours and the trio’s specific palette (notably lacking in bass, but not to their detriment).

(3)

“All the way from Tacoma, Washington” says a man in black, “please welcome THE SONICS.”

The hitherto reserved crowd erupts in a high-pitched scream, and five more men in black walk on stage. They get in position behind a bass, saxophone, guitar, keyboard and drums respectively, and without any nonsense launch into the power-chord driven 1966 track ‘Cinderella.’ Like most Sonics songs, the lyrics are simple, bordering on banal: “She's got-a pretty long hair, And she's five-foot-two / When she ran away, I found her glass shoe.” But the delivery is so fierce that every phrase sounds genuinely desperate - and you’re happily sucked into the narrator’s jive party dilemma.

The set rolls along with this persistent party energy, the crowd responding in tow with plenty of twists and shouts. There’s only the occasional spoken interjection - usually from founding member and saxophonist Rob Lind, who offers rally cries and contagious goofy smiles. He mentions his excitement at finally making a Perth visit, and seems to really mean it. This positivity suffuses the whole experience, an wide-eyed celebration of reckless rock in its rawest form.

A surge of excitement arrives for the band’s iconic version of Richard Berry’s ‘Have Love Will Travel,’ and classics like ‘Boss Hoss,’ mixed in with equally good tunes off 2015’s This Is The Sonics - their first original LP in 49 years. There’s the blistering boogie of ‘Bad Betty,’ written by the band’s original keyboardist and vocalist Jerry Roslie, delivered by touring member Jake Cavaliere with perhaps more excitement than any other tune of the night. On other songs, vocal duties are passed over to touring bassist Freddie Dennis, formerly of The Kingsmen - his molten screech is a brilliant addition, and fits perfectly with their established howling sound. Fellow new tune ‘Be a Woman’ gets pride of place near the end of the set - having been written in Australia, for The Sonics, by the Hoodoo Gurus. It’s tailed by fan favourite ‘Psycho,’ with its unforgettable hook, excellent drum fills and emphatic backbeat delivered by former Link Wray drummer Dusty Watson. The crowd has now truly forgotten it’s Tuesday night and is straight-up cutting loose. The Sonics slink off stage but are soon back - of course - with their other biggest goth/protopunk hits, ‘Strychnine’ and ‘The Witch.’ 

I’m frequently skeptical of “reunion tours,” particularly with scant original members, which capitalise on the glories of bygone decades. But who can blame this group of guys who happened to age - but lost none of their uncommon gusto - for playing rock and roll? The Sonics sound as tight as they did in their supposed heyday, and to avoid becoming a “jukebox band,” they say, they wrote a new album. Lo and behold - it’s as good as much of the garage-rock contemporaries that have built upon The Sonics’ sound in the interim. Why stop now?

 

 

AKIOKA - RIGHT HERE (CS, POURING DREAM)

Andrew Ryan

Akioka has been one of my favourite local acts to see live in the past 12 months, and to my mind, maybe Perth’s greatest musical revelation in that time. Tess Darcey’s vocal contributions to Mei Saraswati and Phil Stroud’s live bands are indispensable, and her solo project (which also kind of operates as an AV duo with visual artist Amy Priemus, aka Dolphin Secrets) constitutes a unique and enthralling creative universe. It’s a sphere populated by warm drones, shimmering melodic shifts, ghostly vocal timbres. These things, bejewelled with synth and percussion psychedelia, haunting lyrics and warped organic forms. 

The only drawback was that during Akioka’s steady rise to local-favourite status, we didn’t have any “release” per se to latch onto (despite pretty consistent Soundcloud uploads). Call me old fashioned (garn!), but the former still feels relevant and important. It unifies compositions into a curated experience, demands consideration be paid to the flow and tonal interplay between tracks, coheres everything around artwork and text. 

So, when I found out Akioka had a tape coming out on Pouring Dream (run by Rupert and Rebecca of Erasers), I was rapt. And the other night when I was going to go out but anxiety got the better of me, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to instead run a bath, light some incense and cue up the calming tones of the two-track cassette; it’s called ‘Right Here’ and comes out on Saturday (Sept 24), launching at Highgate Continental.

The title track is up first, though “track” doesn’t really do it justice. It’s more of a minimalist concerto that plays out over eleven-and-a-bit magical minutes. First, a descending pentatonic scale played on gentle, raindrop synth. Then a meditative drone created by the slow, metronomic repetition of a single mallet on marimba. Vocal wisps float in and gather in the vague shape of a minor chord - mingling, undulating and suspending. Time passes differently while you listen. Everything moves both faster and slower than usual. The through-line is immersion - Akioka’s sounds become the place you’re in, making the title particularly apt. You’re finally jolted out of the trance when some of the sounds begin to play in reverse, leading you into the flip - ‘Light Up.’

Here, patient kalimba notes become the foundation for a loop laden with sweet choral vocals and low electronic feedback. Unexpected “lead” singing creeps in, tip-toeing over the dense hazy loop, gradually becoming subsumed by it. Again, there’s a hypnotic quality, but the machinations are less arcane: it’s easier now to witness the music changing, developing. Eventually the layers drop away, leaving only that first kalimba (but pitched down), and Darcey’s voice returns in a new key, spinning a folky melody in the open space, then re-tracing itself. Just as you’re fully submerged in this new section, it collides with the previous bed of loops, creating an eerie polytonality that would make Stravinsky proud. 

I’d thought that a two-track, minimally-produced cassette would be pretty easy to write about. Not so. I’ve listened to it about six times now and each time, I hear something totally different. Varied frequencies and nuances pop out, different rhythms seem to dominate, melodies “mean” different things. The sounds can come across as mournful, ecstatic, calm or foreboding. This speaks to the subtle complexity of Akioka’s approach, and also the cunning ambiguities she imbues. Like those MC Escher pictures that can be birds or fish, ‘Right Here’ changes dramatically depending on how you come at it, or where your focus falls. Rather than frustrating a resolution, this simply opens the music up to more compelling repeat listens - it’s generous in that way. The purple risographed cover designed by Dolphin Secrets is beautiful, too. Get your hands on a hard copy if you can, or enjoy the digital download. Either option guarantees poignantly disembodied music to enrich the physical and not-so-physical self.