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Lyndon Blue: Review

An Interview with Speak Percussion Artistic Director, Eugene Ughetti

Andrew Ryan

 
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Speak Percussion is an ensemble - or more accurately, a project - that's been experimenting, performing around the world, and innovating at the fringes of "percussion music" for longer than most musical ventures could ever hope to exist. As of 2017, they show no signs of slowing down as they return to Perth's Totally Huge New Music Festival, presented by Tura, to perform an audio-visual program entitled Fluorophone, and Michaela Pisaro’s epic work for 100 percussionists, A wave and waves. I phoned up founding member, performer, composer and artistic director, Eugene Ughetti - to pick his brains and record his insights about Speak's unique approach to percussion practice.

LB: Hi Eugene. How's it all going? 

EU: Yeah really well. Great first day... we're really rapt. We just came out of a big meeting with all the musicians from 'A Wave and Waves...' 

LB: Yeah, fantastic. What's your role in that performance specifically?

EU: Well ... it's a work for 100 percussionists. It's a long work, it's 74 minutes long, it's a big ambitious experimental percussion work and every part - all 100 parts - are different. So you can imagine the logistics of balancing that, but also just the challenges of rehearsing it.

LB: Yeah.

EU: It's performed in kind of a grid form, where the audience sit in amongst the musicians. So it's a really amazing kind of intimacy that happens, but also an extraordinary scale, in terms of depth of... field? In the sound?

LB: Absolutely, yeah. So I guess where you're sitting as an audience member makes a big difference to how you experience the piece?

EU: Yeah it does, yeah. Every seat is unique from that point of view, but also the same in the sense it's got very very intimate sounds - the sounds that might be, y'know, half a metre from your ears - all the way to sounds that might be 20 to 40 metres away. There's a really contrasting sense of presence and focus to the sound.

LB: Awesome, I wish I could be there to hear that... I believe my dad is playing "pebbles" in the ensemble.

EU: Oh great! Very cool. That's a great part.

LB: A lot of people that will read this [interview] might not be familiar with Speak, I was going to ask if you could take us back to the origins of that... was it, the year 2000?

EU: It was, so it all started very early 2000, and all the musicians were enrolled students at the Victorian College of the Arts. We gave our debut performance for Musica Viva, and we played a whole series of classic contemporary percussion pieces. And from there it's been, you know, a 17 year journey to where we are today. 

LB: And has the core group remained the same throughout that time?

EU: No, no... so at the beginning there were five of us. And that group sort of lasted for about two years, and we sort of all burnt out. And from that point, I stayed on - I was the only founding member that stayed. And I changed the model pretty dramatically at that point, it became - rather than an ensemble or a fixed group of players - it became more of a project-based group where the players were hand-picked for each project based on their skill set or the demands of the project. So from that point onwards it's been relatively flexible.

LB: So, what would say were the objectives around forming Speak in the first place, and did that change when you took on that more flexible approach? What did you want to achieve beyond simply having a group of people performing percussion music... if that makes sense?

EU: Yeah absolutely. The goals... there are a few goals. I guess one of the really big ones is that - percussion practice in the way I see it is about much more than "percussion instruments." In fact the whole question about "percussion instruments" is one which is in constant flux, and can actually mean different things to different people. So, the "goal" of the organisation is, well firstly, to take the art form into a much deeper place than it's ever been before... essentially, when you're talking about "percussion" you could be talking about any physical object in existence. And that idea in itself is very inspiring for me, from the point of the view that literally any object can be a percussion instrument, can be musicalised, can be used in a performance of music, can be sonified. On top of that, the role and responsibility of a percussionist is very much more than just one who makes sound with objects... that, of course, can lie within performance...can very easily lie within a sound installation world, etcera etcera. But in particular that idea of the relationship to the objects - that idea of building an instrument, or helping to shape the physical object that you're using, is an important responsibility. And then I think finally, there's that choreographic or theatrical relationship that a percussionist has to their object, to their instrument. 

LB: Sure.

EU: So sometimes, it's about how the instrument is presented on stage - the kind of role that it plays, whether it's kind of a physical one or a theatrical one. So it's kind of about exploding that art form out, so it not being about just percussion instruments, but about a whole "percussive arts practice." So that's certainly the goal now. And you'll see that a lot of our work now, the emphasis is sort of away from "concerts," it's away from commissioning pieces of music... and it's much more about bigger concepts, that bring all of those ideas into play. So the instrument might be completely customised for that project, or the concept might be tied in with the intimate relationship that a human being might have with a particular object. 

LB: Which I guess leads us leads us quite nicely to Fluorophone. And yeah, I guess it's probably a great entry point for someone who might be interested in this idea of an exploded or an expanded percussion practice, because I think - from the video clips that I've seen - it feels very much like you instantly know this is a percussion performance or concept, but it's also completely unlike anything I've seen before. I'm interested in, particularly, how this Fluorophone program came about and whether there's much precedent for that kind of work - like if you were inspired by anything in particular... 

EU: Yeah, I mean, I think firstly... Fluorophone is a work that is about the relationship between light and sound. And effectively, about using light as a percussion instrument, or looking at a way in which percussive techniques can then manifest visually as well, through light. And what's beautiful about a project like Fluorophone is that it's an extremely universal one in the sense that it's about exploring the behaviour of sound and light and the simultaneous direct relationship between those two things. 

LB: Uh huh.

EU: It wasn't the idea of Fluorophone that came first, it was some of the work that I was doing with certain composers that kind of tied everything together. There is definitely a precedent of this kind of work that's been done in the past... I mean, I don't know a project that's been done before Fluorophone of music pieces or percussion works that were all about the relationship between light and sound in this way. But there have been many individual examples of work, a range of different works of that nature, but to the best of my knowledge it's the first kind of comprehensive and thought-through programme of this kind of work. And I think what it does is that it puts the work into a visual space, where suddenly the nature of the material starts to effect the way you interpret. So your visual sense effects the way you start to interpret sound, or the behaviour of the light then maps the way you understand the musical structures that are at play, at so on. So it becomes a really powerful tool in helping to understand New Music, and artistic concepts. 

LB: I guess to get more specific I'm curious about the range of technologies that you're using... I know that's probably a pretty big and intricate question, but I don't know - if there's anything you thought you could particularly talk about that would express [the outcomes] you're referring to?

EU: I think in relation to technology, there's not really one specific world that our work exists in - we're not really looking to be an "electro-acoustic band" or work purely in the vanguard of live music performance software, or artificial intelligence or any of that sort of stuff. Though certainly we do delve into those sort of areas from time to time - it really on depends on the nature of the project. So here at the Totally Huge New Music Festival, aside from Fluorophone which is very much driven by electricity... and the use of a whole range of different kinds of software to make those ideas work... the hyper-kinda-contrast of that is the work by Michael Pisaro for 100 percussionist, called 'A Wave and Waves' which is completely acoustic and is about something much more organic. But on the other hand is still really excessive, and a really "new" work, and a very unusual format to be hearing live music in. So the work is rarely about the technology, and as a result we keep coming in and out of that depending on what the demands of the concepts of the projects are.

LB: Yeah, so the technology is secondary to the creative gesture, or... interests. 

EU: Yep.

LB: Going back to Fluorophone though, can you talk us through any of the - techniques, I guess? I noticed that in your piece, 'Pyrite Gland,' there looked like there were quite unusual and, to my mind hard-to-unpick, things going on there, can you talk us through it a little bit?

EU: In that particular case, I wanted to create a work that worked with LED light, and that was mainly because I wanted a real cross-section of lights to be used, so we've got everything from strobe lights, matches, fixtural and fluorescent, so LED was a logical fit within that mix. The idea here was to turn the tom-tom into a light fixture itself. So the instrument, to most people, of course looks like a recognizable drum. But then on the other hand it also behaved like a light; the skins were illuminated like a light with a frosted lens. The way that that was put together was the music and lighting design were composed as sort of one and same thing. Not exactly a 1:1 relationship between the light and the sound, but a sense that the lighting was linked to the score and articulating the musical lines of the performers. I had this double LED disc built that could fit inside the drum that then was speaking wirelessly to a wireless router and then was linked to a click track, and was completely timed to the composition. So the LED discs have been pre-programmed, using midi software, to be completely aligned with what's going on on stage.

LB: Right, so, it feels like there's an important but subtle kind of distinction... in terms of this concert or set of works as opposed to, for example, another musical performance where the light show is very closely linked or integrated with the sound. I feel like it's more about collapsing those two things so the same gestures produce both at once, or they create each other - would that be fair to say?

EU: That's exactly right, that's precisely it. The ideal scenario is when one source of energy or one movement has a result, where the focus of that energy is that it delivers both a a sound and a light component simultaneously. Most of the pieces do that, like for example striking a match - it's very hard to strike a match and make it light without it being percussive or without it making a sound. And with the strobe light, you can't get it to flash without it clicking. The globe as it fills with electricity also makes a sound... so it's those two elements working together that creates the work, and makes it different to what you described before which is where you've got some sound and some light placed over the top of it. 

LB: And then I guess as a result - sort of drawing attention to sounds that might seem incidental to another kind of utility in daily life, but in this instance becomes, you know, an aesthetic object.

EU: Yeah, exactly. 

LB: Cool. So you mention you have curated groups of performers depending on the project. Who have you got for this one?

EU: We've got Louise Devenish; Matthias Schack-Arnott is our artistic associate, so he's involved in that as well; and myself. There's also a fourth - and that's Kaylie Melville - the whole project is a "trio" program but there's one piece in which all four of us play. 

LB: And if there's anything else you wanted to mention about it?

EU: With Fluorophone.... it's taken a lot of development to find a visual and sonic language that really works on stage, and also on tour. And so we've worked very very closely with all the composers involved to create a set of really strong contemporary works. And as a result I think the project has had a really successful life; it's toured multiple times internationally, throughout Australia and it's going back to Europe again next year. It's really caught the attention of some prestigious New Music festivals around the world - I think because the music is really strong, but also because it manages to recontextualise the sound in a way as well.

LB: I'm looking forward to getting forward to getting to witness it at some stage. Thanks Eugene, that was all really fascinating.

EU: Thanks for you time, really appreciate it. 

Speak Percussion appear at THNMF over several time slots. 

Fluorophone:
7.30pm Wednesday 25 October, Subiaco Arts Centre
A wave and waves: 
1pm and 4pm Sunday 29 October

Midland Railway Workshops

An interview with Proximity Festival artist Rachael Dease

Andrew Ryan

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Perth-based artist Rachael Dease has many vocations, which frequently overlap: she's a composer, sound designer, singer, musician, theatre maker, visual artist and often works with installation and film. With the advent of the (now biennial) Proximity Festival in 2017, Dease is turning her attention to the creation of intimate one-on-one art.

This is what the imminent festival's website chooses to reveal about Dease's performance, entitled 'This Little Light of Mine':

An intimate meditation exploring the algorithm of time lived, and time yet to come. Sink into a hypnotic ritual where old regrets are dismissed and new desires are illuminated. Can we really live every day like it’s our last? And even if we can, what does it mean to do so?

Lyndon Blue: The description of your Proximity performance on the festival website is fairly enigmatic (I suspect deliberately). Without giving too much away can you elaborate on the kind of space you're working with, the "closeness" to audience members, and how you're approaching the theme of "time lived / time yet to come"?

Rachael Dease: Yep, it's supposed to be vague.  For such a short performance there's a danger of revealing too much.  There was lots of editing trying to pick just the right description for the program.

My space is one of Perth's hidden little secrets, of which we have many. It's very reminiscent of my childhood in its natural state.  My personal proximity is set, but how close the audience perceives that closeness would be up to the individual.

The approach to the theme has been to keep it simple.  Its harder to do than I expected, I hope it's been achieved.  Mostly I work with a very specific type of audience in mind, but for Proximity I very specifically made a work for a general public audience, so it needed to be accessible and easily interpreted across cultures and generations. I think it's a better work because of it, but I guess we'll see!

I also thought about what I could achieve with this festival that I couldn't with any other format, and jumped on that opportunity.

LB: Absolutely, that last point really intrigues me. My engagement with your work has mostly been in music concert settings, where space and audience/performer dynamics are certainly relevant but not necessarily chief concerns. Proximity is quite a unique set up and I think it's bound to expand any artist's practice, do you feel it's sparked new interests for you? Has planning work for a broader demographic caused you to surprise yourself in terms of content and themes, or is it more a question of how you frame and articulate things? 

RD: Proximity has certainly been one of my most challenging experiences so far.  I'm generally guarded, even when I'm working with a team, much of my creativity happens behind closed doors, and it's something I've fiercely guarded.  Bringing down those walls was actually really tough, and the workshop preios last year was like a boot camp both mentally and emotionally.  It was worth it though, I've become a better artist for the experience. I've learnt a lot about the audience experience, which is serendipitous to the work I 've been creating this year as a whole.

Creating a work for a wider audience actually didn't end up being much different to what I'd have created for a niche one, now I think about it.  Open-mindedness and sensitivity with this subject is imperative so what I've learnt through Proximity has been put to use in a very practical and direct manner.

I write a lot using a polyphony of code, or data, or techniques.   This is a relatively naked work for me. It's scary, but it should be. I've got to be at least as brave as the audience, right?

LB: As an audience member that attitude would certainly give me confidence... If I'm participating in an artwork I like to feel like all parties are putting themselves out there, a kind of communal challenge and reward, as opposed to any weird power dynamic.  

On a separate note I'm intrigued about recent projects and how they've informed your ongoing practice. Earlier this year you were conducting a residency in the Arctic Circle, can you describe what that was like?

RD: It's been hard to sum up that experience.  I came back home and started back to back projects since, so I scratching together any time I can find to take my mind back there, work through data and images I collected before it turns into a fantastic dream.  My awareness has shifted, hopefully for the better, for the broader.  Making work for "me" from that adventure is less of a priority now.  I'm sure there will be personal works that come out of it, but when and how, what form that might take, I'm unclear still.  

I captured sounds and images that I didn't think I'd see or hear in my lifetime. I was braver and stronger than I thought I was. My confidence in my capabilities has risen, and that's always a good thing, if humility is kept in check.

I had some trouble getting "clean" sounds up there, even at the end of the earth, far away from people and industry.  This really opened my eyes to aquatic sound pollution, and it's effect on marine wildlife, many of which rely on sound for navigation, hunting and finding a mate.  It's rarely talked about, if ever, and this is something I'd like to learn more about.

LB:  I never would have thought sound pollution would be an issue that far out - nor does sound really factor into my standard conception of how we impact upon wild ecologies... that's quite an insight. 

Bringing it back to Proximity, I wanted to ask if there are particular artists / performances you're especially excited for or feel an affinity with. And similarly, if there's any "close encounter" type artworks that have had a profound effect on you in the past?

RD: There have been genuine moments working with every single artist in Proximity this year that has made me excited to see their work.  To be honest, I haven't experienced a lot of one-on-one work!  I've been looking at the every day moments where people are forced to stop, to think (or not), and how I can create work to punctuate the moments, to make them hyper real.

Proximity festival runs from Sept 26 to Oct 7.

For more info visit http://proximityfestival.com/

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Midori Takada @ Melbourne Recital Centre, Tuesday August 29

Andrew Ryan

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“Emptiness is none other than form. Form, is none other than emptiness.” 

The concert hall is empty, but not for long. I’m not sure if it’s gonna be a 7.30 lock-out kind of situation, I know it’s a formalised sit-down affair, so maybe you gotta be on the dot or miss out. This is bad news ‘cause we’re on the wrong side of the Yarra at 7.28. We bolt down Swanston Street, racing trams and horse-buggies; Flinders Street Station streaks past - a high contrast blur; we almost accidentally attend the ballet; and finally we’re in the right foyer. You can tell it’s the right foyer because everyone looks like the kind of person who goes to see a semi-obscure Japanese composer toured by Red Bull Music Academy… they, we, all have very deliberate haircuts and broad, starchy trousers, spectacles. Mostly caucasian, we brandish bags, coats, sneakers and brogues in muted, pseudo-organic hues. It probably sounds nasty and facetious lumping everyone into this taxonomy. But it’s not an indictment. It’s just kind of funny. And we’re mostly - almost certainly - here because a quirk of the Youtube autoplay algorithm recommended us Midori Takada’s solo studio album Through The Looking Glass sometime in the last few years. Being a music nerd in 2017 is an absurd, but joyous, business. 

We’ve arrived in time, by the way. We lower ourselves into red cushioned seats and KRAKATAU emerge from the wings, waving cordiality before taking to their stations. 

Their first tune sounds is note-perfect, mood-perfect - it sounds purpose-built for tonight. For all I know, it could be. Mantra-like synth runs swirl over a sparse web of drum and bass utterances, eventually joined by slow and sensuous saxophone drones. Underpinning it all is a continuous sample of human in-and-exhalation, creating a soothing - if sightly uncanny - metronome for everything to be draped over.

They could have ended their performance there and it would have been a sufficient gesture - which is not to say the rest of the set was wasted, rather that it felt like a series of encores. They gracefully reveal a library of moods, from the jittery 7/4 lushness of "Apogean Tide" to the cheering (if slightly clunky) soft-fusion / dub closing jam. 

After an intermission illuminated by smiling, blissed-out faces we slide back into the theatre. The room is dark, save for the stage: spangled with lone cymbals on stands, floating in space like golden lilypads. Eventually a figure stalks on stage, crane-like, mallets in hand. She gently excites a triangulation of cymbals, weaving through them as if creeping through a resonant forest. And again, the cymbals sizzle, and MIDORI TAKADA makes her way around the stage, with the restrained but theatrical poise of a dancer. In this way, the performance of eliciting sound and the performance of visible motion in space converge. To distinguish between “dance” and “music” here feels petty. It’s simply a beautiful, unified chain of gestures. Between cymbal bursts, Takada recites seemingly mystic propositions, such as the one at the top of this article. Albeit lofty, these phrases don’t feel pretentious or obscure – in fact, they ring true by virtue of the performance that surrounds them. Emptiness – in this instance, silence and physical space – are as much Takada’s “forms” as the sounds she makes or the objects she places. Absence gives her performance its distinct minimalistic tenor, its haunting, sparse quality, and thus typifies its content.

Having said that, Takada’s hands soon get decidedly busy, and her soundscapes intermittently dense. She moves to the marimba – perhaps her most characteristic instrument – and begins a series of intricate and driving pieces which recall Steve Reich in their insistent, stoic elegance. Resounding with eighth-note delays and subtle dissonances, these works are not the evening’s most dramatic, but they’re arguably the most engrossing – so thick with harmonic detail and evocative potential.  At one point, Takada spells out her own visualisation: a tale of a coconut tree on a riverbank, remembered from youth, gone to ruin in the intervening years. It’s a simple but vivid monologue, rich with pathos and haiku-like minimalist charm.

Things get wilfully intense when Takada moves to the opposite corner of the stage, which boasts a large gong and a series of tom drums arranged at waist and head height. Beginning with simmering energy and building to a blistering crescendo in which she pummels the toms with dizzying full-body spins, it’s a virtuosic ode to the brute power of percussion. The ear is reminded of war drums, or the consonance between percussive resonance and the stormy rumblings of nature. The skill and complexity involved in delivering these thundering rhythms is astonishing, but showmanship doesn’t seem to be the goal at hand. Takada has lead as on a poetic trajectory from sparse quietude to full-pelt fortissimo, and now begins to lead us back down, returning to gentler dynamics and again to the drifting cymbal flourishes.

The whole performance, then, becomes a kind of symmetrical arc in which we glimpse elemental truths. Far from a mere display of ability, Takada offers us an oblique but fully-realized vision of a personal cosmology. It’s a thing of wonder, and serves to reinforce the growing feeling that Midori Takada should be considered alongside the great composers of minimalist percussion/spiritual music – names like Reich, Riley, Glass and Adams. We thank our lucky stars for Youtube algorithms, musically-minded energy drinks, and above all, the astounding creative forces in our midst.

An Interview with Patrick Marlborough

Andrew Ryan

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Loved, loathed, and a source of bewilderment on the local comedy circuit, with a rapid-fire mind full of colourfully-worded opinions. He’s a journalist, stand-up guy, Twitter lover, impulsive composer of musicals, cultural omnivore and he looks great in baby pink. I could only be referring to Patrick Marlborough. With a new EP and tour in the pipeline, Pat joined me for a fun, long, meandering, occasionally surreal Facebook chat. Here’s how it went.

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Patrick Marlborough: When ya wanna do this [interview]?

Lyndon Blue: Hey cobber. How’s around 1 hour from now?

PM: Sounds good. Might be having dinner I’ll let ya know, haha. Cookin up some sweet ol’ pork.

LB: If so i'll just interview you about pork, which will probably be genuinely illuminating for me as a vegetarian.

PM: Oh boi. I know it’s meant to taste a bit like people, thats 90% of the appeal.

LB: Definitely makes ya curious.

[Lyndon Sets the Messenger Chat’s default emoji to “pig face”]

PM: Hahahaha. Everyone has a customised emoji for me and i have no idea how to do it in turn. Chuck the pig on the pile.

LB: Once you’ve gotten on the custom emoji wagon the blue thumb just feels cold and alienating.

PM: I feel like my friends should just post the emojis they chose to represent our relationship when i die.

[An hour or so later]

PM: I am full of pork and ready to talk.

LB: How was it? 

PM: Bit of a Manson vibe, this emoji. Not as good as 'long pork' I’m sure, but good enough.

LB: Alright I've never interviewed a comedian before but am certainly curious about that whole world…

PM: Haha.

LB: …And also your position within it. From what I can gather you don't care much for australian comedy.

PM: Australian comedy is incredibly blokey. it's a kind of performative masculinity i've always found off putting and alienating. Our stand up bends towards observational, middle brow, easy going. There's not much introspection, on personal or national level, that in itself being quintessentially australian. My hypermanic, hyperassociative, deeply neurotic broken asperges soft-boy schtick isn't really in tune with the national mood, if ya grok me.

LB: Totally. Which if nothing else sets you apart.

PM: For better or worse. I kinda arrived fully formed in a sense. Or at least like a foal - got the body and vibe but wonky legs etc.

LB: Covered in slime.

PM: Slimer is a big influence.

LB: Why do you think we (Australia) suck at comedy - and suck at supporting it in terms of infrastructure, etc - given that we have this national identity built around being jokesters and larrikins and all that?

PM: Ok hold up. I don't think we suck at comedy, necessarily. Working Dog, Clarke and Dawe, Norman Gunston, Kath and Kim, early Barry Humphries, heck, Double the Fist - we a have a great lineage of TV and sketch comedy, even if it goes misremembered or overlooked. But standup…is a very American form, I’ve always felt. Standup comes from antagonism, back and forth, discourse, uncomfortable truths in otherwise stifled spaces. That is the tradition of the form, that's its root.

LB: Right, right.

PM: Guys who advanced it - Bruce, Gregory, Pryor, Carlin, Rivers - they took the anxiety of those in between moments and expanded upon it. In that tension, and in good jokes, is some kinda cathartic Daoist wisdom with gut laughs.

Like, Rodney Dangerfield is in his own way an artistic radical, in the same way i consider Beckett or Picasso. But in Australia we are very middle class and reactionary, for all our love of thinking otherwise, we like to laugh “at” and “punch down.” The national myth of Australia is one seated in violent patriarchy and white hegemony, a big part of maintaining that comfortable myth is believing we are easy going Dundee types. It's [to] salve the cruel brutal reality of our history.

So hold up, haha. Take the larrikin: a trope essentially invented by Lawson and Patterson, who used that character to MOCK a nation that was stuffy, middle class, reactionary. Then that culture, to shield itself from their satire, absorbed it and reappropriated it into the national brand…which is something we continue to do to this day, essentially.

But also yeah, just look at out history…when Dick Gregory tried to come here in 1970, the Gorton government banned him. When Bruce did come here, he damn near started a riot. Australia cant acknowledge uncomfortable truths, which so much of good standup acknowledges, cos if we even wink in that staring contest the whole stack of Odd Bodz collapses.

LB: That imperative of confronting uncomfortable truths is obviously very present in your standup, if not so much in the broader australian standup tradition. I guess one thing I wonder is how you negotiate wanting to do that…

PM: With being funny?

LB: With being funny - and also with not wanting to drag up trauma for people who have been deeply afflicted - which is something you've written about.

PM: Hmmm. I’ll deal w the trauma thing first, cos thats tricky. It’s a matter of sincerity, that i think is hard to explain in the same way 'why does this melody work' is hard to explain. I feel everyone has an instinctual ear for comedy, in the way they do music. You can discern a person’s sincerity and intent intuitively, if the comic is skilled enough especially.

LB: That's a nice way of putting it.

PM: Say, its the difference between bebop and a bunch of guys just hoking, if you know what i mean? Now, you can fuck it up, of course. For me, I try to make it pretty clear who my targets are, it is kinda obvious where my blows are landing, and if not at first, that is very intentional. I want to punch up, I want to confront the bigot which in the context of white Australia (see 90% of Perth audiences) is kinda everyone, myself included. So…I build the bits like traps i guess.

LB: Haha, I was wondering about that too [mocking your own audiences, and in turn mocking yourself as part of that crowd].

PM: I think of that old myth thing, of the inuits leaving the dagger coated in blood in the snow so the wolf licks it and licks it, not realising he is bleeding to death, drinking his own blood. That’s my schtick. I’m one of you, let’s go into the willy wonka tunnel… then SLAM. Your child is seeing a chien being beheaded when you thought you were at the chocolate factory. Does that make sense? I do avoid all jokes about sexual assault and domestic violence and that kinda trauma that is everywhere. I say avoid, but to be honest they don’t enter my mind. They’re everywhere in the open mic scene, though.

LB: Right, right - yeah that all makes sense. I was just soaking up the vivid metaphors.

PM: As for making it funny… if people call you a 'funny bugger' for 20+ years, you eventually start to believe it.

LB: [pig emoji]

PM: The pig of shame. I’m fastidious about what i find funny i guess. It’s always shifting, i surprise myself with some shit. The reason I released the album is cos I never repeat jokes/bits. Well, rarely. And as soon as it’s out of my mouth to their ears, I’m bored by it. It's crap. I wanna do something new.

Comedy is weird like that, that’s not how standup is meant to work as a process, I know, but i really don’t care. It’s the only way i can keep myself interested, to junk it and move on (it being topical helps).

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LB: That was another thing i noticed about Barely Bombings - like the ARIAs bit. Hyper-topical which is a risk, but has its own potency.

PM: Yeah so - that bit, was the day after the ARIAs. To be fair i had to write a piece for Vice and i was like 'these jokes are good, may as well expand on them.’ Because - I don’t know if this was kind of an autism/ocd thing, but i was a weird kid, with what i consumed - I didnt listen to FM radio. I missed most pop culture (besides film and cartoons) of my generation. There’s no nostalgia for me there, it’s just things I always found alienating, which still are. So I like being in that space and being totally unbothered by it. It’s good for goofing.

But say the Australia day bit - that was on Australia day, which kinda fired me up for that performance. Thought i was gona get lynched

LB: Was that the most antagonism you’ve received from an audience? I imagine there must be times when the crowd is definitely not on side, politically.

PM: Haha. Ummm. Well, only when the bits have failed, or been weak. Best example: the bit on the rise of fascism, which i think is a flawed bit, way too abstract and weird for a live audience, a tough follow etc especially at an open mic. There were these 2 guys though, in t the front row…this is 2 days after trump won, mind you. Theres no stage at that venue, so I’m basically standing on their toes. And they are just covered in swastika tatts. Flexing their muscles.

LB: Fuck.

PM: Sneering at me…

LB: Which venue is this?

PM: While i doing this bit on the return of Nazis. That was at the Scotto.

LB: Jesus Christ.

PM:  They were being pricks all night, said some horrible shit to Sonny Yang, if i recall properly. But for me…those guys…are kinda my muse? Like hey, this is for you, fuckos. I tend to confuse guys like that so much that they don’t know if they wanna punch me or sell me a book, I thrive off it.

LB: And what's your vision of a good outcome there - if your comedy "works" beyond just getting a laugh - would it be that you've softened their stance, or just made them go away tails between their legs, or?

PM: Hmmm. You’re not changing those guys’ minds, at least a guy like me isn’t. Not with a 5 minute bit in a pub. Even my christ complex has its limits.

LB: A swastika tattoo is pretty emphatic huh.

PM: Haha, yeah. But, I think its the other people in the room, essentially laughing at their expense. Like yes, this is horrible, this is uncomfortable, our new reality is a nightmare. But stop and look at these fuckers, and how fundamentally absurd they are. 45 year old faildad with a swastika tattoo above his right ear - what an unmitigated turd of a human. That’s what made them go red, a room of 100 or so folk laughing at their beliefs. That feels good (even if that bit is about making non complacent types culpable).

LB: Yeah and it feels like a very unequivocal moment, when everyone is laughing at someone. So, a good way to fight back.

PM: Yeah I’m 50/50 on the effectiveness of it, i just know its all I’m good at.

LB: I’ve heard people say that the right is much better at memes.

PM: Haha. I think their frontal lobe collapse makes memes their most suitable medium, for sure.

LB: How do you feel about meme as medium? Perhaps that's a stinker question, but [Patrick's Twitter concept] Cormac McCafe is kind of a meme.

PM: Haha. No, I am literally doing peep show/game of thrones mash ups to kill time at work so. No, it's the new comic frontier, in a sense. I laugh at memes, I’m a child of the meme wars (god help us). I’m nottttt good at them. I think I got on brown cardigan for putting a 'brazzers' logo below an image of tony abott and his daughters, does that count?

LB: Faaaark. That's very gross but it counts.

PM: How many former prime ministers can block me on twitter? - by David Marr.

LB: Speaking of Twitter. I’m aware there's a lot going on there. I’m not especially clued in. But I know you get a lot of "feedback" around your writing. Is it a more fun space than standup - in a sense?

PM: It’s different. I came to twitter so late, and i regret that so much. I really only started tweeting proper last year, when I started writing for bigger publications, they linked it to my account which was until just for jokes about McDonalds written in the style of Cormac McCarthy. I.e., very niche.

LB: Lol, yep.

PM: But yeah, I love it to be honest. It’s a hellscape. It’s [a] hyperassociative mix of trauma and absurdism and that is my brain, in a very literal sense. It’s been so bad for my mental health, but also great? Meet a lotta like minded weirdos on twitter. dril is the true voice of our generation. And if im being honest, the most important comic voice of our time…

LB: I was reading dril tonight. So solid.

PM: dril is literally president. That’s the problem. It’s dril’s world, were just livin’ in it.

LB: Hahahah. It's interesting you say Twitter is (in part) good for your mental health. Is that essentially through the camaraderie?

PM: Yeah, well, its the first place I've felt like I have peers? Lotta smart weirdos making good jokes. But also a lotta people saying they like my work, which is nice. Facebook is where i get the death threats, not Twitter.

LB: Oh really? that's also interesting. Maybe I need to spend more time on Twitter.

PM: My “other” inbox on fb is filled angry stepdads, messaging me from broom cupboards and the husband chairs in David Jones. [Twitter] is wayyyy better than fb, but will eat your mind faster.

So, I think it’s partly why I’ve been doing less performing this year, its been a bit of a creative restructuring via the ol’ twittersphere think. That said, it just doesn’t translate to the stage. The best twitter comics aren’t (usually) gonna be good performers. And thats fine, it’s just a different form.

LB: Yeah and its a grim pursuit to force that translation. See also, The Emoji Movie.

PM: Lmao. My new thing to piss of comedy pedants - as an aside, comedy bros are the worst people on earth - god i hate them, but so many pedants but my new way of pissing the off is by saying 'T. Jaymiller' in comment sections…they always take the bait. I love comment sections, can we talk on that?

LB: Bahaha. Yeah garn. That "the comments section" page [on Facebook] is one of my favourite things.

PM: My friend Benny created that! Met him in a bar in new orleans. Haha, i love it too.

LB: No shit!

PM: Thats why there are so many Perth fans, i invited all. It’s all Perth and Nola kids, lmao. But yeah, I wanna kinda get the comment section vibe going in live shows. In that everyone thinks they’re an expert, are oblivious, and are easily riled up. “Everyone is wrong but me,” being the mood of the day, etc.

LB: Yeah - I was gonna ask if that's kind of how you build your "characters.”

PM: Yeah - so my persona - and i change, mind, but often - it’s this kinda guy who is haplessly unaware of himself and the world around him. He’s essentially based on Guardian columnists: holier than though, walks on water, educated, but in a Wikipedian sense, ya know? Master of none.

LB: Hahaha yes.

PM: Guardian headlines are my life force, fuck. My recent favourite: ‘No actual lake compares to the ideal lake for which i yearn.’ I could never write anything half that funny.

LB: HAHAHAHA

PM: It’s my Facebook inspo quote thing. It’s just an article about a guy musing on his DREAM LAKE…and whinging about other lakes…fuck meeee.

LB: [5 second audio clip of Lyndon laughing, almost in tears]

PM: HAHAHAHAHA. Fuck - it’s a gift that keeps on giving. But yeah I love guardian comment sections cos everyone there is so so so dour. Like walking onto the set of an Asher Keddie telemovie. Like, we wana be taken seriously, even though we are all fools. My fav thing is to pretend im a 16th century fishmonger peasant, and people respond in earnest. I mean, christ. So i wanna get that kinda reaction on stage.

Best example would be the Loco for Boko bit, where I say I blacked my kid up like the head of Boko Harem. And it’s done in the style of a Guardian columist, who is essentially complaining about one thing, while propogating another kinda dipshittery. To that guy, its offensive that the PC nazis try to questions his legitimacy as a 'good dad.’ But the 2 or 3 time I did that bit, every time I had someone come up to me afterwards and ask me about my son: 'is your son ok now?'

LB: HAHA

PM: My son Remi, who i think i describe as a menacing Damien type.

LB:  Just revisiting that recording. I love the "Lindt Cafe Seige" theme birthday party…

PM: I’d forgotten that…GOOD GRIEF. Hahahaha. How am I not in prison somewhere.

LB: To bring it back around, are there any Aussie comics doing the "uncomfortable truths" thing - or even just who are really funny - who you'd want to big up?

PM: Ummm. Local guys I like: Ben Mulvey and Ben Sutton. Though they don’t do that…Sutton can, he's indigenous, so he tackles Australian racism head on. Mulvey is a great joke writer/performer, just totally fluid with the gags and structure. Both way better than me, haha.

But yeah. I don’t know, I cant really stand the Melbourne festival crowd/schtick, all the tone and performances seem the same. Like a bunch of folk who came short of making it into NIDA wanna do their original monologues for a bigger crowd. The beauty of globalism is that few of my standup influences are Australian, never have been. This is something I’ve been obsessed with since i was 3 so… not many Aussies, which sucks, in a way.

LB: Yeah i guess it makes it harder to see the path to tread but also it's cool that australian audiences are attuned to that international output and hopefully maybe we won't put up with that Melbourne Festival crap for much longer? I see weird comedy on netflix etc and feel like it's getting a foothold over here.

PM: The festival/fringe circuit is a whole other world, which is why our standup leans to much towards the British style as opposed to the American. We don’t have the infrastructure for the American version. Especially in Perth, hahah. Where festivals are your only way out. I’ve chosen the path of careeeer suicide lmao. LMAO IS BACK BABY.

LB: Thought you meant Redfoo for a hot sec.

PM: HAHA. Did they ever go away? They/he, I don’t know, I’m picturing carrot top…

LB: “Redfoo, what are your pronouns?”

PM: HAHAHAHAHA. Fuck, I’m dying. Not on this hill, Lyndon.

I feel like for me. Re: standup and comedy, my influences are wide and kinda dated: old Allen, Lenny Bruce, Pryor, Carlin, Mort Sahl, Bob Newhart, the late great Dick Gregory. But also Nicktoons, Buggs Bunny, Monty Python, Basil Fawlty, Peep Show, Lannucci, Curb, Simpsons, Seinfeld etc. If i was gonna pick my no 1 comedy idol -

LB: Yeah garn.

PM: Yakko Warner from Animaniacs.

LB: Oooh. I must confess total ignorance.

PM:  Oh man hold on. This is my brain.

If i got a brain scan, it’d be this. Imagine me, ADHD aspy child, seeing this, omfg. One day i’ll do it all the way through.One day.

LB: This is beautiful.

PM: Animaniacs is true art. Radical anti capitalist mayhem haha. Presidents song also very good:

People remember Pinky and the Brain better, they were from Animaniacs. But obviously hypermanic hyper associative rapid fire voice changing and references is a thing for me. And that I very much inspired by Loony Tunes. Buggs Bunny, even though he’s just animated Grouch Marx, is probably the greatest comic voice of the 20th century.

[a minute passes]

Scared I’ve lost you down an Animaniacs k hole, which is fair, I am there too.

LB: Hahaha sorry, was indeed transfixed by the presidents song.

[a few days pass]

PM: This video is now part of the interview and must be included

[a few more days pass]

(((PART TWO)))

LB: So for the uninitiated, how would you describe ‘Barely Bombings' and how did you decide that those particular recordings belonged on an album together?

PM: Hmm. Well, they're 90% of my standup bits up that point. I try and record most my performances, half out of hoarder mentality, half because its the easiest way to get my work to a wider audience. The shelf life on some of these bits is - I don’t know - not great.

There's a narrative to the album. Like, some bits are recorded almost 2 years apart, but fit together well, thematically.There’s a strand of ideas: self-doubt, struggle w mental illness, then national doubt/rage, observational political grief goofs, and then the convergence and confluence of all of the above. [pig emoji] Should I sign off answers with a pig?

LB: Haha yes excellent.

PM: Udder and out.

I know pigs dont have udders but i am very tired.

“Over and sow” works better. Haha, no wait, fuck me.

Over and snout. There we go

There’s a good example of my joke writing process.

LB: Hahahah, perfect. In terms of the relationship between your standup and mental illness… can I ask how cathartic / helpful for you it is to make comedy about it, versus other motivations for engaging that subject matter?

PM: I haven't talked about mental illness on stage for a while, those are usually my oldest bits…

LB: Right, okay.

PM: And, it’s not because I’m shy or scared to perform them. If anything, it's because it is too easy to talk about for me. Idon't find it a confrontational conversation because (ironically) I’m too autistic/mad to feel that uneasiness, or care about it. I guess i write a column on it for VICE so yeah. But regarding making it funny - madness is funny to me, it is a survival mechanism, it informs my humour in a very literal way. My frontal lobe has no filter. I’ve always said the first thing that comes to mind, and in so many ways that has ruined my life haha. I spent so much of school in principal offices and on the naughty bench, so I just made sure the things I couldn’t help saying were either smart or funny or preferably both. Kinda turned that into my brand, as most folk who know me know. I’m terrible at keeping secrets, I’m a pathalogical bullshit artist (diagnosed), and i have little to no impulse control…if ya cant make that work in standup then buddy, i got bad news for ya. Lenny Bruce wasnt a heroin addict cos he was a welll balanced dude. Richard Pryor didnt try to self immolate cos he was having a one off down day. Haha. So it's the stage or Alma street, essentially.

LB: Yikes. Didn't know about Richard Pryor.

PM: Oh yeah. Man, I love that bit. He turned it into a bit abou this crack pipe exploding, burns to 85% of his body. In reality he covered himself in pure alcohol and set himself a light. He ran down the street for 10 minutes on fire screaming. The cops trailed slowly behind him, cos quite understandably, they had no idea what to do. And he opened his comeback special by lighting a match and saying: "hey whats this?"and bobbing it in front of his face. “It’s Richard Pryor running down the street.” If he can do that, I can talk about anything (he is my hero).

LB: Holy shit.

PM: Ye. Literally cooked. Ha. His life was so tragic. Highly recommend Scot Saul's ‘Becoing Richard Pryor.’

LB: You alluded before to how the themes of your sets have changed , what's been the focus of the stuff on the forthcoming record / shows?

PM I’m leaning into my weirdness, and for want of a better word, smarts. So much of Australian comedy is about generalising, being broad, and not being polemical.

I’ve never been those things, I’ve branded myself by being the opposite from the outset. I’m hyper-specific, and I’m informed, and i talk about shit I really truly care about. Most standups here dont, to be honest.

I get told off ‘cause i do it in a way that is so strange and which can be too confonting and alienating. This time last year i had some doubts about it, I thought, I should slow down a bit, I should go easier on myself and as such the audience.

But then - reality - fuck, the nightmare of where we are now it’s like, my bits were coming to life. It's half the reason I’ve slowed down with gigs this year - I can’t outpace the actual madness anymore.

I think I’m madder this year, in both senses. Last year i felt the beginning of a reprieve, and i was wrong. It was actually just that moment on the rollercoaster before it drops, and then the guy two carriages back says "hey, my fucking seat is ON FIRE.” That’s 2017.

So second half of that q…I haven’t been booking many gigs, mainly cos my mental health has been so bad this year. To be honest, gigs really take it out of me. I pour a lot into a 5 min open mic. And i have a terrible time while there, the anxiety is just immense. It makes me sick for a week. It’s hard to want to do that. So I’ve been doing a lot more home and studio recordings, getting back into longform improv, and just little weird sketches.

Open mics are a nightmare for me cos there's never anyone doing anything remotely similar that i just feel like the guy with his cock out asking everyone to give him feedback on a red spot that may or may not be there.

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LB: Do you ultimately feel like you're more drawn to non-live formats then? Or maybe just live work in a different setting?

PM: The latter. I love performing. Problem is I’m a control freak and an egomaniac. I hate other comics, haha. I dont want them near me.

LB: Looool.

PM: I’d like to perform between people giving wakes. I hate green rooms, i hate cliques, i hate discussing ideas. I like performing in pubs, i like the diversity of the crowd, i like bombing A LOT. I just want to apparate on stage, do my 5-10, and apparate home. The tragedy of my mental illness is that social interaction in a context like that is torturous; people joshing you backstage isn't just a bit of fun for me, it's a nightmare. I’m only comfortable on stage - it’s everything else which is agonisng.

LB: Yeah I can relate to a certain extent, I get into anxious dissociative states either side of a performance. The teleport option sounds great.

PM: Can’t wait for it hey. I’m glad i can be frank about these things though. I dont have stage fright, I have backstage fright. It’s not me being dick, i have a disorder that makes these things just so hard for me.

LB: I imagine a lot of people misinterpret that.

PM: Yeah. It’s a hyper competitive and ultimately bitchy scene. I don’t have that in me. Lotta comics try and psych you out back stage - not all, but some -

and its so ladsy, so many bros. It’s all the things that make me feel ill, anxious, and nauseous. I hate having to be in that mix and then on stage, it throws off everything.

LB: Sounds like some weird college sport vibe.

PM: The scene is hyper macho. I dont indentify as a dude or with dudes so for me it's just another horrific abstraction in our countrys macho ocker wankery.

The Kates are a good example of what Aus comedy could and should be; they’re amazing. And they work in a style and genre that isnt really my thing,  but theyre great formalists, theyre doing alt or anticomedy ot an extent, they have a fucking idea and a narrative. Sadly, our media landscape is so limited. Its east coast dominated, its boomer dominated, its white, its straight, and when its not, its not artistically daring - cos any 'other' in Australia cant afford to be as well as succeeding. It’s the Triple J dilema - we have a meritocrasy that rewards a certain breed of average. There’s “acceptable daring” in Australia. The Tom Tilleys of the world bob around like unflushable turds because they are the right balance of harmless medicority and capped teeth orthodontry […] When was the ABC took a risk with comedy? You could say the Kates, but i think the Kates trojan horsed the abc, which is why theyre so good. They snuck their weirdness in. They arrived with the cult. The ABC hasnt let a cult grow for proper freaks since The Games, and for no one under 30 since Saffran.

We're a nation who detests - genuinely loathes -true weirdness. It’s why someone like - what’s his name - fuckin’, Tim Burton piano man

LB: Hahahahah.

PM: Shaun tan if he was a converse sneaker. That fucker. Can do his dourly unfunny hack songs and be lauded as some kind of avant garde wiz kid; he's The Big Weird by the measuring rod of Leigh Sales. God help us.

LB: Do you think you'll wanna relocate to try to find the career stepping stones that aren't accessible in Perth? Or is it more about “the internet”?

PM: I was gona move to NYC in March, i was set to go…life shit held me up. And to be honest, Trump kinda fucked me up regarding that a bit. But yeah, I'm thinking of LA, which I really like and where the stuff I like right now is coming from. NYC is a matter of health, money, and weather to be honest, haha. I'd love to go to America as a kinda boot camp, then come back to Aus. That'd be a dream. But again I'll probably go into a fugue state writing my "There Will Be Blood" musical. And forget to eat the corndogs and wingings or whatever, and die.

LB: Is that musical on the cards?

PM: I wrote 6 songs for it as a goof. I’ve been a compulsive musical writer since I was about 4. I can remember just about every one I’ve ever made up.

[I tell Patrick I have to hit the pause for a sec, but ask if there’s anything else in particular on his mind.]

PM: Maybe just go back a bit. Suicide and comedy maybe haha. Just the similarities. I think a lot of the great comics, from Bruce to Bamford, have spent a lot of time looking into the void of death and self death.

LB: Uh huh.

PM: And I think surviving that, or battling it, offers you a certain sense of invulnerability.

If you have been there and back or are there and remain there, the stakes of the game is altered, you’ve maybe touched the absurdity in its purest state…so you can come back and theres no fear of discussing that or anything else. Because, like a flaming Richard Pryor running down the street, you know it can’t get any worse than that kinda pain.

LB: Yeah absolutely, that's an interesting take. I hadn’t really thought of it like that.

PM: Comedy is agony, good comedy at least. It’s an exorcism. You are exorcising pain.

Comics by nature are needy people, needy to the point of being sick, I know that about myself haha. Fundamentally, it’s what separates the fleeting from the universal. Think of Rodney Dangerfieled - essentially a nightclub comic doing one liners - but, deeply depressed and it seeped into his jokes his 'hello heaviness' is such a powerful piece of comedy it makes me cry, and laugh.

[I ask, in a roundabout way, what Pat wants to achieve with his own comedy].

PM: I’m hypermanic and full of pipe dreams.

LB: Pipe dreams are good.

PM: I dream of making the Australian answer to the Simpsons or Seinfeld, but i wanna… at the moment… kinda make the Perth scene answer to Curb or It's Always Sunny. A lotta this is budgetary.

LB: For sure.

PM: But it’s that kinda show that is just stripped back to sitcom/comedy as bare essence/skeleton. I’ve always loved that. I feel I’m ready to do it, even if it’s just me talking to myself. One man bukaki party.

LB: But ideally get some like minded crew on board?

PM: Yeah, I’ve got a few friends who are very keen. A lot actually. It’s more my mental health right now. But Perth is maybe the funniest place on earth, as it’s the most absurd. I wanna make a show here.

LB: Yeah I find Perth hilarious.

PM: It’s that thing in Perth of pissing against the wind and into avoid at the same time. Just waiting for a hand to reach out and lift you a little, give you the tiniest break. Imagine an ABC comedy set in Perth? We aren’t in the national media, anywhere. It’s absurd. I wanna make it happen. I used to wanna remake Woody Allen’s Manhattan in Perth minus all the… ya know…creepy elements. But right now i just wanna riff on the city.

This place, the people, it’s my fuckin’ muse. The core joke being: it’s the daggiest place on earth, and the rest of Australia thinks it’s so much cooler. But it’s kinda like the cousin who collects star wars lego at 18 thinking his younger cousin is lame for reading the wrong manga. No one is cool here, and that to me is the biggest joke of all.

TERRY, PRIMO, PAPPY, QWERTY, STROPPIES & MORE @ THE TOTE, FRIDAY AUGUST 11

Andrew Ryan

Since I write about gigs most weeks, you might think I’m some voracious gig-hopper, diving capriciously into pubs to soak up whatever’s happening. Not so, usually. I’ll be at home, distracted, then deliberate; count pennies, drink wine, start tinkering with ableton or getting lost in a Wikipedia labyrinth and then eventually be coaxed out per a cat from under a parked car. Tonight is the exception, whereupon I slide down to the Tote, barely thinking, like a wet sardine on a mirror.

This is my first time at the Collingwood venue since I returned to Victoria. It smells even worse than I remember. If you’re not familiar, the Tote is quintessentially Melbourne and evokes the Inner-Northern suburbs’ rock underground in very particular ways. Wipers will tag team Eddy Current on the jukebox while the Bulldogs play the Giants on a shitty old TV; deftly curated haircuts mingle with ratty mullets over a beer-spattered pool table and cigarettes glow like firefly swarms in the kinda-claustrophobic courtyard. Entering the downstairs bandroom, you pass through a sort of inverse portico and end up in a dark, tiered space, where people play guitars.

The first group of people to play guitars tonight is THE STROPPIES, which is a new-ish band involving: 

-Steph Hughes (Dick Diver, Boomgates etc)

-Gus Lord (Twerps, Boomgates, The Stephens)

-Rory Heane (White Walls),

-Claudia Sefarty (Blank Statements) and

-Adam Hewitt (I don’t know which-bands but we can assume they’re pretty good)

The Stroppies sound a bit like a Frankenstein’s monster of the members’ other projects, but it’s a lean and often enigmatic monster: the sound’s not easy to place. Less warmly melodic than Dick Diver, more intricately wrought than Twerps, and full of surprises, The Stroppies have definitely got their own thing going and it’s a thing which might appeal to fans of Young Marble Giants and Silver Jews. Tonight they zig-zag happily through songs from their self-titled cassette, pausingly only to wish Woolen Kits’ Tom Hardisty a happy birthday (Hardisty, by the way, has organised this show to celebrate his 30th).  

Second, QWERTY come in sideways and continue sidewise, sputtering out an asymettrical set of instrument changes, awkward pauses, skateboard giveaways and – mingled within it all – some pretty great songs. Qwerty comprises members from Waterfall Person, Pool Spy (is this a music act or just a twitter account?), and ___korean bbq (once again, not sure). They’re fun and totally baffling despite their fidelity to a guitar-bass-drums, verse/chorus format. At their worst, they’re a shambles, albeit an interesting sounding shambles; a totally singular kind of warped rock band tonality, as is the case with iconic outsider group The Shaggs. At their best, or at least most approachable, Qwerty are a quality pop band: their final song, with its airy dual-vocal hook, is a bona fide gem.  

Third, PAPPY arrive in full costume – tomato-red jumpers and wayfarers to honour the birthday boy and his standard uniform. Like Qwerty, Pappy exploit their own gaps in traditional musical proficiency to create something joyously irreverent. Pappy’s methodology is more down-the-line punk, though: crude riffs and bellowed couplets, which aligns neatly with their original intention to create a riot grrrl band out of thin air. Lyrical themes range from the outright silly (“Snacks”) to the wryly cynical and uncanny (“Subiaco”), and a goofy tongue-in-cheek stage move or Tom Hardisty joke is never far away (“Can I get more Ray Bans in the foldback?” – Andrew Murray).

Fourth: contrary to Qwerty and Pappy’s respective takes on gleeful nonsense, PRIMO hand-deliver a half hour of businesslike rock music. Which is not to say it’s joyless – the tunes are buoyant and electric and everyone is stoked. I typically struggle with trios who use two guitars and no bass (what’s the rationale? terrible HR decision!) so it’s a testament to Primo’s quality songwriting and delivery that I’m OK with the top-heavy sound. The blend of fuzzy and not so fuzzy guitar riffs, whistle-clean vocals and emphatic drumming provides plenty of oomph and interest, rendering Primo a compelling – if somewhat monochromatic – prospect for the ears.   

Fifth, TERRY are that special kind of band that manages to sound raucously loose while actually being super tight; musicians who exude a sense of humour while being Seriously well-honed, and Serious about what they’re putting across. In this way Terry combine a lot of the great elements of tonight’s lineup, and inflect their songs with incisive political bite, lambasting politicans, hypocrites, neo-colonialists and other scumbags at every turn. In launching these country-glam-punk polemics, it helps that Xanthe Waite (guitar, and also of Primo), Zephyr Pavey (drums), Al Montfort (guitar) and Amy Hill (bass) are all sharpshooters on their instruments. What’s more, the group operates hive-mindedly after two albums, two EPS and tours around the world. All this being the case, you can’t help but feel there’s an element of serendipity at play, four deeply compatible music-minds that luckily collided in a room.

A giant monstrous mash-up band of Constant Mongrel and Woolen Kits (with Montford on sax) ends the night, and though I have to shoot through before getting deep in their set, what I do hear is a beautiful and extravagant love-in with palpable appreciation for Mr. Hardisty.

And it’s this sense of community and larrikin love that ultimately makes the night so great, and which validates my fond associations surrounding the venue. While many Tote-orbiting bands that I was initially drawn to have now disbanded or else rarely perform, it remains a home for that kind of attitude and mutual support. Long live birthday party gigs and weird, stinky rock and roll.  

An Interview with The Courtneys

Andrew Ryan

Vancouver garage-rock / DIY-pop power trio The Courtneys are on their way to our Sunburned Country very soon, toting their latest release: a finely wrought ten-tracker simply titled II.  To get the scoop straight from the source, we got in touch with bass player, vocalist and X-Files aficionado Sydney Koke (pictured, right).

Lyndon Blue: The Courtneys are the first non-New Zealand band to sign with Flying Nun records. How does it feel to be a part of that label’s legacy, which is very synonymous with NZ underground culture in a way? It strikes me as a very 21st century moment, people finding that musical affinity on opposite sides of the world. 

Sydney Koke: It feels amazing! We've been really inspired by bands on Flying Nun for years, it's a dream come true. 

LB: From what I understand, the first Courtneys tape and album were pretty spontaneous DIY things, and the second album took a lot longer and you got a bunch of different people involved. Was either of those approaches more rewarding? Do you feel like you’re leaning one way or the other for next time around? 

SK: I think as a musician it's great to try lots of different approaches to writing and recording. You get to see what works and hopefully to be able to learn some new tricks and strategies. Next time we'll probably try something new!

LB: In your KEXP live set and interview you discussed how The Courtneys have their own softball team. That’s awesome. We have a thing in Australia called the Reclink Community Cup where bands become Aussie Rules football teams and play against radio presenters. Do you reckon you’ll have a kick of the footy while you’re here? 

SK: I'm afraid of balls flying at my face! 

LB: I know you’ve all been playing in bands for years and have performed alongside a lot of amazing artists (some of whom I imagine were an influence on your own stuff). Are there any acts that especially stand out? And anyone who’s still on the “bucket list”?

SK: Well we all love Teenage Fanclub, so I think we would be pretty stoked to open for them. Also The Clean of course!! Personally, opening for the Soft Pack was a pretty big deal for me, and recently we played a festival with the Thurston Moore group and I got to meet Debbie Googe from My Bloody Valentine!! She's so nice, I was thrilled!!

LB: Apart from playing good songs to good people what are you most psyched for during your Australia visit? 

SK: Seeing all the buddies! Last time round we made so many friends, we love the Australians! 

LB: Feel free to ignore this question but I think I remember from somewhere that you’re X-Files fans, do you have a favourite episode? None of my friends are really into the X-Files so I rarely get a chance to ask people this. 

SK: Thank you for asking this excellent question. My favourite episode of X-Files is the one where the internet takes over a trailer in the woods, and captures Mulder. And then a satellite blows everything up.

The Courtneys play Mojo's Bar on August 29, 2017. Tickets are available here: https://tickets.oztix.com.au/?Event=75136

An Interview with POW! Negro

Andrew Ryan

POW! Negro have been a vital force on the Perth music scene over the past 18 months, bringing explosive sets to PIAF, In The Pines and SOTA Festival - as well as frequenting pubs, clubs and DIY parties. Ahead of their debut EP release, Lyndon sat down with MC/frontman Nelson Mondlane (pictured) to chat about inspiration, communication and perspiration.

Lyndon Blue: Word on the grapevine is that you recorded your debut EP recently, and that it's due for release very soon, and it's called 'Jasmine & Licorice.' How was the recording experience? And what's the concept behind the title?

Nelson Mondlane: We did basically all the recording for this EP in a 'studio' we built in the granny flat of our house. It was a huge learning experience. The recordings we ended up using were pretty crappy but we kinda wanted that character - a kinda DIY sound. As for the name, it's a lyric [of Nelson’s] and we thought it sounded nice. I think it kinda has different meaning for everyone in the band. We don't really know if jasmine and licorice would smell or taste good together either.

LB: I’ve never been fully immersed in the WA hip hop scene, but it feels to me like the west coast (and especially Fremantle) has been producing more exciting hip hop lately. More diverse sounds, more live instrumentation, more politically charged and/or surprising lyrics. From your perspective, does it feel like there's been a bit of a local hip hop revival? If so, has it got anything to do with what's going on in hip-hop on a national or global scale?  

NM: There have always been people putting in work in Freo and Perth but I think from the power of the internet they are getting recognised and getting out of their bedrooms and into the live scene. Also trap is sweeping the world and it seems to speak to and motivate the new generation of rappers and producers. It’s awesome to see because at the end of the day it means hip hop is becoming more broadly appreciated in Australia.

LB: In terms of the live POW! Negro experience...it's a pretty fun and intense thing, you guys are a blast to watch. How do you feel about balancing the "party" side of the band with communicating lyrical themes, in the live context? How do you want people to feel after they've watched your set? 

NM: The hardest thing in a live setting I’ve found is to convey the lyrical ideas 100% effectively, particularly when they’re presented in rap. It’s hard to follow especially if it’s fast and often there is already a lot going on sonically. We’re blessed to have an amazing sound engineer (shouts to Jeremy) who always takes this into account and does a stellar job but even then people are dancing,  screaming and are bound to miss something. So as the MC I feel that it’s really important to physically express as much as I can. Ultimately we want to take people on a journey through glimpses of our lives, the world, various ideas we’re interested in and hopefully sometimes they see reflections of themselves. From that we’d love the audience to leave happily exhausted, having taken in our perspective, maybe experienced some catharsis but also with something to think about.

LB: Going back to the upcoming EP... are there any musical influences in there that people might not expect? More generally, what are some tunes that have been inspiring you lately?

NM: Not sure what you expect, this being our first release. Hopefully it’s all fresh enough to be unexpected but in the most infectious way possible. Crazy long list man: Jon Wayne, Death Grips, Archy Marshal, Gorillaz, Tame Impala, Black Keys, El-P, Portishead, Koi Child, Earl Sweatshirt, Remi, Nick Allbrook, Yussef Kamal, Yikes & Muntz, the list could go on…
 

LB: Tell us about the launch gigs. I notice there's three shows, three nights in a row. What's the game plan? Are the supports all artists you've personally seen and loved?

NM: We’re playing the first 2 gigs down south in Bunbury and Dunsborough with our friends Western Kinsmen of the Sun. We’ve seen them play a few times and loved their style and charisma. They have awesome energy and crafted a set that has an epic storyline that takes you on a gnarly ride. For the Perth shows we got Weapon Is Sound who are one of the first bands we saw in the music scene straight outta high school, and who have an electric psych/dub/reggae live show that’s just straight dope. Also quintet Grievous Bodily Clam who are steadily rising, soon to be Nu-Jazz lords of Perth and KNOE MC who we’ve met through and saw perform with Melbourne rapper Remi (Young black Don).
So massively blessed that all the peeps are down for the support because we should probably be the ones supporting them.

POW! Negro launch their 'Jasmine & Licorice' EP in WA on 27/07/17 (Prince of Wales, Bunbury); 28/07/17 (Clancy's, Dunsborough) and 29/07/17 (Rosemount Hotel, Perth). Image: Matsu Photography. 

STEPHEN BAILEY - SILO (CASSETTE LP, DUSKY TRACKS RECORDS)

Andrew Ryan

“Solo releases” from “band members” can go either way. They can feel dislocated, reminding you why the person you’re hearing is usually joined by a particular entourage. Or they can open up a whole new space - sharing echoes of a familiar creative vision, but scratching an entirely different itch, for better or worse. 

The latter’s true of new tape Silo from Stephen Bailey, who’s elsewise the frontman for local star-spangled sludge-chuggers Mt. Mountain. This record fishes from the same broad pond of sonic touchstones: shoegaze, dream pop, krautrock, 90s jangle-psych revival (which I guess makes this a kind of revival of a revival). But Bailey isn’t interested in replicating the aesthetic or affect of his band, and in turn Silo feels purposeful. 

Opener ‘Demure’ functions as a kind of segue from Mt. Mountain to solo Steve. It’s got the motorik beat, layers of electric guitars, and Bailey’s cloudy vocals drifting overhead. But this is a decidedly more restrained version of the formula, in which every part is a discrete and discernible thread. Nothing is swirling or mingling: the cars on this autobahn stay in their lane and stick to 100. ‘Polyester Vision’ ups the clarity even more, with bright McCartney bass, clean motown drums and crotchet organ clicking into a groove that’s crisp as a granny smith. ’Josephine’ re-imagines Galaxie 500 as a band that could sing in tune; less facetiously, it’s also a really pretty, concise pop song, pinned to the paisley wallpaper by a vivid melody and pure silky tones. 

‘Sub Zero’ and ‘Let’s Try Love’ are totally serviceable, sparse, vintagey tracks. But they feel maybe too polished, bearing an overwrought studio quality that’s at odds with the stylistic warmth and sprawl, a paradox that’s similarly bothered me with ‘90s psych acts like Flaming Lips. As such, album centrepiece ’Halcyon’ is a shot of oxygen - raw, folky and immediate, like you could be listening to it as it’s being written. It’s only 1 minute and 39 seconds of music, but with its sprightly tambourine and pine-forest recorder melody, it announces a new path for the record to wander down.

That path is taken on ‘Blue Eyes,’ whose guitars are pleasantly imperfect, joining a rice-paper snare to underscore velveteen vocals. It makes sense that these folky timbres lead us into the title track: ‘Silo’ is built around pastoral fingerpicking guitar, wordless cooing, and a few well-placed breaths of recorder - evoking Autumn afternoons in the wheatbelt. Everything converges on ‘Take It Up’ - the Beatlesy piano and production, the woodwind, the soul-tinged backbeat and the dreamy intonations. Given that we’ve already had so much of the above, the track feels kind of surplus: still, it’s probably one of the best tunes on here, all things being equal.

And as it happens, there are more tricks up Stephen’s sleeve. ‘Mr. Fair’ is my favourite song on this album, recalling the daydreamy musings of Vashti Bunyan (not least in terms of Bailey’s vocal range), as well as the loop-folk nostalgia of early Bibio. It’s an understated, immaculately constructed piece of work. Bringing up the rear is ‘The Folons.’ I don’t know what Folons are; possibly they’re artworks by Jean Michel Folon; and if so, this brief piano epilogue well matches their softly delineated forms and wistful pastel hues. 

Given that I’m a sucker for 60s/70s folk and psych, as well as plenty of contemporary “throwback” pop, it’s tricky to be objective about a release like this. On the one hand, it doesn’t offer your ears anything that hasn’t effectively been done across several generations. To this extent, you kind of feel like Bailey is too comfortable: you want him to throw some unconventional spices in the warm apple pie. But on the other hand, apple pie is reliable and extremely delicious. Far be it from me to turn it away. 

ANALOGUE ATTIC '10 RELEASES' CELEBRATION @ MEAT MARKET, SATURDAY JUNE 24

Andrew Ryan

We pull the ute up to a lonely, unassuming block under an ashy sky. It’s frosty in North Melbourne but our hearts are warm. We’re directed away from the Greek Wine Festival and round the corner to the Analogue Attic party (a momentary urge to commit to the former gives way). Through a narrow gate in a stone wall, there’s a courtyard full of handsome people clad in black and sheepskin. The party continues down a diminutive stairs into a broad warehouse. Originally a real meat market, I’d expected the venue to have a certain kind of anachronistic charm. But I hadn’t expected the performance space to feel so immediately transportive, a weird dimly-lit airlock with glowing rosy light, smoke clouds rising from under the stage, statuesque speaker stacks and NICO NIQUO in the middle of it all.

Nico Niquo makes ambient electronic music purportedly influenced by grime (specifically, the ‘eski’ grime synth favoured by Wiley); the conceptual conceit underpinning his latest album is, maybe paradoxically, “grime without the percussion.” To my ears, today’s minimalistic set owes more to contemporary classical music - but that could also be because there’s a violin player and cellist guest-starring alongside eponymous Nico Callaghan. Anyway, music-map orientations aside, what Nico Niquo’s set does is provide a disarmingly sparse geography of sound: gracefully shifting synth chords and near-frictionless timbres that move much slower than your usual train of thought, thus reconfiguring a broader sense of time. Sporadically, the live strings chime in with a humble cluster of notes, droning acoustically, a microtonal conversation with laptop-borne resonances.      

Out in the chill, lining up for a can of beer — TIM HEANEY and UDMO keep our blood moving with plenty of charmingly understated house and rainforest techno. 

Returning with beer, SODA LITE is set up, wading gracefully into a set of compositions that are more ambient, patient and sweetly evocative than anything I’ve heard from the producer before. Riding on the back of a deep fascination with local birds, we hear (and see, via chair-mounted laptop) avian interludes, amid cosmic wash, arrhythmic percussion grooves and soaring melody arcs. Soda Lite’s music recalls the wide-eyed optimism of new age music, but without the irony, cheap cynicism or superficial nostalgia that dogs so much revivalism. Instead, it feels like a contemporary continuation of the best parts of new age’s legacy; bright echoes of a future earnestly sought.

ALBRECHT LA’BROOY is a duo conjoining the elegantly named Alex Albrecht and Sean La’Brooy. They’re also the founders of Analogue Attic, meaning their own music functions as a synecdoche of the kind of “gentle electronic music” that the label’s designed to showcase.

The risk with “gentle electronic music” lies in being inoffensive to the point of becoming café background fodder, and this is where Albrecht La’Brooy really set themselves apart: remaining thoroughly gentle, thoroughly engaging, compromising on neither priority. Their arrangements swirl and softly surge, a light cool spray moving across your face. Their jazz-informed tonality is inflected with enough dissonance to make harmonic resolutions rewarding; the percussion/synth timbres - although familiar - never feel too predictable or generic. I suspect that’s less to do with using obscure gear or parameters, more with being rigorous using high-quality ish and eschewing boring presets. This evening they’re joined by Oliver Paterson on guitar and Josh Kelly on saxophone. These two blokes, in front of the stage and shoulder to shoulder with the crowd, clearly have chops. But perhaps their biggest contribution is their restraint - playing with the metronomic humility of a sampler, or else stretching out into something languorous and human, but still lean and pillowy enough to lie down in. 

Analogue Attic are a label pushing a “less is more” approach in an age of information overload - tendering whittled-down sounds, a focus on local landscapes, and restorative, immersive moods. 10 releases deep, we can only hope they keep striding (gently) into the far future. 

PHENO - DRAGON YEAR (EP, ELECTRIC EAR RECORDS)

Andrew Ryan

Will you forgive me if I start with an etymology gloss? It’s a cheap shot but it just feels right. Okay: the prefix “Pheno” (as in “phenotype”) means “to show,” and comes from the Greek phaino, meaning “shining” or “I shine.” The new EP from Canberra/Sydney based guitarist and songwriter Jess Green, aka PHENO, is nothing if not shiny, and bristles with vivid sounds that want to show themselves. Listening through, it doesn’t so much feel like Green has laboriously layered these sounds on top of one another (although she has). It sounds like they’ve burst spontaneously from the earth, and Green has deftly wrangled them into something coherent and useful - like a masterful drover mustering cattle.

Opening track ‘There Are Voices Out There’ invites us onomatopoeically into Pheno’s world with a dense tapestry of vocal hocketing. It’s the kind of hyperreal sung-sound you might be familiar with from Dirty Projectors tracks like ‘Remade Horizon’, or French medieval music if that’s your bag. This technique, rather curious to the average ear, is neatly tempered by the addition of a standard rock drum pattern - so the whole thing has a kind of familiar-yet-new sensibility. A lead vocal joins in, transmitting intriguing and oblique lyrics via a simple do-re-mi-re-do melody that brings to mind the sub-titular “naive melody” from Talking Heads’ ‘This Must Be The Place.’ 

Track Two. Beyond its great title, ‘Shadow In The Water’ is also a brilliant song. Jostling jigsaws of muted guitar and percussion, overlaid with assured but restrained vocals. And - most distinctively - a jubilant, syncopated horn section. Returning to the lineage of Talking Heads, this one reminds me of David Byrne and St. Vincent’s collaborativealbum Love this Giant, its idiosyncratic blending of angular rock, globally-informed rhythms and marching band swagger. I reckon it’d also appeal to fans of Pikelet, Tune-Yards and other purveyors of densely tessellating, urgent bedroom pop. The tune might be the EP’s standout track. 

Which is not to say that anything thereafter feels like a let down. The title-track centrepiece is an extra exuberant offering, with cowbell rattles and giddily effected guitar. It’s got one of the best curveball choruses I’ve heard in ages: a gothic intake of breath, juxtaposed to great effect against buoyant verses that recall the post-punk sunshine of Blondie or Tom Tom Club. 

‘A Little Thing,’ conversely, rests upon a simple see-saw of two guitar chords. The lyrics and vocal trajectory are what gives this tune its unique shape and character. The melody is unpredictable, darting, folky in its modulations and chromatic passing notes. By far the record’s most understated moment, it’s also one of its most addictive. 

Green soon pulls off a prog-rock manoeuvre by inserting a “reprise” of the opening track - namely, its hocketing chorale of voices. 

In practice, it’s simple gesture, by no means bombastic. But it has the noteworthy effect of tying a knot around the EP thus far, ushering us gracefully towards the grand finale, a track auspiciously entitled ‘Slingshot.’

‘Slingshot’ has an upbeat swing feel, which typically isn’t very rock and roll, but Pheno makes it work with a half-time backbeat and (once again) plenty of tightly interlocking layers. Upon reflection, I think I’m copping echoes of Nile Rogers, Battles, Kimbra and Annie Clark all at once. But after an EP’s worth of material that reaches out to grasp abundant reference points, I’m sufficiently immersed to simply say to myself - this sounds like Pheno

Dragon Year has been described as “art pop” and it really is, according to the most literal evocations of those words. Paint splattering passionately onto a canvas; shapes, and then images, coming BANG into existence. It’s an extraordinary 22 minutes of songcraft, achieving in an EP format what many albums desperately grapple for. A coherent arc, a thrilling diversity of sounds, a listening journey that makes perfect sense without ever giving away its next move. With dauntingly talented bandmates Alyx Dennison (Kyü, Richard in your Mind, Alyx Dennison) and Bonnie Stewart (Bonniesongs) in tow, there’s little doubt the live show is just as powerful. And, in conclusion, I’m gonna hold back on making a “pheno-menal” joke. But please, do listen to this record. 

BILL CALLAHAN @ HOWLER, MONDAY MAY 29 (LATE SHOW)

Andrew Ryan

I wait in the Nepalese restaurant for Buck, who arrives in a snug grey turteneck top. I tease him for it but only slightly. A Melbourne June is breathing down our necks and it’s the kind of breath that makes you want to keep your neck well-insulated.

We order a few dishes and the “litre of white.” Buck’s curry is salty to the point where I can see it pains him a little, and tomorrow it will cause him a great deal of nausea. For now, he tempers it with rice and scoops it up, and when the wine runs out we walk down to Howler to watch Bill Callahan.

The support act is DAVID QUIRK, who – unusually – is not a musician. When he comes out I think he’s the MC but he keeps talking, and telling jokes, and it’s apparent that Bill’s lone support for this slew of Melbourne shows is a stand-up comic. Which is kind of cool, albeit no doubt heartbreaking for umpteen local alt-folk upstarts. Quirk is not hilarious – no-one’s roaring with laughter, although that kind of momentum is hard to build up during a short set at the best of times. He makes observational gags about Mykis and “dog years” alongside plenty of self-deprecation. In the end he befits his name, and proves suitably disarming – catching us off guard ahead of the often gently confounding headline act. 

That act comprises a duo tonight: Bill Callahan in acoustic nylon string guitar mode, joined by Matt Kinsey on electric, who lent his talents to Apocalypse (2011) and Dream River (2013). Kinsey’s style is unique and wonderful: bluesy, feathery, fuzzy, fluid and swooping. His melodies and riffs encircle Callahan’s vocals in charming, unpredictable ways – bringing a compelling dynamic to the proceedings.

We ease in via the drifting ‘Jim Cain,’ and comparatively sprightly ‘Spring,’ with its floating soft-rock riff and lyrics skeptical of romanticisng nature. “Everything is aweing and tired of praise,” Bill ponders; “And mountains don’t need my accolades / and spring looks bad lately anyway […] We call it spring though things are dying / connected to the land like a severed hand.” Fellow Dream River album cut ‘Ride My Arrow,’ comes up the tail, which despite emphasising hand percussion in its recorded form holds up nicely with just two guitars. Among the fairly opaque lyrics about arrows meeting eagles in the sky and eating “pilgrim guts,” there’s a line that neatly foreshadows the rest of the set. “Life ain’t confidential,” Callahan croons. “No, no, no it’s not. It isn’t and it ain’t confidential.”

Because even if Bill’s songs are sometimes thick with bucolic mystique and obfuscated by poesy - they’re just as often very real, emotionally generous. No point pretending we’re not all human. Sad, euphoric, desperate, drunk, meandering, lonely or even just bored. It’s all on the table.

And he doesn’t just say it with his own words; covers are deployed to illuminate pertinent bits of the soul. So tonight we hear Bill’s take on traditional gospel-folk tune ‘You've Got To Walk That Lonesome Valley,’ with its old-time bleakness spun around a homey melody. Packing even more emotional punch is a version of Red Steagall’s ‘I Gave Up Good Mornin' Darlin'’ in which the narrator laments trading the loving greetings of a partner and kids for months of drinking and lumpy mattresses in flophouses. Sinking, as Bill is, into a dense six-show run in frosty Melbourne – a hemisphere away from home – it’s hard not to hear the song as a bittersweet metaphor for the pains of being on tour. Some people might suggest it’s rude to bemoan such a lifestyle in front of a crowd of adoring fans who have each paid almost Seventy brass razoos to see you. But life, as we have discussed, is not confidential (or polite).

Soon Bill gives us the wry, stiltedly rollicking anti-anthem ‘America’; the deceptively sweet-sounding ‘Too Many Birds’; the maundering, beautiful ‘Riding for the Feeling’ and stormy agricultural parable ‘The Drover.’ A highlight for me is the tearjerkingly earnest ode to family and hope, ‘Rock Bottom Riser’ – there’s something especially vulnerable about it, which undercuts the steely tough guy persona that typifies a lot of Callahan’s music. Ending with a denoument and the offer to take requests, we get darkly funny slow burners ‘I’m New Here’ and ‘The Well.’

Bill Callahan has a rare capacity for capturing people’s imaginations, the envy of songwriters everywhere. In turn, he attracts an uncommon kind of devotion. A friend of mine flew over from Perth expressly and is attending three nights in a row. One wonders upon the source of this special magic. Might be his deep, resonant, authoritative yet nonchalant baritone. Maybe his melodies and song structures, which unfurl impressionistically, allowing you to get lost in their wandering forms. Perhaps it is, especially, the lyricism – the way he entwines poetic, pastoral evocations with pithy reflections and dry humour. I think more accurately, it’s a kind of alchemical blend of these things, resulting in a performer who’s both down to earth and a little sublime. Speaking truth, but a bit too good to be true.  Seeing him perform in the flesh brings these twinned qualities into stark relief. If you’re even in two minds about whether to catch Bill Callahan live, do it. If you’re not satisfied, I’ll pay for your ticket.

Photo Ⓒ Hanly Banks  

Methyl Ethel, Reef Prince & Erasers @ The Corner Hotel (Richmond), Friday May 19

Andrew Ryan

We move down the train platform and along a dark footpath, under a bridge, and finally come face to face with a hotel where two streets meet. The Corner, to be precise. 

After following a few corridors we enter a large room with patterned carpet and tall, red curtains (very on-trend with the Twin Peaks revival, aye) which part to reveal ERASERS. 

I’d actually watched the duo play a mere hour or two earlier at Polyester Records in Fitzroy - such is my appetite for what they do, I’m entirely happy to soak up the replay. Erasers (and second support Reef Prince) are joining Methyl Ethel on their entire national tour, and the slickness that comes with tour preparation and experience is already evident. Their warm-blanket, buzzy, warbly, breathy moodscapes are more seamless than ever; Rebecca Orchard’s vocals effortlessly precise with the ideal modicum of emotion. Rupert Thomas’ role is increasingly DJ-esque as he crossfades deftly between loops, field recordings and ambient drones - though his contributions are more evident, and more immediately gripping, when he performs a live layer of hypnotic undulating guitar or a deeply resonant synth-bass riff. They’re a band forever honing their niche, always finding ways to make it more immersive, sanguine and memorable: the project as a whole is a majestic slow-mo sculpting of style. 

REEF PRINCE doesn’t necessarily exude the same patience, and you could be forgiven for thinking Stephen Bellair’s solo rap persona just emerged fully-formed from the hull of a magenta yacht. In truth, it’s been a long time in the chrysalis, insofar as Bellair has developed his rap, melody and performance chops over many years - with wild hip-hop posses like The Good Boys, Char Kway Pals and Outlordz, and rock bands like Doctopus and Electric Toad. While those things still stand tall in their weird, crooked way (especially the much-loved Doctopus), Reef Prince feels like an arrival, a vision that’s been waiting to manifest. Bellair seems truly joyous and liberated as he leaps and lopes around the stage, dropping both vivid and hilarious rhymes full of local and international references. Tracks like ‘Space Witch’ and the autotune-heavy, nautically-minded ‘Abalonely B0i’ are instant classics, all framed by the Reef Prince’s outlandish banter, pendulous tendril-hair and broad grins.   

The ‘Prince got the room sweating and we’re all juiced up for the feature presentation. Methyl Ethel have now graduated from mere “band” to “phenomenon”; they sell out rooms around the world, play alongside the biggest acts in the alt-pop game, and have garnered hordes of avid fans. Methyl’s obvious comparison, although further along its trajectory, is Tame Impala: both are guitar-driven, catchy yet hazy psych-pop boy bands from Perth… both started off as lo-fi solo projects for their frontmen who maintain an auteur-style rudder. Each project commingles the weird and the quotidian in a big smoky cauldron, with lyrics erring towards the classic rock themes - relationships, introspection, fun substances (see: ‘Nangs’ vs ‘Drink Wine’) and a touch of the cosmic or occult. 

Comparing the two is a fairly pointless exercise except insofar as it reveals something about their shared origins, motivations, and the zeitgest that has embraced them. I’d argue that the relative smallness (not isolation) of Perth leads to a situation where “weird” and “pop” music can’t readily segregate into sub-scenes, so the two have cross-pollinated with a shrug in many of our most successful exports (particularly since the era of digital natives making music, wherein weirdo influences have been more accessible, less shrouded in mystique). Existing against a conservative social backdrop, there are also interesting political impulses across Perth’s psychedelic scene. In the land of the bloke, Tame Impala and Methyl Ethel both thematise the “maleness” of their output: Tame by laying bare male fragility and failings in songs like ‘Cause I’m A Man’; Methyl, conversely, by asserting a kind of deliberate gender-effacement (“Ethel,” androgynous press shots, high pitched ethereal vocals, etc). Both are bands you can dance to, informed by radio megahits, but within the party is the spectre of the apocalypse.

Tonight, Methyl’s support base is tangibly huge and the band’s lineup has swelled to match - enter Hamish Rahn (Hamjam) on 2nd guitar and auxiliary keys. On balance it’s an excellent move, allowing the live renditions of songs to include essentially all the embellishments present on their new album, Everything is Forgotten. If there’s a point of caution, it’s that the sound sometimes risks getting too big, grandiose, in a “stadium rock” kind of way, which hardly gels with the band’s foundational, gently haunted mood.
For the most part, the arrangements boast an expert balance of restraint and billowing energy, whereby you can choose to dance and flail or sit back and appreciate the musical mechanisms. There’s certainly plenty of people doing both across the Corner’s spacious concert room, under the dim golden light, drinks splashing and ecstatic faces mouthing lyrics.
Methyl Ethel cruises, as only a tour-fit ensemble can, through breakthrough hits like ‘Rogues’ and ‘Idee Fixe,’; the gothic fuzz of ‘L’Heure des Sorcieres’ and fresh, Pink Floyd-esque 7” A-side ‘Architecture Lecture.’ We get the jubilant ‘Twilight Driving’ (with sax icon Jack Doepel on the solo bliss) and the hyper-poppy arpeggiation, highlifey guitar and syncopated snare-snap of the aforementioned ‘Drink Wine.’ 


My favourite thing about tonight hasn’t been any one song, or even a particular performance: it’s been seeing three so very different acts on one bill, conjoined by a light-hearted camaraderie, and that blend of pop sensibility and openness to the weird and wonderful. All three have very cool paths both behind and ahead of them. Keep both ears to the ground.

PETER BIBBY’S DOG ACT, EMPAT LIMA & LO VISION @ YAH-YAHS, SATURDAY MAY 13

Andrew Ryan

I’m standing on the train and somewhere around Melbourne Central I notice two things: (1) Bibby’s coming to town and (2) I have $4 in my bank account. Not wanting to miss the man in action as he passes through this chilly outpost, I send him a message explaining my situation and he graciously bungs me on the guest list; I didn’t even have to tell him I was going to do a review. He’s just a high calibre kind of guy. 

About 26 hours go past and now I’m in Fitzroy/Collingwood. It’s night time, there’s neon glowing and pints frothing. I eat a cheap plate of noodles at Ming’s, and stroll along the street, my eyeballs like blotting paper soaking up sights new and old. Soon enough it’s time to head into Yah-Yahs. I walk in off the street and it’s empty. Turns out the live music action happens upstairs nowadays.

Upstairs, a duo called LO VISION are emerging from the fog. At first, a dense improvised soundscape of rain sounds, high silvery formless voice, knife-edge guitar feedback and eyelid-clogging oscillator goo. This arrestingly abstract approach eventually gives way like a heavy cloud, and is replaced by songs with more structure: steady drum machines, verses, choruses, guitar riffs, thick and filthy gothic synth bass, loops, all commingling to create something a little bit trip-hop and a little bit post-punk-psych but generally quite singular. There’s clearly a special creative alchemy going on between the duo’s halves, Lucas George and Kim Little; Lucas bringing the rock influences, beats and grit while Kim contributes hallucinatory layers, lyrics and mercurial jazz-informed singing. My only beef is that songs helmed by one or the other member (on lead voice) can seem to exist in separate worlds - each carrying a sense of auteurship to their vocal delivery. In time, perhaps the dichotomy will collapse as songwriting tendencies converge; for now, more double-vox and deliberate habit-swapping could help fuse the moods.

From LoVision’s impressionistic portraits of doom and beauty we move on to the rather more geometric sounds of EMPAT LIMA. They’re a band that I remember particularly vividly from living here in 2014, and certainly a local favourite, though by the looks of things they’ve been comparatively quiet lately. That didn’t stop them from releasing some of their best tunes to date last year (slow glider ‘Passage to the Golden Sky,’ and no-wave-funky ‘Canteloupe,’) and tonight they bring their trademark energy and gleefully interlocking ESG-style riffs to an eager crowd. Drums plur and limbs wave, strings buzz and bark, vocal cords pile on with a hushed intensity. It all goes down a treat. 

PETER BIBBY is in my eyeballs and ear-slots now, along with his DOG ACT incorporating “Dirty” Dave (drums) and “Strawberry” Pete (bass / singalong). The set is classic Bibby, in all the best ways: sloppy enough to feel unhinged but tight enough to feel electric, exciting, always deliberate. Dave and Pete can certainly take some credit on both counts, and with PB howling in the driver’s seat the whole trio moves as one big, loud hot rod. What’s always separated Bibby from other tight/loud/brash musicians though is the intellect, humour and weirdo creativity that underpins his songs. Thanks to a good mix and refined arrangements, all those elements are on full display tonight. ‘Goodbye Johnny’ - a heartwarming and simple ode to homosocial love in the face of the flu - gets a mass singalong from the packed room. Vintage bangers like ‘River Guts,’ ‘Medicine’ and ‘Fuck Me,’ get much-appreciated airings, with the latter featuring a hilariously theatrical breakdown, simmering down to near-total silence and drawn-out whispers before about four bars of full-throttle conclusion.

Particularly intriguing to me were newer, more bittersweet songs nominally about places. ‘Whyalla’ (which isn’t that new but I’ve only heard it a few times) praises the South Australian town and its civic facilities, but really comes into its own when it fixates on local heroes who set world records in pinball, or performed remarkable in the hammer throw. It’s a celebration of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, told with Bibby’s inimitable coarse enthusiasm and silver-tongued wit. ‘Craigieburn’ is superficially about how shit the outer-Melbourne suburb of Craigieburn is, but actually it tells of a confusing pregnancy and the anxieties of contemplating one’s less-than-glamorous future prospects. In mentioning all these things, I don’t think I’m divulging anything that otherwise goes unnoticed. Though a vocal minority might still perceive Bibby as some goon-obsessed slacker troubadour, it’s obvious to most (and I’m sure to the people in this room) that there’s plenty of depth in these songs, and the associated larrikinism is just one part of what makes them so compelling, so worth revisiting. With the Dog Act catapulting every tune with fierce resolve, the bark and the bite are both precisely as bad as is warranted. 

NERVE QUAKES - ‘A NEW STATE’ LP (TELEVISED SUICIDE [AU] / IMMINENT DESTRUCTION [UK])

Andrew Ryan

Between my last article and this one, I’ve relocated to Melbourne for a stint (again), which means that now I only wear black, and stand around in the rain, looking sad. This works out well because my Perth-focused review for this week comes with a distinctive gothic bent: it’s the bleak but very enjoyable debut LP from the west coast’s best “dark new wave” band, Nerve Quakes.

The group (who lift their name from a Lubricated Goat song) involves members from bands like Cold Meat and Helta Skelta, so it’s no surprise they’re usually mentioned in the same sentence as the word “punk” - punk is their pedigree and their ethos. But from a purely sonic perspective, the band spins a classic kind of melodic indie rock, the kind of stuff that might give you flashbacks to early Cure, The Smiths, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Killing Joke. The sound’s suffused by layers of cloudy analog synth, underpinned by snappy drums and woody, insistent bass. But maybe the most definitive aspects of their aesthetic are Caleb’s chorus-heavy guitar and Catie’s vocals, which twist and mingle around each song’s skeleton in imaginative counterpoint.  

The thing that marks Nerve Quakes as Australian is not really their instrumental sound (you could index every element to a British band, really) or even the vocal accent, which is kind of neutral / “international post punk.” Rather, it’s their lyrical themes, which give local and political currency to the universable genre tropes. ‘Blood Money’ laments corruption and systematic violence; the sharp-edged ‘Monarch’ urges you to “free your body, but not your mind […] what she wants, what she says” which feels like it’s riffing on our psychic shackles to the Old country. ‘Shirley’ is a song about Shirley Finn, a Perth madam from the 60s/70s whose murder went under-investigated for many years. Other tracks are less locally minded, but no less potent in their themes: ‘The Uninvited’ wails about sleep paralysis and associated demons, ‘Celestial’ worries about space collisions bringing on planetary doom. 

Beyond the swirling guitar and keys, the propulsive rhythm section and the A+ vocals there’s another joy to be had in A New State: it’s the weird joy that comes from seeing your own anxieties, darker experiences and wonderings reflected in someone else’s art. “Gothic rock” derives from sadness, but it’s a sadness that’s shared and exorcised and aestheticised in the process becomes a party. Maybe that ambivalence is the ‘new state’ in the title. Although it’s more fun to imagine it as the alternative vision of WA that Caleb described in his March interview with Unbelievably Bad: “Run the city’s power on pig manure and appoint Tina Turner as premier after Colin Barnett has been fed to a shark.” However you read it, get your paws on Nerve Quakes’ album, which is getting its Australian launch this Saturday night (May 13) at The Bird. It’s the grimmest fun you’ll have all winter.

PINES RHYMES: IN THE PINES @ SOMERVILLE AUDITORIUM, SUNDAY APRIL 30 2017

Andrew Ryan

There’s a clearing near the highway and the quiet river flow

Where the conifers prepare themselves each year

For a day and night of music, and the visitors who go

for to drink the two-stage programme with their ears.

 

I arrive and (feeling spritely) take position near the speakers,

The air is warm, the welcome’s even warmer 

A man gives me a chupa chup and trots off in his sneakers

Then Caitlin introduces the performers —

 

JEFF'S DEAD, the knell is sounding as five fellers crest the stage,

Jeff Strong the zombie skipper at the fore.

Their twisted country musings, from the witty to the sage 

are celestial with synth as verses soar

 

Now several knells sound swiftly - or BELLS RAPIDS in the piney 

auditorium, riffs cracking through the air

Resounding in the open, Bellsy’s songs sound extra shiny

Perfect harmonies, and sizzle, fuzz and snare

 

And hailing from the goldfields, golden song craft in addition,

now THE PICTURE GARDENS paint a pretty scene.

Interweaving blues, Indigenous rock, and pop traditions,

their set is brief but vital and serene.

 

Up from the horizon rise the SOLAR BARGE BIG BAND,

All masked - don't ask me who, got no idea.

But they seem to have a great time, all and sundry tools in hand

Doomy psych-jazz sonifying Ra's career

 

PHIL-WALLEY STACK then follows on, a legend of the West

In duo mode with bonus lead guitar;

His tales of life and culture mid the sunshine and the rest,

Evoking times and landscapes near and far

 

So CRAIG mate - what are HALLSWORTH? Well, at least a song or six

As the veteran comes out with strings all hissin,

A heavy brand of indie, with a somber tone for kicks

With lyrics that beseech a closer listen

 

If DOCTOPUS change up the mood, guitar stays at the core

(Thanks to Jeremy, who’s freshly - somehow - shaven)

Frustrations, celebrations wrought through punk that's weird and raw

But wet and cool like Mettam's pool. A haven! 

 

Then suddenly DREAM RIMMY are upon us like a rug,

all of fizzing purple modulating stars.

With washy hooks and citric zaps, motorikky chug

Understated vocals, thick guitars…

 

We're due now for some hardcore punk, infused with brutal metal

A vicious kind of captivating aura

This quartet thrashes, screeches, hurtles, blares and never settles

And quickens all our blood. For what? FÖRSTÖRA!

 

Less vicious, but still powerful - and brooding, darkly hued

now CHILDSAINT air their shoegaze-pop melodics

With lilting chords, intense crescendi, grungey tropes renewed

A raft of hazy moods made episodic 

 

And returning like a moonflower, well-loved APRICOT RAIL

A sweet mosaic of beats and chiming tones;

Slow-burning woodwind power, tunes that whisper, build and wail 

They’re a band Perth must be proud to call its own.

 

A swarming crowd pack in, to witness INSTITUT POLAIRE

A staple of Perth’s noughties indie antics 

Orchestral, dense, anthemic songs imbued with love and care

Who knew that pop could sound so damn gigantic?

 

The sultry sounds of DANIEL SUSNJAR’S AFRO-PERUVIAN… 

JAZZ GROUP are soon colliding in the dark

With timeless grooves (one might even suppose: antediluvian),

We ride upon their complex, buoyant arc 

 

Now RAG ’N’ BONE are not alone in bringing hefty rock 

to Somerville this clement Autumn eve

But well-wrought songs and Keira’s lungs blow off abundant socks

As the fierce guitar lines bolt and duck and weave

 

POW! NEGRO, local heroes of the jazz-hop-rock persuasion

Keep our spirits high, adrenal glands a-pumping.

Rapper Nelson, horns and band, at their peak for the occasion; 

Lead lines howling, nimble drummer thumping.

 

If duo SODASTREAM decrease the pace and the intensity,

It’s in a way that’s warm and opportune

And though I’m biased (I jump up on violin), the density

Of sing-a-longers verifies the boon.

 

Lest we get too calm too quick, we’re blasted by a DEMON

of the HIDEOUS SUN variety, what’s more;

Its arms are four, its grinds and roars, the audience is teemin’

with hot sweat and grins and flailing limbs galore. 

 

Now if our weary brains were thinking TANGLED THOUGHTS OF LEAVING

a band that’s named as such dispels delusion.

We stay, with awe-struck gazes at the knotty layers heaving, 

They’re a stern but truly singular inclusion.

 

Then fellow heavy favourites - although from a different school,

It’s the loud and ever-lovable LOVE JUNKIES,

Pop melodies, distorted hooks and frantic beats unspool

They’re welcomed like bananas unto monkeys.

 

To send us home (if home means leaving), legends JEBEDIAH

Icons of a generation past. 

Classics like ’Harpoon’ hold up, like so much hills-hoist wire 

These snotty, poignant songs were built to last.

 

And as the crowd disperses and the faces grow more clear,

I see the eyes of twinkling cheer and thanks,

Not only for the wireless band that give us ‘Pines each year

But for the human gems among its ranks.

 

It’s forty years since RTR began, upon these grounds 

among these university lawns and halls

Forty years from strength to strength and endless varied sounds,

Of broadcasts, gigs and Radiothon phone calls

 

I say it every time, it holds, we truly owe a debt

(those of us who make or relish tunes)

To RTR and family, the blood and tears and sweat,

That’ve kept the dream alive so many moons.

 

On days like this we’re joined in ways antennas can’t enable,

Clinking drinks and mingling in the sun,

To dance, converse and share the breeze, a modern cultural fable

And so far, this year’s Pines - my favourite one. 

FAIRBRIDGE FESTIVAL @ FAIRBRIDGE VILLAGE, APRIL 20-24

Andrew Ryan

We load up the car, the long-suffering Honda Jazz, who just sighs and accepts the absurd piling of tents, mattresses, guitars, amps, bags, flight cases, food and drinks, humans. 

Despite the uncommonly weighty load it’s a quick journey to Pinjarra, and beyond to Fairbridge Village. Fairbridge Village, where an annual congregation of gnarled minstrels, dusty free spirits and family-minded food truck patrons is occurring. Once known as Fairbridge Folk Festival, it’s now Fairbridge “Festival of Inspired Music,” which I think is better, if a little unwieldy. How do you delimit “folk,” after all, without stifling innovation - or indeed, without recourse to a Eurocentric model? “Inspired” seems a more meaningful, friendlier umbrella to get under.  

Saturday I just get a taste: a wander through the eucalypt-lined, busker-heavy roads, a bit of Los Car Keys who race to a crowd-rousing conclusion dense with guitar, pan flute and thundering latin percussion. I have to return to Perth for some crucial nuptials but luckily Fairbridge is a smorgasbord that keeps going, deep into tomorrow and Monday.

SUNDAY — after a pause at Pinjarra Dôme I arrive in time for “Alex and Alb Morning Wakeup,” which is Axel Carrington (Rag ’n’ Bone) and Albie Pritchard (Shit Narnia) trading songs as the sun inches up its ascent. Though many of their respective songs are dark and doomy (the angst of punk channelled through the lonely aesthetic of guitar-folk) their personalities are grin-inducing, especially in tandem. It’s a thoughtful, funny and very special start to the day. 

The stage they’re on, the Backlot, offers up consistent goods as the day unfurls. There’s the soulful swaggering jazz-funk of DEMON DAYS. Then, the melodically intriguing, by turns heartbreaking, funny and thoroughly clever songwriting of STELLA DONNELLY, who draws a tremendous crowd (and throws in a Basement Jaxx cover because why not). BENI BJAH follows with his timeless tangent of hip hop realness, and at 2.30 I scoot past the tangle of food trucks and sit in the small but beautiful Faribridge chapel to hear MISS EILEEN & KING LEAR. They’re a brother-sister duo from Melbourne, and though their songs are nothing to urgently call your Aunty about, there’s an alchemy between their voices, simple chords, Lear’s stand-up drumming and their mutual razzing between songs that makes the whole thing memorable. 

Back up on the backlot there’s the bright-eyed, pop-rock-orchestra songwriting of SALARY, who apart from sounding big and great also make artistic use of Autotune - perhaps the first time that’s happened at Fairbridge. Hey, if it’s good enough for Sufjan…

The sun disappears. I manage to catch the tail end of ramshackle local country-weirdo collective THE FRUITY WHITES, what a beautiful thing they comprise. Back over at the Chapel, Groot Eylandt’s EMILY WURRAMARA carries a full house into the atmosphere on her songs of love and hope, sung crystalline in both English and Anindilyakwa.

The Backlot again. Here we catch perhaps the most viscerally impressive act of the whole festival - Quebec’s LES POULES A COLIN. A five piece comprising keys, violin, bass, guitar, banjo, galloping foot-percussion and harmonies, they craftily synthesise trad-folk influences and relay them with the blistering energy of a stadium rock act. They’re followed by local troupe RU, who combine just as many layers (here including saxophones, brass, drums and plenty of harmonies) to create something more serene, sprawling and eclectic - a haunting and engaging counterpoint to Les Poules’ onslaught of rhythms.

I’m feeling a little mellow and sleepy at this point, but after watching a few minutes of BRASSIKA I can’t help but throw some dusty shapes. They spin a tasteful web of energetic grooves, underpinning intelligent songwriting and crafty lead lines. Over in Gus’ Bar, the sloshy saloon at Faibridge’s geographical centre, I soak up another round of Demon Days before joining in with the Mucky Duck Bush Band - a Guinness-fueled bush dance to wrap up the evening. 

Monday floats along at a more relaxed pace. We catch Albie again, by himself as NEW NAUSEA, spinning evocative tales of mundane sadness and relief, pegged to the contours of the WA landscape. I catch the jaunty, mixed-bag folk/pop of BELGRADE, and the spirited songsmithy of LUCY PEACH (with her lush-sounding band) in the chapel. Over in the cosy corner known as Ruby’s Bar we catch the LITTLE LORD STREET BAND doing their country-informed power pop, songs of heartbreak and charged quotidian detail spun through layers of deft guitar, rolling piano and Creedence-worthy backbeat. We catch a few songs from OPEN SWIMMER, whose minimal guitar work bolsters straight-shooting, slo-mo choirboy melodics…and then have the privilege to play the closing set in the chapel, along with Daoiri Farrell (who collapses reverence for Irish folk tradition, and irreverence in general) and Jack Harris (who melds intricate guitar with songs about distant love ones, haunting landscapes and Andre the Giant). 

It had been a while between drinks from the Fairbridge cup - this site, a place of regular childhood visits, suddenly feeling new again. Among the tents, the cows, the $5 turkish mezza plate, the free outdoor library, the home-made preserves, the trees and the cottages, was the crucial impulse of the festival: fostering new forms of creativity, and subcultural idiosyncrasies, while honouring age-old cultural conditions. This year, in its 25th iteration, the programme struck up a better balance than perhaps I’ve ever seen it strike. And it didn’t even rain. Beautiful.

8 Hits Plus featuring Vanessa Tomlinson and Erik Griswold @ WAAPA, Wednesday April 5

Andrew Ryan

The music auditorium, indoors, adjacent to the pond. I plant myself in a prime position, the middle stalls - gazing zero degrees at the piano and a table dotted with household objects.

Local composer Lindsay Vickery walks on stage to a disco sequence of flashing coloured LEDs, a weirdly fitting entrance for the new-music veteran. He briefly introduces the concert, then it’s over to Vanessa Tomlinson - who explains that we’re not going to receive “8 Hits” either in the sense of eight percussive impacts nor eight popular pieces. But it all sounds appealing anyway.

Tomlinson begins the concert with an extra piece not listed in the programme. Here, a long cord is looped around a table leg so as to form the equivalent of two long skipping ropes which are alternatively flicked, their wavy undulations creating pitter-patter whippings along the floor. The visual is initially more striking than the sound, but soon enough the subtle sonics begin to dominate your field of attention, and you can almost feel the sensory priorities shifting across your head. The lengths of cord flail and flare, at times (and semi-incidentally, it seems) slapping books and paper scattered across the ground. The piece hones in on a tender ambiguity between contrived, or musical, sound - and the sounds that we might consider the secondary detritus of another activity. Here, however, the ostensible “primary” activity is so arbitrary as to be self-effacing, redirecting our attention and leading to a surprising aesthetic encounter. 

Up next is Erik Griswold with Bliss, parts 1-3 (2016). The contrast here is smilingly pronounced: these miniatures for prepared piano are nothing if not deliberate, discernibly tonal, rooted in the western art music canon. This isn’t to say they’re conventional, however. Griswold hammers the keys in a dense, geometric fashion recalling 20th century greats like Glass and Reich, but the prepared piano’s idiosyncrasies more readily bring to mind african percussion sounds like the mbira, or a crank-driven music box stuck on endless loop.

Tomlinson returns for her own composition Still and Moving Paper (2014) which reprises the strategy of foregrounding seemingly incidental sound. First, she draws two circles, side by side, one with each hand, on a piece of paper. The humble pencil lead becomes a kind of stylus, and the paper a neutral surface upon which to simultaneously input visual content and extract sound. The intensity, pitch and dynamic of the percussive drawings rely, in any given moment, on the speed and pressure of the inscribing hands. And while this may all sound quite straightforward on paper - the simplicity ultimately becomes utterly engrossing. Soon enough, you’re acutely aware that while anyone could run pencils over paper, this is an iteration of that mundane act delivered with a keen musical sensitivity, and thus a rare, weird kind of treat. Another part of the piece involves both destroying and sharing a page of a book: reading aloud its first sentence, tearing it in half, reading what remains and repeating the process until only choked vowels and consonants remain. It’s distinctly funny, but also haunting, a visceral portrayal of the disintegration of meaning and communication. 

Lindsay Vickery’s Lyrebird (2014) channels its titular fowl by using as its score a spectrogram image of a field recording, encouraging a kind of synaesthetic emulation. The field recording changes from performance to performance, meaning that the piece is “site specific” but (usually) specific to a site that’s elsewhere. Tonight, Tomlinson uses audio from flooded locations in Queensland (captured by Leah Barclay), a way of collapsing the tremendous distance between coasts. What’s fascinating about this piece performed is not that the live elements sound the same as the field recording; inevitably they can’t, with Tomlinson using bowls, bottles and other makeshift percussion against a backdrop of diverse environmental sounds. Rather it’s the uncanny synchronicities that arise from common dynamic and timbral shifts, two seemingly disparate soundscapes moving in step and suddenly becoming something poignantly sculpted. 

This is followed by the arresting Self Accusation (2014) by Kate Neal, in which Tomlinson whispers or barks verbal phrases into a headset mic, and accompanies them with variably wild, beatless gestures on an augmented drum kit. True to the title, the spoken word component is full of incriminations against the speaker, often delivered in fast clusters and punctuated by a silent scratch of the head. Drawing on Peter Handke’s 1960’s “speaking pieces” designed to jolt theatre audiences, the piece reminds me more personally of the semi-ironic self-loathing often present in post-punk and no wave; the delivery is deadpan and the music intense, ultimately coalescing into something that feels politically charged. The piece, it feels, twitches in an ambivalent space between the genuine critique of one’s past, and a sardonic mocking of a culture that encourages endless self-reproof. 

8 Hits Plus concludes with Erik Griswold’s noted concerto A Wolfe in the Mangroves (2007) which brings together the prepared piano approach of Bliss and (in this instance) the multifaceted talents of local percussion group Clocked Out, and Tomlinson herself. Drawing on incidental rhythms from everyday life and focusing alternately on timbral qualities, evocative layerings and dense tessellations of rapid-fire rhythm, it’s quite a remarkable piece. For my money, the harmonic content here often feels a little neglected, and can begin to sound pedestrian when the aurally compelling prepared piano is traded for dinkier options like glockenspiel and melodica. The best moments, though, are entirely triumphant. Metronomic, elastic, intimate and booming. 

Even reflecting on it now a week later, 8 Hits Plus gives me a real sense of excitement. Rather than borrowing established aesthetics of experimental music, its manoeuvres are experiments in the truest sense, from the searching, playful mimicry of Lyrebird to the stylistic collaging of Wolfe. Nothing on the programme fits readily into a genre, but it’s all delivered with a poise and technical vocabulary that owes a lot to musical tradition. In the concert’s best moments, there’s a sense of both awkwardness and wonder - in which comfortable forms and approaches are eroded or discarded, and new possibilities emerge: raw, squinting at the light, shiny and emboldened.   

THE BEST AND WORST OF GOLDEN TRIANGLE PUBS

Andrew Ryan

So for whatever reason, you've found yourself in the Western Suburbs. And not just the Western Suburbs, but the Stirling Highway corridor that fans out into Perth's bougiest enclaves. Stuck between the two more approachable nightlife hubs of Perth/Northbridge and Fremantle, the question echoes in your skull: where are you gonna get a drink?

I've spent much of the last week in the GT after dark, sipping overpriced lager so you don't have to. Until you do.

~  

CAPTAIN STIRLING HOTEL

★★☆☆☆

I remember a time - a distant, hazy time - when the Captain Stirling sounded like an appealing destination. Since the ALH (Woolworths) takeover, I’ve watched its soul drain out, slowly and desperately like the last foamy trickles of a Swan Draught keg. 

The pool tables are warped, scuffed and sloping. The music is grim Top 40 piped tepidly from the ceiling, the lights are bright and cold-hued. Patrons always seem kinda sad and vacant… “The calibre of punter leaves a lot to be desired.” The staff are nice enough, but visibly aren’t able to pretend they’re not working in a stinky, sinking ship. Now, the diveyness wouldn’t matter so much if the prices were in keeping. But pints and food remain expensive, and Cap S’ promoters seem married to the myth that it’s a vaguely swanky, attractive place. No no no. At least they have a decent pinball machine, if I recall correctly (AC/DC maybe?) 

 

VARSITY BAR

★★★☆☆

Varsity gets points for at least providing what it promises: a pastiche of the quintessential American college tavern. Stars and stripes on the walls, burgers and buffalo wings, dank couches and arcade games. Big Buck HD is particularly impressive - those graphics! (meanwhile still as sexist and animal-murderous as the original). The pool tables are not great but they’re serviceable and have the traditional down-lighting. Standard drink prices are as exorbitant as any other Golden Triangle hooch vendor (I paid $12 for a deeply boring pint the other day) but the specials are decent (went back a couple days later for $5 PBR. Still boring, but cheap). The clientele? Mostly uni students, though recently we met a truly amazing older gentleman who liked to wear sunglasses indoors and croon the rhythm and blues classic ‘Unchain My Heart.’  

 

JUANITA’S

★★★☆☆

 

This Subiaco joint has some legitimate class, although it’s well aware of it. Attracts an older crowd who wear nice linen clothing, and architects, or both.

Having never been there until the other night I figured the drinks list would be substantial, but it was pretty pissweak - and $14 for a meagre glass of Cab Sav. Regarding the cab sav my compatriot said it was “a decent drop of CABBY SAV. Bit nutty. I have better wines at home. But I’d drink that wine again.”

The decor is good, the ambience is OK albeit a bit stiff. The bartenders are handsome although they’re well aware of it.

 

UWA TAVERN

★★★★☆

The UWA tavern is so weird. It doesn’t really feel like a tavern. It feels like a fake tavern, a TV set of a tavern, all the things a tavern should have set in place but without any regard for it ever being used as such. I can’t explain it. The ceiling is so high up and everything feels far away. The ambience is generally shit, but in a good way, like how in any unpretentious crummy establishment you’re never going to have to impress anyone. Good chips. Great staff. Cheap jugs of the beeriest beer you ever quaffed. Pool tables (can’t remember what nick they’re in but they exist). You can’t really go wrong.

 

RODNEY’S BAIT AND TACKLE

★★★★☆

Rodney’s is the new kid on the block, propelled into the sphere of local awareness through its gimmickry. The bar is a boat, the whole place is decked out in nautical paraphernalia, and they do actually sell bait and tackle if you want it. They’ve done a pretty solid job with the theme really, the drinks selection is good, and it’s opposite the Mozzy Park train station so the location is not quite as annoying as you might expect. Ultimately though the combination of “funky new bar” and “secluded Golden Triangle location” means the clientele is mostly groovy DILFs wearing hats and so on. Ah well. Four stars from me: they’re giving it a red hot go, booking live local music, and DJ Boogie was doing a bang-up job the other night with the soul ‘45s.

 

STEVE’S

★☆☆☆☆

Like the Cap S, this place was once great, but a refurb or two later it has both the sterility and charm of a Changi Airport restroom. Couldn’t even bring myself to have a drink here. Good proximity to the foreshore and local skate park though. You're actually better off going to Little Way a few doors up, but I forgot to write a review of that. Steve's: One star.

 

THE ALBION

★★★★★

Alright, enough beating about the bush. It’s gotta be The Albion. This age-old (since 1890) institution combines the best and worst of Western Suburbs pubs, but good triumphs over evil. Ossifying seedy barflies, too much lighting, slightly obnoxious quantity of TVs. Good pinball (Metallica, formerly KISS), Big Buck Safari, decent classic rock playlists, expensive pub meals. Ten fireplaces, $5 schooners, Saturday Night Karaoke. Two crucial boons get it over the line: good pool tables (the only ones on this list with the classic green felt), and the place has an actual train inside it. Don’t waste your time with the competition: halfway along Stirling Highway is the crusty-chic watering hole you seek.    

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.