ELA STILES, ERASERS & TOURIST KID @ THE BIRD, SAT NOVEMBER 19
It’s Saturday and my day’s blank on the calendar so I explore my way through it: to a house in Westminster, to a market, to the Pride Parade (an enormous golden inflatable Chinese dragon careens past me), and eventually to The Bird. Local label and promo vehicle Pouring Dream have thrown sporadic but very special parties this year, for the likes of Akioka and Assad. Tonight’s is equally intriguing - a rare Perth appearance from Sydney-based artist ELA STILES, plus ERASERS and TOURIST KID.
DJ Jack Dutrac is playing lots of different stuff, lots of minimal dancefloor thumpers but also lots of Kylie Minogue, which is perfect;
then Tourist Kid, with a projector flashing block colour onto the screen behind him in response to musical frequencies. totally mesmeric, transforming not only yr perception of the sounds but also of the architecture itself. suddenly we’re inside a photocopier, or a computer monitor looking out. and tourist kid’s drones and arpeggios and hisses and throbs are the computer’s first self-aware thoughts, sentience humming into being, cognising awe and sadness but not yet able to articulate them with language.
Erasers, who I wrote about very recently when they played with Pikelet and Rabbit Island at El Grotto. But then their sound is founded on repetition, both micro (repetitions within songs, sections, phrases) and macro (honing these songs, techniques and aesthetics over an extended period of time). and maybe I should take their cue more when it comes to writing about music. so what can be said that hasn’t been, or how can it be said better? One thing I notice is that Rebecca and Rupert seem to be more comfortable on stage than ever before, perhaps owing in part to the small and attentive crowd and the Bird’s characteristically good sound. But also, they are nicely ensconced in these new-ish songs and parts, having now spent a lot of quality time with them. Bec is singing free and pure like a wine glass resonance. Rupert’s gliding over the guitar like a pro figure skater. It’s a treat.
Ela Stiles is an artist I’ve followed on and off over the years, both via her solo work and contributions to the bands Songs and Bushwalking. I’ve always like the stuff she’s done but never felt like I’ve totally “got” it - which is probably part of the reason I keep coming back. Her sounds and visuals are ambiguous; they rarely fall into camps as strict or simple as “dark,” “warm,” “pop” or “experimental” - nor are they merely hybrids of these variables. Stiles’ work seems to sit to the side of these signifiers to some extent, its own sound-world, albeit one that sticks pretty faithfully to major/minor tonalities and familiar rhythmic patterns.
The last Ela Stiles set I saw was at Camp Doogs and it was notably warped and amorphous: mingling liquid drones and obscure loops. Tonight feels more song-driven, and indeed, she’s focusing on material from the new LP ‘Molten Metal,’ initially released in September on Paradise Daily Records. These are percussion-driven compositions, often pumping at you with heavy, washed out drum machine loops before being doused in echoing vocal textures.
Sometimes - as with album opener “Five A.M.” - it doesn’t really seem like the music’s been made with external listeners in mind. There’s more of a self-contained, spontaneous, almost shamanic quality, like it’s all smoke just rising up from a fire, and you’re gazing on by chance. Other tunes, like (in this respect, deceptively titled) “Fuck You” are coded more as approachable pop songs - you could almost sing along, and the transitions follow a conventional kind of logic. In both instances, Stiles’ voice and hefty percussion are the crucial forces, with occasional synths coming in to fill the space; every sound is both enjoyable and faintly uncanny, treated in such a way as to simultaneously attract and repel. This is maybe the most curious thing about Ela Stiles’ music - unlike metal, noise, or classic industrial stuff (all clearly intended to be abrasive), it’s unclear whether this music wants to be friendly or not. The spooky precipice it leaves you on is a fascinating place to be.