It’s a crispy Friday night and, as the working weeks folds up onto itself like a used serviette, the Bird’s door swings open and invites us into the warmth. Tonight’s lineup consists of sound-wizards who’ve largely been absent from Perth performance in recent times: Gilbert Fawn and Ghostdrums having been in musical semi-hibernation, and Rat Columns interstate or overseas. To be fair we also witness DJ Jimmy’s Choice, who has never left us, and who slings such plump bangers into the pan as Seal’s 1991 hit “Crazy.” Nice!
GILBERT FAWN was playing shows pretty regularly a few years ago, but since then Gilbert (aka Matt Aitken) has opted to focus on his innumerable other brainchildren including the Human Xerox compilations (where everyone covers the same local song), Eggs Press (an irreverent zine and online tv show), Camp Doogs (one-of-a-kind camping festival), Gulls (music duo turned radio reviewers) and Magnolia’s (DIY talk-show/pizza enthusiast comedy trio) to name a few. Evidently he’s a busy man but somewhere in the flurry of activity and imagination, Aitken has found time to revisit and reconfigure the Gilbert Fawn project, infusing its droney bouzouki-folk origins with newfound electronic nous. Tonight, he builds slow, simple chord progressions via Ableton and soaks them with languid feedback resonances. He nudges echoing ¾ beats and ambient harmonic washes into motion, as if gently pushing a boat off the shore and into the current. Occasionally he tickles the bouzouki, with its black floral decals and double-coursed strings, adding that acoustic Mediterranean flavour we know and love. But it’s not the focus, and tonight really seems to be about Gilbert Fawn’s foray into the dizzying world of electronic production. Tactfully, he doesn’t go overboard. These are minimal and restrained compositions, patient in their development, wonderfully offset by eclectic visual projections featuring african masked dance parties, sex museums and abandoned theme parks.
Perth-born, variably Melbourne/San Fran based polymath Dave West gets on the podium next, to roll out songs from his RAT COLUMNS project. He’s got local heroes Louis Hooper (keys), Amber Gempton (bass/vox) and Chris Cobilis (drums) on board. After a few enjoyable but undeniably lo-fi gigs at Bowls clubs and garages recently, it’s exciting to hear them over the Bird’s quality sound system, and in the able hands of top-shelf soundperson Chris Wright. After all – despite West’s long-maintained punk ethos – Rat Columns in its current incarnation is resolutely pop, more discernibly so than scummier sounding projects like Rank/Xerox, Total Control, Pauline Manson and Burning Sensation (Rat Columns is perhaps surpassed in its hook-driven cleanliness only by soft-rock informed collab Lace Curtain). So tonight we get to hear the chiming, tightly-arranged details in all their crisp loveliness. Cobilis’ insistent pulse and Gempton’s nimble thump provide a sturdy lattice on which Hooper grows his drawn-out synth melodies, alongside West’s reserved croon and tintinnabulating guitar. You can easily discern the ghosts of early-80s British charm, from The Smiths and the Cure to Josef K and Orange Juice. But there’s something in the directness, the purity of delivery, that keeps any hint of throwback indulgence at arm’s length. The songs are great, the component parts are interesting, the performance is spirited – meaning Rat Columns compel you in the present tense, never relying on nostalgic signifiers to get you on board.
GHOSTDRUMS is Pete Guazelli (of Fall Electric and Rachel Dease fame) in percussive loop mode. Once again, here’s an amazing local musician who hasn’t reared his sonic head in forever, and what a treat to have him back. With loop-based sets, it’s almost impossible to achieve a parity of volume, fidelity and general quality-of-sound between what’s played first off and what’s repeated via your gadget of choice. Tonight, Guazelli acheives that almost-impossibility and every layer is crystal clear, impeccably rendered and synchronized. But more important than this technical feat is the compositional brilliance – these tunes have the rhythmic intricacy and tautness of Battles, the synth/percussion inventiveness of The Books and melodic emotiveness of Caribou or Seekae. Bloody good, to the point where I’m already craving a repeat viewing. Tonight’s been a masterclass in how music projects can be revived, reimagined or reinvigorated. I eagerly await discovering whatever directions these brains choose to fly in next.